A first look at Wichita professional dance company

Dancers from Regina Klenjoski Dance Company rehearse for "Out of Body," which will be performed Saturday at Mark Arts. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)
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Dancers from Regina Klenjoski Dance Company rehearse for "Out of Body," which will be performed Saturday at Mark Arts. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

Keeper of the Plans

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Keeper of the Plans

Can Wichita support modern dance? New company will find out

November 02, 2017 11:18 AM

At least right now, Wichita is not a dance town.

That’s not to say there aren’t excellent dancers here or that there is a shortage of studios or companies to train with – but the opportunities for professional dance in Wichita just don’t exist like they do in cities like Kansas City or Salt Lake City.

Or if there are opportunities, they’re on a by-project basis – certainly not on a regular schedule.

Regina Klenjoski is trying to change that.

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Klenjoski, a modern dance choreographer who has owned a professional studio in Los Angeles for 18 years, has started a new company in Wichita.

The Regina Klenjoski Dance Company will have its first-ever Wichita performance on Saturday: “Out of Body” is a collaborative show with dancers under the direction of Wichita State University modern dance instructor Cheyla Clawson Chandler. The show will be at 7:30 p.m. at Mark Arts, 9112 E. Central.

What is modern dance?

Modern dance is far from “The Nutcracker.”

It’s a theatrical dance style consisting of free, expressive motion – less structured than ballet or other traditional dance genres.

The goal of modern dance, generally, is to express a feeling or tell a story – often personal tales of love and loss.

Klenjoski’s works are intended as social commentary – themes and narratives expressed through motion and choreography.

“A lot of my work centers around social-justice issues or hot topics that are current,” she said. “That type of work, I think, creates dialogue ... an opportunity to discuss and to go deeper through art, just like what I think (visual) art does.”

For example, Klenjoski’s “Emoticons” – which will open the show – features hyperkinetic dancers that represent the speed at which technology has become a part of everyday life. It also features breakout soloists who express the negative effects of pervasive technology.

Klenjoski and Chandler, who both have done public work at Harvester Arts this year, hope to raise public awareness of modern dance in Wichita.

“To have a life experience watching dance as an art form I think is important,” Chandler said. “I think it’s a key tool in the community … learning a different expressive way of being creative, versus painting or drawing, the more traditional art forms in the community.

“Movement can be expressive and can change your perspective.”

How the company came to be

Klenjoski moved to Wichita in the summer of 2014, after her husband was recruited to Wichita with a marketing job.

As a Midwest native, she was excited to return to the region; as a choreographer whose work was often reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, she was concerned.

“Was I going to be able to teach?” she thought. “Are there audiences here for contemporary dance?”

Soon she was hired on as a lecturer of dance at Wichita State University, where she met Chandler.

She still travels often between Wichita and L.A., where she still has a studio.

This summer, she decided to move the company to Wichita – she currently has six dancers in the company.

She plans to produce two shows per year and travel to L.A. at least once every year, in addition to any local or regional touring opportunities that may arise.

“I would love to be a part of putting Wichita on the national dance map,” Klenjoski said. “I’m interested in creating a cultural bridge between the (Wichita and L.A. dance communities), so that hopefully in the future ... I can bring artists from there to here and vice versa.”

Over the next year and a half, Klenjoski plans to continue fundraising and developing a board for her company.

She’s also actively searching for a space to host her studio – currently her dancers rehearse at WSU.

Wichita has produced notable professional dancers (including Trey McIntyre) in the past, but seldom do they stay here.

This is the first step to changing that, Klenjoski said.

“There’s a lot of great training here, but the (professional) opportunities are slim,” she said. “We’re excited to kick this off and ... start working with local dancers to create a strong and consistent presence.”

Matt Riedl: 316-268-6660, @RiedlMatt

“Out of Body”

When: 7:30 p.m. Sat.

Where: Mark Arts, 9112 E. Central

What: Modern dance show featuring works by two of Wichita’s leading contemporary choreographers, Cheyla Clawson Chandler and Regina Klenjoski. First performance by the new Wichita-based Regina Klenjoski Dance Company, a professional modern dance troupe. There will be a post-show Q&A with audience members.

Admission: $20 adults, $15 students with ID and seniors. $15 for admission to a pre-show cocktail reception at 6:30 p.m.

Information: www.rkdc.org/outofbody