The Man In Black

Dancers Angelina Sansone & Geoffrey Kropp. Photographer Steve Wilson.
Dancers: Taryn Mejia, Michael Davis and Kevin Wilson. Photography: Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios.

Choreography: James Kudelka
Music: Johnny Cash
Costume Design: Jim Searle, Hoax Couture
Lighting Design: Trad A Burns
Staged by Olivia Clark Omardien

For Jim, further on up the road

The Man in Black, originally commissioned by BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio and given its premiere in April 2010, is a celebration of American working-class grit and of the man whose gravely voice embodied it so movingly, Johnny Cash. Six Cash songs – all covers from the later part of his career – are given visual resonance in a suite of dances for an ensemble of three men and a woman, all in cowboy boots. The choreography riffs off several popular American country-western dance styles – line, square, swing, step dancing – retaining their vernacular, almost colloquial character yet generating imagery that complements the songs’ varying moods and emotional undercurrents. The “Dam your eyes” defiance of the traditional folk song Sam Hall contrasts with the aching melancholy of Trent Reznor’s (Nine Inch Nails) Hurt and heartache of Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind. Dance chains unravel and reassemble in surprising ways. Formations stomp decisively or glide across the stage as if wafted by a desert breeze. The fluid partnering and sculptural groupings generate a stream of arrestingly poetic images. Rather than portray defined characters, the dancers project a naturalistic immediacy that connects at a visceral level with the spirit of the music. The choreography, like the songs that inspire it, is an ode to the human spirit, socially congenial yet proudly independent; vulnerable yet resilient.

Ballet premiere: April 24, 2010; BalletMet Columbus, Capitol Theatre, Columbus, OH

Kansas City Ballet premiere: April 13, 2018
Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, Kansas City, Missouri

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