The Kansas City Ballet’s spring performance brings together artists of the past and present whose lives and careers have influenced each other in profound ways.
The centerpiece of “Dances Daring (Then and Now)” is choreographer George Balanchine’s neoclassical masterpiece “The Four Temperaments.” Todd Bolender, a Balanchine protege, also will be honored with a pas de deux from his ballet “Still Point.”
The Kansas City Ballet will present six performances of the program beginning Friday at the Kauffman Center.
Balanchine, who was steeped in the Russian Imperial Ballet’s classical form, moved to America in 1933 and began to stretch the boundaries of the dance.
What became known as “neoclassicism” pared down the traditional trappings of classical ballet and added new techniques. “The Four Temperaments” (or “The Four T’s,” as it is affectionately known) is one of the finest examples of Balanchine’s neoclassicism.
“I love it,” said Devon Carney, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet. “The Four T’s are so important to me. When I first joined the Boston Ballet in 1979, one of the first things I had a chance to do was ‘The Four Temperaments.’
“It was my first Balanchine ballet. Oh, my word. It was a revelation. I was allowed to thrust my hips forward and to turn in and to really stretch my arms way beyond the proper positions and take things to the extreme. There was this freedom, sort of like in ‘Star Trek,’ to go where no dancer had gone before.”
Guiding Carney on his voyage of discovery was Bruce Wells, who at the time was resident choreographer for the Boston Ballet. Wells was previously a member of Balanchine’s company, the New York City Ballet, and had danced in “The Four Temperaments” under the watchful eye of Balanchine himself.
Wells is ballet master in residence for “Dances Daring,” sharing his wealth of experience with the dancers of the Kansas City Ballet.
“As time goes by, the direct link to George Balanchine starts to fade,” Wells said. “Those of us who were lucky enough to work with him while he was alive have a very strong memory of his approach to the work.
“This next generation has not worked directly with him, so the details can get lost. I’m here to make sure all of those details don’t get lost and the approach to the work is as pure as possible.”
The music for “The Four Temperaments” is by Paul Hindemith. In 1940, Balanchine had commissioned piano music from Hindemith that he could play at Balanchine’s popular dinner parties. In addition to being a great choreographer, Balanchine was reputedly an outstanding pianist and cook. In 1946, Balanchine asked Hindemith to flesh out the music and orchestrate it, and this became the score for “The Four Temperaments.”
“I never heard music so cool and off-centered,” Carney said. “It’s not comfortable music, but it’s not annoying music and it’s not caustic music, but it certainly grows on you. There’s some jazzy feeling to it. It’s one of my favorite contemporary scores. Still to this day, it’s quite unique.”
Music for “The Four Temperaments” sounds as though it was written yesterday. It has a fresh feeling that never fades. Geoffrey Kropp, one of the male dancers in the Kansas City Ballet’s “Four Temperaments,” says he often listens to the music just for pleasure.
“I’m kind of a dork and have the music on my iPod,” he said. “It’s incredible. The music has a lot of movement to me. Like you can almost see the music when you hear it. It’s really challenging to count. The rhythms are all over the place, but it’s really big and beautiful.”
For a cool, modernist ballet, “The Four Temperaments” is heavily inspired by emotions, specifically the four outlined by the ancient Greeks: melancholic (quiet and introspective), sanguinic (outgoing and optimistic), phlegmatic (relaxed but prone to inertia) and choleric (the hot-headed leader of the pack).
“One of the challenges is there’s a lot of emotion behind the steps, but it’s not an emotional ballet,” Kropp said. “You’re not supposed to show it in your face, you’re supposed to show it in your movement. The ballet is a little quirky. It’s not your typical pretty ballet, but it’s very beautiful. It’s really musical and has a lot of interesting movement.”
Helping Wells convey the subtleties of the movement to the Kansas City dancers is Victoria Simon, who is staging the ballet. Simon is the ballet mistress for the Balanchine Trust and stages Balanchine’s ballets for companies all over the world.
A director can interpret a play in many different ways, but the person who stages a ballet wants to accurately reproduce a choreographer’s vision.
“Vicky has been staging Balanchine ballets now for 50 years,” Carney said. “That’s pretty remarkable. But here’s the kicker: 50 years ago she was contacted and asked to stage a Balanchine ballet for an opera house in Frankfurt. It was her first opportunity to stage a Balanchine ballet, and guess who she staged the ballet for? Todd Bolender. She staged Balanchine’s ‘Nutcracker’ for Todd when he was in Frankfurt running an opera house.”
Bolender, artistic director of the Kansas City Ballet from 1981 to 1996, had a long and illustrious career with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, including dancing in the first performance of the “Four Temperaments.” Bolender will be honored on the program with a performance of the pas de deux from his ballet “Still Point.”
“When you think about it, ‘Still Point’ is very fluid and very emotional and intimate with these two people,” Carney said. “As opposed to ‘Four Temperaments,’ which is black and white and not as emotionally free. When it was first done, the New York Times called ‘Still Point’ the best piece of choreography on the New York dance scene that year, which is really cool. It’s is still in the New York City Ballet repertoire and it’s in the Alvin Ailey repertoire.”
The Kansas City Ballet also will perform works by two contemporary choreographers: “Wunderland” by Edwaard Liang and “Concertino” by Amy Seiwert. “Concertino” first was performed last year at the Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College and is a product of New Dance Partners, a collaboration between the Kansas City Ballet and the Carlsen Center.
Kansas City Chorale
Herbert Howells, one of the greatest composers of Anglican sacred music, wrote his Requiem in 1936, but it didn’t receive its first public performance until 1980. Now it’s considered one of the greatest English choral works of the 20th century. The Kansas City Chorale will perform Howells Requiem Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and Tuesday at Asbury Methodist Church.
2 p.m. Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 416 W. 12th St. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Asbury Methodist Church, 5400 W. 75th St., Prairie Village. $10-$30 816-235-6222. For more information, go to KCChorale.org.
It’s called “Finale” for a reason
The University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory’s Orchestra and Choirs will present “Finale,” their final performance of the season, Tuesday at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center. These magnificent young musicians create a sound that can hold its own with that of major league, professional orchestras.
The program is a testament to the ensembles’ self-confidence and ambition: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss, Chichester Psalms by Leonard Bernstein and the Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2 by Maurice Ravel. This is the kind of music for which Helzberg Hall was built. Bold, brassy and brilliant.
Bachathon is the annual Bach blowout at Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral. It’s music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on the cathedral’s 67-rank Gabriel Kney tracker organ. Bachathon will take place Sunday from 2-7 p.m.
Some of the area’s finest organists will take turns playing music by the baroque master, and there will be other instrumentalists performing as well, including the Midwest Chamber Ensemble, the Trinity Chamber Artists, the Kansas City Baroque Consortium and three young musicians from Park University’s renowned International Center for Music.
This year’s Bachathon will be bittersweet, as it will include a tribute to John Obetz, the longtime organist for Community of Christ facilities in Independence who died earlier this year. He was an esteemed evangelist for the glories of organ music.
As always, come when you can, leave when you must.
2 p.m. Sunday. Grace & Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415. W. 13th St. Free. KCAGO.com