Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Verb Ballets demonstrates its broad range in Saturday show at Cain Park

July 28, 2014

Verb Ballets demonstrated an admirable range of styles Saturday night in Cain Park's Evans Amphitheater, as they opened their 2014-15 season with four dances including the company premiere of choreographer Anthony Krutzkamp's "Similar" (2013).

The D-Minor Keyboard Concerto of Bach provided the backdrop for a revisiting of William Anthony's dance "Contra Con," which Verb performed in February in two choreographically identical versions, one with the intellectual rigor of Bach's masterpiece, the other with African drumming as its soundtrack.

Saturday night's performance limited itself to the Bach version, a more comfortable setting for the dance's vocabulary of classical ballet tropes played out in an abstract arc. The nine dancers (the men dressed in red T-shirts and shorts, the women in red long-sleeve tops and lightweight skirts) combined variously in patterned unison and counterpoint, reminiscent of the sort of thing Balanchine would accomplish with composers as disparate as Tchaikovsky and Hindemith.

The effect was attractive enough, though in the dance's lively outer sections, it seemed to lack a certain depth that was hinted at in the slower middle section, wherein the dancers continued their patterned steps with languorous gestures and frozen-in-time combinations, while at the back of the stage and only dimly lit, the single figure of a woman, draped in a flowing burgundy robe, strode with ritualistic slowness from left to right, oblivious to the dancers upstage.

Summer apprentice Ca'la Hensderson was striking in this brief appearance; she returned later in the program as part of the corps for Tommie-Waheed Evans' "Dark Matter."
Choreographer Pamela Pribisco envisioned an operetta-like pas de deux for "Tarantella" (2005). Janet Bolick's costumes, complete with beribboned tambourines, carried the association further, with their evocation of gypsy dancers from the era of Franz Lehár and Emmerich Kálmán.

Gottschalk's "Grand Tarantella" for piano and orchestra (in Hershy Kay's well-known arrangement) drove the dance relentlessly forward through its stages, with a series of ever-increasingly elaborate solo passes framed by the opening and closing duets.

Megan Buckley replaced the indisposed Stephanie Krise as Michael Hinton's partner, and turned in a winning performance that included some effortless high kicks, striking the tambourine with her toe. The result was a nostalgic turn that one audience member was overheard to describe as "adorable."

At age 32, Anthony Krutzkamp has retired from dancing and is now choreographer and Co-Artistic Director of the Kansas City Dance Festival. In a video interview, he described his days as a dancer, when he frequently found himself cast as "the partner," in which he "spent a lot of my time deadlifting and pressing ladies and running across stage." With his recent work "Similar," for eight partnered dancers, he sought to add more depth to the role.

Krutzkamp described his choreography as revolving "around circles," though this hardly begins to describe the Apollonian beauty of his work, in which highly refined steps and streamlined gestures based in classical ballet movements find a new application and great emotional depth. The tender and languid pas de deux, danced by Lieneke Matte and Stephaen Hood, just about stopped the show.

Verb reprised their electrifying dance "Dark Matter" from last year. Commissioned by Verb from Philadelphia choreographer Tommie-Waheed Evans, with a pounding score of industrial electronica by Philly composer Greg Smith, the work is a nonstop tour-de-force for nine dancers, who move with great athleticism and complexity in what could be described as a radical urban style, but always at the mercy of the music and Trad A. Burns' pulsating lighting effects.

The dance followed an impressive course through a landscape of gestures and steps that seemed to be on the verge of erupting in violence, with dancers finding themselves joined in unison patterns, only to break apart and scatter around the stage. The score, which sounded as if Vladimir Ussachevsky had written music for a post-apocalyptic dance club, combined tonally indeterminate rhythmic impulses with fragments of speech and, curiously, passages of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

The work was quite effective, but a little exhausting. Dark matters, indeed, were hinted at in the dance's subliminal narrative, but its monochromatic tone was unrelieved, something that might be modified to better effect by notching down the in-your-face lighting and the high volume of the music.

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