Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company to Receive $10,000 Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts

Kansas City, MO — National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Mary Anne Carter has announced the first major funding announcement for fiscal year 2019. Included in this announcement is an Art Works grant of $10,000 to Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company for the re-staging of Southern Exposure by Artistic Director, Mary Pat Henry. Art Works is the Arts Endowment’s principal grantmaking program.

Southern Exposure
will be presented October 4 & 5, 2019 at White Recital Hall at the Performing Arts Center on the campus of UMKC. Considered one of WHCDC founder/artistic director Mary Pat Henry’s masterworks, Southern Exposure is a multi-media dance theatre piece which will be transformed into an hour -long evening work with 16 dancers, 2 actors with archival film and images from artist William Christenberry ’Clan Room”.

In the past few years a 21st 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 social significance, while fostering mutual respect for all persons and broadening understanding American society,” stated Ms. Henry.

“The arts enhance our communities and our lives, and we look forward to seeing these projects take place throughout the country, giving Americans opportunities to learn, to create, to heal, and to celebrate,” said Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.

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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Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company at the Kauffman Center

Back after its celebratory 25th anniversary season, the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company will begin its new season with a program highlighting the company’s dancers. “One, Two, Three, Four Dance … Again!” will be presented Oct. 13 and 14 at White Recital Hall.

Throughout its history, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance been known for its superb dancers trained by artistic director and co-founder Mary Pat Henry. A former professor of dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, Henry has always emphasized high-level technical skills, as well as aesthetic sensitivity. “One, Two, Three, Four Dance … Again!” will give the company a chance to display both.

The program will feature three new works from some of the most creative and forward-thinking choreographers in the country. “An Artist” for five dancers by Jennifer Archibald, director for Arch Dance Company in New York City, should be a great curtain-raiser, with its airborne lifts and creative partnering. The other two company premieres are “She and I,” a duet for two women by Gavin Stewart, and “Tarantism” by Gary Abbott.

DeeAnna Hiett, the co-artistic director of Wylliams/Henry, is contributing “Eden,” which Hiett describes as “a sensual duet of attraction and love.” Concluding the program is Henry’s “Sweet Otis Suite.” Set to music by Otis Redding, it’s one of the most beloved works in the Wylliams/Henry repertoire.

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.

As the main curtain opened, a single incandescent bulb sat atop a pedestal lamp, dimly illuminating the stage as dancer Kaleena Burks entered for Penny Saunders’ Ghost Light, a New Dance Partners’ 2014 commission for Owen/Cox Dance Group. There’s little evidence here of Saunders’ career lately as a dancer and choreographer with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago; Ghost Light is definitively balletic, its details soft and nostalgic. Regardless if Saunders is leaning toward ballet or contemporary, she has a knack for envisioning beautiful atmospheres on stage, brought to life here by the design team of Scott Bolman (lighting) and Lisa Choules (costumes). Ghost Light has a vintage vibe, supported by a patchwork score of Bach and big band as three men twist and tangle themselves through an elaborate series of partnering with Burks and the long train of her evening gown. At times this ratio created an imbalance of power, giving the impression that Burks was being teased and taunted by these ghosts, poked at and prodded, giving her pause illustrated by gestures like a hand to the throat or a palm to the forehead. But on enough occasions, it became clearer that these men are not quite men, but ghouls over which Burks is mistress; ultimately it is she who controls them.

Gregory Dawson’s Twisted Metal exploits everything Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company’s dancers can do – from the near-naked gleam of their chiseled bodies under Burke Brown’s auburn lights, to pliés so deep they could sit, standing up. Twisted Metal‘s finale is dedicated to just that: a display of pure Dance, capital D. It’s not unwelcome, but less interesting, perhaps, then the lead-up to there in which we sense anger, defiance, and tenacity at play — not against one another, but toward a common goal, and at time, against self. Shadow boxing toward the sky, guttural tones emerging from shuddering bodies, and (almost always) an attempt to move to the periphery of the body and get as far away from oneself as one might… these images spoke more strongly than Twisted Metal‘s satisfying dance phrases at the end.

Without my program in hand, Kansas City Ballet’s entrance for the evening’s final piece gave me a gut reaction of, “Wow, this is really dated and looks like Jerome Robbins.” Turns out, Interplay is indeed dated (debuting in 1945), and by Jerome Robbins. Though KC Ballet is part of New Dance Partners, the plotless ballet about child’s play is not, and appeared on the company’s spring “Director’s Choice” program last month. Interplay puts recess games on pointe, with audiences taken on a happy-go-lucky jaunt that includes “follow the leader,” hopscotch, patty-cake, and an occasional cartwheel. That’s cute, but also kind of weird performed by grown adults. Recognizing that this is a historical work by an important choreographer, it’s easier to forgive the cliche trappings of this short ballet, and seeing it in 2017 points to the vast differences between now and then in terms of how childhood is perceived and illustrated. Cartwheels and all, the work is well-danced by its eight cast members, expertly staged by former New York City Ballet principle Judith Fugate (who has previously set Robbins’ Face Free and George Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliante on the company), and a joyful end to a rich evening of dance.

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Review | Wylliams/Henry Celebrates a Quarter-Century of Excellence in Dance

For any arts organization to reach its 25th anniversary is cause for applause. But such an achievement is perhaps even more notable for a dance company. Dance, one of the most revered art forms, is also among the least understood.

But Kansas City’s Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, founded by the late Leni Wylliams and Mary Pat Henry in 1991, has clearly found an appreciative audience.

Writing in The Kansas City Star, critic Patrick Neas praised the company’s history of presenting “some of the most interesting, engaging and provocative choreography of the contemporary dance world.” A review by Ashley Miller in KC Metropolis hailed the troupe’s spring program as “a visceral evening of dance.”

Coming up, the ensemble will celebrate its quarter-century milestone with performances on Sept. 23 and 24 at White Recital Hall on the UMKC campus.

The program will “reach back to the earlier years, to bring back the works that still are extraordinarily vibrant and exciting,” said artistic director Henry, who was born in Charleston, South Carolina.

“And I’m bringing in new works to introduce other choreographers,” she said. Altogether, the 25th anniversary concert will range “from very new works to works that I, personally, love the most.”

“Each season I try to go across the spectrum of what modern dance can be, and is, in the United States and internationally.”
— Mary Pat Henry, co-founder and artistic director, Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company
Choreographers to be represented include Kevin Iega Jeff (of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Chicago), Robert Moses (of Robert Moses’ Kin in San Francisco), Danny Shapiro (of Shapiro & Smith Dance in Minneapolis) and Wylliams Henry associate director Paula Weber. The program will also feature a piece by Wylliams and a new work by Henry.

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance had its genesis in a lunch chat between Wylliams and Henry during a festival in Vancouver.

“We started talking about our philosophies of dance, and the great artists that influenced us, and the ones that really weren’t showcased as much anymore,” she said. “So we said, ‘We should start a company together sometime.’”

Henry remembers Wylliams as “an extraordinary, award-winning choreographer. People wanted to work with him — he was very highly respected.”

Born in Denver, Wylliams (whose name was originally Leonard Morrell Williams) was an Emmy and MTV Award-winning choreographer who trained with Cleo Parker Robinson, performed with companies including the Netherlands Dance Theater, and created work for ballet and modern dance companies around the world.

Wylliams was found slain on Sept. 13, 1996 in his Kansas City home. He was 35. In an obituary, The New York Times noted his “warm, engaging stage presence.”

Henry said that the company retained its name after Wylliams’ death because “I felt we had built it together.” And it remains dedicated to showcasing dance “from the avant-garde to the traditional.

“Each season I try to go across the spectrum of what modern dance can be, and is, in the United States and internationally,” she said. In the process, the company presents the work of “a smorgasbord of really interesting, unusual and diverse choreographers.”

At the heart of the company’s journey, Henry said, is the question: “How does all this tie together?

Review | 25th anniversary season concert features world premieres, repertoire favorites

Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, marking 2 1/2 decades dedicated to creating and presenting exemplary modern dance that addresses social justice issues and examines human interactions. The performance Saturday in the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Recital Hall included world premiere works as well as highlights from the company’s repertoire.
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KC’s Top Contemporary Dance Company Celebrates 25 Years of American Choreography

It all started over lunch, during a festival in Vancouver, B.C., where Mary Pat Henry and Leni Wylliams were discussing their favorite dancers and choreographers. She was a dance teacher from South Carolina and he a rising star in the New York dance scene, but the two discovered they had remarkably complementary visions of dance and its history. Both were nationally respected dancer-choreographers who had worked with major companies, but in the coming years they would embark on building a new company that would change the face of dance in the Midwest.