Missouri Contempory ballet is "Falling" into Missouri Theatre

Friday, November 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA —  Traditional ballet, modern dance and  installation art will intersect this weekend in Missouri Contemporary Ballet’s performance of “Falling.” 

“I think Columbia’s ready for it,” said Karen Grundy, artistic director of the ballet company. “And even if they’re not, I’m going to make them ready.”

If you go

What: "Falling"

When: 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday

Where: Missouri Theatre for the Arts, 203 S. Ninth St.

Tickets: $17 to $22

Information: Call 875-0600 or go to

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Grundy choreographed two of the four pieces in “Falling,” which will premiere Friday at the Missouri Theatre for the Arts. The other two works were done by the ballet’s choreographer-in-residence Shannon Lee West.

Each piece explores different aspects of the word falling. The one called “Falling” was choreographed in conjunction with installation artist Valerie Wedel. Based on a poem written by Wedel, white fabric outlines upstage and part of downstage, and the dancers move in and out of the fabric. The text of the poem is projected on the fabric.

Elaine Johnson, the former director of Orr Street Studios, introduced Grundy and Wedel.

"I think it's exciting to see how they're using the fabric; they've really integrated their dance routines with the set. It's definitely interactive," Wedel said.

Grundy and Wedel met several times over the course of planning the show to share ideas and work on the piece.

"We kind of worked independently and then shared with each other what we had," Wedel said. "She gave me a lot of leeway as far as decisions on how to construct the video."

Costumes were designed by Grundy and Jeff Thompson at French Laundry.

“The costumes are all white because of the projection and the innocence of the piece,” Grundy said. “I wanted to keep everything simple because there’s so much going on.”

Her other piece in the show is a quartet called “Falling into Place.” Lucy Ballard was involved in bringing Grundy to Columbia, and the piece is inspired by a quartet Grundy danced in when she was 21 that Ballard choreographed.

“I looked at the video, borrowed some lifts and concepts, utilized the ideas and made it lighter,” Grundy said. “I haven’t talked to (Ballard) in a few years, which makes me very sad.”

“The quartet is really in its own world in the show,” said dancer Genene McGrath, who began her first season with the ballet in August.

“(The quartet) is about relationships and falling apart in relationships,” McGrath said. She was expecting it to clearly define couples when Grundy told her they were doing a quartet, but “Claire and I both partner with both the boys,” she said.

Small and slender, with bold red hair cropped closely to her head, Grundy originally wanted to be a ballerina, but “that wasn’t going to happen,” she said.

She danced professionally in different shows and companies in her hometown of Las Vegas for 11 years before accepting a position at the Columbia Performing Arts Center in 2000.

“They just wanted a teacher to come in and kind of get those dancers into shape and change the way that that studio was taught,” Grundy said. “I was the person that was brought out and thought of after many, many, many, many times of asking me to come out,” she said while laughing .

As a choreographer, Grundy is hands-on with her dancers.

“She’s very interactive — it’s helpful because she can come up and torque you or fix you,” McGrath said. “She’s encouraging. She’s always like, ‘You can do this,’ especially when you doubt yourself. She’s like, ‘Do it! You can do it!’”

Grundy joined Missouri Contemporary Ballet in July 2006 when she left her position as artistic director of contemporary ballet company Cedar Lake II. Lucy Geger of Repertory Arts Movement handed the company over to Grundy with a name change in order to retain its nonprofit status, and it became Missouri Contemporary Ballet.

 McGrath said Grundy has a great rapport with the company dancers and she has a quirky sense of humor.

 “One of the dancers was a banana (for Halloween), so she came in with her banana and Karen put it on. That’s what’s fun about her, she’s goofy,” McGrath said. “She’s fun to work with.”

 "Working with Karen has been a joy and a wonderful opportunity," Wedel said.


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