September 15, 2006

‘Dance in the Park’ had its moments
By David Ollington

Louis Bar and Laura Cantu performed in the 2005 Dance in the Park. (photo by Mike Strong)

Witness an outdoor stage filled with dancing youngsters freely improvising, then classical ballet followed by East Indian dance, belly dance, modern dance, tango, swing, Afro-Brazilian dance and salsa, all on one program. The annual Dance in the Park (the 2006 program performed Sept. 9) offers the city a gift of warm community and, in terms of programming, ethnic and aesthetic diversity.

Eight years ago, Judy Widener, president of the Roanoke Neighborhood Association, approached City in Motion Dance Theatre about co-producing an early September dance event in Roanoke Park. Years of hard work, some savvy fundraising and familial dedication transformed this event into one of Kansas City’s artistic treasures.

With the Volker, Valentine and Coleman Highlands Neighborhood associations also on board as co-presenters, Dance in the Park, in more ways than one, created a vision, an offering of peace. Not only did dances of widely variant cultures share the stage but City in Motion, a predominantly modern dance company and school, joined forces with the Midtown School of Dance, a ballet school, showing that these two aesthetics, often at odds in the dance world, can coexist.

The concert traditionally begins with an invitation to the children in the audience to take the stage. Last Saturday, Andrea Skowronek, artistic director of City in Motion, held a microphone and led the children in a variety of movement games and exercises. This pre-show divertissement packed the stage with joyful motion, parents joining a few of the toddlers, creating an effect nothing short of cute. After some necessary and enthusiastic announcements by Widener, the concert began more formally, literally, with a ballet performance from the youth of the Midtown School of Dance.

Youngsters improvising expressively with a structured, classical ballet set the embracive tone of the evening: We honor the diverse here. Kim Shope, founder of the Midtown School of Dance, choreographed the latter work, “Space Ballet.” The concept of using ballet to depict the planets hearkens back to the 17th Century Court of Louis the XIV. The young women and one young man performed the orbiting, clean choreography with enthusiasm. One of the most striking images consisted of a central dancing figure (Saturn?) with a Hula Hoop resting on the edges of the skirt of her tutu.

Skowronek presented a work, which she set on the City in Motion Children’s Dance Theatre, titled “Snow Day.” Using a simple idea of children playing on a day when school was cancelled because of snow, Skowronek fully explored the space, the groupings and coached the kids into a delightful performance.

A couple billed as Latin Rhythm Dance Productions, Josh Hernandez and Fanny Maldonado, executed a quick and entwining salsa, appropriately spicy. Louis Bar represented ballroom dance with a tango and later a swing piece.

Bar’s tango, clean, professional and slickly competitive, included some legwork that looked potentially dangerous. His swing piece “The Battle of the Salsa/Swing,” put a group of salsa dancers in a terpsichorean battle with swing dancers.

As the evening danced on and the sky darkened, the stage lights fired up and the focus of the program shifted from Kansas City’s dancing youth to Kansas City’s dancing professionals. Unfortunately, the second act, with the exception of the exciting Traditional Music Society performing “Soundz of Africa,” made a less than impressive showing, especially compared to years past.

Wylliams/Henry Danse Theatre executed an excerpt from what has become a signature work for the company, “Rippling Souls” by Vince Brosseau. The dancers used long poles for various leverages and lifts. Brosseau crafted the dance well although he emphasized tricks more than choreographic artistry.

Susan Warden’s “Coffee Clutch,” performed by her 940 Dance Company out of Lawrence, shined choreographically, but the dancers resorted to exaggerated facial mugging, imposing upon the movement humor about caffeine addiction.

Michelle Brown’s company Kacico Dance performed “Untitled.” An inaccessible welding of hip-hop and pointe ballet, the dance attempted many things and succeeded at none. Brown hinted at sexuality without the ability to go there. They sported some interesting skirts that they occasionally moved without fully exploring this potential. The two styles of dance seemed untapped also, as the dancers failed at successfully performing either one.

Störling Dance Theatre danced beautifully the “Basic Bird,” a lifeless work by choreographer Stephen Wynne. Though the performers moved with precision and perfect technique, the movement patterns stayed almost entirely in unison, a ridiculous choice for a group of such skill.

These are strong, professional companies. Each dance had its moments. However, the structure of the concert suggested a greater increase in quality.

Dance in the Park, as an institution and annual tradition, served the city profoundly (despite a disappointing second act) in its 2006 incarnation. The world requires this message of community, tolerance, diversity and peace. May it thrive.

David Ollington can be contacted at


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