October 10, 2008

Great ‘Rodeo’ ride
by David Ollington

By the late 1940’s, Broadway was nicknamed “DeMille row” because choreographer Agnes DeMille had four Broadway shows running on the great white way. DeMille successfully transformed our ideas of dance, particularly in how she expressed the American spirit onstage. The Kansas City Ballet presented her landmark ballet “Rodeo” on October 9-12 to the rustic sounds of Aaron Copeland’s music.

Christopher Barksdale, The Champion Roper (photo by Kenny Johnson)

DeMille’s economical choreography tells an archetypal story of a young tomboy “The Cowgirl” (danced believably by Deanna Doyle) breaking out of her masculine mold to win the heart of “The Champion Roper” (Michael Eaton).

DeMille used stillness often, and made bold statements not with athletic feats of skill, but with single gestures. The ballet world at the time of “Rodeo’s” premiere responded to the prevalence of Russian dancing in the field, and a ballet on such an American theme in itself broke new ground.

Her use of stillness, the extended time in between each move and gesture, seems to reflect the expanse of space in the U.S. frontier, a concept reflected in the backdrop behind the dancers. We see a horizon, extending almost infinitely (scenery and costumes were courtesy of the Tulsa Ballet). The dancers appear at rest — possibly on a horse, possibly standing sizing up the situation, often on one leg. Kudos to the KC Ballet for the balance the dancers demonstrate.

The men dance in boots. The women dance in regular shoes, not en pointe. The choreography makes brilliant use of American vernacular idioms, especially square dancing and tap. Eaton executed an intricate tap solo that inspired ovations.

“Rodeo” shared the program with two other works, “The Naughty Boy” choreographed by Trey McInTyre and Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert.”

Making a dynamic splash in “The Naughty Boy,” dancer Luke Luzicka carved the space around him with confidence and a masculine flair. The lush, dense choreography allowed him to dart, reach and weave through the other dancers with energy and a humble confidence. He proves an excellent partner, working with the sprightly Breanne Starke, lifting and lowering her with liquid ease.

Deanna Doyle, The Cowgirl (photo by Kenny Johnson)

Kimberly Cowen as the lead soloist danced with her reliable expertise. Her costume failed to match her onstage genius. She wore a pink plaid jacket that distracted rather than enhanced her dancing.

Robbins’ comic dance “The Concert” stands as an epitome of comic ballet. One image after the other brought out laughs from the audience, rendering a group of music fans witnessing the work of pianist Dan Velicer.

Velicer played beautifully and participated in some of the choreographic moments with endearing sportsmanship. The Kansas City Symphony under the conduction of Ramona Pansegrau sounded wonderful.

The Kansas City Ballet’s next performance is “The Nutcracker” Dec. 6-28 at the Music Hall. (The company performs this holiday classic with reliable excellence.) Call 816-931-2232 or visit www.

David Ollington can be contacted at


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