Psychophysicist and market researcher Howard Moskowitz advised food manufacturers for decades on how they can achieve what he called the “bliss point,” that sensory sweet spot where fat, salt and sugar are in perfect ratio for a maximum hit of pleasure.
The Kansas City Ballet hopes to provide the dance equivalent of this magical formula when it presents “Bliss Point” May 12 to 21 at the Muriel Kauffman Theatre. The program will feature three cutting-edge works: “Sandpaper Ballet” by Mark Morris, “Petite Mort” by Jiří Kylián and Alexander Ekman’s “Cacti.”
Devon Carney, the ballet’s artistic director, was planning to do this program before the pandemic hit. He says he’s been looking forward to presenting these works by three “top-shelf” choreographers.
“It’s so great to finally get to it,” Carney said. “It’s a major triple bucket list for dancers. To have all three of them on one program is a real substantial moment for the company. Mark Morris, Jiří Kylián and Alexander Ekman, it’s hard to put into words the significance of having these three together. I’m thrilled these choreographers trust our company to present their works adequately.”
The program will begin with “Sandpaper Ballet” by Morris, a choreographer whose company, Mark Morris Dance Group, has been presented in Kansas City several times by the Harriman-Jewell Series.
Carney appeared in Morris’ first work, “Mort Subite,” created for the Boston Ballet in 1986.
“I’ve known Mark for 37 years,” Carney said. “I suggested we do ‘Mort Subite,’ but he wanted to do something more current, so we’re doing ‘Sandpaper Ballet.’”
Created for the San Francisco Ballet in 1999, “Sandpaper Ballet” is set to the whimsical miniatures of Leroy Anderson. Carney says it will be an “upbeat” start to the program.
“It’s fun because it begins with a Christmas piece, the classic ‘Sleigh Ride,’” Carney said. “I love that it starts with that because here we are in May, and leave it to Mark to pull you off of your expectations. There’s a lot of gentle humor, and it’s a great way to start the show because it meets the audience on a level we’re a little bit more familiar with.”
Kylián, a Czech-born choreographer, created “Petite Mort” for the 1991 Salzburg Festival. Carney says the title is open to interpretation.
“‘Petite Mort’ is a small death, which can mean a lot of different things,” Carney said. “Some say it’s the culmination of sex. It’s the moment when you forget yourself and the world goes away. It can also mean an ecstatic moment of watching a sunset or a sunrise. It could mean a relationship with someone who means a tremendous amount to you, where you forget yourself and are only thinking of the other.”
The ballet is set to the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 and the Andante from his Piano Concerto No. 21. As always, the music will be played live by the Kansas City Symphony conducted by Ramona Pansegrau. Samuel Beckett will be the piano soloist for the Mozart concertos.
The Kansas City Ballet previously performed “Petite Mort” six years ago.
“I’m just thrilled that we get to do it again,” Carney said. “Getting it once is one thing, but to be able to come back to it is even more exciting. There’s a level of deeper understanding. The work is very sensual. Kylián is really known for the seamless movement quality that he creates, and this is definitely one of his signature works.”
To conclude the program is Ekman’s “Cacti.” The Swedish choreographer has written that “Cacti,” in which all the dancers hold their own cactus, “is about how we observe art and how we often feel the need to analyze and ‘understand’ art.”
“It’s an extremely entertaining work,” Carney said. “It’s barefoot just like ‘Petite Mort’ is barefoot. It’s a work that is meant specifically to help an audience appreciate movement for movement’s sake and not necessarily put a story to it.”
“Cacti” is set to succulent music by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert, which the Opus 76 Quartet will perform on stage.
“Usually the musicians are sunken in the pit,” Carney said. “It’s not common that they’re on stage. It’s also not common that they’re literally walking around on stage while they’re playing. Especially a cellist. The cellist has to wear a very specific kind of harness in order to carry a cello and properly do the bowing while they’re walking.”
Carney says that the dancers themselves will also provide an acoustic accompaniment.
“The dancers are all on these 4-foot-by-4-foot wooden boxes, and they are literally drumming on their own bodies and the wood surface of the boxes,” he said. “Ekman even uses the dancers’ breathing. When you hear 16 dancers simultaneously breathing out, you can hear that at the back of the house.”
According to Carney, you don’t need to understand ballet to appreciate “Cacti.” Or “Sandpaper Ballet” and “Petite Mort,” for that matter. Carney is hopeful it will be a program of unalloyed pleasure.
“Bliss Point is about reaching a place where you are quite satisfied,” Carney said. “All of these works are going to satisfy you. These three works combined will bring an evening of bliss point to reality.”
7:30 p.m. May 12, 13, 19 and 20 and 2 p.m. May 14 and 21. Muriel Kauffman Theatre, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. $34-$134. 816-931-8993 or kcballet.org.
Park University ICM — Behzod Abduraimov
Behzod Abduraimov, winner of the 2009 London International Piano Competition and artist-in-residence at Park University’s International Center for Music, will give a recital May 11 at the Folly Theater. The program will include Ravel’s fiendishly difficult “Gaspard de la Nuit” and “Ten Pieces From Romeo and Juliet” by Prokofiev. Abduraimov will also perform works by Franck and Rachmaninoff and “The Walls of Ancient Bukhara” by Dilorom Saidaminova. The concert is presented by Park University.
7:30 p.m. May 11. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St. $20-$50. icm.park.edu.