Dance Review

Johnson County Community College project pairs acclaimed choreographers with KC talent

Updated: 2013-09-30T02:17:12Z

By LIBBY HANSSEN

Special to The Star

“New Dance Partners” brought together local dance companies and internationally acclaimed choreographers in a program of beautiful ambiguity Friday night at Yardley Hall.

These three collaborative works each showcased an expression of human experience in gratifying performances that were inventive and stimulating.

Johnson County Community College’s Performing Arts Series commissioned the works and presented the production under the leadership of general manager Emily Behrmann and guidance by artistic advisor Michael Uthoff, whose work with Dance St. Louis inspired the project.

Autumn Eckman’s “Never Wake a Sleepwalker,” performed by Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, was just like a dream: inscrutable, yet cohesive.

A child’s voice narrated as a dancer at center stage turned on a five-bulb lamp. Dancers entered in shadow, making loose, twisted gestures with articulated elbows and heels, emphasized by red socks. A repetitive falling motif carried through the syllabic phrases of a tabla tutorial. This falling and falling back continued as additive phrases transferred between dancers, waving hands in front of faces in a vain attempt to awake.

KT Nelson’s work with Owen/Cox Dance Group was aggressive. “When the Landscape Falls Away” began as a hooded figure moved low and writhing, with sounds of trees crashing to the ground underscored by Joan Jeanrenaud’s rasping, scratchy cello. The dancers pushed each other forward; they ran and slid across the floor, leaped vertically. They manipulated each other bodily, almost unkindly.

Throughout, harsh movements were emphasized, as when the three women looked up and back with painful extension. Carefully built heaps became held poses; lifts were gracefully executed, yet intentionally awkward. A sensual duo turned cruel, dispassionate, then, in silence, initiated hopeful intimacy.

Kansas City Ballet co-commissioned Jodie Gates’ neo-classical work “Keep me Wishing in the Dark.” High, filtered light settled on a corps of dancers turned away from the audience. The dancers, men and women alike, wore long, sheer skirts and backless leotards. As Bach’s themes evolved, gestures reiterated, made powerful in massed motion, continuing on without music.

The work, beautifully colored and prettily abstract, consisted of twirls and whirling figures, rounded arms, spinning leaps and lean lines. During the excellent featured duet, a hunched, partnered pirouette was a strong contrast, reminiscent of a jewel-box ballerina.

Burke Brown’s intuitive lighting design contributed greatly to each ensemble’s stunning display.

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