Pictured: KCB Dancers in “Grasping.” Choreography: Andi Abernathy & Stephanie Ruch. Photography: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.
Review: NEW MOVES at Kansas City Ballet
By Bec Pennington
The news came to me just a couple of hours before heading over to the Bolender Center that an important teacher and beloved member of the KC ballet community had suddenly passed away. Peggy Ply was a member of Kansas City Ballet under Tatiana Dokoudovska. She was a spitfire and a joy, with a no-nonsense but incredibly encouraging and gracious approach to instruction. It was with a heavy heart that I set off to see her former company promote the future tonight, but she, of course, would have encouraged me to go.
Young choreographers — females especially — have seen less opportunity in years past, but this is changing, and KCB’s efforts to promote and encourage new and diverse ballet choreographers is exciting. If I were forced to pick a favorite from this evening’s performance of NEW MOVES, it would be “Grasping,” by Andi Abernathy & Stephanie Ruch, an elegant, emotional work that speaks deeply and masterfully interprets the two pieces of music that were mixed for the work. These two are the artistic directors of a very promising new company in Kansas City, Heartlines Dance Co, founded in 2015. We should be seeing a lot more of them in the coming years.
It’s interesting where the pieces overlapped in style elements over the course of the performance, with silently timed steps, purposeful gasps from the dancers, and deliberate slides across the floor that recalled influences of Kylián or perhaps McGregor. There were punches of humor, and the dancers seemed encouraged to connect with the audience and develop individual artistry within the confines of each of the works, but sometimes the unison movement suffered. Only a couple of pieces were en pointe, with several favoring socks instead. This can render a marley floor a little slick after a while, but the dancers didn’t seem affected at all; they seemed instead to be having a great deal of fun.
Gustavo Ribeiro’s offer had me intrigued when I saw it the program, as the music is a challenge. The energy from the dancers was incredible, the choreography like intricate lace. It’s the kind of dance you want to see more than once, to fully appreciate everything that has been put into it, and this coming from a reviewer who isn’t incredibly fond of Philip Glass.
In style contrast, Michael Davis’ “Keep” followed a bit later with a deceptively simple and almost soothing mirrored-step piece for two, which he described as having been inspired by a circle of light. It was lovely to see, especially in a somewhat informal setting, a more creative and intentional lighting scheme than is used in a lot of contemporary ballet.
The music choices were rich and full, and while we were informed that live music would accompany a portion, the sound design incorporated it so excellently, I was consulting the program to be sure I had understood correctly. Costumes were chosen by the choreographers from the KCB wardrobe; they were simple and fitted the atmosphere well, though I would like to have seen something else for the dancers in Davis’ work.
Kansas City Ballet’s in-studio performance is an intimate black-box affair in their large Frost studio next to Union Station. Opening night included a post-show Q&A that added to the approachability, and yet it was staged professionally to the point that several in the audience were unaware the room is actually used for classes and rehearsals during the day. Altogether, the company is very successful in making the audience feel welcome and involved as a community in furthering the evolution of the ballet experience.
When the average Joe thinks “ballet,” I believe there is a perception of wealthy high society, perhaps a boring element. This felt like sitting down and having coffee with a distinguished celebrity; one can forget the importance of the event, the grand reputation of your counterpart, for the sake of conversation with an interesting friend. Peggy would approve.