Okay, let’s start with the premise that I have no free time. NO FREAKING FREE TIME, whatsoever. So, when I take the time to go to a dance performance (and this is coming from a former modern dancer, however brief was my career) and I don’t know anything about any of the dancers, no reviews, nothing, well, something’s up.
What’s up? Brad Cox, one of Kansas City’s greatest assets, one of the more exciting young musicians in the da U. S. of A. (imho) is married to the woman who is dancing and choreographing, and Brad is playing, along with some of the most brilliant musicians I am lucky enough to know, and yeah I’m there. Okay?
But two nights in a row? Yeah, I did that. I saw the Owen/Cox Dance Group on Thursday night — dragging my wife, who is dragging her ass, she’s the mother of two teenagers, works and is grad school and, hell, she’s married to ME for chrissakes, so like she’s already done for the day, and I drag her out to this show.
The next night I bring my mom and my eldest daughter, just so someone can sit there next to me as I grin from ear to ear or nearly start sobbing midway through various dances.
Jennifer Owen has some wonderful things to show us. For one, she’s a wonderful dancer, as are many in her troupe of nine. For another, she is an inspired choreographer, at least at times, and every time she is at least intelligent and imaginative. How many dances have you seen that make you laugh? In a good way.
Brad and some of the brilliant musicians he is fortunate enough to assemble have offered me, without question, some of the most engaging musical moments I have experienced in the last decade.
And, at the risk of seeming to ignore other moments, there are two dances back to back to I must regard as simply diabolical. The first is terrifying: “When Jesus Wept”, a rather typical Brad Cox haunt comprised of two songs intertwined, threads woven together like the rope that forms the device of “Strange Fruit”, the heart-stopping Billie Holliday tale of torture and lynching.
Brad, as I said, has great musicians in tow. Nathan Granner and Valery Price handle “When Jesus Wept” with heart and soul. When Krystle Warren adds her warm, almost other-worldly voice to Strange Fruit in the midst of it all, and as Jerome Stigler demonstrates suffering and death, I defy any person with eyes and ears to save their own heart from bursting.
“When Jesus Wept” is followed by a solo, Jennifer dancing to another song with gospel roots, The River is Wide, and it seems that the song and dance will act to heal the wound exposed by the trauma preceding it. No such.
The song’s opening affirmation of love winds to its inevitable loss, the song and lights fading as love dies away. No solace here but plenty of truth. If art can rip away the curtains by which the quotidian hides reality, then these two dances are still changing the way I look around me days later.
Btw, to those annoying snobs who somehow believe that I’m speaking from a relative position, that is to say, that I’m saying these musicians are exciting for Kansas City, I’d look forward to a brief conversation about what is good and great around the world. I travel a lot and I see a lot of music and dance. This is the real shit, people.
Count yourselves unlucky to live elsewhere.