It’s fall, and Kansas City artists and arts organizations are ready for business. Readers can get an informed overview of some of the best the city has to offer in our illustrated season lookahead of performances and exhibits selected by KC Studio’s critics in music, dance, theater and the visual arts.
Visual arts lovers will also find information about top exhibitions around the region, from Salina to St. Louis, to Bentonville, Arkansas. Potential standouts include the ambitious “Hip Hop and Contemporary Art in the 21st Century” at the Saint Louis Art Museum and Richard Mosse’s revelatory masterpiece, “Broken Spectre,” at The Momentary in Bentonville. The exhibit includes a display of Mosse’s monumental photographs capturing the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest and his 72-minute film on the topic displayed on a 70 x 10-foot screen. In a review earlier this year, the New York Times called it “both visceral and abstract, beautiful and horrifying.”
Also on the must-see list is “A Layered Presence,” an exhibit of works by 22 Kansas City artists of Latinx heritage, opening Oct. 14 at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The exhibit is the third in a series of shows focusing on Kansas City artists from shared cultures, which began with the 2021-22 “Testimony” exhibit of works by members of KC’s African American Artist Collective, followed by the 2022-23 exhibit “Found in Translation,” showcasing new works by eight artists with roots in Asia.
On the music and dance front, there is much anticipation surrounding “She Breathes Fire,” a collaboration between the Owen/Cox Dance Group and KC composer Stacy Busch, at Union Station’s City Stage Theatre in October. Our critic Libby Hanssen describes Busch, winner of a 2023 Mid-America Arts Alliance Artistic Innovations Grant, as “one of the most singular voices creating in Kansas City today.” Living composers also come to the fore in the Friends of Chamber Music’s season opener, “New Horizons,” which marks a first, as “Friends of Chamber Music never had that single concert that is only comprised of living composers,” according to FoCM’s co-artistic director, Hyeyeon Park.
In his fall column, theater critic Robert Trussell lays out the entire September-May season. This year’s offerings are many and varied, with several standouts touching on the issues of the day by approaching them through a historical lens. They include the Coterie’s “Justice at War,” about a suit brought by Japanese American civil service employees sent to internment camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. And considering that body’s recent controversial decisions and behaviors, KCRep’s production of Heidi Schreck’s award-winning “What the Constitution Means to Me” gains renewed relevance.
On the topic of theater, three Kansas City actors spent part of July performing at the Bedford Festival Fringe in Bedford, England, where Central Standard Theatre presented Albert Welling’s “Suzi of the Dress,” featuring Nicole Hall and Christoph Cording, and Phillip Hayes Dean’s “Paul Robeson,” starring Robert McNichols, Jr. In advance of the UK trip, McNichols treated the KC audience to a stirring and memorable performance of the one-man show at the Black Box. In addition to his acting and vocal talents, McNichols has distinguished himself as an educator, activist, scholar of Black music, founder of the Black Musical Arts Community Choir and manager of education programs at Music Theater Heritage. He is a true Kansas City treasure.
Fall brings farewells and welcomes to top players in Kansas City’s cultural sphere. Notable is the departure of three women who have helped shape the cultural landscape for a decade and more. They are Unicorn producing artistic director Cynthia Levin, whose accomplishments over the past 45 years are chronicled by Robert Trussell in the current issue; Lisa Browar, who established the Linda Hall Library as a global research destination and spearheaded exhibits and programs that engaged the KC community during her 15-year tenure as president; and Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, where she has been curating groundbreaking exhibitions for a decade. They include the remarkable “Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today,” a 2017 show of abstractions by women artists of color, and the current “Virginia Jaramillo: Principle of Equivalence,” the first major retrospective of the New York-based Mexican American artist. Dziedzic leaves the museum at year’s end to pursue an independent curatorial practice in the Northeast.
Levin will continue in her post until June 2024; in coming months the theater’s board of directors will conduct a search for her successor. Browar is succeeded by Eric Dorfman (see Arts in Brief, p. 22); the search for Dziedzic’s replacement awaits the naming of Kemper Museum’s new director, expected by the end of this year. The year also brings changes at the top at the Kansas City Ballet and the Kansas City Symphony, with David Gray (see story, p. 72) succeeding Jeffrey Bentley at the Ballet and Matthias Pintscher taking over from Michael Stern as music director of the symphony.