The Moving Arts Dance Festival opens tonight at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in the intimate Jarson-Kaplan Theater. The festival gives opportunities for performance not only to dancers from a variety of companies (Cincinnati Ballet, Kansas City Ballet and Oklahoma City Ballet) but also to audiences eager to see dance onstage during the summer off-season.
Co-artistic directors Cervilio Amador (principal dancer with the Cincinnati Ballet), Anthony Krutzkamp (formerly of Cincinnati Ballet and Kansas City Ballet) and Logan Pachciarz (formerly of the Kansas City Ballet) bring five contemporary works to life with 10 talented dancers and a small but mighty crew.
The festival opens with The Second Voice, choreographed by Kristopher Estes-Brown, a spare but well-rounded number for two, featuring Kansas City Ballet dancers Samantha Huebner and James Kirby Rogers. A mournful violin cuts through beating electronic music as the two move gracefully. They are in sync as they lift and twirl; when the piano thread slows and intensifies, so does the dancing. It's frenetic yet contained, ending with the two walking off into the shadows.
Ayler, by choreographer Jennifer Owen, feels as if an improv Jazz session was realized in dancing. The music, composed by Matt Otto, was written in honor of Albert Ayler, an American avant-garde Jazz saxophonist. Ayler would be proud of the way dancers Liang Fu (formerly of Cincinnati Ballet), Kaleena Burks and Taryn Mejia (both of Kansas City Ballet) interplay well in an almost moonlit-setting (kudos to lighting designer Trad A. Burns).
Trios can be hard to keep audiences engaged; sometimes, a third dancer can feel superfluous. There are moments when Ayler could have gelled more firmly, but, if anything, that’s all the more reason for dance festivals such as Moving Arts to exist — to give these works the opportunity to become tried and tested.
State of Matter, by choreographer Ihsan Rustem, is the first half's tour-de-force. It opens with the curtain slowly rising as two feet (belonging to Cincinnati Ballet dancer Luca De-Poli) become visible, dangling inches off the stage. Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer Melissa Gelfin’s face then appears, also hovering off the ground. It’s a very cool moment. De-Poli glides over to Gelfin and the curtain continues to rise to reveal the pair standing right-side-up. The two have incredible chemistry and it’s a treat to watch them dance together.
The stage is awash in golden tones accompanied by strident violins and Cincinnati Ballet dancer Taylor Carrasco is at his finest as he writhes across the stage in a black frock. Former Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer (currently with Oklahoma City) Courtney Connor Jones returns with the engaged expressions and technical virtuosity that make her such a powerful performer. Elysa Hotchkiss of Kansas City Ballet is a shot of pure energy; Huebner and Rogers are tightly controlled, displaying great physicality and clean lines.
A reading of the poem "The Clouds Inside" — which inspired the work — comes on as the music changes and the lights shift from a stormy mood to a peachy-pink and then eventually to purple twilight. The second half is reminiscent of the calm after the proverbial storm.
Choreographer Emily Mistretta's In Wounded Woods opens the second half of the program, with Hotchkiss writhing in silence. Other dancers crawl out of the darkness; their movements are disjointed and angular, yet compelling. Mejia and Burks are sinewy and expressive while Fu and Rogers are technically solid. This piece could benefit from a little tightening, but dress rehearsal — which I saw — is always an opportunity for last-minute notes before a clean opening run.
8m68, from Polish choreographer Robert Bondara, makes its U.S. premiere at Moving Arts and closes the show. It is worth the wait. The music is spacey and throbbing as the curtain lifts on mounds of stage snow and dancers pop out; the women in red, men in gray. It’s hard to tear your eyes away from Gelfin and Carrasco, but Connor Jones, De-Poli and Hotchkiss give them a fair run for their money. The choreography is tense and almost combative; it’s uncertain if the dancers are fighting one another for control or fighting themselves. A favorite moment comes when Gelfin runs across the stage, sending snow flying, and leaps into Carrasco’s arms.
Moving Arts has showtimes 8 p.m. Friday, June 28 and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, June 29. Tickets (starting at $30) and more info are available at cballet.org.