Category: Press

Review | Kansas City New Dance Partners puts local dance front and center

KANSAS CTY, MO — Kansas City New Dance Partners is an initiative launched in 2013 at Johnson County Community College (JCCC), located in the sprawling suburbs on the Kansas side of the two cities who share the same name. The goal of New Dance Partners is to elevate the local dance scene and bring it to the attention of students, as well as Kansans reluctant to venture downtown. Each year, a select group of local (and sometimes regional) dance companies are paired with reputable choreographers from across the county to create new works, and Friday’s showcase at the magnificent Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts treated members of the Dance/USA national service organization to a version of the initiative as the main stage event of its annual conference. It’s important for mid-size cities to host companies on tour from the coasts or Europe to seek inspiration, but — similar to Dance St. Louis’ New Dance Horizons initiative on the other side of Missouri — New Dance Partners invests in Kansas City’s home companies to bring out their best and raise the bar locally. The high caliber of the project’s choreographic commissions serve another purpose, too: projecting Kansas City’s profile outward and affording this small but robust community a megaphone to say, “Hey! There’s good dance here!” So it is likely that Dance/USA conference goers were surprised by the New Dance Partners showcase, which only goes toward proving its purpose for this city’s growing dance scene.

OWEN/COX DANCE GROUP PERFORMING “GHOST LIGHT” | PHOTO CREDIT: DAN WAYNE
As the main curtain opened, a single incandescent bulb sat atop a pedestal lamp, dimly illuminating the stage as dancer Kaleena Burks entered for Penny Saunders’ Ghost Light, a New Dance Partners’ 2014 commission for Owen/Cox Dance Group. There’s little evidence here of Saunders’ career lately as a dancer and choreographer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; Ghost Light is definitively balletic, its details soft and nostalgic. Regardless if Saunders is leaning toward ballet or contemporary, she has a knack for envisioning beautiful atmospheres on stage, brought to life here by the design team of Scott Bolman (lighting) and Lisa Choules (costumes). Ghost Light has a vintage vibe, supported by a patchwork score of Bach and big band as three men twist and tangle themselves through an elaborate series of partnering with Burks and the long train of her evening gown. At times this ratio created an imbalance of power, giving the impression that Burks was being teased and taunted by these ghosts, poked at and prodded, giving her pause illustrated by gestures like a hand to the throat or a palm to the forehead. But on enough occasions, it became clearer that these men are not quite men, but ghouls over which Burks is mistress; ultimately it is she who controls them.

Gregory Dawson’s Twisted Metal exploits everything Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company’s dancers can do – from the near-naked gleam of their chiseled bodies under Burke Brown’s auburn lights, to pliés so deep they could sit, standing up. Twisted Metal‘s finale is dedicated to just that: a display of pure Dance, capital D. It’s not unwelcome, but less interesting, perhaps, then the lead-up to there in which we sense anger, defiance, and tenacity at play — not against one another, but toward a common goal, and at time, against self. Shadow boxing toward the sky, guttural tones emerging from shuddering bodies, and (almost always) an attempt to move to the periphery of the body and get as far away from oneself as one might… these images spoke more strongly than Twisted Metal‘s satisfying dance phrases at the end.

“TWISTED METAL” BY GREGORY DAWSON, DANCED BY WYLLIAMS-HENRY CONTEMPORARY DANCE COMPANY | PHOTO CREDIT: MIKE STRONG, 2017
Without my program in hand, Kansas City Ballet’s entrance for the evening’s final piece gave me a gut reaction of, “Wow, this is really dated and looks like Jerome Robbins.” Turns out, Interplay is indeed dated (debuting in 1945), and by Jerome Robbins. Though KC Ballet is part of New Dance Partners, the plotless ballet about child’s play is not, and appeared on the company’s spring “Director’s Choice” program last month. Interplay puts recess games on pointe, with audiences taken on a happy-go-lucky jaunt that includes “follow the leader,” hopscotch, patty-cake, and an occasional cartwheel. That’s cute, but also kind of weird performed by grown adults. Recognizing that this is a historical work by an important choreographer, it’s easier to forgive the cliche trappings of this short ballet, and seeing it in 2017 points to the vast differences between now and then in terms of how childhood is perceived and illustrated. Cartwheels and all, the work is well-danced by its eight cast members, expertly staged by former New York City Ballet principle Judith Fugate (who has previously set Robbins’ Face Free and George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante on the company), and a joyful end to a rich evening of dance.

See more at: http://www.artintercepts.org/2017/06/09/kansas-city-new-dance-partners-puts-local-dance-front-and-center/

Review | Wylliams/Henry Celebrates a Quarter-Century of Excellence in Dance

For any arts organization to reach its 25th anniversary is cause for applause. But such an achievement is perhaps even more notable for a dance company. Dance, one of the most revered art forms, is also among the least understood.

But Kansas City’s Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, founded by the late Leni Wylliams and Mary Pat Henry in 1991, has clearly found an appreciative audience.

Writing in The Kansas City Star, critic Patrick Neas praised the company’s history of presenting “some of the most interesting, engaging and provocative choreography of the contemporary dance world.” A review by Ashley Miller in KC Metropolis hailed the troupe’s spring program as “a visceral evening of dance.”

Coming up, the ensemble will celebrate its quarter-century milestone with performances on Sept. 23 and 24 at White Recital Hall on the UMKC campus.

The program will “reach back to the earlier years, to bring back the works that still are extraordinarily vibrant and exciting,” said artistic director Henry, who was born in Charleston, South Carolina.

“And I’m bringing in new works to introduce other choreographers,” she said. Altogether, the 25th anniversary concert will range “from very new works to works that I, personally, love the most.”

“Each season I try to go across the spectrum of what modern dance can be, and is, in the United States and internationally.”
— Mary Pat Henry, co-founder and artistic director, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company
Choreographers to be represented include Kevin Iega Jeff (of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Chicago), Robert Moses (of Robert Moses’ Kin in San Francisco), Danny Shapiro (of Shapiro & Smith Dance in Minneapolis) and Wylliams Henry associate director Paula Weber. The program will also feature a piece by Wylliams and a new work by Henry.

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance had its genesis in a lunch chat between Wylliams and Henry during a festival in Vancouver.

“We started talking about our philosophies of dance, and the great artists that influenced us, and the ones that really weren’t showcased as much anymore,” she said. “So we said, ‘We should start a company together sometime.’”

Henry remembers Wylliams as “an extraordinary, award-winning choreographer. People wanted to work with him — he was very highly respected.”

Born in Denver, Wylliams (whose name was originally Leonard Morrell Williams) was an Emmy and MTV Award-winning choreographer who trained with Cleo Parker Robinson, performed with companies including the Netherlands Dance Theater, and created work for ballet and modern dance companies around the world.

Wylliams was found slain on Sept. 13, 1996 in his Kansas City home. He was 35. In an obituary, The New York Times noted his “warm, engaging stage presence.”

Henry said that the company retained its name after Wylliams’ death because “I felt we had built it together.” And it remains dedicated to showcasing dance “from the avant-garde to the traditional.

“Each season I try to go across the spectrum of what modern dance can be, and is, in the United States and internationally,” she said. In the process, the company presents the work of “a smorgasbord of really interesting, unusual and diverse choreographers.”

At the heart of the company’s journey, Henry said, is the question: “How does all this tie together?

Review | 25th anniversary season concert features world premieres, repertoire favorites

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, marking 2 1/2 decades dedicated to creating and presenting exemplary modern dance that addresses social justice issues and examines human interactions. The performance Saturday in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Recital Hall included world premiere works as well as highlights from the company’s repertoire.
Read more

KC’s Top Contemporary Dance Company Celebrates 25 Years of American Choreography

It all started over lunch, during a festival in Vancouver, B.C., where Mary Pat Henry and Leni Wylliams were discussing their favorite dancers and choreographers. She was a dance teacher from South Carolina and he a rising star in the New York dance scene, but the two discovered they had remarkably complementary visions of dance and its history. Both were nationally respected dancer-choreographers who had worked with major companies, but in the coming years they would embark on building a new company that would change the face of dance in the Midwest.

Review | New works, new dance partners

New Dance Partners should be a must-attend event on every local arts lover’s calendar. Now in its third year, the program, hosted by the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College, commissions new works by notable choreographers for the participating companies. This year, Gregory Dawson set twisted metal on Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, Katarzyna Skarpetowska was paired with Owen/Cox Dance for La Locura, and new to the project this year, the Oklahoma City Ballet’s Speaking in Spheres was choreographed by Brian Enos. The diversity of movement and distinctive characteristics of each choreographer befit the paired ensemble. Read more

Review | “Affairs of the Heart” doesn’t miss a beat

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company presented six dance works in its spring program, “Affairs of the Heart,” this past weekend. “Affairs of the Heart” featured the work of five choreographers who captured the vast and powerful emotions that come with falling in and out of love. The dances ranged from pieces about the joyful discovery of falling in love, the art of seduction, unquenchable desire, betrayal, and the insatiable human need for human connection.
Read more

‘Modern Night at the Folly’ choreographic showcase displays creativity, strength

Vulnerability, frailty and ambiguity were the strengths of this year’s “A Modern Night at the Folly,” the 12th annual choreographic showcase presented by City in Motion Dance Theater. Despite the late winter storm Saturday night, an audience of dance enthusiasts gathered in the Folly Theater to enjoy a varied, creative program from local and regional artists.

Read more