A few playful touches and one particularly hearty dose of macabre mischief leavened an otherwise sophisticated and elegant presentation by the Kansas City Dance Festival at the Folly Theater on Saturday. The show was the culminating event of the weeklong festival, now in its fourth year, which featured workshops, forums and performances by local and guest artists in world premieres and works from the contemporary ballet canon.
The festival ended with the world premiere of Garrett Smith’s “Mine, Me, Mine,” a garish and hilarious romp of Baroque boudoir-camp as an extended and devious game of musical chairs. Starting with a shriek and peppered with manic laughter, the dancers (Kaleena Burks, Michael Davis, Lilliana Hagerman, Garrett Glassman, Katherine Sawicki, Christian Squires) gleefully embraced their roles — selfish, vain, sinister, greedy, even murderous — in highly amusing fashion as they connived and fought over child-sized chairs, their angular, stuttering, self-conscious movements set to the dominating clipped ripples of the Baroque harpsichord.
On the other hand, George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” premiered in 1928 and set to Igor Stravinsky’s neo-classical score, balanced the grace of the line with conscientious storytelling injected with playful touches and inventive 1:3 partnering. James Ihde (Apollo), Rachel Coats (Calliope), Eugenia Zinovieva (Polyhymnia) and Angelina Sansone (Terpsichore), especially, gave a beautiful and committed performance, of particular artistic and educational importance because of the percentage of young dancers in attendance, some possibly witnessing Balanchine’s genius for the first time.
Five dancers (Daniel Cooper, Davis, Megan Dickinson, Lillian Dipiazza, Idhe) in evening wear lent an ambiguous mood to Matthew Neenan’s “Penumbra,” their movements given a quirky nuance by switching from stylized social dance to awkward, jagged gestures and loose-limbed, responsive sequences.
Dancers Abigail Sheppard and Marty Davis were featured in two beautiful new works, Jennifer Owen’s 2015 “De Memoire de Zuhälterballade” and Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye’s “Before the Vail” in a world premiere. While in Owen’s work they lavished the longing and romantic tensions of the song, Jolicoeur-Nye’s incorporated muscular, unexpected gestures, the tender, controlled movements emphasized by dramatic lightning (by Trad Burns) in a deliberate, meditative work.
Jolicoeur-Nye also partnered with Coats in Vicente Nebrada’s refined 1978 “Lento, a tempo e appassionato” to open the show. The pounding piano score (projected too loudly) belied the gentle nature of the sinuous, seamless partnering with deftly incorporated turns, spins and catches.
From finessed to freaky, the works and exciting performances enlivened, titillated and taught.