Behind-the-scenes at Missouri Contemporary Ballet

Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s open rehearsal showcases compelling choreography

By Claire Landsbaum | Oct. 12, 2012

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You’re standing innocently on a street corner in New York City waiting for the light to change. Next to you is a statue. At least you think it’s a statue … until it grabs your shoulder.

These street performers covered in paint and plaster invoke New York-based choreographer John-Mark Owen’s work. He takes statuesque images and brings them to life.

“I work with moving imagery,” he said. “I like to take shapes that are sculpturally evocative and transition them melodically so that the shape is more of an indication of a feeling or an emotion."

Owen’s singular technique will be on display Saturday during his open rehearsal with members of the Missouri Contemporary Ballet. The rehearsal is part of Columbia’s “Artrageous Fridays” series.

“Artrageous is basically a free art crawl around Columbia and a good way for smaller business to let the community know what they’re doing,” said Joanne Sandorfi, Missouri Contemporary Ballet director of operations.

Both Owen and Sandorfi said Saturday will offer a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of putting a show together.

“I don’t think (people) really understand how long it takes to put a work together,” Sandorfi said. “You have to set the choreography, you have to clean it, and then you have to perfect it, and that’s what you’re going to see on Saturday is the cleaning process of John-Mark Owen’s piece.”

Owen agreed that people can expect to see “that intimate relationship between the dancer and the choreographer, the multiple times that you try something before you get that seamless transition, the rawness and intimacy of a rehearsal space."

Owen’s work-in-progress “Minore al Maggiore," which is Italian for "minor to major," has no shortage of intimacy.

The piece is based on an image from “Requiem,” another of Owen’s works. In “Requiem,” a male character receives a brutal blow from a female and slides down her body, ending with his arm on her hip and his body prostrate, facing down.

“It’s just a very strong, bold image, and I wasn’t done with it,” Owen said. “I loved that image and I wanted to see what would happen if it became more tender and went to a more hopeful, optimistic place."

The transition from pessimism to optimism, Owen explained, ties into the title of the piece “Minore al Maggiore."

Owen’s work will be displayed Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Orr Street Studios. The doors to Studio A will be wide open. Passers-by can wander in and, as Sandorfi said, “get some culture in.”

"(People will see) the creative process as well as the cleaning process, and I think that will really encourage them to come see the finished product in the show,” Sanforfi said.

Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s November show, “Thirst,” will feature Owen’s “Minore al Maggiore” as well as pieces by Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s Artistic Director Karen Mareck Grundy and guest choreographer Thang Dao.

For Owen, though, the real reward is how people respond to his work.

“What I look for is that moment where you find something in you that illuminates your whole experience and provokes you to further thought,” he said. “I appreciate that dialogue, that’s what I look for, which is why I do what I do.”

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