COLUMBIA — In "Circumstantial Elements," a new piece premiering this weekend, dancers with the Missouri Contemporary Ballet must entangle themselves in a piece of green fabric that covers the stage.

And that means falls. And sweat. And more falls.

"Anything that’s done after the fabric piece kind of gets a little screwed because we drag on the fabric or hold on to the fabric and get dragged across the stage, which means your sweat has now been dragged right across the floor, leaving a nice trail of slippery spots," said Christine Settembrino, a dancer with the company, with barely concealed annoyance at a rehearsal Monday afternoon.

It's all part of the challenge of staging "Crushing Perceptions," a collaboration between the ballet and the Missouri Symphony Orchestra. Performances are Friday and Saturday at the Missouri Theatre.

Artistic Director Karen Grundy said she's trying to challenge audience expectations of classical music and ballet.

"I’m not saying that 'Swan Lake' and 'Nutcracker' are horrible, but I think people get a little bit like, ‘Oh, that’s what ballet is,’" she said.

Grundy wants the attention to be on the athleticism of the dancers and how that intersects with their artistry. When audience members come to the Contemporary Ballet's performances for the first time, that's what usually strikes them most, she said.

While rehearsing for another ballet in the program, a dancer fell flat on the floor instead of into what was meant to be the romantic embrace of her partner.

Her misstep wasn’t met with any reprimand or disapproval. Instead, her partner plopped onto her and dramatically pecked her on the lips to an explosion of laughter from the directors and other dancers.

“The first priority if somebody falls is, ‘Did you get injured?’” Settembrino said. “If the answer is no, we laugh. It’s like somebody slipping on a banana peel.”

The atmosphere of the rehearsal was positive and productive, which is what Grundy prefers.

“I like to have a good time in rehearsal,” she said. “I just think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself. They are professionals, and they’re not kids.”

The cheers don’t only come for falls. One dancer received an outpouring of cheers and one booming, “Get it, Mama!” from the company when she pulled off a triple pirouette during a solo.

“It’s very much a team,” said Ken Braso, the rehearsal director. “We’re all working, all of us, for one goal. That’s to produce this show with these well-rehearsed, good-looking pieces.”

Two of the four ballets to be performed this weekend were choreographed especially for the show, and the other two are from the company’s repertoire.

The four ballets are very different, taking the audience and dancers on a roller coaster ride from one extreme to another, Grundy said.

“Minore al Maggiore” is a highly contemplative piece about how people are there for and react to one another, said Joel Hathaway, a company dancer. The ballet is the slowest piece in the show and emotionally charged.

Hathaway and Fernando Rodriguez, another dancer, embraced for a long moment after an emotional pas de deux in the ballet. It brought up complicated feelings about the weekend's mass shooting in an Orlando gay nightclub.

“I just realized that I can’t imagine saying, ‘See you later,’ to somebody and then never seeing them again,” Hathaway said. “I have not actually experienced that in my life.”

He has been performing the piece with Rodriguez for three years as part of the ballet’s repertoire.

“Through these years, it’s always evolving and changing,” Rodriguez said. “I may have a different character each time I do it.”

After "Minore al Maggiore," the dancers make a jarring transition to "The Big Day," an energetic, comic piece about a wedding.

“Then you have to get offstage, change your costume, and then we’re at a wedding,” Settembrino said.

“People are getting drunk and giving toasts and throwing bouquets and taking garters off. It’s a very big atmosphere shift to make not just as an individual but as a company, as a group.”

Comedic pieces are a departure for the company, which usually focuses on contemporary and modern movement.

"That ballet is mine, and every time I watch it, I’m like, ‘Who choreographed this?’" Grundy said. "It is so not me at all."

Because the range of style and choreography is so broad, the performance has something everyone can enjoy, Braso said.

"Each piece is so different," he said, "so if there is a piece that maybe isn't something you really understand, then the next piece you can."

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

  • I am a summer term reporter at the University of Missouri. My area of study is Magazine Writing, and my hometown is Scottsboro, Alabama. You can reach me by email at or on Twitter @annamapletree

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