Last cold Sunday night regulars at K-State’s McCain Auditorium saw an interesting show, something that had to send them out of the hall at the end of seventy packed minutes feeling a little better about what’s going on around the campus.
The show, called McCain Student Showcase, was a brisk run of brief musical and dance performances, snippets put together to make a recital for the performing arts programs. Theater was represented only by a song from last semester’s production of the “Putnam County Spelling Bee.” But then, that show (and Heather Harberberger’s song in it) was so strong that no one left the auditorium wondering if sparse representation in the Showcase was a confession of weakness on the part of the drama program.
But then, there weren’t any weak performances in the Showcase. We were given thirteen acts, and all of them were well-rehearsed and chosen, and performed more than competently.
The show began with Janie Brokenecky, accompanied by Amanda Arrington at the piano, singing Richard Strauss. The voice warmed a little after a few notes and began to fill out. And the audience wanted to applaud at the end of the performance on the elevator cover of the orchestra pit, but we had been warned to save our applause until the end of the show.
Our program notes appeared on the big t.v. screens mounted to the right and left of the stage. They told us that faculty member Julie Pentz (a Kansas Arts Commission Fellow) choreographed the twenty-plus tap dancers who appeared in the Showcase’s standard black. This performance introduced a method of development common to most of the evening’s acts, variation from some serial pattern, and there was good unison dancing including brief late passages mimicking the accompanying space funk music’s anapestic kick drum.
Then we had thirteen singers (boy, girl, boy, and so on across a shallow arc) wearing black and then purple accessories. Here we got lots of unison and a little harmony on the chorus endings. And they were followed immediately by a marimba quartet, upstage, their instruments forming a diamond, playing a piece by Daniel Levitan. It would be oversimplification to say there were two soloists, a rhythm accompanist, and a bass player among the four of them, but that description would provided a basis for discussion.
If there was time for discussion. The instruments were being rolled off-stage before we could catch our collective breath and then we saw over a dozen dancers in black tights and slightly-elongated swim caps doing David Ollington’s “Black Hole,” a sometimes delightful example of the series violation method of development. Individuals dancing here displayed some personality.
The succeeding saxophone quartet played Lorent Schmitt music with surprisingly sophisticated effects. There was a round development, a little harmony playing, and a recurring theme. And then we got Miss Harberberger, in her junior high costume, singing the emotional “I Love You Song,” accompanied by Kristen Hyde and Randell Rhoten as her parents and by Nat Hixon’s piano. They even brought the little set of aluminum bleachers over to dress the set.
The Monumental String Quartet played something from William Grant Still’s Dances of Panama, and played it well. The instrument-body rhythmic patting was well managed, and the group sounded good, sounded well-rehearsed and as if they understood the music.
They were followed by one of the Pentz and Dunn dance pieces inspired by African folk dancing. Dunn played hand drums upstage I think—I was at the wrong side of the auditorium to see him—and perhaps two-dozen dancers in black tops and bright print sarongs moved around a center circle of varying width, eventually playing with a large and evolving star shape and frequently participating in call and response shouting.
Janka Krajcova played something from a Beethoven Sonata (op. 31, no. 3), proving herself adept at maintaining evenness of sound while moving the melody from one hand to the other and throwing in lots of cross hand work. This was quick without ever being rushed. She was followed by the Trumpet Ensemble playing a Herbert Clarke piece called “Maid of the Mist” which featured good solo work, solid unison playing emphasizing rhythm, and a well-considered acceleration to the conclusion.
Then the over fifty members of the Concert Choir came out to sing Debussy. There were four soloists, but this was best when the harmonies fanned out and filled the wonderful sounding auditorium. The Choir stayed on and the trumpets returned for the show ending number, an “Amazing Grace” arrangement which used the human voices the last go through to provide a full-sounding background for the brass-carried melody of the old hymn.
And then finally we could applaud. This was a lot of entertainment and a lot of intelligent entertainment in a short stretch, and I came away from the show thinking, you know, things really are going pretty well on campus with the arts. There’s a future ahead of us. Thankfully.