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.
Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company kicked things off with San Francisco-based choreographer Robert Moses’ The Heart Thieves. Unfortunately, a small child in the front of the theatre had her own agenda, which included an unending temper tantrum that went well into the middle of the act. Luckily, the dancers remained in focus and were not impacted by the distraction. They flourished with Moses’ modern movement, which was akin to the company’s characteristic style.
Synchronization between dance and music was disjointed at the beginning, but eventually came together in the second section. Miyesha McGriff shared some graceful moments with her partner as they fluidly executed a series of balances and falls. Alessandra Perdichizzi and her partner moved vibrantly to Michael Manring’s eclectic electric bass guitar compositions. When the cadence of their duet slowed down, the two harmoniously transitioned into a sinuous, intense exchange. Their magnetic connection abruptly ended as Perdichizzi placed her hand on his chest, causing him to convulse as she effectively stole his heart.
Perdichizzi, a promising artist, is one of several company members who still are students at University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance. It’s reassuring to see WHCDC give college students the opportunity to gain invaluable experience with a professional company while pursuing their dance education.
Choreographer Amy Seiwert enjoyed a 19-year performing career with three California ballet companies prior to taking on choreography full time and creating her own contemporary ballet company Amy Seiwert’s Imagery. Seiwert debuted Concertino with the Kansas City Ballet, an organization that boasts 28 members but only utilized nine dancers for this particular endeavor. She also elected for pointe shoes, traditional costumes, and classical music (selections from Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerti Grossi) to create a charming neoclassical composition that proved a great fit for KCB’s repertoire.
Seiwert’s choreography contained a range of vocabulary from pirouettes to gargouillades that matured steadily with a variety of featured dancers, thematic steps, and several full-ensemble panoramic sections. In this vein, she resourcefully highlighted the dancers’ strengths, such as Travis Guerin and Laura Hunt’s flawless musicality and sustainability as well as Geoffrey Kropp and Angelina Sansone’s cultivated dexterity and fluid partnering that showed off her long limbs.
The ensemble featured three new company dancers — Danielle Bausinger, who exhibited great strength and artistry; Liang Fu, who demonstrated solid partnering skills; and Whitney Huell, whose jitters made her pointe work a little shaky.
Sandwiched in the middle of these works was Penny Saunders’ alluring Ghost Light. Saunders, who had a remarkably diverse professional career, brought a fresh concept to a completely new cast of Owen/Cox Dance Group members.
Coats, who just ended her long-standing career with KCB, was hauntingly captivating in a grand evening gown and long white gloves. A dashing and suitably attired male trio partnered Coats and her dramatic dress train in several dynamic Alexandre Desplat selections. Bob Deskins, Brett Taylor, and Jeff Wolfe also charmingly danced amongst themselves to lighter tunes from Mark Mothersbaugh, David Hirschfelder, and Johann Sebastian Bach. Wolfe performed an amiable solo in simple silhouette that gave way to an exceptionally malleable rag doll as his comedic comrades attempted to wake him up.
The literal spotlight of the work was a ghost light (better known as a stage light) that theaters put out after performances to appease any possible cohabitating spirits. Positioned downstage right, the light attracted the artists, especially Coats, as well as the audience. Five pendant lights soon descended from above to join the focal stage light, all of which were impeccably conceived and executed by Saunders and designer Scott Bolman.
The piece ended when Coats stalkingly retreated the same way she entered, disappearing back into the essence of the theater. Saunders’ authentically engaging perception and choreography, accompanied with the dancers’ eloquent execution, made Ghost Light the most distinctive of the three and the most variant of its parent organization’s emblematic expression.