Dancers Taryn Mejia and Cameron Thomas strike a pose before the Kansas City Ballet production of Lila York’s “Celts”, an energetic work based on the Irish dance phenomenon. (photo by Kenny Johnson)
KCBallet presents “Serenade” by George Balanchine, “Wunderland” by Edwaard Liang and “Celts” by Lila York
When the Kansas City Ballet returns to the Kauffman Center in October, prepare for a transporting experience with a trio of iconic works in “Celts.”
Without a doubt, the company has been busy last season, with an expanded all-virtual New Moves series – 16 new works, each shot in a different location – that reached a worldwide audience. Talk about transport!
And they got to perform to a live audience for the first time in 15 months with a season closer at the Starlight Theater last spring.
“Oh my God, take the stage just to say a few words to the audience and watch 1,200 people sitting outside who are all delighted to be there… Wow!” said Devon Carney, artistic director of Kansas City Ballet. “There were a lot of reassuring moments in the process of having a real performance.
“It was great to stick the flag in the ground and say ‘okay we’re back’,” he added. It was a great battle won. Not the war, but seriously, a major battle has been won on this show.
Building on these successes, the Kansas City Ballet can’t wait to dance again at the Kauffman Center. Poignantly, their opening production is the same production that was canceled at the end of the 2019/2020 season.
“There is a lot of emotional content in this triple bill,” Carney said. All three works are in a way defining works for their choreographers – breathtaking and moving pieces that challenge the dancers and enchant the audience.
On Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings”, generations of spectators adore George Balanchine’s “Serenade”.
George Balanchine’s “Serenade” is one of the founding works of modern ballet: neoclassical was even before a genre. “It was pretty ahead of its time,” Carney said. There is also quite a bit of dance history attached to the work: it was the first piece of choreography that Balanchine did in the United States and, as one of Balanchine’s most performed works, most professional dancers have experienced it. On Peter Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings”, generations of audiences adore him.
“There is such a range of feelings that you go on a trip with this job,” he said. “It gives the viewer as well as the dancer the opportunity to experience their own interpretive adventure.”
The intermediate work of the evening is the dreamlike “Wunderland” by Edwaard Liang, premiered in 2009. It is the second presentation of the work by the company, to haunting music by Philip Glass.
When KCBallet first performed it in 2015, the review in “The Kansas City Star” said the performance had “a calm, urban quality, as if it was being watched from above and from afar,” which matched , because Liang was inspired by a miniature scene in a snow globe in Siberia.
The public response was so positive that the organization knew they would get back to work soon. “There are some works that you don’t want to let go too far into the distant past,” Carney said. Usually, the work is done on recordings. In 2015, KCBallet had the Glass String Quartet written for chamber orchestra, but this time around, they’ll do the job as originally planned, bringing in the Opus 76 string quartet to perform live. This is the first collaboration between this emerging ensemble and the ballet company. In addition, Music Director Ramona Pansegrau, a qualified concert pianist, will perform as a soloist for Glass’s “Metamorphosis No.2”.
Set to music by Irish folk group The Chieftains, (“Celts”) is “a real crowd-pleaser,” Carney said. “Everyone gets whipped and have a good time. “
The show concludes with the concert title work “Celts” by Lila York, an energetic and dynamic piece based on the Irish dance phenomenon.
“It’s big, it’s bold, it’s fun,” Carney said. The work certainly tests the endurance of the dancers. “It’s a reel,” he laughed.
He would know, since he danced in the first production in 1996 with the Boston Ballet. “The process of working with Lila was really cool. It became his signature job as ‘Serenade’ is for George Balanchine, ”he said. It was immediately appealing and the company even got the job done at a Boston Celtics halftime show.
It should be noted that York’s work was premiered the year before “Riverdance” captivated the world with its flashy, synchronized footwork. “Lila was way ahead of the curve.”
Set to music by Irish folk group The Chieftains, this is “a real crowd-pleaser,” Carney said. “Everyone gets whipped and have a good time. “
Things won’t be exactly the same as in 2019. The return to the stage and the live performances bring heartwarming familiarity but also hard lessons well learned. “We’re just creative with what we have,” Carney said. “Now is the time, isn’t it?” “
“It’s our renewal in a new reality.
The Kansas City Ballet presents “Celts” October 15-17 and October 22-24 at the Muriel Kauffman Theater at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, visit kcballet.org.