K-State’s performing arts programs have recently been reorganized into a school and the drawings of the new Purple Masque theater in West Memorial Stadium have been circulating. There is also a lot of new energy evident in the concerts and shows featuring student talent.
The accomplishments of the programs got their annual McCain airing last Sunday afternoon at the Student Showcase. This brisk ninety-minute celebration gave us samples taken from recent campus performances.
It began with Gota, one of the West African dance numbers that have become regular features of WinterDance and SpringDance. Faculty organizer Neil Dunn and his squad of dashiki-clad hand percussionists played repeated bursts of rhythms to which eight dancers in batik skirts, blouses, and headbands moved, circling, chanting, moving their arms, and deploying in pairs. Viewers of these folk dances can’t escape the beat or miss the obvious enjoyment of the performers.
The selection taken from last fall’s production of Donald Margulies’s play, “Time Stands Still,” included both couples. The passage was taken from just after the wedding of the photographer and the writer, who specialize in international military conflicts. The magazine editor and his now pregnant wife offer their regards, but the conversation slides into a battle over the rejection of a depressing essay. The cutting was a fair indicator of the intensity of the Nichols show.
Then, down on the partly lowered lip of the stage, the Kansas State Jazz Quintet performed a jaunty arrangement of Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves” that resembled familiar versions of “Fly Me to the Moon.” Ike Hamm led off on tenor sax and had an extensive and generally interesting solo, followed by a Tyler Brown piano outing and brief drum and upright bass solo bits.
New Dance faculty member Laura Donnelly’s row-music “Unintended Consequences” may have been the longest thing on the program. It was certainly the most thoroughly developed, sending its sixteen dancers in loose apricot-colored tops through series of movements inspired, we were told, by cell replication as described in the year’s campus book. The sequencing evolved slowly into increasingly expansive deployments, with Daniel Phillips closing the thing off with a long series of lifts performed on different female dancers, one at a time across the stage.
At this point in the program we got to the preview element, the finale from Act II of Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro,” which the campus opera company will soon offer the public. This is a delightful and funny show, and the seven singers already knew most of their choreography for the sequence. They certainly sang well, performing in contemporary dress. I look forward to the complete opera with real enthusiasm.
There was some jazz idiom and some row music in Dan Moore’s “Headlong,” a piece played by Ben Yancey on a steel drum and Alex Wimmer on a marimba. This was the K-State Graduate Percussion Duo, and they were technically strong, calmly playing the music with its sophisticated shape.
They were followed by the Monumental String Quartet, a set of students from four different departments and I believe three different colleges. Their performance of the Scherzo (or “joke”) movement of Mendelssohn’s E minor Quartet was in three, but wasn’t really played for laughs. Dynamics were used skillfully here.
Donnelly’s ballet piece, “Maroon Jasmine,” got a nice performance by three dancers backed by the ten or so members of the K-State Flute Ensemble, who played Delibes’s familiar “Flower Duet.” After some book-matched movements by the women, Phillips got to leaning and lifting and turning them each in sequence, and the movements complimented the well-performed music.
We finished up out of order, or so it seemed to me. First the show gave us three songs (with accompanying dances) from last fall’s big production of “The Music Man.” Elise Poehling came out and gave us her loud, musical, and confident reading of “My White Knight.” Nahshon Ruffin led Mrs. Shinn’s dancers in forming “Grecian urns” while the barbershop quartet sang “It’s You.” And then a good part of the large company came out for a spirited dancing of “Shipoopi,” as sung by Chris Zimmerman.
And then we went from happy to sad. In-A-Chord is a five singer a cappella group that did a contemporary-feeling, sophisticated pop song called “Somebody I Used to Know.” Four of the singers got lines alone and there was harmony singing as well as a rhythm track pronounced by the fifth singer. This was another good performance. But it was sufficiently effective that I was feeling a little blue as I got up at the end of the show.
That wasn’t the right response. After a set of performances like these, Manhattan residents who like the performing arts ought to be optimistic and fairly chuffed. If the recent past is an indication of the near future, we’re going to be having some fun in K-State’s theaters and concert halls.