“Six hundred days of not being in a real theater.” That’s how Devon Carney announced the return of the Kansas City Ballet to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It felt exciting to be back and the dancers really gave their all to this well-chosen program of three works. Opening with George Balanchine’s Serenade was an apposite choice. As the first original ballet he created in America, it pulls the form back to its bare but beautiful simplicities, evoking a lesson in stage technique. Nothing says ‘we’re back’ like Serenade.

Kaleena Burks with company dancers in Serenade
© Brett Pruitt | East Market Studios

Against the stark blue background ideal for silhouettes, the dancers showed forth their sharp and crisp movements. I especially was struck by the collective ports de bras, and by the energetic epaulements which served as punctuation. Lines and patterns were trim and stylish without being over-drawn. At the end, the processional line holding a woman aloft reminded one of Balanchine’s own line “ballet is woman”, and the freshness of everything prevented this from seeming a sentimental cliché.

Kansas City Ballet Dancers in Wunderland
© Brett Pruitt | East Market Studios

Edwaard Liang’s Wunderland followed next, beginning strikingly on curtain rise, with a tableau of five dancers unbelievably still en plié, en pointe. Once again, there was a stark simplicity on show here, both in the costumes and lighting, and in the low hum of the Phillip Glass score: these were complements to the movements, athletic, sinuous, centripetal and centrifugal, both tense and harmonious. It was a powerful, postmodern mix. It almost seemed at times as a kinetic translation of Rodin’s statuary. I’m not sure whether the mapping of the movements to the story of a replica of small Siberian snow globe was absolutely convincing. It did of course mean that we got the intermittent snowfall on stage to conjure up Siberia (what else?). In any case, I suspect the mixture of sentimentality with edginess was postmodern in itself. I absolutely loved that moody, powerfully-danced pas de deux between Emily Mistretta and Liang Fu, and I was completely taken in by the berceuse pose in the middle and at the end, rocking the globe, or world gently to rest, to the lulling of the Glass score. Quite lovely.

Lamin Pereira with company dancers in Celts
© Brett Pruitt | East Market Studios

Lila York’s Celts, which premiered in Boston back in 1996, filled out the evening’s program with an enjoyably lively syncretism between ballet and Irish dance. I’m an Irish person who was formally trained in ballet, not Irish dance; there always seemed to be a bifurcation in my mind between the two: Irish dance (ringlets and embroidery and all the furore of River Dance); ballet (buns and tutus and the venerable shade of the not-very-Irish sounding Ninette de Valois). I didn’t know how I’d take to Celts but actually, I loved it. Like any successful synthesis, it worked because it was carried with such triumphant energy and while the loud shoe-tapping was replaced by less dramatic soft-slipper work, there was leaping and physical hijinks aplenty, and plenty of puckish, muscular Lords of the Dance and boisterous ballerinas with what we might call in Hiberno-English streelish hair (buns – perish the thought!) to make one Irish woman abroad think it time to get home again. 

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