Performance

Julie Denesha / KCUR

As curator of The Fishtank, an evolving performance space in the Crossroads Arts District, Heidi Van has helped ignite a growing interest in experimental theater. She's produced shows in the building's front windows with the audience in the street, performed a play in a lingerie shop around the corner, and tweaked the art of clowning.

In this month's installment of Director's Cuts, Heidi Van talks about how her avant-garde sensibility might influence her first directing job at The Coterie: a production of Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The two-act ballet Giselle premiered in 1841. Today, this story of a peasant girl who falls in love with a nobleman in disguise is considered a classic. There’s a love triangle, a mad scene, and ghosts who dance men to death.

Giselle as a 'personal experience'

At the Bolender Center on a recent afternoon, Kansas City Ballet rehearsals were underway for Giselle. It's the first act when Giselle, a young peasant girl, falls in love with Albrecht, a nobleman disguised as a peasant. Here’s the problem – the village gamekeeper, Hilarion, is also in love with Giselle.

Esther Honig / KCUR

On a Monday night at the Lee A. Tolbert gymnasium in Kansas City, 80 dancers ages 6-25 gather for one of two weekly practices of The Marching Cobras. 

In gym shorts and sneakers, the dancers break a sweat running through their routines. They move to the beats of a group of young drummers banging out a rhythm loud enough to make your ears pound.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Musicologist John Lomax set out to do field recordings in the early 1930s of African-American songs in the southern United States. With the help of his son, Alan, he recorded ballads, reels, work songs, and the blues – some were recorded in prisons. That’s where John Lomax met the guitar player Huddie Ledbetter, better known as "Lead Belly."

A version of this story – with two women as the lead characters – is the focus of the play Black Pearl Sings! written by prolific Kansas City playwright Frank Higgins.

Don Ipock / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Angels in America is Tony Kushner’s two-part epic now playing at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Set in New York in the 1980s, it’s a commentary on AIDS, religion, politics, and love in the Reagan era.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Graduate students in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City recently spent a week expanding their creative horizons with artist-in-residence Tony Fuemmeler, a mask maker and puppeteer based in Portland, Ore.

Their task: Create a mask using natural materials and thrift-store finds.

Days before the deadline for a clarinet and saxophone competition to win $1,000 and a trip to Paris, Gunnar Gidner could barely stand. A spinal injury had left him unable to walk, much less practice his tenor saxophone, for two and a half months.

Gidner had recovered enough to return to school at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance in December. His jazz combo was rehearsing on his first day back, and Gidner’s professor, Dan Thomas, heard the recording and thought it was good. Really good.

Don Ipock / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

"This is the story of two great fighters: Achilles and Hector," says the Poet, a storyteller played by Kyle Hatley in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre's production of An Iliad. "What drove them to fight? The gods." 

An Iliad, adapted for the stage by Lisa Peterson and Kansas City native Denis O'Hare, is based on "The Iliad," a nearly 3,ooo-year-old epic poem attributed to Homer. The story takes place in the final year of the 10-year war between the Greeks and the Trojans.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Theatre for Young America honors President's Day with the play Starring Abe Lincoln, written and directed by the company's co-founder Gene Mackey. The show is a biographical portrait of the 16th president told by the man himself, who happened to be attending another play the night in question.

Director Gene Mackey talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts.

On Wednesday, NPR released a "Field Recording" of internationally renowned opera star and Kansas City native Joyce DiDonato at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

The riots that took place at the bar in 1969 are widely credited with launching the modern gay rights movement in the U.S. 

Here is DiDonato's video, and below is a link to the full NPR story explaining why she made it.

Helix Architecture + Design

Kansas City Repertory Theatre will announce Tuesday that it’s close to its $5 million fundraising goal for renovations. To date, $4,793, 700 has been raised. 

The Hall Family Foundation contributed a $3 million lead gift. The Rep received other major gifts from individual donors and foundations, such as the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts, and the William T. Kemper Foundation for the Arts. 

Suzanne Opton / The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

In the photograph, a young soldier with a downy blond buzz-cut lies perfectly still, face down on the ground. On stage, an ancient Greek warrior goes through the four stages of events that lead to post-traumatic stress.

The arts community is asking big questions about the life of the soldier. What role does art play in public discourse around combat?

Guests: 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

  The Greek myth about the short-lived marriage of Orpheus and Eurydice is traditionally relayed from his point of view. Playwright Sarah Ruhl's version turns that around in her play Eurydice, opening next week at The Living Room.

Directing the show is Natalie Liccardello, who talked about the production as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Courtesy David Wayne Reed

Theatergoers anticipating Help Yourself, the new show by Kansas City playwright and actor David Wayne Reed, got some insights into Reed’s inspiration on Wednesday’s Central Standard.

"Problems are the gasoline that runs the self-help car." So says David Wayne Reed, who wrote the play Help Yourself. On the heels of a discussion of this darkly humorous new play, a librarian and a psychologist discuss the self-help genre, its history and the human condition that fuels it. Is change possible? And when might acceptance be just as important?

Guests:

Local Listen: Vinson Cole

Jan 9, 2015

Vinson Cole may not be a household name, but the operatic tenor is revered in Kansas City's artistic circles.

This week's edition of Local Listen features a splendid track from Cole's 1993 album "In Love With Love."

Cole's contributions will be recognized in a concert benefiting the Lyric Opera of Kansas City on Sunday, January 11 at 4 pm at the Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, Mo.

courtesy of the family

Three notable arts figures died in Kansas City in recent weeks: Ann K. Brown, Brenda Nelson, and Tommy Ruskin.

Drummer Tommy Ruskin, 72, died the morning of Jan. 1, after a long illness.

A native of Kansas City, Ruskin’s career spanned nearly half a century. He began performing as a teenager with singers such as Marilyn Maye, and went on to play with other jazz greats like Al Cohn, Scott Hamilton, Gene Harris, Zoot Sims, and Bill Watrous.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

The Nutcracker, with choreography by Todd Bolender, has played a role in the holiday season for Kansas City audiences since 1981. But, on Christmas Eve, the curtain falls for the last time on this version of the production.

The Sugar Plum Fairy lightly takes center stage in a gold tutu at the final dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.  

Cynthia Levin / Unicorn Theatre

Hollywood super agent Sue Mengers was never a household name. But, in the 1970s, she was considered the most powerful woman in show business. The play, I'll Eat You Last, opening this weekend at the Unicorn Theatre, shows that Mengers could be as vulnerable as she was cut-throat. 

Sidonie Garrett, the show's director, answered some questions about the show as part of our monthly series, Director's Cuts

Don Ipock / Kansas City Repertory Theatre

Gary Neal Johnson has been performing in the Kansas City Repertory Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol since 1982. And he’s played Ebeneezer Scrooge for more than a decade. Hear what Johnson has learned from his deep immersion in this story of moral and spiritual redemption.

Guest:

Julie Denesha / KCUR

In the depths of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, small herds of children passed racks of snowflake and flower costumes Wednesday night as they made their way to dressing rooms just before Kansas City Ballet’s final dress rehearsal of The Nutcracker.

Courtesy of Lindsey Roesti

University of Kansas theater professor Peter Zazzali wanted to challenge his students. So, heading into Thanksgiving, they're putting on a play called “The Big Meal.”

Julie Denesha / KCUR

As the Kansas City Symphony warmed up in the pit, some 300 metro-area students filed into Muriel Kauffman Theatre for The Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Thursday night dress rehearsal. The production of "The Italian Girl in Algiers" updates Gioachino Rossini’s zany farce by turning the heroine Isabella (Irene Roberts) into an adventurous aviatrix. She's determined to rescue her one true love Lindoro (Taylor Stayton) who has been taken captive by the Turkish Bey Mustafa (Patrick Carfizzi).
 

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Now that it's in its fourth season, Spinning Tree Theatre is proud to be Kansas City's youngest Equity theater company. Though it doesn't always do musicals, it has built a reputation with them, including its current production, Violet, with a title character unlike any musical theater heroine audiences have ever seen.

Here’s the cast on the night of a recent rehearsal:

Laura Spencer / KCUR

Richard Gibson, 33, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps just after high school and was stationed in Iraq. When his service ended in 2003, and he returned to Kansas City, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

With a love for singing and performance, Gibson turned to opera. For the past eight years, he's been a member of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City chorus. He's also taking on a new role, as conductor of a Veteran's Chorus

Julie Denesha / KCUR

Alvin Ailey was a choreographer who was born in Texas in 1931. He spent his pioneering dance career in New York City, touring internationally and transforming ideas about dance and race on the world stage throughout his life. He died in 1989, and yet, Kansas City dancers live and breathe Alvin Ailey in the 21st century. 

In recognition of the 30th anniversary of Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey (KCFAA), Central Standard explores the dance philosophy of Alvin Ailey and his relationship with Kansas City. 

courtesy: Joyce DiDonato

Update Monday, 4:45 pm: 

Kansas City’s homegrown opera diva Joyce DiDonato won’t be singing the National Anthem during the World Series, at least during the first four games.

A vigorous social media campaign, including an online petition signed by more than 3,000, lobbied Major League Baseball to #letjoycesing.  

Julie Denesha / KCUR

One character in the Kansas City Ballet's new production of Alice (in wonderland) is not a dancer -- but requires seven dancers to move: the Jabberwocky, a silver-scaled beast with a sprawling 25-foot wingspan.

Early in the rehearsal process, the ballet's artistic director, Devon Carney, brought in Paul Mesner, founder of Paul Mesner Puppets, to stage the puppet work and teach the dancers a few tricks of the trade.

Julie Denesha / KCUR

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of writer William S. Burroughs, an icon of the Beat movement.

Burroughs lived in Lawrence, Kan., from 1981 until his death in 1997.

As a way of honoring him, the Lawrence Arts Center is focusing some of its programming on Burroughs' work and influence, including a production of the 1950s musical The Nervous Set.

Here, Megan Birdsall sings one of the songs from the production called "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most":

Cynthia Levin

Hands on a Hardbody, the show now playing at the Unicorn Theater, isn’t particularly sexy. There’s a little bit of romance, but the “hard body” isn’t a person -- it’s a pickup truck on the lot of a fictional Nissan dealership in Longview, Texas. There, ten contestants try to keep one hand on the truck for as long as they can. The last person with a hand on the truck gets to drive it home.

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