Arts News – New Dance Partners: An Innovative Investment in Local Creativity

Emily Behrmann, general manager for the Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College, knows a good idea when she sees it.

New Dance Partners: The Ultimate Collaboration returns for its fourth appearance as part of the Carlsen Center Presents (formerly known as the JCCC Performing Arts Series), in September. Behrmannn explains it is a concept borrowed from Dance St. Louis: bring in nationally known choreographers to work with Kansas City dance companies.

“Emily saw the power of the New Dance Horizons project we started in St. Louis and asked that I assist her in making something similar take flight in Kansas City,” says Michael Uthoff, former executive and artistic director of Dance St. Louis and artistic advisor for New Dance Partners. “I think Emily and the JCCC, like Dance St. Louis before them, are pioneers in creating a process that benefits everyone. It encourages creation and experimentation. It provides a large vision of what dance has to offer and allows audiences to see the myriad of possibilities within the field, allowing them to make educated choices as to what they will want to see in the future.”

For this year’s project, four partnerships were created. The Kansas City Ballet will work with Matthew Neenan, co-founder and choreographer of BalletX. The Owen/Cox Dance Group will work with Kameron Saunders from the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance and COCA-St. Louis. Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company will work with Jennifer Archibald, founder and artistic director of ARCH Dance Company. The Störling Dance Company will work with Heather Gray, associate director of the Utah Regional Ballet II.

Presenting organizations like the Carlsen Center Presents formerly used their seasons to introduce a variety of national and international artists. But many presenting organizations are now expanding their mission by also turning their sights inward to their own community, supporting new works and productions by local artists.

“As a presenter, I think it’s important to support our local arts organizations because it strengthens the arts in Kansas City, generally, and builds relationships that grow over time and result in more partnerships,” Behrman says. “The college has resources available that many small to mid-size arts organizations don’t, so the project is also about sharing these resources for the benefit of the arts in our community.”

Jeff Bentley, executive director of the Kansas City Ballet, says the benefits of the trend are shared between the regional or national artists and the local companies.

“Not only does the program provide the cost of choreography fees and travel/per diem and housing,” Bentley says. “But by selecting local professional companies to be the recipients it adds valuable new works to repertories for a fraction of the cost.”

“It’s an incredible gift to have JCCC commission a new work for our company and provide the technical support for the performance,” says Jennifer Owen, artistic director of Owens/Cox Dance Group. “They put a lot of resources into the project that make this collaboration possible.”

“What most dance companies need the most help with is the creation of new works,” Uthoff says. “New Dance Partners uses its budget to benefit local companies directly and most of the investment stays within the local community.”

New Dance Partners is not only a financial and artistic investment in the art of dance, but also a collaborative investment in the local dance community. Kansas City has a vibrant and active dance community but it is rare that they can find time in their seasons, and funds in their budget, to work together.

“New Dance Partners is a bridge for artists of different genres to come together and form friendships and respect for each other,” says Mary Pat Henry, artistic/executive director of Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company. “Emily Behrman has opened the door for us to work together in a supportive and warm environment, which is unique because usually we are all so focused on our own works and our own visions.”

“I hope New Dance Partners inspires people by showing how an arts community can come together to create a project like this,” Behrmann says. “It helps strengthen dance in Kansas City. It helps strengthen the dance audience in Kansas City. And it makes Kansas City more of a destination for dance.”

The Carlsen Center Presents will feature “New Dance Partners: The Ultimate Collaboration” at 8 p.m. Sept. 22 and 23 in the college’s Yardley Hall. The Friday night performance will include a pre-show talk at 7 p.m. with featured choreographers Matthew Neenan, Kameron Saunders, Jennifer Archibald and Heather Gray. For more information and tickets, visit www.jccc.edu/CarlsenCenter

Above: The Kansas City Ballet will return as part of the Carlsen Center Presents “New Dance Partners” performance this year. Above, Angelina Sansone and Geoffrey Kropp of the Kansas City Ballet perform choreographer Amy Seiwert’s “Concertino” as part of the 2014 NDP program. (photo by Mike Strong)

Krista Lang Blackwood

Krista Lang Blackwood is an award-winning educator, performer and freelance writer. When she's not teaching or performing, she combs the greater Kansas City region for off-the-beaten-path arts and culture offerings, usually in the company of her husband and precocious, French-speaking son. 

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