Dance has been an important component of the Harriman-Jewell Series since ballet stars Patricia McBride and Edward Villella performed on its very first program in December 1965.
As the series celebrates its 50th anniversary, dance — represented this season so far by the Russian National Ballet and the Mark Morris Dance Group — has been an essential part of the festivities.
But it’s unimaginable that the Harriman-Jewell Series would celebrate this milestone anniversary without David Parsons, a Kansas City-born dancer and choreographer with a long friendship with the series and its late founder, Richard Harriman.
Indeed, the Harriman-Jewell Series will conclude its memorable season with Parsons Dance in a program of favorites and a newly commissioned work Saturday, June 6, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Harriman was a ballet impresario of the first order. He had an eye for up-and-coming talent and was an early fan of Parsons, whom he first saw perform as a lead dancer with the Paul Taylor Company. After Parsons founded his own company in 1985 and it started touring, Harriman made sure one of its first stops was in Kansas City.
“David and our series go back to the late 1980s,” said Clark Morris, executive director of the Harriman-Jewell Series. “We presented his company in its first national tour, and David and his company have had such an important presence on our series ever since. This performance will be his company’s 12th for us. That’s more than any other dance or music ensemble in our 50-season history.”
The program, which will be accompanied by live music, includes an audience favorite, “Caught,” which Parsons choreographed in 1982. Using a strobe light to “catch” dancers mid-leap, this early work still sets audiences gasping and is the perfect introduction to Parsons’ highly athletic style.
Also on the program are Parsons’ “Swing Shift” and works by other choreographers, including “Hymn” by Trey McIntyre and “Train” by Robert Battle.
But the highlight of the evening will be “Finding Center,” which the Harriman-Jewell Series commissioned from Parsons. It’s a piece that was inspired by and uses the work of Kansas City visual artist Rita Blitt.
“This will be a third commission to celebrate our 50th anniversary and the first world premiere work presented this season,” Morris said. “This one is particularly meaningful because it involves two Kansas City natives who have achieved international success and whom I personally hold dear.
“David and Rita also have had such a long collaborative relationship, I’m just glad the series can be a part of their story.”
Blitt’s highly energetic, swooshing line is the painterly equivalent of Parsons’ choreography. A collaboration between these two extraordinary artists, both born in Kansas City, seems a fitting way to bring the 50th anniversary season of the Harriman-Jewell Series to a close. Morris deserves to take a bow himself for giving us such a grand season of performances that will not soon be forgotten.
Kansas City Symphony
In the years leading up to World War I, European music was overheating.
Richard Wagner had struck the match earlier with works like “Tristan and Isolde” that stretched tonality to the breaking point, allowing later composers like Arnold Schoenberg to torch it completely with the 12-tone system.
French composer Maurice Ravel, who was writing music at the same time as Schoenberg, usually exercised Gallic restraint in his elegant compositions, but even he gave in to the throes of passion in his ballet “Daphnis and Chloe.”
The Kansas City Symphony conducted by Michael Stern will perform hothouse music by these three composers and will be joined by violinist August Hadelich for a violin concerto by Max Bruch June 5-7 at Helzberg Hall.
Stern will open the concert with the heart-wrenching Prelude and “Love-Death” from Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.” The opera was hugely influential with later composers like Richard Strauss, Alban Berg and Schoenberg. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who came to loathe Wagner later in life, loved “Tristan and Isolde,” a somewhat degenerate opera about an erotic suicide pact.
“Tristan and Isolde is the real opus metaphysicum of all art, insatiable and sweet craving for the secrets of night and death,” Nietzsche wrote.
After the Wagner, Hadelich, an acclaimed German violinist, will perform Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1. Bruch was also a Romantic composer, but his Romanticism was that of Johannes Brahms and Felix Mendelssohn, marked more by classical formality than Wagnerian extravagance. His first violin concerto is always a crowd-pleaser.
After intermission, the Symphony will perform Schoenberg’s “Transfigured Night.”
Written in 1899, before he exploded tonality with his 12-tone system, Schoenberg composed “Transfigured Night” in the lush, late-Romantic style so influenced by Wagner. The inspiration for the work was a poem that describes a man and a woman walking in a forest, the moon glowing above them, as the woman shares a dark secret. “Transfigured Night” is a feverish tone poem, steeped in Wagnerian chromaticism and fin de siecle decadence.
The concert will end with the Suite No. 2 from “Daphnis and Chloe.” The ballet, based on a romance by the Greek writer Longus, is the love story of the goatherd Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloe and contains some of Ravel’s most passionate music. “Daphnis and Chloe” is set in an idyllic ancient Greece, what Ravel called “the Greece of my dreams.”
With some of the steamiest music ever written, this is a concert that should have you mopping your brow.