Dancers in Arena in 1996. Photographer Steve Wilson.
Dancers in Arena in 1996. Photographer Steve Wilson.

Choreography: Todd Bolender
Music: James Mobberley

In silence, punctuated by pizzicato harp chords, a lithe Mother Earth arises and opens like a butterfly. She gives breath and voice to education, to the act of speech, and to the narration of life’s stories. She gives birth to the human species, beginning with a single creature hurled onto the stage as a squirming embryo. The creature struggles to assemble consciousness and physical identity, then leaps to its feet in triumph.

So begins Arena, a ballet about vanity, self-consciousness, political and religious manipulations, unbridled and pointless cruelty, failure, chaos, and panic. It is also about human energy and potency, the possibilities for the complete trust and sensual connection, and the offering and acceptance of compassion. The work’s hope is lodged n the intensely sculptural central pas de deux, where the couple strives for balance through a sensual progression of sharply articulated positions.

From the outset, Bolender viewed Arena as abstract yet content-driven drama. He draws heavily upon the dancers’ acting abilities. The narration is episodic, inclusive of vulnerable moments between painfully fragile characters as well as nearslapstick parodies of society’s response to politicians and evangelists.

World Premiere: October 10, 1996, Kansas City Ballet, Lyric Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri

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