Petipa stayed within guidelines that reflected to the Russian
royalty, a comforting reflection of their aristocratic ideals.
He had the dancers treat each other and the audience with deference
and respect. He used balletic movement to express a clear hierarchy:
principal, soloist and ensemble. The archaic aesthetic framed
the effortless feats of the dancers, in this case, skilled artisans.
Truly, the company brought life and lyricism to choreography
that would have felt stiff and stilted at less accomplished
Paquita, like the field of dance in
our culture, is a world composed predominantly of women. Groups
of women execute precise, lush and allegro movement, filling
the stage, jumping, turning and gesturing with alacrity. Then
the man, Juan Pablo Trujillo, made his entrance. Suddenly, the
tempo of the dancing came almost to a halt as the female ensemble
slowly and deliberately danced in geometric formations that
framed the partnering work of Trujillo and Kimberly Cowen. The
abrupt transition, the abundant presence of the female gender
with only one man onstage, and Trujillos royal presence,
gave almost a political weight to the newly arrived male dancer.
Cowen, as always, incited enthusiastic applause with brilliant
dancing. Her balances, especially in a dance with so much density
of motion, floated with an airy grace. The hallmark of a great
ballerina is the ability to execute 32 foutteé turns,
a turning series on one leg with the other gesturing front and
side to create the momentum for each turn. Cowen met this challenge
(center stage, framed by a symmetrical formation of the corps
de ballet, in a conventional tableau) to the awesome delight
of the viewers.
Paquita included also several womens solos.
Stefani Schrimpf, Lisa Thorn, Lisa Choules and Rachel Coats
all performed these exquisitely clean lines, expressive
hands and shining technique. Schrimpf, in particular, used coy
glances to the audience to complete her solo; she danced with
enough presence to fill an auditorium twice as large.
Stepping Stones followed Paquita. Choreographer
Kathryn Posin first choreographed this more abstract, less presentational
work in 1993. The program notes explained the symbolism Posin
used to conceptualize this piece, what the six platforms onstage
meant, what the varied shades of the costumes meant, and what
the various groups of dancers depicted.
How sad that we relied on a program to assist us with understanding
a work. Could Posin have choreographed a work that stands on
The dancers realized Posins piece with their usual professionalism,
but the dance itself lacked cohesion, and 20 pages of program
notes failed to remedy this. The movement choices became predictable.
For example, a series of platforms lined the stage. Six couples,
men and women, danced on each platform. One couple did a movement,
the next followed, until the final couple does you guessed
it the same movement.
Would she have created more texture with at least a subtle variance
between the couples? Or to have the last couple surprise us
with a different choice?
Despite athletic execution and some stunning visuals (thanks
in part to Amy Taylors lighting), Stepping Stones
resorted too often to rudimentary choreographic habits.
In 1956, Jerome Robbins, staged The Concert (Or, The Perils
of Everybody) for the New York City Ballet. Witty, original
and refreshing this dance served as the finale to the Fall Performance.
Robbins made his mark on the ballet world by bringing a distinctly
American voice to dance. In contrast to the dominant content
of ballet in the early 20th Century, princes and queens dancing
European folk tales, Robbins created his first major work, Fancy
Free, about three sailors on leave in 1940s New
York City. This dance served later as the inspiration for the
Broadway musical On the Town, the only dance in
history to later become a musical play. Though he spent most
of his life in the field of classical ballet, Robbins took a
side road onto the Broadway stage, as director and creator as
such masterpieces as West Side Story and Fiddler
on the Roof.
Robbins, despite genius and success, led a life of conflict.
Dance With Demons, the 2001 biography by Greg Lawrence,
details a cruel temper, a tormented bisexuality and difficulty
Robbins had dealing with his Judaism. During the Cold War, Robbins
testified before The House Un-American Activities Committee,
a congressional effort to purge from show business suspected
The Concert parodied vanity, decorum, convention
and society, as if Robbins found an acceptable, a 1950s
venue with which to express feelings about the world in which
he in many ways didnt fit. A pianist (Dan Velicer) played
Chopin on a grand piano. Concertgoers wearing tights and various
accoutrements delineating characterization (hats, glasses, jackets)
entered with folding chairs and embarked on a demented, competitive
game of musical chairs. Men lifted and transported women like
furniture. A charming, womens sextet ensued with one ballerina
always out of sync but beautifully timed. A woman chose a hat
to wear each one gaudy and flamboyant.
Robbins used slapstick to incite humor: A ballerina got hit
on the head with a bat; a man (Francis Veyette) plotted and
attempted to execute the murder of his wife by knife. Though
hilarious, the recurrent themes of bitter resentment, non-conformity
and awkward mistake divulged an underlying darkness from the
corners of Robbins mind.
The performers danced every step well and proved as adept at
vaudevillian humor as they are with classical ballet.
The three dances of the evening provided an amazing
variety. Each dance had a different mood, feel and period. William
Whitener, Kansas City Ballet artistic director, shrewdly chose
three dances from very different times of dance history: Paquita
(1881), The Concert (1956) and Stepping Stones
Putting Paquita in the program before
The Concert helped the audience appreciate much
of Robbins humor, as Robbins poked fun at ballet conventions.
The Kansas City Ballets next performance will be The
Nutcracker at the Midland Theatre, Dec. 3 through Dec. 24.
Call 816-931-2232 X375 or visit www.kcballet.org.
David Ollington is a Kansas City-based writer
and teaches at Kansas State University in Manhattan. He can
be contacted at Ollington@aol.com