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Kansas City Ballet

Tom Sawyer

October 2011, Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri
See also October 2005
, October 2010

Toms Friends paint the fence: Michael Davis, Yoshyia Sakurai (being lifted), Marty Davis - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Tom's Friends paint the fence: Michael Davis, Yoshyia Sakurai (being lifted), Marty Davis

KCB: https://www.kcballet.org
Buy Tickets at: https://www.kcballet.org/performancestickets

Performance Dates:
Week one: 14, 15, 16 October (Fri-Sun)
Week two: 20, 21, 22, 23 October (Thu-Sun)
Curtain times are 7:30 pm except for Sundays at 2pm

Composed by
Maury Yeston
mauryyeston.com

Directed and Choreographed by
William Whitener
kcb-bio

Orchestrated by Brad Dechter, asmac, imdb
Conducted by Ramona Pansegrau kcb-bio
Scenic Design by Walt Spangler
Costume Design by Holly Hynes hollyhynes.com
Lighting Design by Kirk Bookman kirkbookman.com
Choreographer assisted by Shelley Freydont shelleyfreydont.com
Additional Orchestrations by Peter Boyer, Andrew Kinney, Hummie Mann

 
The Players
(in order of appearance)
Tom Sawyer - Alexander Peters
Aunt Polly - Karen P Brown (KCB ballet mistress)
Tom's Friends - Marty Davis, Michael Davis, Yoshyia Sakurai
Amy (Becky's rival) - Arielle Espie
Muff Potter - Logan Pachciarz
Injun Joe - Michael Eaton
Doctor - Luke Luzicka
Becky's Friends - Nadia lozzo, Caitlin Mack

Townspeople
Kaleena Burks
Stayce Camparo
Rachel Coats
Aisling Hill-Connor
Tempe Ostergren
Catherine Russell
Kimberly Cowen
Travis Guerin
Marcus Oatis

Children
Katy Cronin
Catherine Doherty
Mariah Fleishman
Claire McCann
Connor Morton
Oscar Miller
Wilfred Rowland

Becky Thatcher - Laura Wolfe
Mrs Thatcher - Angelina Sansone
Judge Thatcher - Geoffrey Kropp
Huck Finn - Charles Martin
School Teacher/Preacher - Gabriel Davidsson
Sheriff/Prosecutor - Anthony Krutzkamp
The Stone Angel - Aisling Hill-Connor
Fireflies/Goblins/Ghosts/Sprites - Ensemble

Chorus
Liberty High School Concert Choir and Women's Honor Chorus
 
 

This production really pulled out the stops. It has been years in the making with top talent from around the country. "Tom Sawyer" is billed by KCB as the only recent three-act American ballet composed for a major ballet company. The photos below were taken during dress (which is also press time) while making notes for video in order to shoot full video of the show later.

This has certainly garnered a lot of pre-performance publicity often combined with publicity about opening of both the Todd Bolender center as KCB's new home and the Kaufmann Center for the Performing Arts. So it carried a lot of expectation. That can be a hazard by itself and anything not quite perfect could be blown into a dissapointment. Not for me.

This ballet is filled with detail, more than enough that you won't get it all the first time through. I've been watching it in studio and then dress and running through video from the opening night. Each time I find more details. The more I look the more I see from small details to larger layerings of styles and transitions.

Many of the movements contain folkloric elements (remember, this is a small town, mid 1800s) blending into modern, balletic - homespun fusing into ballet and modern, jazzy looks. Often this is with the small town people in ensemble.

Logan Pachciarz gets to ham it up in style and he really cuts up the stage when he is on. As the town drunk and overall good guy he has one of the fun roles. Michael Eaton as Injun Joe really fits the long, long hair wig. His good strong features are perfect for the role. Luke Luzicka doesn't get much to do as Doc and he even gets killed off but he is there and he cuts up with Michael Eaton and Logan. And Charles Martin seems born to be Huck. He always seems just about ready to crack a joke anyway so this role suits him.

Alexander Peters probably represents the technical quality of the company. He is still very young and this is ony his second season with KCB but he has fabulous feet. Usually I get at least one turn in or sickled foot somewhere when shooting (shots I immediately get rid of) no matter who the dancer or company. Not once with Alexander. Or anyone else, I should note.

I should note (before we go declaring miracles), that since my main purpose in dress was to take visual notes I took only a handful of photos compared to what I might shoot were I there specifically to shoot stills. Or, maybe with so few photos, I was just more careful picking my shots. Still, it is one of the things I make a mental note of when looking at my "take" and this one stands out for technicals.

For me I wanted the music to have more emphasis at points. Even though it was layered I wanted a bit less subtlety. And the soaring moments needs more umph in them. More elevation and force for me. But that may simply be me from a social dance perspective. I've seen enough times when musicians (in nightclubs or ballrooms) have lost their non-pro social dancers by playing something that would be better appreciated in a music hall concert. These are merely nit pickings from me. I do like the music.

I do actually have a criticism but not about the ballet. I love the ballet. My criticism concerns my own reaction to the hall (below), as a photographer / videographer.

UPDATE: From the second week. Friday 21st:

It is getting downright wonderful. The music seems brighter, more pointed. It sparkled. The dance work seems cleaner, more worked out. But then you would expect that. I can't tell how much was the orchestra and how much was in the equipment as I listened through headphones (I was shooting Friday). There were little tweaks all over.

For example in the funeral scene one of the children (Connor) enters from the left hiding behind his mother's (Rachel Coats) pulled out skirt, then drops a frog into the open, empty casket. That has been changed to Rachel (as the mother) entering but with Connor's character running in separately to drop the frog. The first way he gets lost in the crowd and this way you see the detail.

Or Injun Joe in the cave died onstage over the treasure. Now he goes off stage-left. You can bet these tweaks will continue right into the last performance on Sunday. There is an enormous amount of detail in this ballet.

A little more on folkloric fusing into modern styles. For example the town people run in a large round dance pattern and move fast and smoothly into a mid-stage position where they begin to move backward and forward in fluid motions, bending and straightening with arms flowing outward and inward, becoming the waves teeming with schools of flashing fish.

Really, most of the town people scenes are lush painting-like tableus of 19th-century life. Almost oil paintings come to life.

Saturday and Sunday (at this writing) are your last chances. There are enough seats (at least there were tonight) especially with tons of other events in town including in the other theater in the center. You don't often get to see the very start of a solid piece of work like this which will grow and find other audiences.

 

Karen Brown and Logan Pachciarz kick it up as Aunt Polly and Muff Potter - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Karen Brown and Logan Pachciarz kick it up as Aunt Polly and Muff Potter

Alexander Peters as Tom Sawyer. Behind are Caitlin Mack, Gabriel Davidsson, Rachel Coats and two members of the childrens group. - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Alexander Peters as Tom Sawyer. Behind are Caitlin Mack, Gabriel Davidsson, Rachel Coats and two members of the children's group.

Alexander Peters (Tom Sawyer) and Laura Wolfe (Becky Thatcher) - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Alexander Peters (Tom Sawyer) and Laura Wolfe (Becky Thatcher)

Logan Pachciarz (as Muff Potter). To the left standing is Alexander Peters (Tom), floor two of the children and Marty Davis (dark hair), to the right are Toms buds Michael Davis and Yoshyia Sakurai - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Logan Pachciarz (as Muff Potter). To the left standing is Alexander Peters (Tom), floor two of the children and Marty Davis (dark hair), to the right are Tom's "buds" Michael Davis and Yoshyia Sakurai

Alexander Peters (Tom) and Arielle Espie (Amy) as Beckys rival - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Alexander Peters (Tom) and Arielle Espie (Amy) as Becky's rival

Charles Martin as Huck Finn - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Charles Martin as Huck Finn

Sequence of four shots showing Tom and Huck (Alexander and Charlie) alternating on pulling each other through. - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Sequence of four shots showing Tom and Huck (Alexander and Charlie) alternating on pulling each other through.

Sequence of four shots with Tom and Huck (Alexander and Charlie) playing pirates and alternating rolling over each others back. - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Sequence of four shots with Tom and Huck (Alexander and Charlie) playing pirates and alternating rolling over each other's back.

Becky and Amy, Rivals, square off (Laura Wolfe, Arielle Espie) - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Becky and Amy, Rivals, square off (Laura Wolfe, Arielle Espie)

Tres Amigos - Huck, Muff and Tom - Charles Martin, Logan Pachciarz, Alexander Peters - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Tres Amigos - Huck, Muff and Tom - Charles Martin, Logan Pachciarz, Alexander Peters

Huck and Firefly - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong

Fireflies - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong

Dancing Tombstones - just one of tons of imaginative and delightful touches in the production. - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Dancing Tombstones - just one of tons of imaginative and delightful touches in the production.

Five-shot sequence - Tour through space and a jete as a ghoul - danced by Anthony Krutzkamp. Actually this was seven shots but I messed up two of them. The third shot I was a tad too soon catching his leg in a between position with bent leg and the sixth shot I moved causing motion blur. - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
Five-shot sequence - Tour through space and a jete as a ghoul - danced by Anthony Krutzkamp
Actually this was seven shots but I messed up two of them. The third shot I was a tad too soon catching his leg in a between position with bent leg and the sixth shot I moved causing motion blur.

In the graveyard with Ghouls and Goblins - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
In the graveyard with Ghouls and Goblins

Alexander Peters (Tom Sawyer) and Laura Wolfe (Becky Thatcher) - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong

Alexander Peters (Tom Sawyer) and Laura Wolfe (Becky Thatcher) - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong

Michael Davis (left) amd Marty Davis - two of Toms freinds
Michael Davis (left) and Marty Davis

Nadia Iozzo
Nadia Iozzo


 

Kaufmann Center

A beautiful new center, highly lauded, which seemed to be missing a few features to me. The lobby, though, is good, really the best feature except that I would like to see color.

Kaufmann - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong
From a distance this looks promising but this just seems very bland up close, like a small model that had been scaled up without visual changes for the scaling. For that matter, in a picture of this size it looks fine. But up close the large expanse of flat wall is just missing too much. This would be a perfect location for murals (see below).

Kaufmann - photo copyright 2011 Mike Strong

150 more seats than the Lyric

This was a let down for me. The walls looked like a larger version of commercial slat board, the horizontal wood siding in retail stores designed to hang shelves from. The touted replacement for gilded decoration at the front of the upper levels and boxes looked more like trim-a-tree lights to me. Had this been party decorations it would have seemed fun and gay. But it just looks like a poor-man's cover over. It deserved to look rich and doesn't.

Overall, with the box/balcony lights out the sides looked grey, though not as bad as the Lied, in Lawrence. With its overall gray, I can't help feeling that I am between the superstructures of two mothballed aircraft carriers docked next to each other each time I am at the Lied.

From a working perspective I find it hard to imagine that after more than $400-million and ten-year's planning there are no provisions for camera platforms or stereo audio feeds for cameras. Instead any cameras during performance are squeezed into the control room windows at the back of the house (just above the seats). (An ad-hoc arrangement in the sound booth in the center, which has a lot of room noise for any on-camera video to pick up.)

Worse, the view is considerably above the sight line level which means that anything shot from those windows is diminished in emphasis looking distant and weak, dissapointing (although it is a good position to see patterns on stage for reconstruction later). I learned a long time ago that the best shots are those in which the action is directed to the camera and that is usually on the sightline. Shooting from a balcony can look neat as you are shooting but the result just looks puny.

This, to me, is like paying for a big wedding, with caterer, band, singers, officiators, hall and so forth and only allowing the photographer (your record, your archive, your memories) to shoot through a keyhole. When the show is done it is done, like wiping away a mandela made of colored sands. If you've spent that much money on a show it deserves better documentation (at least) and quality which allows re-purposing at best.

The idea that cameras will mess up the audience's enjoyment should have been dispelled more than 60 years ago with the first live television and filmed-with-audience television shows, not to mention live-concert recordings for DVDs and television. The audience basically tunes out the cameras. The show is what they came for. It would have to be a pretty boring show to make the cameras the object of attention.

Any concept of losing a few seats versus losing a permanent record should be thrown out. Then too this is not merely a record but a reconstruction document and source for promotional footage or demo video if you wish to franchise the license to the choreography and music. It should have a chance to be its best.

Even more, in this day and age when outfits such as the Met offer live cross-country broadcasts of their performances as well as pay-to-download and pay-to-stream arrangements, $400-plus-million dollars should buy the foresight to set up such broadcasts to extend the audience. The music unions which usually oppose archives (anyone for burning the libraries of Alexandria?) should get on the stick and start fielding their own proposals to do more recording, working royalties for their members into the deal so this single live-playing gig can result in revenue to the players in future years.

 

Kaufmann Performing Arts Center under construction October 2010 - photo copyright 2010 Mike Strong
Kaufmann Performing Arts Center under construction October 2010


Just a few items from Mexico City by comparison.


Above: at the National Museum with textural changes and human-scale detail
Below a closer view of the column showing the sculptural detail


A mural at Teotihuacan - Kaufmann could use wall art outside, like this or a mural frieze


Very simple and integrated design in Mexico City's airport. Love the colors.


And wonderfully whimsical human-usable art like this dual-vertical bench sculpture.


 

 

To send email to this website, kcdance.com click here and add message text:
To send someone a link to this page click here and fill in their email address

See these KCB pages at KCDance also:
Kim Cowen Retirement reception May 2012
Tom Sawyer Oct 2011
Slaughter On Tenth Avenue - Oct 2010
KC Ballet Features UMKC Faculty Work Oct 2005

Donald McKayle talk at KCMO library
UMKC dancers in Romeo and Juliet - 2008

See these links at KCB's website:
http://www.kcballet.org
School reference link: http://www.kcballet.org/school



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KC Ballet Oct 2011 Tom Sawyer
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