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Cacti and classical music: Opus 76 quartet joins Kansas City Ballet for an unconventional performance

Kansas City Ballet
"Cacti" features a playful and energetic style with a mix of classical ballet and contemporary dance techniques.

This weekend, Opus 76 will join the Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Ballet for a performance that challenges preconceived notions about the artform — and involves a fair number of cacti.

When you think of ballet, tutus and pointe shoes coupled with harps and dainty tremolos may come to mind. If you're expecting to experience that at the Kansas City Ballet this weekend, think again.

The Kansas City Symphony and Opus 76 quartet are joining forces with the ballet for performances of Alexander Ekman's "Cacti," a piece that flips preconceived notions about ballet on its head.

While symphony members will be safely tucked into the pit, Opus 76 will be sharing the stage with 16 dancers that, at times, will be manipulating wooden platforms and spiky succulents.

Opus 76 violinist Keith Stanfield.
Christy L'Esperance
Opus 76 violinist Keith Stanfield.

Alongside the dancers' prepared choreography, quartet members have a type of choreography of their own, as noted by Opus 76 violinist Keith Stanfield.

"I think in the case of our cellist, Dan Ketter, there's one particular move which is really fascinating and exciting that one of the ballerinas does. They slide like a soccer player, a sliding tackle and they come within about a foot of knocking him out."

Sharing the stage with the dancers presents another unique opportunity - the ability to witness the movements of those artists rather than being stuck in the "bottomless void" of an orchestral pit accompanying them.

Along with having an unconventional setup, "Cacti" takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to some of the pretensions that can surround high art critique, a sense of constantly interpreting and intellectualizing what you're witnessing rather than just taking it in and enjoying it.

These themes are explored primarily through the dancing, as Stanfield notes that the quartet is "there to help [the dancers] do their thing and to make them look as good as we can."

"There are not many cities like Kansas City in the world that have such support for the arts," Stanfield says, reflecting on the arts legacy in Kansas City.

"I'm just really keen to get more and more people aware of it. And I think all of us at our quartet are doing a very good job at that and it's a real pleasure to be doing that."

Keith Stanfield and the rest of the Opus 76 quartet will be joining the Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Ballet for Alexander Ekman's "Cacti" this weekend. You can learn more about that performance at

Learn more about Opus 76 at

Kansas City native Christy L’Esperance (pronounced “LESS-per-ahns") started listening to classical music on the Snoopy radio she got for her 4th birthday. Today, as Classical KC’s Community Engagement Specialist and On-Air Host, she enjoys classical music through much better speakers. You can reach Christy at She would love to hear about the ways you keep music in your life.
Sam Wisman is a Senior Producer for 91.9 Classical KC and a backup announcer for KCUR 89.3. Email him at
Brooke Knoll is the digital audience specialist and afternoon host for Classical KC. You can reach her at