Performing Arts

With “Director’s Choice,” KC Ballet demonstrates versatility with 1940’s-era repertoire.

Dancers Molly Wagner and Humberto Rivera Blanco in “The Lottery.”
Dancers Molly Wagner and Humberto Rivera Blanco in “The Lottery.”

Kansas City Ballet closed its 59th season with an evening of imaginative American ballet.

Artistic director Devon Carney composed a thoughtful, well-rounded program for “Director’s Choice” Friday in the Kauffman Theatre. The trio of works, all based in the 1940s, showed vastly different intentions of comedy, tragedy and grandeur, and exhibited the flexibility of this company. The Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau, handled the different musical styles fairly well.

Jerome Robbins’ “Interplay,” from 1945, was bright and joyful, with the innocence of playground games, the dancers following the leader, playing leap frog and spinning cartwheels with the confidence of children. Set to the score by Morton Gould, the movement was playful and buoyant, the work infused with jazz characteristics of walking bass, shuffling brushes, swinging rhythms, accented by the dancers’ claps and finger snaps.

Robbins’ youthfulness (he would have been all of 26 when he choreographed it) and theatrical sense translated into exuberant, athletic movements for the eight-person cast, especially soloist Lamin Pereira dos Santos. It’s friendship in dance: flirtatious, competitive and fun. This gleefulness was contrasted with the sweet, dusky haze in the duet between Michael Davis and Kaleena Burks, before everyone jumped back into the game.

This innocence was lost in Val Caniparoli’s “The Lottery.” Created in 2012, the work was based on Shirley Jackson’s 1948 story, and the costumes and set by Sandra Woodall retained that 1940’s presumed wholesomeness (modest dresses, button down shirts, white picket fences). Jackson’s story revealed a village which draws lots to stone a citizen, and the effective stage craft of Caniparoli’s rendition includes an actual onstage lottery, with each dancer prepared to dance as sacrifice.

The seven couples each danced a duet, creating humanizing portraits to sympathize. The uniformity of the ensemble movement masked, of course, a conformity to evil deeds in this ritualistic slaughter, especially a chilling segment which suggested a revivalist church service.

Robert Moran wrote the original score — a varied, heavily percussive, emotive work tinged with ominous string harmonics, gong swells and rumbling timpani.

In this performance, Joshua Bodden drew the bad lot and he followed with a tense, tortured solo, yet loose, as though moved against his will, the ensemble whirling and threatening around him.

Lastly, the grandeur of George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” from 1947, expressed a 20th century harkening of Imperial Russia classicism, though with grand gestures and sweeping lines enhanced by little kicks and nuanced twists. There is a purity to this ballet; it exists for joy and beauty. Peter I. Tchaikovsky’s score indicates a certain opulence, too, as did the glittery topaz- and rose-hued costumes from David Heuvel.

Tempe Ostergren and Liang Fu were elegant in the principal roles. Ostergren had a lovely extended segment with the shimmering corps, while Fu’s turns were impressively executed, but together, accompanied by solo violin, they excelled, partnering beautifully with lightness and surety.

With these three ballets, Kansas City Ballet offered a breadth of emotional expression and physical capability, with strong dancing and theatrical flare from the ever-growing corps for a pleasant and challenging performance.

Additional performances: 7:30 p.m May 13, 19 and 20 and 2 p.m. May 14 and 21. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $35.50-$125.50. 816-931-8993 or kcballet.org.

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