Ashley Miller, KCMetropolis.com
Owen/Cox presented the world premieres of “Fuga Tanguera” and “What Keeps Mankind Alive” at Musical Theater Heritage at Crown Center this past weekend.
Dedicated to creating and performing new music and dance works, Owen/Cox Dance Group hit a high note with its world premiere of What Keeps Mankind Alive over the weekend. Featuring music by Kurt Weill to Bertolt Brecht with arrangements by Brad Cox, the piece highlighted Jennifer Owen’s artistic direction and choreography. An additional world premiere of Fuga Tanguera was also included in the program and incorporated influences of Argentine Tango, Latin dance styles, and contemporary jazz. The Owen/Cox dancers, musicians of Tango Lorca, and vocalist Lucas Pherigo all contributed to what was a successful collaboration and enjoyable showcase of music, theater, and dance by some of Kansas City’s finest artists.
Fuga Tanguera started the evening with seven sections of music and dance all varying in style, tempo, rhythm, and feel. Owen’s movement and inventiveness complemented the music in such a way that I felt I was watching the music jump off of the page and come to life right before my eyes. Dynamic and sharp accents accompanied a Latin-movement style that included body isolations, quick turns, and deep lunges throughout the faster syncopated sections. The dancers used their deep plié to find the fullest extension of their movement, which in turn created seamless transitions in their phrasing. The significant use of repetition, ripples, and canons, in addition to the use of theme and variation, enforced the continuity and gave cohesion to the various ensemble sections.
A tremendous variety of directional facings and floor patterns within the choreography pleased the eye. The dance space felt limited when all seven dancers were dancing together on stage, but the dancers maneuvered their personal space well and never made it an issue. I did like the intimacy of the performance venue which made me feel up close and personal to the dancers. It drew me in as I was able to see the details of the intricate partnering work and the facial expressions and connection between the dancers.
With many of the dancers being veterans of the Kansas City Ballet or other prestigious dance companies, the performance from every dancer was top notch. The ensemble numbers were dynamic and powerful. Though there were small instances where the timing may have been off, it was easily forgiven because the dancers moved with extreme commitment, focus, and intent. I particularly enjoyed Felicia McBride’s solo number. Her control and technical capabilities were strong and I felt a real emotional connection to her while she danced. McBride glided across the stage with so much energy surging through her body it seemed as it was pouring out of her fingertips. This performance was a clear indicator that Owen’s movement vocabulary is expansive and she possesses an uncanny ability to create gripping choreography and innovative partnering work. My only wish would be to see more partnering and lifting between the male company members to change up the typical pas de deux.
What Keeps Mankind Alive opened the second act of the performance. The piece centered on music by Kurt Weill and lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. Throughout the seven sections the dark lyrics, sung by Pherigo, juxtaposed almost abrasively against the light musical accompaniment of Tango Lorca. This odd juxtaposition is typical of Brechtian theory. It was intriguing to see this clash of light against dark also reflected so well in the choreography. The choreography was an appropriate blend of literal and theatrical movement with contemporary and abstract elements. Though I was not entirely sure how each section tied to the next or what the existing throughline was intended to be, I enjoyed the work for what it was and the level of artistry unfolding onstage.
Owen/Cox is constantly forming new collaborations, exploring new themes, and finding innovative ways to push themselves as artists. It is not every night that a performance includes world premieres of two very different musical and dance stylings. It is inspiring to see a performance where the music and movement are molded into a cohesive and thematic performance. Any time dance is accompanied to live music it is such a treat as performer and audience member. Owen/Cox has made this their trademark, and in turn, they have given something truly special and significant to the dance scene in Kansas City.