Category: Press

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.
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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.
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‘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.

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Review | “New Dance Partners” sees second successful showing (

Three collaborative new works premiered Friday night at Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College’s second annual “New Dance Partners.” Each of the three pieces, commissioned by the series, combined an up-and-coming national choreographer with an established local company. Considering that the series, led by general manager Emily Behrmann, continues to present some of the best high-class performances in the region, the audience turnout for this special program was underwhelming.

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