While the word dance is part of the organization’s name, Owen/Cox Dance Group is more than dance. That word group allows co-founders Jennifer Owen and Brad Cox to unite others with their musical and choreographic skills to form an integrated experience that often involves visual artists, fashion designers and others.
The two just started their eighth season. They make sure to stick with the mission “to create new music and dance collaborations, to present high-quality contemporary dance performances with live music, and to engage as wide an audience as possible through affordable live performance, education and outreach programs.” Owen says she and Cox, along with the dancers and musicians, aim to present new music and dance works. “We want to provide a quality live experience.”
As a composer, Cox will compose a third to half the music for the season, but he makes sure the music for all the dances is appropriate for the dancers and for the audience. “Jennifer and I select the repertoire together.”
Along with the dancers, Owen/Cox includes musicians that comprise the People’s Liberation Big Band. The members will soon be seen in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in mid-December. The two performances will be at the Polsky Theatre at Johnson County Community College.
They also performed at la Esquina, a Charlotte Street Foundation gallery space, in early October. The season closer will be at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s White Recital Hall. In the past couple of years, Owen/Cox Dance Group has also been part of the New Dance Partners that unite them with the Kansas City Ballet and Wylliams-Henry. There is also a special fundraiser Feb. 15 at the Todd Bolender Center for Creativity and Dance.
The group received its non-profit status in 2007. “From the beginning, I admired Brad’s music. I had been choreographing on a smaller scale while dancing with the Kansas City Ballet. It seemed like a natural transition for us to join together in order to do what we liked to do. It has been artistically rewarding from the beginning. We found a good place within the community to present unique collaborative works,” Owen says. “Kansas City is an extremely supportive place for the performing arts.”
The two look forward to future collaborations. “We have a supportive base, and I hope that we will expand our audience as we work with other artists, including visual artists and those with incredible musical talent. We can also gain more as we perform in other venues. The more we can be seen and share our work, the better,” she says.
Cox is quick to accentuate the qualities of his wife. He applauds her choreographic skills. “There is a clear integration of the music and dance. Whether it’s to music performed by the Bach Aria Soloists, or to newly composed works, the choreography is carefully planned to reflect the music. There are no extras.”
With the various collaborations, Owen knows the audiences keep growing as music lovers explore dance because of the joint shows. “I really believe that what we do is accessible to all audiences. While the works can be contemporary and new, the performances have broad appeal. It is also part of our mission to keep ticket prices affordable for a wide audience.”
The two choose works that are fun to present. “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is appealing with the story we tell,” Owen says. The contemporary dance troupe returns to the original E.T.A. Hoffman story dating from 1816 for their inspiration. As with other stories, the Nutcracker comes to life and battles the Mouse King and then whisks the female lead, named Marie in this tale, to the magical kingdom populated by dolls. It was another 76 years when Tchaikovsky turned Alexander Dumas’ adaptation into the ballet. This year marks the group’s sixth run with the holiday show. The People’s Liberation Big Band is featured prominently, as well as designer Peggy Noland’s costumes.
“The appeal of The Nutcracker is the fundamental fairy tale,” Cox says. “It is a story of the redemptive and transformative power of love, similar to Beauty and the Beast .” Owen agrees, but sees Marie as the character she understands. “This is a girl coming of age. She is passing through childhood into adulthood.” The performances are 8 p.m. Dec. 13 and 2 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Polsky Theatre, Johnson County Community College.
Cox says Ludus Tonalis, by composer Paul Hindemith, is a contrapuntal masterpiece that has never been choreographed to before. Following the success of Owen/Cox Dance Group’s 2013 performance of the Goldberg Variations, pianist Kairy Koshoeva again joins with the ensemble to present this masterwork of 20th century piano literature. Elizabeth Suh Lane, artistic director and founder of the Bach Aria Soloists, will also join them on the June 6 performance at UMKC’s White Recital Hall. Suh Lane will perform J.S Bach’s Partita No. 3. to Owen’s original choreography.
“We choose dances and projects that are fun to present,” Owen says. “I want to offer energetic, playful, and thought-provoking pieces that allow audience members to experience the works with new ears and eyes.” Along with their performances, Owen/Cox now has Take the Stage, an educational outreach led by artistic director Rebka Sakati. Cox says the program is now in four schools and reaches fourth-graders. They will add a fifth school in January. “We didn’t envision this specific educational mission, but it has been a great opportunity,” he says. Owen/Cox Dance Group also serves as sponsors for the annual Kansas City Dance Festival.
“We keep our eyes open for opportunities to grow artistically,” Owen says. “We aim for organizational and artistic growth.” Both applaud an active and supportive board. Right now, the two plan to continue to present three to four shows for a season.
“We have successes to celebrate and a momentum to take us into the future,” she says. Cox says the ensemble’s success is in the high-quality of its music and dance performances. “We try to keep our focus squarely on the arts and the quality we offer.”
As for the future, Cox and Owen expect to produce and present new works. Shari L. Wilson, the board president, says: “The plan focuses on governance, fund development, and creative aspects of the organization. We are working to add board members and strengthen our committees, expand our funding opportunities, and work toward several goals creatively, including having a dedicated rehearsal space, hiring dancers on a more permanent basis, and increasing the amount of touring that we do. I would like to see Owen/Cox Dance Group eventually have an executive director who can focus on funding and marketing, increase the number of performances we do each year (both in Kansas City and by touring), and continue to provide the unique, high-quality combination of innovative choreography, original live music, and unexpected collaborations people have come to expect from the group.”