Review | Wylliams/Henry celebrates 25 years of contemporary dance with intelligence and style

Bold and inventive, the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company continues to present captivating, relevant modern dance works. The company, helmed by artistic director Mary Pat Henry, marked its 25th anniversary with an eclectic show Saturday at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Recital Hall.

The program included a mix of repertoire favorites and newer works, including the world premiere of Edgar Anido’s “Tohubohu.” This was a magical, visionary quartet for four women (Kelsey Crawford, Caroline Dahm, Sarah Frankenberg, Hannah Wagner), abstract yet emotive, contrasting awkward and tender gestures, and continually unexpected. There was an elusive sense of existential crisis, with such unique movement combinations that nothing could be pigeonholed.

“Ferment,” choreographed by Henry, was commissioned in 2011 by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to honor the sculpture by Roxy Paine. Henry emulated the work’s twisty, silvered tendrils reaching for the sky with the dancers’ extended limbs lifted high, then higher, in posed homage.

Two works from the early aughts were paired in the second half.

Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith’s “To Have and To Hold” featured bodies, on bodies, in near constant motion, slipping, sliding, rolling or turning somersaults over and under and across the three benches. The semi-playfulness of movement nevertheless harbored a sense of grief and longing and any pause in the action generated a desolate tension.

Also constantly in motion, Paula Weber’s “To Each Her Own” was, by contrast, a release, with seamless, graceful movement and elongated gestures.

Rounding out the program were two works from the 1990’s. Vincent Brosseau’s 1998 “Rippling Souls” opened the show and was poorly executed, unfortunately, a creative, athletic work that included acrobatics and pole vaulting, yet lacked clarity and confidence in this performance.

However, Kevin Iega Jeff’s “Church of Nations,” from 1991, was an inspired inclusion, aligning with the company’s devotion to politically charged works. A large ensemble, garbed like clergy, performed beneath an illuminated cross. They danced on and around metal folding chairs like tortured marionettes with wide, angular movements, wary and unsure, pressured to conform (in this case, to a church leader’s commendation of war). A sonic mélange from Ennio Morricone and The Art of Noise was a visceral component in this powerful work.

The work, like Wylliams/Henry, is 25 years old and remains a smartly constructed critique of complacent ethics. And with this sort of culturally pertinent content, Wylliams/Henry will continue to make visceral, effective contributions for many years to come.