When I left New York City, I was terrified. After ten years of living and dancing in “The City,” I had no idea what to expect from dance out in the proverbial wilderness. I landed back in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri for what I thought would be a few weeks to months. What I found has kept me here for a little over four years. Dance in Kansas City is alive and well. We have a few well-funded and longstanding dance companies that regularly present work, small companies and independent artists sharing work, training opportunities, and an art-loving audience base. KC offers space to create, a good quality of life for creatives, and accessible funding and resources for artists and creators.
We have The Kansas City Ballet, now in its 62nd season. The company is currently under the artistic direction of Devon Carney and has, in my opinion, never looked better. Last spring, the company danced Forsythe’s In the Middle Somewhat Elevated and Tharp’s In the Upper Room in a single concert. The experience left me breathless. The Thom Willems score for In the Middle… electrifies with lightning-burst energy while the dancers show off technical mastery with stylized confidence. The Tharp work, paired with Phillip Glass’s ceaseless, hypnotic score, pairs a casual, “downtown” breeziness with balletic bravura in a perfectly crafted arc. The Kansas City Ballet dancers fully embodied both works with an assured joy.
Photo by Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios
KC Ballet Dancers Whitney Huell and Lamin Pereira dos Santos performing William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.
Wylliams Henry Contemporary Dance Company, a modern repertory company founded in 1991, performs works by acclaimed international artists from Jose Limón to Micaela Taylor, sharing works both historical and contemporary. A few seasons ago, I had the pleasure of dancing To Have and to Hold by Shapiro and Smith with the company, and it was an honor to dance a moving work that has also been performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Most touring schedules don’t include Kansas City stops, but good work is finding its way here thanks to dedicated company programming.
Beyond repertory companies, Kansas City is home to several working choreographers. Owen/Cox Dance Group is a contemporary ballet company founded by Jennifer Owen, formerly of the Kansas City Ballet, and musician Brad Cox. The company offers several concerts a year featuring Owen’s beautiful and creative work, often in collaboration with world-class musicians and composers. Owen’s work is innately musical and combines classicism, lyricism, and modern elements to create works that are truly contemporary.
One Owen/Cox Dance Group dancer, Tristian Griffin, has recently founded his own dance company, Tristian Griffin Dance Company. The company premiered with “Palimpsest,” an interactive dance and music experience. The work led the audience in small groups on different journeys throughout the evening. Viewers traveled an industrial space, finding dance, music, and film living in various rooms and corners. Choreographer Haley Kostas recently joined forces with a group of musicians and multimedia artists to form Rubix, a multimedia platform creating live art experiences. In 2019 the group held a residency at 21C, a downtown hotel, creating performance experiences in and around the recently remodeled historic site.
Photo by Mason Kilpatrick
Cerca Trova performing at “Making Moves”
Are you noticing a theme? Multi- and inter-disciplinary collaborations are common here. There’s something about being a part of a smaller arts community (in comparison to LA, Chicago, or New York) that allows for more connectivity. Since moving here, I’ve had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with visual artists, sculptors, composers, theatrical artists… everyone seems ready for a creative conversation, especially with dancers and movers. One major reason for this, I think, is that local arts organizations support all art forms equally--dance included. In larger cities, I find that organizations are much more specialized in terms of who and what they support. One of the local organizations that has been fundamental to my success as an artist has been Charlotte Street Foundation.
Founded by David Hughes in 1997, Charlotte Street Foundation continually offers several resources and opportunities for local and regional creators. The foundation offers grants and exhibition/performance opportunities for contemporary artists and a two-year (yes, I said TWO-YEAR) application-based residency program for artists of all disciplines. Before landing in Kansas City, I never would have dreamed of an opportunity that provided access to space for that length of time, and thanks to Charlotte Street Foundation, my creative research and generative practice have both grown exponentially. With the space, I was able to found my dance company, Cerca Trova, in 2019, and I have since created two full-length works.
Charlotte Street Foundation has also generously hosted and supported Making Moves, a monthly dance and performance series I founded in January, 2019. In the spirit of New York City’s Danspace and Judson Church, Making Moves provides a platform for emerging and mid-career dance artists to create and share new work. With this program, we are building new audiences and community around contemporary dance-making in a space that allows risk-taking and experimentation. Charlotte Street Foundation has recently finished construction on a new campus that will house studio residencies, galleries, performance space, an art library, and more--all under one roof. For more information about the space and organizational programming, visit charlottestreet.org.
Outside of the Euro-centric dance forms rooted in ballet and modern dance traditions, Kansas City is home to a wide array of art and dance forms. Maura García, with Maura García Dance, is an indigenous dancer and choreographer. She pulls from her broad dance experiences to create works that feel wholly original, innovative, and human. Melinda Hedgecorth has brought flamenco back to her home after a lengthy stay in Spain, where she learned and performed alongside masters of the form. Each non-pandemic summer, Kansas City hosts a two-day Ethnic Enrichment Festival offering a weekend of cultural art forms from every corner of the globe. This summer’s virtual event will showcase dances from Colombia, Iran, Puerto Rico, Germany, Vietnam, and more. Art in Motion, both a school and performance group, offers classes and performances in dances of the African diaspora - some of the most exciting live dance I’ve seen since returning to Kansas City.
Elsewhere around town, we have New Dance Partners, an annual concert that brings in acclaimed choreographers to set works on three local companies each year. Additionally, City in Motion’s A Modern Night at the Folly, an annual showcase for regional modern choreography, recently celebrated its 17th year. Empire Dance Academy, a dance training school offering drop-in classes, offers pre-professional and professional commercial training opportunities. There are small modern companies working in outlying suburbs and in warehouses downtown. The absolute legend Billie Mahoney has taught tap here for years.
Somewhere amongst all of this I have found myself. Leaving New York City was hard, but finding space for my dance career here was worth it. There is a lot going on in Kansas City, and the dance community seems to be growing and strengthening each year. I’d love to tell you more, but I have to leave to see a socially-distant experimental dance film in a converted Baptist Church: even in the middle of a global pandemic, there is a lot to see here. So why don’t you come and visit? We’d love to show you how we move.
Photo by Hufft (Architects of the building)
Charlotte Street Foundation's new campus.