Libby Hanssen, Special to the Kansas City Star
New Dance Partners is the type of programming that, while risky, has its reward: a presentation of wholly new art that challenges and inspires.
Commissioned by the Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College, there is nothing quite like it on the region’s dance calendar. Three world premieres were presented Friday night in Yardley Hall.
Emily Behrmann, general manager of the arts series, with guidance from artistic adviser Michael Uthoff of Dance St Louis, matched nationally acclaimed choreographers with Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company and Owen/Cox Dance Group, who have been with the program since its inception, and Oklahoma City Ballet, welcomed this year. Burke Brown designed the lighting.
Gregory Dawson, working with Wylliams/Henry, created not only the movement but also the music (with Damacio Payomo) for his “Twisted Metal,” a tense, layered electronic soundscape of rumbling hums, zaps and percussive jangles that moved between amorphous and heavily rhythmic.
The piece began in silence, though, the soloist in a dusky spotlight with a slow breaking, sauntering phrase that prefaced the tension of the music. The sepia-stained light emphasized the dancers’ muscularity, as did the aggressive duets, suggestive of battle. This contrasted to the wide-open gestures and loose, graceful leaps of the soloists and the synchronized movement for the brightly lit ensemble.
Owen/Cox worked with Katarzyna Skarpetowska for “La Locura” a musically driven work set on a selection of early music recorded by Hespèrion XXI. As the melody traveled up and down in sequences of scalar passages, the dancers twisted and spun in fluid combinations of endless spirals, with tender, delicate duets.
Their final sequence continued this seamless quality, now set to the overlapping voices of a female chorus, as the dancers linked hands and wove intricate patterns around one another. They dropped hands to walk forward in a line, ending with a powerful visual.
Balancing force and sweetness, Brian Enos’ “Speaking in Spheres,” for the Oklahoma City Ballet, was a high-energy display for eight dancers. The manipulation of a wheeled door structured the subtle narrative exploring relationships from stormy to harmonious.
Strains of thundering piano and harsh violin triggered angular gesture, awkward neck bends and shuffling, loose-kneed kicks, as though propelled backward by force. In duet, captured in blocks of light, the pairings were sympathetic. The ensemble sequences and use of space in stage crossings were inventive. The work also had elements of fun, with one-handed cartwheels and clever disregard for expectations.