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Of Body and Sound: UMKC Conservatory breaks new ground with Fall Dance Concert

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The Conservatory premiered its Fall Dance Concert on Nov. 1, which featured choreography by Cuban Edgar Anido and music performed by the Conservatory Wind Symphony.

The first performance, “On the Edge,” was choreographed by Paula Weber and focused on form and balance. Relying on more formal ballet moves, Weber created a fantastical scene of dancers who appeared to float along the stage. The costumes were minimal – the female dancers wore short teal dresses, and the men wore black shirts and pants.

The music was a regal sounding brass composition with woodwind accompaniment. The design choice conveyed a sense of extreme presentation, as if it was a performance for royalty. Every move was precise and graceful. The ballerinas appeared to move in synchronization, but they slowly broke apart from the group dance one by one. It may have appeared to be a mistake on the dancers’ part, but when they spread out and placed themselves along the stage the formation of each danced created the full effect.

The second performance was “A Hint of Mischief,” choreographed by DeeAnna Hiett. Presenting itself in stark contrast to Weber’s regal, graceful celebration of form, Hiett created a more physical and passionate dance. The lighting was dramatic with direct lighting from the ceiling and sharp, bright red and green lights from the wings. The music composed by James Mobberley also contrasted from the first performance, using cello, xylophone, marimba and piano. This ensemble provided a distinctly quieter sound, but it accompanied the movement of the dancers perfectly.

Incorporating the sounds of the dancers’ feet landing on the stage and their thighs sliding along the wooden surface created a sense of deep connection between the music and the performers themselves. It almost conveyed that the body is an instrument audibly as well as physically. This accentuated the passionate choreography by Hiett. The dancers bent and embraced, leaped through the air and rolled on floors to the soundtrack of plucking strings and the hard-packed thuds of flesh on wood.

It was with the third performance, “Tricheur, Menteur, Voleur” where suddenly something completely different and new began to emerge. Choreographed by Gary Abbott, “Tricheur, Menteur, Voleur” was the first great experimental performance of the night. Beginning with a stark and relatively empty stage save for a grouping of chairs, the dancers were dressed in simply black tights and black blazers. Regardless of how restricting the upper garments may have seemed, what Abbott created was a harsh, powerful and loud performance. The piece was extremely physical, with dancers moving around each other on the stage hunched over and emulating a sort of animalistic energy.

The music, “Cheating, Lying, Stealing,” was composed by David Lang and seemed more a collection of noises than a composed song. With the wild, extreme dancing it was a stroke of genius, as it somehow personified the thought patterns of the dancers themselves. One of the most interesting elements was the use of chairs. Halfway through the performers broke into groups of men and women and performed various group dances with shifting, vibrant lighting. Each group would perform while the other would sit in the chairs, hunched over with their hands together, appearing to chew as they looked on. This element solidified the idea that the performers themselves were becoming both their own audience as well as entertainment.

After the intermission, the forth performance, Ronald Tice’s “Interventions” encompassed a more traditional style of ballet. Presented in five acts, the dances gradually increased in intensity first beginning with a very calming, fully synchronized, all-female dance choreographed to selections from Bach’s “Music for Two.” As the acts increased in ferocity of movement, so did the music, using mainly cello and classical guitar. All of these elements  created a dreamy and beautiful performance.

The next performance was a youthful, gorgeous display of movement, featuring an all female ensemble and expert use of wardrobe. Mary Pat Henry created in “Counterpoint Continuum” an exuberant portrait of fall. The movement of the dancers, while very traditional, was extremely refined. Dancers moved across the stage and around each other as if motorized. The music by Steve Reich was  solely performed by flutes which provided a feeling of serenity and excitement.  At the end the initially normal stage lighting was replaced with a warmer glow of orange lightas the dancers brought small candles and arranged them along the borders of the stage.

This warmth connected to the second-to-last performance, “The Sound Below” by guest artist Edgar Anido. In almost exact opposition to“Tricheur, Menteur, Voleur,” Anido’s dancers reach for each other, their clear desire almost resonating beyond the stage. Musically, the performance was odd, beginning without real music. It simply started with white noise playing through the speakers and the dancers standing still like statues. Gradually after a minute the drone was replaced with a clear piano beat and the dancers began to move with greater intensity.

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