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.

A signature work of the company, Sha Tah Tee, choreographed by late company co-founder, Leni Wylliams, was a strong opening choice as it featured and showcased all ten members of the dance company. Wylliams found a unique way of combining Middle Eastern and contemporary dance movement to create visually stunning images, lines, and body shapes throughout the entire number. All technically sound and highly trained, the dancers moved fluidly and seamlessly across the stage in deep plié as they transitioned from section to section. The dancing and music continued to build with energy before culminating in a striking moment of all ten dancers moving together onstage. Though the piece is left widely open to interpretation, the vast array of vibrant images and the beauty and power of human movement lingered as the lights and music faded.

Givin’ Up, a female/male duet performed by Katie Jenkins and Branson Bice and choreographed by DeeAnna Hiett, radically, but successfully, changed the pace of the show. The dancers captivated as they successfully took the audience through the trials and tribulations of an intense romantic relationship. The dance was so choreographically strong in its emotional storytelling that it begged to be set to an instrumental music selection rather than to a popular song. At times, it felt that the lyrics of the song took away from the authenticity and intimacy of the story. There was not a moment when the dancers were not fully committed to telling the story through their body language, focus, and facial expressions. They were entirely present with each other and their connection provided some very sensual and beautiful moments. Jenkins and Bice were so totally immersed in the dance that it was impossible to not be invested in the rollercoaster relationship taking place on the stage. There was a huge sigh of relief heard as the dancers ended the piece wrapped up in each other’s arms.

Heart Thieves choreographed by Robert Moses was a solid ending to the first act. It was a pleasant surprise to see Three Play Four Play showcased again in the second half of this program after first seeing it performed at the UMKC Spring Dance Concert in late April. The performance was even more compelling the second time as I was able to catch more specific details of the love triangle. Yet again, it did not fail to impress and was a highlight and standout of the show.

Mary Pat Henry’s Obsession featured female soloist, Caroline Fogg, dancing a psychological journey through a woman’s consciousness set to the poetry of Sylvia Plath. The piece left haunting images as there were two human figures who would press their faces, hands and bodies through stretchy fabric upstage of Fogg’s dancing. These images were grotesque and ghastly as they protruded through the fabric representing the voices and people she hears and sees inside her head. Fogg held the stage well and triumphantly led her character to fight her inner demons in order to love and accept herself for who she is. Desire by Gary Abbott concluded the show with an intense and powerful depiction of attraction and lust between three individual couples. The dancers acknowledge, fight, deny, and then embrace their primal desire to physically connect with another human being.

Wylliams/Henry successfully created a visceral evening of dance depicting what love means to us as human beings. With their exceptional dancing, dynamic array of choreography, beautiful costumes, effective lighting, and professionalism, Wylliams/Henry proved how love can make the heart dance.

By Ashley Miller,