If dancers can’t be flexible, who can be? When the Kansas City Ballet announced that the spring in-person performances were cancelled, one could only hope they would pivot to something innovative and eye catching. What better mode than the company’s annual choreographic showcase New Moves?
This season, it’s New Moves: The Broadcast Series, which premiered February 18.
Rather than a full evening of new works, this reimagined New Moves is a seven-part series, each weekly episode including an introduction from Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney, interviews with the choreographers and host organization, a bit of behind the scenes, and, of course, the featured dance. Each episode is about 15-20 minutes, the dance about a third of the total experience.
Each episode was filmed on location at a partnering arts organization, creating a unique palette of spaces, backgrounds and views with which the dance responds, resonates, or reflects. Some choreographers were onsite, some choreographed entirely via Zoom. This isn’t necessarily the first time these dancers have performed on film, with some recently featured in the KC Performs series from Kansas City PBS, as well as other projects.
As of this review, two episodes are released. We’ll review the remaining works as the series progresses.
The first two works featured returning New Moves choreographers and Kansas City Ballet company dancers Courtney Nitting and James Kirby Rogers, with cinematographers Johanna Brooks and Kenny Johnson, produced and edited by Elizabeth Stehling.
For the premiere episode, Nitting created a sunny “Dances at a Gallery” at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, channeling Fred-and-Ginger sweetness and optimism. The 4-minute piece had a refreshed feeling, just the sort of ambience we’d want coming out of this long, cold, pandemic winter. Three pairs of dancers frolicked—yes, frolicked—around the Bloch Galleries and Kirkwood Hall, with snappy movements, meet-cute moments, and youthful energy, set to a Sundance Remix of “Retro Funky” by the French electronica duo Perséphone.
Rogers’ piece, on the other hand, fluctuated between ennui and tension (as have we all these past months). In “Songs Without Words,” he begins the work sans music, with only the dancers’ movements creating sound in a sequence that is both curious and uncomfortable, set in the Kemper Museum of Modern Art’s Café Sebastienne. Rogers and Emily Mistretta are featured, staring at each across a table, heavy-headed, making complicated gestures that seem to be locking in a sense of loss, or perhaps offering consolation.
They transfer to the main lobby, joining other pairs who lean back-to-back in weary silence, the artwork on the walls reflecting on the floor tiles below them. Quickly changing camera angles shift the view from intimate to broad view and back again and, as they rise, somber piano music by Felix Mendelssohn begins. The music didn’t seem to add very much to the piece, compared with the first portion, just something to frame the movement. Rogers designed an array of creative movement in the 6-minute piece, and while the structure was disjointed, the movement maintained curiosity.
To learn more about the dances and process of creating the films, join Kansas City Ballet for a Facebook Live event on March 3 at 6pm for Dance Speaks: New Moves, New Voices.
Art has always balanced efforts to respond to the present, reflect on the past, and speculate to the future, simultaneously taking us out of reality while centering itself as a more vibrant, distilled real and these works from New Moves: The Broadcast Series, thus far, do just that.
Reviewed February 27, 2021 (episodes 1 and 2). Episodes released weekly Thursdays 7 p.m. through April 1 at kcballet.org and facebook.com/kcballet and are freely available to view until April 9, 2021.