Moving Arts: New Name, Same Passion.

The name you are born with isn’t always how you are known. Such is the case with Moving Arts, which began existence as the Kansas City Dance Festival and now, seven years in, has evolved into a dual-city summer company: a four-week residency with performances in both Kansas City and Cincinnati.

The troupe has always presented an impressive selection of challenging dance works, what Anthony Krutzkamp jokingly called a “pick’n’mix, juke box, mystery dance bag.”

Co-artistic directors Krutzkamp, Logan Pachciarz, and Cervilio Amador devised a program of complementary pieces with three new works from local artists, two from international choreographers.

What similarities the pieces had (overtly abstract movement, primarily electronic music, unobtrusively simple costuming, feelings of animosity and tension) were broadened with the range of imaginative movement, thoroughness of concept and top tier performances.

This summer they moved operations into Polsky Theater at Johnson County Community College’s Carlsen Center, with the festival portion of the event slimmed down to masterclasses with local dance schools and open rehearsal.

The show opened with a pairing from two world premieres by KC-based choreographers.

“The Second Voice,” by Kristopher Estes-Brown, set the tone with symbiotic fluidity between dancers Samantha Huebner and James Kirby Rogers, the seamless movement rarely separating, a miniature universe contained in the two.

Trad A Burns’ lighting is an essential element of these works, honing in on the emotion and primary action, serving this and the other locally produced pieces. Estes-Brown also composed the music for his work, though the violin line was too loud in the mix, becoming painfully strident.

Jennifer Owen’s “Ayler” found inspiration in a piece by KC-based, nationally known saxophonist Matt Otto, a tribute to the late avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler. To Otto’s rich tone, Owen created a dialogue for dancers Kaleena Burks, Liang Fu, and Taryn Meija, phrases of wide swinging gestures, little shuffling kicks that fit her style so well, and impressive lifts by Fu.

Choreographer Ihsan Rustem was born and raised in London, and now lives in Switzerland. His work “State of Matter” premiered in 2010. Moving Arts is the second company to tackle the work, working with stager Ching Ching Wong. It’s set to a disparate mix from electro-acoustic Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds and the dulcet calm of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight.” Richter’s piece is used often, perhaps too often, in dance pieces, but Rustem enhanced it with a spoken word performance by Andrea Parson of Benjamin Wardell’s text, likening our existence to that of clouds, a brilliant and transcendent evocation.

The piece began a bit quirky and amusing, but quickly journeyed into a deeper contemplation with dancers Luca De-Poli and Melissa Gelfin. Arnalds’ music is upbeat and aggressive and the movement follows, adding folks in blackish purple gowns, ominous, with punchy gestures, making swipes at each other’s ankles. Then, with the Richter, Gelfin stands apart, staring outward, in soft, strong movements emphasized in large shadow. Ensemble work is a fluent mix of synchronous and wave-like movement, creating a stunning ambiguity. It’s an exquisite piece, brilliantly constructed, wonderfully performed.

Emily Mistretta, our final KC voice, premiered “In Wounded Woods” and also found inspiration in text, Peter Handke’s “Song of Childhood,” with music by violinist Josh Knowles.

In harsh spotlight and silence, soloist Elysa Hotchkiss began with twitching, spastic movements. The ensemble ran in and the music shrieked: the feeling of animosity continued. The dancers moved each other with jarring, twisting force, leaning in, the women with their hair loose and shaken. Mistretta, the newest choreographer of the bunch, shows excellent promise.

Lastly came Robert Bondara’s “8m68,” a thrilling work created in Poland in 2012 and staged here by Kurusz Wojeński. This is the first of Bondara’s work performed in the United States, but surely we’ll see more of him, after witnessing something of this imagination and cohesion. Action mapped closely to the shifts and changes of Amon Tobin’s music, set in stereo to capture the full spatial potential.

A bed of white flakes, simulating snow, covered the stage. With a gasp, the first dancer appeared, sending a flurry of snow into the limelight. The dancers (Hotchkiss, Gelfin, De-Poli, Courtney Connor, and Taylor Carrasco) kicked and threw and drizzled the flakes, these particles becoming another character in the story. There are elements of violence, threatening movements as they grab and pull each other, a jabbed heel, a face too close.

There is tenderness, too, and perhaps a sense of hope, perhaps of longing, but overall there’s an eerie sense of dominance, and I read surprising things into the characters’ actions, the way they covered their partners’ mouth, or ran to each other, or leaped, or climbed over another’s body, a sense of danger, but not, perhaps, unwelcome.

The concert was certainly welcomed by our dedicated dance community, out in force to see this exciting mix of creativity and skill and passion.

Reviewed Friday, June 21, 2019. Additional performances Saturday, June 22 7:30 p.m. in JCCC’s Polsky Theatre and June 28-29 Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Cincinnati, OH.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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