Category: Press

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company Presents “Southern Exposure”

This fall, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company restages its 2010 work “Southern Exposure” with the help of a $10,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. “With all of these things that have happened in the past few years, many years, actually, I thought it was time to revisit it again, in a slightly different perspective,” said Mary Pat Henry, choreographer and WHCDC’s artistic director.

The multimedia dance theater work is a period piece, set in the American South during the 1960s. It tells the story of a young white girl and her Black friend, innocent, at first, to their environment’s violent societal forces.

The scenes trace Henry’s memories and experiences. Henry grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. “Integration started when I was in high school. I remember the theaters were segregated and the water fountains and the counters. All of that I go through in the story.”

“Some of them,” she said of her memories, “I couldn’t even put in.” Even though it is a hard story to tell, Henry has never steered away from works that explore social issues — and injustice. “I always wanted to do it for a very long time . . . but I was reluctant to do it. I was reluctant, because I was thinking, ‘Who are you to say this?’” she said.

“It took me a long time to figure out how I might do a piece like that. William Christenberry did an exhibit at the art gallery at UMKC, and all these events and memories came back.”

The exhibit, in 2000, was of Christenberry’s pivotal and controversial “Klan Tableaux Sculptures” from his “Klan Room” series, featuring photographs, paintings, sculptures and scenes with dolls dressed in KKK hoods. He started the project in 1963, amassing a large collection, but the work was mysteriously stolen from his studio in 1979. Over the decades, he reconstructed the work, which includes more than 400 objects.

Christenberry’s work confronted that legacy of hatred and provided the perfect palette for Henry’s story. She spoke with him, and he gave her permission to use his images as long as they were not altered.

The images are more than backdrop, though. Images of crumbling buildings, blurred around the edges with the veil of nostalgia, capture a way of life that was already, then, fading, decaying. The work also includes archival footage from the era, some of it the lush Southern landscape, some of it capturing the South’s inglorious past.

“Some people have told me,” Christenberry is often quoted, “that this subject is not the proper concern of an artist or of art. On the contrary, I hold the position that there are times when an artist must examine and reveal such strange and secret brutality.”

Christenberry died in 2016, but his work continues to instigate conversation, to measure our past and present. Some of his pieces are now part of the Belger Arts Center’s collection.

“Southern Exposure” also uses the music from the era, selected from UMKC’s Marr Sound Archives. With the assistance of curator Chuck Haddix, Henry pored over the music for weeks to find the right mix, including pop, gospel and instrumental tracks, as well as a spoken word recording by the Last Poets.

The work requires a large cast, with both Black and white dancers, as well as a narrator and actors: “to make it more real and not pure dance.” As the work developed, she talked with the dancers to ensure authenticity in emotion and detail.

The dancers “walked back through it with their experiences when we did it . . . I talked about what happened to me; they talked about what happened to them,” she said. “They were very verbal about what is real and what is genuine, and they wanted to share that because they knew it was important.”

“They got emotional, too. We were all crying in the end. It’s powerful, because it’s still relevant to what’s happening now.”

What was happening in 2010 is amplified in 2019. We were told, then, that we lived in a post-racial society only to learn, now, that the heritage of racism infiltrates at every level, insidious and violent.

As Henry finalized the logistics of the performance, she also considered how to incorporate recent events into the period piece.

This summer, she traveled back to Charleston to talk with people in that community, in light of the 2015 tragedy at the Emanuel AME Church, a place she walked past many times as a little girl. Blending modern elements into the period piece can be challenging, but for Henry, it is a way to reinforce the message that the stains of our past are still present and need to be remembered and addressed.

There are practical changes, too, though she is working with the original technical designer, E.J. Reinagel. The work was originally staged in UMKC’s Spencer Theatre, but scheduling constraints required the production to move to the neighboring White Recital Hall, which doesn’t have a fly system, so there are technical issues to consider and work out.

Henry has expanded the piece to an hour, and it will be the concert’s entire second half. The first half features two pure dance pieces, choreographed by Christian Denice and Frank Chaves, as well as Christopher Huggins’ award-winning, adrenaline-fueled “Enemy Behind the Gates,” presented in partnership with the UMKC Conservatory Dance Department. Henry was chair of the dance department for many years and maintains close ties as professor emerita. WHCDC is artists-in-residence with the Conservatory.

WHCDC will also extend the discussion into the community. Last time, they brought the performance to the students at the Paseo Academy, hosting master classes, and Henry intends to create similar opportunities with this restaged version and continue those conversations.

“Art can reflect what’s going on in society,” said Henry, echoing Christenberry’s statement. She hopes these conversations and performances encourage people to realize that there has to be a coming together for our society to heal and progress.

Original article, by Libby Hanssen of KC Studio…

Wylliams/Henry dance company’s October show takes on current events, racial tensions

The Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company has never shied away from exploring social issues.

“Juncture,” a program of four works the company will perform Oct. 4 and 5 at White Recital Hall, will be a typically bold Wylliams/Henry presentation of thought-provoking and challenging works that cast light on contemporary issues.

“Juncture” will include the new piece created by Frank Chaves for Wylliams/Henry’s recent New Dance Partners concert, “Fragment” by Christian Denice and “The List” by Christopher Huggins, a work inspired by the Stephen Spielberg film “Schindler’s List.” ‘

Concluding the program will be an autobiographical work by the company’s artistic director and co-founder, Mary Pat Henry, called “Southern Exposure.”

First performed by Wylliams/Henry in 2010, “Southern Exposure” draws on Henry’s experience growing up in South Carolina. This will be the second time the company has done the work.

“It took me until 2010 to have the courage to do create it,” Henry said. “I decided to do ‘Southern Exposure’ again because of what is happening in the nation.”

Henry cites the riots in Ferguson and the massacre of nine African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston as just two examples of racial tension in the United States. She’s updating certain aspects of “Southern Exposure,” which is set in the ’60s, to allude to more current events.

“I’m going to try to use very subtle radio and television clips that will make reference to what has been happening recently,” Henry said. “I want to bring together where we were, how far we’ve come and how it’s time to come together again.”

Although “Southern Exposure” is based on her own experiences, Henry says she wanted her ballet to transcend her own viewpoint.

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Southern Exposure

Considered one of WHCDC founder/artistic director Mary Pat Henry’s masterworks, Southern Exposure is a dance/theatre piece delving into racism in the South during segregation and integration. Using archival images and film, spoken word, and music from the period, Southern Exposure is a collaborative multi-media work with artist William Christenberry’s “The Klan Room” and Chuck Haddix, music historian of the Marr Sound Archives. Southern Exposure will be expanded into incorporate references to the current issues of racism and hatred in America today as we look into the past and to the future. In the past few years the civil rights movement has grown fueled by grief and rage of black Americans of all ages.

The re-staging, community and audience engagement, and performances will provide the opportunity to enrich a dance-theatre work of significance, while fostering mutual respect for all persons and broadening understanding of American society

Mary Pat Henry

Company Receives $10,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts!

National Endowment for the Arts has announced an Art Works Grant of $10,000 to Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company for the re-staging of “Southern Exposure.” Art Works is the Arts Endowment’s principal grantmaking program. The agency received 1,605 Art Works applications for this round of grantmaking, and will award 972 grants in this category! The company will performing this work alongside selected dance majors of the UMKC Conservatory! Another beautiful, impactful experience this season!

Wylliams/Henry Fall 2019 Concert Season

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company fall 2019 concert season will present Southern Exposure on October 4 and 5 at 7:30 p.m. in White Recital Hall at the Performing Arts Center on the UMKC campus. Southern Exposure is a dance/theater piece by Mary Pat Henry delving into experiences of racism and hatred in the South during 1960s segregation and integration. Using archival photographs and film, spoken word and music from the period, Southern Exposure is a multi-media work supplemented with photographs and artwork from “The Klan Room” by William Christenberry. Southern Exposure forces us to look into our past to examine current race issues in the United States today. This expanded recreation of this original work has been made possible by an Arts/Works Award from The National Endowment for the Arts.

In addition, Wylliams/Henry is honored to present “Fragment,” a new cutting-edge work by Los Angeles choreographer Christian Denice, a new work by Chicago choreographer Frank Chaves (commissioned by New Dance Partners) and “Enemy at the Gate,” a signature work about the Holocaust by internationally renowned choreographer Christopher Huggins. This season will be an evening of thought-provoking social works with beautiful, dynamic dancing that speaks to the heart and the humanity we all share amidst our society’s most difficult moments.

Review | New Dance Partners celebrates 5 years with four world premieres

New Dance Partners, the collaborative effort between the Carlsen Center and some of the area’s best dance ensembles, has yielded much fruit in its five years.

Besides the obvious benefit of Kansas City’s dance companies learning from one another and working together, the program has resulted in 17 new works of choreography.

But perhaps the best thing about New Dance Partners are the actual performances of these works.

New Dance Partners will present the Kansas City Ballet, Owen/Cox Dance Group, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance and Störling Dance in four world premieres Sept. 21 and 22 at Yardley Hall.

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Review | Kansas City New Dance Partners puts local dance front and center

KANSAS CTY, MO — Kansas City New Dance Partners is an initiative launched in 2013 at Johnson County Community College (JCCC), located in the sprawling suburbs on the Kansas side of the two cities who share the same name. The goal of New Dance Partners is to elevate the local dance scene and bring it to the attention of students, as well as Kansans reluctant to venture downtown. Each year, a select group of local (and sometimes regional) dance companies are paired with reputable choreographers from across the county to create new works, and Friday’s showcase at the magnificent Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts treated members of the Dance/USA national service organization to a version of the initiative as the main stage event of its annual conference. It’s important for mid-size cities to host companies on tour from the coasts or Europe to seek inspiration, but — similar to Dance St. Louis’ New Dance Horizons initiative on the other side of Missouri — New Dance Partners invests in Kansas City’s home companies to bring out their best and raise the bar locally. The high caliber of the project’s choreographic commissions serve another purpose, too: projecting Kansas City’s profile outward and affording this small but robust community a megaphone to say, “Hey! There’s good dance here!” So it is likely that Dance/USA conference goers were surprised by the New Dance Partners showcase, which only goes toward proving its purpose for this city’s growing dance scene.

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