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ALL DOLLED UP: Harriman series presents Russian troupe in classic tale of love and dolls

We have a fascination with tales of man-made things that come to life — whether to fascinate us (Pinocchio), hurt us (Frankenstein) or steal our hearts (Tales of Hoffmann, the Pygmalion of Greek mythology). In ballet, the favorite doll-come-to-life-(but-not-really) story is Coppélia, the tale of a mysterious inventor who creates a beautiful doll that is so lifelike that one of the village boys falls desperately in love with “it.” The 1870 evening-length ballet, based on two stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann (who is also the source of the story of The Nutcracker), became a staple of the French repertoire and eventually migrated to the Russian ballet. On May 1st at the Folly Theater, the Harriman-Jewell Series will present the Moscow Festival Ballet in its version — a loving re-creation of Alexander Gorski’s choreography and Arthur Saint-Léon’s original French staging.

This Festival Ballet presentation of Coppélia, courtesy of the Harriman-Jewell Series, is at 8 p.m. on May 1st at the Folly Theater. For tickets call 816-415-5025 or go to harriman-jewell.org. Faithful local balletomanes will recall the Festival Ballet’s performances here of Cinderella in 2004 and Don Quixote in 2001, both also presented through the Harriman-Jewell series.

The Festival Ballet’s artistic director is the legendary Sergei Radchenko, a principal dancer of the Bolshoi through the 1960s and ’70s, who founded the company in 1989 to uphold the classical traditions of both the Bolshoi and Kirov companies. We posed some questions about the production to Radchenko, who graciously answered through an email that was then translated from the Russian:

How much of the choreography in this Coppélia is Gorski, and is the goal to adhere as closely to him as possible? Are there elements that go back to Saint-Léon? And are there elements from Radchenko as well?

The choreography is essentially Alexander Gorski with the original staging faithfully recreated by Yuri Vetrov after much research of the notes of Arthur Saint-Léon. There are no elements of my own in this production as I wanted to recreate as faithfully as possible the original intent of Gorski, Saint-Léon and the fusion between these two masters and the great composer Léo Delibes.

What special skills are required for Coppélia that are unique to it? Why was important to include Act III on the tour? And is the role of Franz, in this version, danced en travestie?

The most important elements in Coppélia are, first of all, that the dancers are technically proficient in the complicated combinations and that their acting skills are of the highest level to impart the original storyline of this wonderful ballet. It was important to include Act III since we have tried to recreate the original version of Coppélia for the American audiences to experience. The role of Franz is danced as in the original production [i.e., by a male dancer as in the Russian version, instead of by a woman dressed as a man as in the Paris version].

How would you compare Russian dancing today with that in the 1960s? Is there a flavor that indicates new openness to international influences? Or has the goal remained keeping the full-blooded classical Russian tradition as pure as possible?

The technique in Russia, as in France, has developed dramatically in 50 years. As classical dance was created in France in the 1500s and brought by the czars to Russia and later developed into the high art form that remains in Russia today, all of the great Russian ballet companies — from my company to the Moscow Festival Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet and the Kirov Ballet — all try to retain the purity of line and technique and acting style commensurate with the various works, be they classical, romantic, neo-classical, neo-romantic, or modern.

How do the dancers stay in shape during these tours? Do you connect with organizations or facilities in each city that provide space for class, rehearsal, etc.?

We are blessed with two ballet masters from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and daily classes as well as rehearsals as necessary occur and take place in the theater.

What are the sources of your company’s funding? Has fund-raising for the arts become as difficult in the recent economic climate as it has in the U.S.?

We are most fortunate that the company’s funding is from the central government in Moscow and through some of the largest corporations in Russia, which fund our permanent home in Moscow as well as our international touring activities.

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IN BRIEF:

Dancer Jennifer Owen and composer Brad Cox and are two of the most creative people I know, and in addition to being married to each other, they have established one of the most inventive dance-music-theater-visual companies in the area, the Owen/Cox Dance Group. Their holiday favorite The Nutcracker and the Mouse King was so vividly outlandish it was almost scary, in a good way. Well, they’ve come up with more hijinx, a confabulation of Lewis and Clark with Lewis Carroll that they call The Lewis and Carroll Expedition. They ask us to imagine the figures of the great western expedition interacting with characters from Alice in Wonderland. “Witness a flamboyant collision of history and literature,” they write on owencoxdance.org, “pregnant with meandering and both burnished and blemished nonsense, as the dancers and musicians … give wide berth to the conventional narratives on a “frabjous” expedition with Meriwether Lewis Carroll.” (“Frabjous,” of course, being a word from the celebrated Jabberwocky, the near-nonsensical poem Alice comes across in Through the Looking-Glass.) The performances are at 8 p.m. on April 23rd and 24th and at 2 p.m. on April 25th at the H&R Block City Stage Theater in Union Station. For tickets call 816-460-2020 or go to unionstation.org.

* The Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble consists of 16 dancers who uphold the legacy of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a company established in 1969 by former Balanchine dancer Arthur Miller and Karel Shook. For a variety of reasons, the main company has not performed since 2004, but the Ensemble continues to tour. At 8 p.m. on April 24th at Johnson County Community College, they’ll present Interactive Performance, a family-friendly dance program that uses works from the company’s repertoire (Return, New Bach, Hallmark, Billy Wilson’s Concerto in F, Fragments) to demystify dance through narration, demonstration and audience participation. (Wear comfortable shoes!) For tickets and information, call 913-469-4445 or go to jccc.edu.

* One of the great figures of dance in Kansas City — indeed, in the United States — was another former Balanchine dancer, Todd Bolender, who built the Kansas City Ballet to a national force during his time at its helm (1981-1996). The finale concert of the UMKC Conservatory’s Signature Series pays tribute to Bolender, for whom the Ballet has named its new home under construction, through a composition by Conservatory faculty composer and Curator’s Professor of Music James Mobberley.Originally commissioned by Sarah and Landon Rowland in 2008, Grand Jeté will receive its public premiere at the concert, which is at 7:30 p.m. on April 24th at White Recital Hall on the UMKC campus. It is a sort of follow-up to Arena, a collaboration in which Mobberley provided the music for Bolender’s choreography, premiered by the Ballet in 1996. “Bolender’s great musical loves included Stravinsky, Gershwin, Bernstein, and Copland,” Mobberley has said, “all of whose influences appeared in Arena and may, in fact, appear in my new composition.” Conducted by James Olson, the show also includes Mozart’s Don GiovanniOverture, Michael Daugherty’s “Red Cape Tango” from his witty Metropolis Symphony and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 1. For tickets, call 816-235-6222 or go to umkc.edu/the_conservatory.

* The Kansas City Chamber Orchestra offers the world premiere of a new work for soprano and orchestra, The Twelve Kisses, by composer and University of Kansas faculty member Forrest Pierce. The stellar soprano Sarah Tannehill performs in the new piece, settings from The Song of Solomon. Conductor Bruce Sorrell leads a program that includes Barber’s Adagio for Strings and Britten’s Simple Symphony. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. on April 29th at Old Mission Church United Methodist Church in Fairway. Call 816-235-6222 or go to kcchamberorchestra.org.

* The Fine Arts Chorale, in its 37th season, presents Ancient Voices, a program of contemporary music inspired by ancient Native American wisdom, which long before our “green” movement advocated living in harmony with nature. Led by artistic directorTerri Teal, the concert includes music of Sarah Hopkins, James Granville Eakin III, Jean Belmont, and Debra Lynn. It’s at 7:30 p.m. on April 30th at Mission Road Community of Christ Church and at 7:30 p.m. on May 1st at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral. Call 816-235-6222 or go to fineartschoralekc.org.

* The Brentano String Quartet, possibly the most admired American quartet of its generation, has its work cut out for it. For its concert with clarinetist Charles Neidich on May 1st at 8:00 p.m. at Johnson County Community College, the group has chosen to play two of the most daunting milestones of the chamber repertoire. Brahms’s autumnal Clarinet Quintet was written in his later years, and Schubert’s schizoid, chiaroscuro G-major String Quartet (D. 887) was composed just two years before his untimely death. Not to worry, these classics are in good hands: The Brentanos have been leaving critics sputtering for superlatives since they started in 1992, for their gorgeously balanced sonority and deeply felt musicality. Call 913-469-4445 or go to jccc.edu.

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net. Also read him in the print version of The Independent, available through subscription by calling 816-471-2800. Read his article about the Lyric Opera’s upcoming Don Giovanni in the April 17th edition.

 

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.

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