February 12, 2010

Truly a ‘Modern Night”
Review by David Ollington

City in Motion celebrates a 25-year presence in the Kansas City arts scene. A quarter of a century ago, this umbrella organization produced shoestring concerts in dance studios. An enthusiastic and eager community of terpsichorean artists collaborated, faced innumerable obstacles, created, raised funds and danced.

A Modern Night at the Folly, last Saturday night, Feb. 6, stands as a testament to the enormous dedication and love that has driven City in Motion for this landmark year. The production values rode high, the choreographers created some exquisite work, and the dancing shined.

Jennifer Owens dancing “Fuga Tanguera” (photo by Charles Stonewall)

Co-Artistic Director Dale Fellin spoke at the onset of the event, announcing, “City in Motion is the oldest professional dance company in Kansas City with the exception of the Kansas City Ballet,” and reiterated CIM’s mission, “to foster the development of high-quality contemporary dance.”

City in Motion operates as a three-tiered organization: a professional company, a school for dance and a showcase series. Modern Night falls under the third category. A myriad selection of choreographers and dancers from the area presented work.

The concert was adjudicated; the artists had to submit work for selection in the concert, a far cry from the situation 25 years ago where at times City in Motion had to scramble to get enough dances in their showcase concerts.

Every dance demonstrated proficiency and creativity. Clearly, City in Motion had the dances selected. It showed.

Suzanne Ryan Strati’s “The Strength to be Willing” evoked imagery of desperation and perseverance. The music by composer Jacob Gotlib included verbiage that intensified the yearning choreography with words such as “I can’t go on like this,” and the Lord’s Prayer. The dance stayed asymmetrical, belying an imbalance in the spirit.

Cellist Justin Cowart accompanied “and we hold tight together,” a trio by Jane Gotch. Gotch intuitively created a piece with nuance and subtle changes in energy. It hypnotized us with dynamic yet simple relationships between the dancers and a powerful cellist.

Three strong solos highlighted the evening.

Soloist Jeff Curtis executed his own work “Last Call” to the music of Tom Waits. Curtis danced with a piano bench. He moved with expression and facility, a dancer with astonishing technique and expression. The comic piece obviously inspired by Waits' lyrics (“The piano has been drinking, not me”) garnered more laughs from the words in the song than Curtis' movement choices. Curtis made a notable exception to this pattern at the closing of the piece, where he opened the lid and attempted to get into the bench.

Lighting Designer John “Moose” Kimball offered dancer Lindsay Pierce an iridescent column of rays, allowing her to melt into different moods with her specific and perfectly executed choices of movement. Titled “low,” this dance unpretentiously invited attention.

Patrick Suzeau in robes streaked with color moved with specificity, slowly transforming in space before our eyes, ending at the edge of the space when a number of plastic bags swept towards him from offstage, evoking mystery.

Three of the dances made use of projections. This work is relatively new to the field as a whole. Yale University has recently implemented the first MFA degree in Theatre with an emphasis in projection work. Modern Night at the Folly had some mishaps with the use of projection.

In Maura Michelle Garcia’s “The Reckoning,” projections appeared on the screen behind the dancer, together with the computer’s arrow-shaped cursor, clearly an unincorporated image in the design. It disappeared finally, but not until we saw the tool bar arrive and then vanish.

During Penelope Hearne’s “Longing, Fleeting, The End,” several projections evoked mood, a bird, squiggles and a moon. Unfortunately, we also read the words “Input One,” and “Input Two” during transitions.

Michelle Diane Brown’s “Innerlying Landscapes, Section III” failed to utilize projections to make sense of the bafflingly restrictive costuming. The dancers in addition to moving with one arm completely encased in skintight gowns wore Mohawk-shaped red squares as headdresses. Behind them a projection offered us more confusing imagery, unhelpful in making sense of an inaccessible work.

An ensemble of musicians, Brad Cox, Christian Fatu, Jeff Harshbarger, Gregroy Sandomirsky and Sam Wisman, played edgy, riveting music for Jennifer Owen’s quartet “Fuga Tanguera.” The choreography stayed within the realm of the style of ballet, unsuccessful in matching the innovations in the sound. The four ballerinas even wore shoes, the only shod piece in the concert. Their dancing, though lovely, seemed more appropriate for another type of event.

Despite a few bumps in the road, every dance at Modern Night offered some kind of risk, and every dancer moved with expertise. The crowd cheered. The journey has been long from studio concerts to an annual event at the Folly Theatre. Thank you City in Motion for giving us such provocative art.

City in Motion’s next performance will be the professional company’s 25th Anniversary Concert at the Gem Theatre, April 10-11. Visit www.cityinmotion.org for more information.

David Ollington can be contacted at Ollington@aol.com.