Underground,” a dance production that chronicles the story of three slaves and the people they meet on their journey to freedom, returns to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts in Kansas City for its annual February performances.
“Underground” will be on stage for two nights, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 3 and 4, 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $75 and can be purchased online at CultureHouse.com.
The cast of quality dancers, the sets and costumes combine to movingly tell the story of slavery, the slaves’ desire to escape, the challenges slaves encountered as they escaped to freedom, and the abolitionist who helped them along the way.
The Kansas City Star’s review called the production,“without a doubt one of the most vivid, heartfelt, and theatrically astute pieces of dance theatre ever to grace a Kansas City stage.”
It’s such an outstanding production, including the choreography and the music, it’s easy to assume this is a professional touring production with a world-renowned cast, producer and choreographer.
Instead, the idea for the play, the choreography and the original music score are all deeply rooted in KC.
Mona Störling-Enna, who along with her husband Jeremiah Enna founded the Störling Dance Theater in Olathe, observed racial strife in America and wanted to do something about it.
In the story of the Underground Railroad, they found a historic moment when good people came together to overcome the evil of their day, and it was a story they wanted to share.
Mona, working with Störling Dance company member Tobin James, composer Jay Pfeifer and executive producer Kip Blue, created “Underground.”
It took four years to fully compose, choreograph and create all the sets, costumes and props. In 2008, “Underground” premiered at the Kansas City Lyric Theater.
This is Störling Dance Theater’s 16th anniversary presenting the Underground Railroad story in Kansas City, and, along the way, it has become a Kansas City tradition.
Each year, the production is made possible by a cast and crew of more than 50 members. Some have been faithful members of the “Underground” family since the first year; and every year, new members join the cast.
Starring in the production this year:
The lead male actors are Kevyn Butler, who resides in Texas and is an instructor of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas; and Matthew Roberts, a dancer, choreographer and instructor from Akron, OH.
The lead female dancers are Shannon Benton, a faculty member for Störling Conservatory; and Alexandria Wilson, professional dancer for Störling Conservatory and returning cast member; and Courtney Garrett, local actress and former dance instructor at The Culture House.
Enna says the story is important. Whether it is self-educating, breaking barriers, or finding a solution, many people are inspired to do something after seeing the production. One of those was Dayton Moore, former president of the KC Royals.
After he saw the production six years ago, he helped form the organization Unite KC, a faith-based, grassroots movement working toward racial healing in Kansas City. The nonprofit aims to help overcome the ravages of racism in Kansas City by inspiring people to do “one good thing” at a time.
Moore’s “one good thing” was building The Kansas City Youth Academy, a baseball training facility in the 18th and Vine District.
The history of racism told in the story can be tough for some people to consume, but he believes telling the story without sugar-coating is vital, and that the overall audience may relate to this unique production differently, based on who they are and what they have experienced.
“‘Underground’ is a world-class production about a story that will change your life, and we want everyone to see it every year because it is that effective and inspiring,” said Enna.