Bill Brownlee, Special to The Kansas City Star
“Chromatic Collaboration,” the title of a joint venture between NewEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble and the Owen/Cox Dance Group, provided artistically rewarding thrills Saturday at the H&R Block City Stage at Union Station.
The pairing of the longtime purveyors of forward-looking classical music and the acclaimed dance company accentuated the strengths of both Kansas City-based ensembles. Dance accompanied music on four of the program’s six pieces. The daring combination contained a stimulating level of suspense.
“There’s a super-heightened sensitivity to everything that’s going on,” Brad Cox, coartistic director of Owen/Cox said in a post-concert discussion with members of the audience.
Cox is also an innovative composer and musician. The premiere of his “Long Day/Good Night” was the program’s clear highlight. Imbued with a sense of reflective yearning, a musical fragment was repeated as momentum slowly built. Its pulse evoked Philip Glass, but the work was far from detached.
Unassuming yet transcendent, Cox’s composition is minimalism with its heart on its sleeve. The emotional resonance of “Long Day/Good Night” was enhanced by the ghostly embraces of dancers in form-fitting costumes.
The dance troupe’s athleticism was showcased during “Workers Union,” a manic composition by Louis Andriessen. Costumed like industrious insects, the dancers’ frantic bustle seemed to suggest that communal life in a hive is akin to work in a factory. The amusing satire caused many in the near-capacity audience of about 175 to roar with laughter.
The creative choreography was spellbinding, but the two selections without dance were also compelling. Thomas Aber’s mournful bass clarinet contrasted with a foreboding recording during an interpretation of Charles Dodge’s “Clarinet Elegy in memory of Verna Hervig.” It sounded as if jazz giant Eric Dolphy was lost in space.
During a rendition of JacobTV’s absurdist composition “The Garden of Love,” Jan Faidley’s saxophone playfully merged with taped bird songs, electronic squeals and a manipulated recitation of a William Blake poem.
“Why didn’t we do this sooner?” percussionist Mark Lowry asked after the concert. “And when can we do it again?”
Based on Saturday’s captivating performance, lovers of adventurous music and imaginative dance will be demanding answers to those worthy questions.