The Kansas City Dance Festival has a confusing name. Festivals, be they music, film or food, are usually daylong or multi-day events. Save for a few master classes and community outreach events around town, the second annual KCDF comprises two performances at the Helen F. Spencer Theatre on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The first show, Friday night, played to a house three-quarters full.
Festivals also usually center on a theme. Music festivals, for instance, focus on a single genre like rock or bluegrass. KCDF did the opposite, showcasing a willfully undefined mix of ballet, modern and experimental styles. The night had everything but twerking.
A music festival certainly couldn’t have every musician play together, forming one giant, temporary band. But that’s basically the idea behind KCDF. The festival borrowed dancers from ballet companies as close as Illinois and as far as Estonia, including talent from Argentina, Japan, Canada and Cuba. They came, collaborated with members of the Kansas City Ballet and Owen/Cox Dance Group and formed a single, short-lived and very eclectic company.
That eclecticism bore fruit with a program of nine wildly divergent short pieces much appreciated by an unusually lively crowd.
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“Flames of Paris,” a simple, straightforward work of classical ballet, began the show. Next, for a jarring change, came “Mopey.” By Marco Goecke, resident choreographer of Stuttgart Ballet, “Mopey” is a quirky, jerky solo contemporary work with a strangely masochistic narrative.
“Long Day/Good Night,” by local choreographer Jennifer Owen, was equally, if differently, odd. Dancers moved formlessly across the stage, with an aching slowness invoking the eerie grace of a lava lamp. A return to classicism followed with Marius Petipa’s pas de deux from “Le Corsaire.”
The first act finished with a reminder of the festival’s roots and Kansas City’s dance past. Staging “The Still Point” by Todd Bolender, Kansas City Ballet’s late artistic director emeritus, the festival honored the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The second act looked toward the future. That began with “Troisième Roue,” which translates to “third wheel.” A new, risky work by KCDF co-artistic director Anthony Krutzkamp, “Troisième Roue” juxtaposed the soft curves of balletic leg lines with the harsh, modernist right angles of aggressive elbows.
Next was a scene from “Under the Lights,” a tribute to Johnny Cash by choreographer Chris Stuart that premiered earlier this year in, of course, Nashville. The chilling, stark adagio from Arvo Pärt’s “Othello” was penultimate. “Calling” by Ma Cong, blending elements from flamenco to fox trot, made an appropriately syncretic finale.
In dance, as in sport, perfection is impossible. Even the best flub, and that was true Friday night. Occasionally a foot would slip and an arm would tremble. There was one badly missed sound cue in the second act. On the whole, though, the program was excellent.
Lucas Segovia, on loan from the Joffrey Ballet, gave a near-flawless interpretation of Petipa. Kayla Rowser and Jon Upleger of the Nashville Ballet both stood out onstage. She was playful and sexy, showing real joy in movement but maintaining crisp articulation. Upleger was simply a beast, retaining power for a seemingly endless number of lifts.
The hometown dancers held their own. Kansas City Ballet’s Tempe Ostregen brought her usual regal bearing. Molly Wagner, also from the Kansas City Ballet, showed a bounce and freedom Friday night that she sometimes didn’t earlier this year when starring in “Dracula” and “Cinderella.”
This production was aggressively stark. The stage was bare all night, not a single prop or backdrop to distract from the dancers. Gloriously clean lighting by Trad Burns took full advantage of the minimalist approach. Burns, resident at the Cincinnati Ballet, created crisp, dramatic schemes that made faces pop and brought muscles into sharp relief.
The costuming worked best when it stayed equally clean. There were frills for more traditional pieces. The wardrobe for “Le Corsaire“ was on loan from the Joffery. The night’s best looks came from the simplest elements, such as the locally made Elevé Dancewear used for “Troisième Roue,” and Laura Powell’s ombré fabrics in “Long Day/ Good Night.”
With just two performances, the KCDF may not yet feel like a full-blown festival. But Krutzkamp and co-artistic director Logan Pachciarz have dreams of expansion, perhaps one day building to a full week of classes, community outreach and shows. Friday night’s smart programming choices and strong execution of them suggest that their dream will come true.