For Kansas City Ballet’s fall performances, Artistic Director William Whitener has struck a pleasing balance—he has assembled three Balanchine shorts, one comic and lighthearted, one lush and romantic, one stately and formal; and included a magnificent and moving modern piece, which may just have been the evening’s highlight.
All in all, the program, which kicks off the Ballet’s 2010-2011 season—its last before moving to the Kauffman Center—is a success, highlighting the company’s trademark versatility across many dance genres and vocabularies.
Thursday evening’s somewhat lightly attended premier at the Lyric Theatre began with the stately and traditional Mozartiana, featuring a succession of solos and group work, all set to Tchaikovsky’s Mozart-like orchestral movements.
Next up, the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, featuring a score that was originally intended to be used in Swan Lake, highlighted the impressive athleticism of Michael Eaton and the grace of Kimberly Cowen, the latter flowing through classic lifts and leaps in a diaphanous peach dress.
Then, veering far from the Balanchine-Tchaikovsky canon was the strikingly beautiful modern piece Lark Ascending. Set on a dark, bare stage, soloist Stayce Camparo’s graceful gestures evoked birdlike movements and flight. She was supported by a cadre of male dancers whose angularity and precision gave the entire piece, which is said to allude to the struggle for achievement and purpose in life, a poignant and haunting quality.
Last was the comic ballet Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, which the Ballet has decided to use as its principle point of publicity for these fall performances. Originally choreographed as part of the 1936 Broadway musical On Your Toes, and with music by Richard Rogers, this is the amusing story of a jealous Russian ballet dancer, clowned perfectly by Gabriel Davidsson, who plots to have a rival dancer assassinated. Big, boisterous crowd scenes, costumes and sets saturated in warm pinks and oranges, and comically outsized performances are Slaughter’s stock, all of it well-supported by soloists Michael Eaton (who even tap dances) and the graceful Aisling Hill-Conner.
Musical accompaniment was generally well performed (aside from a screechy violin solo in one of the Tchaikovsky pieces) and the lighting designs were especially effective in Lark Ascending. However, I though sets for Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, though well suited to the staging, had an almost ticky-tacky quality, especially in the bar area.
The Kansas City Ballet’s fall performances continue through the weekend at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Kansas City. For tickets and more information, visit the Ballet’s website.