New director expands KC Ballet’s limits, expectations

10/12/2013 7:10 AM

10/13/2013 9:56 PM

The Kansas City Ballet’s performance in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on Friday showcased just about everything ballet can be.

“Fancy Free,” the opening program for the ballet’s 56th season, was a mixed bill, five works that for the most part displayed energy, a wealth of expression and a fine collection of artists in a challenging production with popular and new works.

This is the first season with artistic director Devon Carney. The performance was a positive indicator of his leadership and expectations for the company.

He created “Opus 1” to show off all his dancers (including his newly created second company), ending the show with a world premiere exhibiting ballet’s classical heritage.

With tutus, tiaras and chandeliers, its addition hinted at gilding the lily after a full program, and the supplemented ensemble risked crowding the stage as a massed force. However, excellent delineations kept the chaos of continuous movement in check, along with delightful dancing, especially from Laura Hunt, and animated work from the men.

It was an onslaught of balletic elegance, though, featured alongside George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante,” a vivacious work of grand gesture, if smaller scale, musically informed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Third Piano Concerto, performed by Sam Beckett.

The swirling, cascading piano line rarely ceased. Tempe Ostergren, partnered by Anthony Krutzkamp, showed heroic control and motivation during the cadenza.

Beckett was also featured during William Whitener’s “Triple Play,” playing Francis Poulenc’s “Trois Novelettes for Solo Piano” onstage. Molly Wagner and Logan Pachciarz danced this charming work, which premiered this spring.

Though the two dancers didn’t touch until the second segment, their connection was palpable, electrified. Fun footwork and intimate gestures created an inventive, flirtatious duet.

Gradually darkening and focused lighting, designed by Kirk Bookman, contributed to the intimacy.

Jodie Gates’ “Keep Me Wishing in the Dark” had a lovely, pensive ambiguity. It’s an insightful, gorgeous piece, with ensemble transitions like wind-stirred leaves, reaching, grasping gestures and particularly stunning work from Rachel Coats and Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye.

The piece, which premiered last month, featured pianist Dan Velicer with orchestra on selections from J.S. Bach.

The program’s title work, the 1944 Jerome Robbins/Leonard Bernstein collaboration, was potentially the most accessible piece of the evening, and it was amusing, but unfortunately it was also the least interesting.

Lighthearted dancing couldn’t overcome boggy rhythms and hesitancy in the orchestra, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau.

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