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.
Dawson’s twisted metal for five dancers was my favorite of the evening. Perfectly suited to Wylliams/Henry athleticism and power, Dawson’s work was complex with sharp articulation, covered a variety of heights (the most intriguing of which were his prone or seated movements), and its well-balanced structure of ensemble section, solos, duos, and trios flowed organically. The men’s nude-illusion costuming by Laura Powell and the deep red for the women played up the primal, sometimes African Jazz movements as did the dark, dim, and often backlit lighting by Burke Brown. Beginning unaccompanied, Kaylin Horgan stunned with a contorted, twisted solo that served as the germ for the piece. John Swapshire and Winston Dynamite Brown were electric in their angular, yet graceful solos and their male trio with DJ Duncan was a standout moment. Caroline Fogg was equally compelling partner for Horgan. The music composed by Damacio Payomo and Dawson was electronic, and sometimes felt less carefully crafted and thus undeserving of the high-quality movement. Blocking relied too heavily on downstage right; but if it had been brought center about three more feet, could have used the space better while still providing an unbalanced feel. During Friday’s production, the younger dancers in the quintet were noticeably out-of-sync in the ensemble portions, and there was one bogglesome blackout cut before the ending’s final push. Dawson has a knack for pulling the eye with interesting background movement that is in dissonant counterpoint with the foreground solos, so as an audience member I felt free to explore the entire stage’s visual.
La Locura was structured as a dream sequence to the music of Jordi Savall, Montserrat Figueras, and Hespèrion XXI. Skarpetowska’s piece for Owen/Cox began as a quintet of dancers fell asleep. Felicia McBride pulled herself out of the pile and into a dreamy, fluid world of contrasting contradances and modern steps. Her opening solo and the duos between William Cannon and Demetrius McClendon were among Skarpetowska’s strongest choreography. I could watch an excerpt of the entrancing McBride dance that solo countless times as each extension, turn, and change of direction felt musically informed and natural. Betty Kondo and Dmitry Trubchanov also had a lovely, more traditional duet, but they lacked a spark together.
But it was in the ensemble movements that Skarpetowska’s work fell flat. These moments, with their labyrinthine complexity, did not follow the clear throughline which she established at the beginning of each movement. For instance, the final number began with each dancer with clasped arms, worming their ways in and around one another. As they separated, the overall visual became a muddied variation even though pairs or threesome would rejoin arms. Had she been able to sustain the initial concepts established by each of the ensemble moments throughout, the cohesion would have been much stronger. Overall the piece was elegant, musical, and enjoyable with beautiful transitions between section and, most importantly, exceptionally well danced, but it was missing the immediacy of the Dawson.
The eight dancers of the Oklahoma City Ballet were masters of precision and execution but Brian Enos’s choreography and design did not live up to the dancers’ potential. Speaking in Spheres found a single door on stage which was manipulated by the dancers. This prop was superfluous. As an abstract ballet with loose vignettes, the positioning of the door, and whether or not it was opened or closed, held no bearing on the dance. Instead of watching the skilled dancers I was aggravated that they were saddled with having to move this ugly thing around with no grander purpose than to have someone else appear behind it. As all the dancers were clothed in attractive, dance-friendly business casual grays and blues by Dayna Brown it was difficult to distinguish between the performers, especially the men; although musically returning cues by Lera Auerbach, Johan Paul von Westhoff, and Gabriel Prokofiev helped establish some characterization. The worst offender was Enos’s over reliance on ballet running to position dancers. Once in a scene, his choreography was so creative, energetic, and genre melding—I spotted some capoeira, hip-hop, breakdance, and pop-and-lock through a ballet lens—that I was immediately drawn in, only to be jarred out of it by the dancers running to new blocking or off-stage. He excelled in creating episodes, but never resolved how to get the dancers from one gorgeous scene to the next. If these transitions could be smoothed out, Enos’s choreography would be all the better for it.
Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College
New Dance Partners
September 25–26 (Reviewed Friday, September 25, 2015)
Yardley Hall, Carlsen Center, JCCC Campus
12345 College Blvd., Overland Park,KS
For more information, visit http://www.jccc.edu/performing-arts-series/
By Lee Hartman