Patrick Neas, The Kansas City Star
Some of Kansas City’s most beloved artists are collaborating for the first time on an original project.
Beau Bledsoe’s Ensemble Iberica and tenor Nathan Granner will provide the music, Jennifer Owen is bringing the choreography, and Owen’s dance company, Owen/Cox Dance, will perform “Danza” Friday, April 15, and Saturday, April 16, at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College.
“Danza” will feature mostly new works by Owen, set to Spanish music from the Renaissance to the 20th century, as well as some Turkish music. The program also will include “La Locura,” a work that was created for Owen/Cox dance by choreographer Katarzyna Skarpetowska for last September’s New Dance Partners hosted by the Performing Arts Series of Johnson County Community College.
“A lot of Spanish Baroque music is just a naturally great fit for dance,” Owen said. “And some of the Turkish pieces also have a wonderful dance quality.”
And when it comes to Spanish music, no one in Kansas City does it better than guitarist Bledsoe and his Ensemble Iberica.
Bledsoe and Owen have been friends since the mid-’90s, when Owen was a member of the Kansas City Ballet, and Bledsoe and Granner were two wandering minstrels playing venues like Le Fou Frog. It has been a joy to watch Owen and Bledsoe create their own successful, world-class ensembles and base them right here in the city they love so much.
“We’ve been friends for a really long time, and when we were in our late 20s, we used to kind of fantasize about the things we’d like to do in the future over dinner parties,” Bledsoe said. “Jennifer is very exacting and very professional. She definitely sets the tone. Everyone’s ready. There’s no goofing off, but it’s still a very good time, and she’s always very gracious. She’s famous for that.”
Granner, the other member of Owen and Bledsoe’s posse, has an opera star voice and flamboyant personality that have made him a Kansas City favorite. But he has been missing in action the past couple of years while he has pursued a master’s degree at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I’m hoping people will want to hear what he sounds like right now, because Nathan has a lot of fans here,” Bledsoe said. “He learned the whole show in about three days. That’s very impressive, so he’s gotten good at being fast. But his core sound is still there, which is something I was actually kind of worried about, but he still sounds like my friend Nathan Granner. He’s just more refined. That’s the main thing I noticed.”
“La Danza” also will feature a new member of Ensemble Iberica, Amado Espinoza, who plays flutes, percussion and charango, a guitar-like instrument from Bolivia.
“Amado moved here last year, and he’s one of the most interesting musicians in town,” Bledsoe said. “I chose this concert to see how we work together because he’s more of a folkloric musician. He makes a lot of his own instruments, and they’re fantastical. They have dragons all over them. You’re convinced he’s a wizard.”
Owen is adding her own magic with choreography that she has been creating for her company of six dancers. It’s a change for Owen, who previously has worked out the choreography on herself before involving the dancers.
“I’ve come to a point where I just like to choreograph on the dancers in the studio, so that I don’t come into the studio with material already set,” Owen said. “I think the dancers feel more ownership of the material that’s created with them. I feel like things have become a lot more interesting since I’ve started working that way.”
Even though the music is heavy on Latin flavor, Owen said not to expect flamenco or other stereotypical Spanish dance moves.
“I’m trying not to get too stylized Baroque, Spanish or Turkish in any way,” she said. “In fact, I told the dancers that if it starts to look Spanish, please tell me, because I don’t want it to look that way. I want the dance movements to come naturally and be inspired by the music itself, which celebrates relationships and love and break-ups, humor and beauty. All of those wonderful things that music and dance can represent so well.