Performing Arts

Kansas City Ballet offers a mixed bill of premieres

“Rite of Spring”
“Rite of Spring” East Market Studio

The Kansas City Ballet closed its season with a fresh, modern program of works entirely new to the city, including the world premiere of Viktor Plotnikov’s “Vesna.”

Headlining with Adam Hougland’s “Rite of Spring,” the company displayed versatility and physical artistry in a spring-themed program that grew strength to strength in Friday’s performance in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

They opened with the joyous intent of Yuri Possokhov’s “Diving Into the Lilacs.” Making open allusions to petals fluttering in the wind, the women as bouquet glided in their gossamer lilac skirts against a backdrop of oversized blooms. The work’s structure closely followed the score for Boris Tchaikovsky’s Sinfonietta for String Orchestra with the movement expressed in sync and in sequence, so some timing issues marred the total effect.

“Vesna” (“Spring” in Russian) was beautifully abstract and the organically conveyed movement seemed as infinitely varied as nature itself. Set against a backdrop illuminated in vibrant grass-green, Plotnikov’s work featured three fantastic pairings (Angelina Sansone/Liang Fu, Taryn Mejia/Logan Pachciarz, Molly Wagner/Michael Davis) in surprising yet harmonious movements of action/reaction, backed by a sinuous chorus.

Using Antonín Dvořák’s Largo (from Symphony No. 9) to impeccable advantage Plotnikov also subverted the aural expectations, adding clapping and slapping effects and pausing the music while the dance continued in a clever, grin-inducing gestural sequence.

Helen Pickett’s sexy, sassy “Petal” strutted with flirtatious confidence. The work featured eight dancers in exceptional solos and inventive partnering, sections denoted by the recorded tracks from Thomas Newman and Philip Glass while emotional shifts were reinforced as the lighting changed from apricot to fuchsia to show-off yellow.

Setting Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is, to some extent, a choreographic rite of passage as the 103-year-old work remains notoriously challenging: rhythmically knotty and aurally abrasive. Hougland’s rendition was eerie, cultish and merciless. Staged in a dreary underground lair, the stained costumes and dramatic spot- and side-lighting gave the piece a grimy, menacing texture.

Sansone was The Chosen One in a fantastic performance as ritual sacrifice. She’s stopped at every avenue of escape, whether by the aggressive, zombie-like corps, her own terror, or even, in one instance, a monstrous chord from the orchestra.

The Kansas City Symphony, conducted by Ramona Pansegrau, gave one of its best performances in support of the ballet in recent memory, taking ownership of the scores and offering forceful, nuanced and cohesive readings, with standout double reed solos.

“Rite of Spring”

The Kansas City Ballet’s program of premiers continues through May 15. Ticket information is at ticketing.kcballet.org.

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