Archive for November, 2010


Starbucks has its holiday cups. For some dancers, rehearsals for holiday shows have started — tunes about mistletoe and snow (what is that again?) can be heard in studios all over the city.

Another holiday tradition took place on Nov. 27 at the Rock Center for Dance: Melena Rounis, with help from Katy Tate, organized the second Step Up and Dance event, a fundraiser that takes donations for Three Square food bank in Las Vegas. In the space of four hours, 88 dancers signed up and $1,440 was donated, which is the equivalent of more than 4,000 meals. All of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Three Square.

The workshop brought together eight different performers, many with credits from shows on the Strip and elsewhere, to teach a post-Thanksgiving dance-fest that raised money for families in need. The four-hour block of time was divided into eight half-hour-long sessions. Agnes Roux, Katy Tate, Saleemah Knight, Fred Odgaard, Brent Borbon, Leah Moyer, Sheila Joy and Rounis herself each taught a class in styles including zumba, hip hop, jazz, ballroom, burlesque, contemporary, lyrical and jazz funk.

Participants donated $10 at the door and were welcome to take as much or as little class as they wanted and all ages were welcome.

“It’s so much positivity in one day that it’s crazy,” Rounis said.

Rounis commented on the benefits that the workshop has for those who participate. “You’re getting so much back,” she said, “and not just the feel-good aspect but the health aspect, too.”

The workshop also gave students an opportunity to stand alongside accomplished dancers. “[The students are] in class with professional dancers that are in shows on the Strip that they might have seen,” Rounis said. “It’s really inspiring for them.”

Rounis said that the idea sprang from a similar event she held at Drive Dance Centre, a studio she and Geneen Georgiev opened in Vancouver in 2007. “Once the recession happened,” Rounis said, “I thought, ‘What can I do to help those that have really been affected by this?”

This was the second Step Up ad Dance event and Rounis said that the diversity of the faculty has been expanded. Last year’s teachers all hailed from “The Beatles LOVE,” the show in which Rounis is currently cast. “We hoped to attract a more eclectic crowd [this year],” Rounis said, referring both to the faculty and the participants.

Jasmine Villamor, who participated in Step Up and Dance, said the diversity of the faculty was a big draw. “It was a full day of every kind of dance possible and it was perfect timing after Thanksgiving,” she said with a laugh. “It showed what Vegas dance has to offer.” Villamor also commented on what it was like to take class from, and next to, such experienced performers. “It was inspriational,” she said. “It puts you in the mindset that [that level of achievement] is possible.”

For many of the guest teachers, professionalism and training for future careers took center stage.

“You need to be able to pick up choreography and attach an emotion to it right away,” said Saleemah Knight, pictured left, who taught jazz funk and currently dances with Disney’s “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay. “When you tell the story, it makes sense,” Knight said. “If you’re just doing the steps, you’re going to look stupid.”

Leah Moyer, who taught a contemporary class and is a member of Cirque’s “Viva ELVIS” cast, shared a similar message. “Just be you,” she said, emphasizing that this was the driving force behind her choreography. “Be there, be present,” she said. “Just don’t do steps and don’t fake it.”

Emotional cortexes weren’t the only part of the dancers that received a workout. Fred Odgaard,  powerfully built and energetic, led dancers in a warm-up that he said he and other fellow dancers call “cardio Barbie” (see photo, right). The exercise was a series of jumping jacks and the like designed to elevate the heartrate and get dancers’ blood pumping.

Roux’s spicy zumba kicked off the workshop, providing a Latin-themed warm-up for the rest of the day. Tate’s unique lyrical followed, complete with pleasantly literal choreography and percussive syncopations.

Borbon and Joy held down the high-heeled contingent with ballroom and burlesque, respectively. Borbon’s light-footed and light-hearted banter displayed partnering at its best and Joy dimmed the lights to illustrate a sexier side of Vegas dance.

The day culminated in Rounis’ hip hop/party dance choreography, complete with RoboCop moves and James Brown slides.

The crowd of dancers, many of whom had stayed through the entire workshop, gradually dispersed. Rounis, her small frame eclipsed by an oversized bag stuffed with dance gear, dashed off to The Mirage and the two “LOVE” shows that awaited.

Interested in seeing footage of some of the choreography? Check out my post here for a link.

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Step Up and Dance Video Link

If you can’t possibly wait another second for photos and a post about Melena Rounis’ Step Up and Dance fundraiser on Nov. 27, fear not: footage of the event is available in high-definition glory here.  Remember to keep checking back here for photos and interviews! Hang tight with the video in the meantime.

Student and professional choreographers collaborated on the third concert of the fall semester at UNLV’s Dance Studio One on Nov. 18, 19 and 20.

“Kinetic Connections,” the name of the show, demonstrated the seemingly never-ending stream of abstract, movement-related concert names that the dance department is capable of generating. The pieces themselves, however, showcased a depth of thought on the part of the choreographers.

Guest artists Lawrence Jackson and Lynn Neuman added a professional breadth to the work of the students, but much of what the new choreographers set could have stood on its own anyway.

Jackson's "Exurgency"

Jackson’s “Exurgency” kicked off the show in purple-hued style, juxtaposing calm and precise steps with complex and busy staging. The space in the choreography left room for the dancers to connect with each other, creating a pleasant kind of tension and reality in the transitions. The movement itself was linear, modern-based and prone to canons and it was evident that the piece had been well-rehearsed.

Silence, quickly followed by a track redolent with piano and ambient noise, followed the first number. Jaleesa Staten’s “Hounded,” a pas de quatre, was cloaked in a wandering, baleful guise. The periodic stillness offset more frenetic sections and fierce extensions punctuated the piece. By the end,  the four girls had disrobed down to nude underwear and three were sitting against the far-upstage wall. One girl was left downstage and alone, filling the space with sadness amidst the sound.

Julia Peterson’s “The Strength to Be” was a fresh, industrial-feeling hip-hop piece with syrupy syncopation and strong accents. Ballet technique was evident and the diversity from both the dancers and the choreographer was welcome. The stone faces were an interesting detail, however. In a piece devoted to the strength of individuals, a more direct connection with the audience (indeed, a congregate of individuals), was strangely missing.

Sherer's "Sudden.Anxious.Flood"

“Sudden.Anxious.Flood.,” by Sandra Sherer, lived up to its name. The choreography was cyclic and desperate-feeling, exemplified by dancers rocking nervously and scrambling with abandon. The feverish, nightmare-like soundtrack completed the motif.

Neumann’s piece, explained briefly in the program, was a sort of tribute to Leo Baekeland and, perhaps more importantly, to the substance he invented: plastic. The piece was appropriately titled “Baeke’s Land” and was built around  the laying down of neon tape. The dancers, each attired in what can only be described as the worst of the leavings of the 1980s, executed the pleasantly cacophonous choreography well. The steps were contemporary and almost lyrical  and a section of contact improvisation seemed a fitting tribute to decades past.

Wilkerson's "With Love in Love"

Perhaps the most pedestrian story was displayed in “With Love in Love,” by Ashley Wilkerson. The music was reminiscint of a vintage Disney movie and the sweetheart characters matched perfectly. The straightforward narrative, with its unabashed entertainment value, was a respite from some of the more abstract pieces. Dancers Rachael Hayner and RJ Hughes did well with the choreography, although establishing a connection with the audience seemed to be a challenge at times. More expressive faces could have cleared up somewhat ambiguous scenarios throughout the piece.

UNLV’s emphasis on modern-based technique was evident in Jennie Carroll’s “Unlimited,” accompanied by deep acoustic guitar. The clear, linear movment contrastd with the fragmented and multifaceted nature of the piece, leading to a visual complexity that seemed to fit the title.

“A Jar of Broken Pieces,” choreographed by Emily Miller, was a percussive and pleading piece exemplified by the intense reds in the four girls’ flouncing tutus. The sweeping aggressivnes and shorter length made it more audience-accessible and the movement was well suited to the group of dancers.

Anna Fazio’s “Society” surged forward from the beginning. The start of the piece had a dark vibe to it and the choreographic progression of the dancers, often with oen following closely behind the other, could have symbolized an evolution of sorts. The frenzied running seemed to be further commentary. Either way, the eye contact between both the dancers themselves and the dancers and the audience was excellent and engaging.

Michael Coleman's "As the Last Petal Falls"

Michael Coleman’s “As the Last Petal Falls” brough a sense of calm to the stage. The choreography was busy, occasionally overly so, but the transitions of quiet walking lent some visual white space. Ballet technique was evident in attitudes and coupes and the movie-score-like track only added to this.

“Lonely Fire,” choreographed by Tiffany Caudullo and the only solo in the show, was a low and sultry number. The choreography was well executed, although there were perhaps a few too many still spaces for a potentially dynamic piece. The floor-centered movement was inventive, however, which mitigated this considerably.

Jessica Coleman's "V-XVII-MCMLXXXIII"

“V-XVI-MCMLXXXIII,” (yes, that is the title of a piece) was choreographed by Jessica Coleman and closed the show with musings about the nature of time. Ticking in the track was soon interrupted by a disruptive beat and the dancers became the cogs of a clock with many, many hands. The piece was engrossing in its complexity and the alarm bell that ended the number was fittingly jarring.

Time also ticked away steadily throughout the nearly two-hour concert. However, the variety of ideas in each piece made the show more entertaining than it was elongated. Big ideas are coming out of the small theater at UNLV.

Today marks the soft opening of the new show “Triumph. It Runs on Steam!,”a new show premiering at the Las Vegas Hilton. Based on a sci-fi theme that draws from literary inspiration like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, “Triumph” features illusionists Larry Fischer and Rafael Palacios, along with dancers and an original score. Chet Walker, hefty resume in tow, is the choreographer for the show and boasts credits from up and down Broadway.

The hard opening of the show won’t be until January, but information with specifics is already popping up here and there. Check out an interview with the illusionists in the Las Vegas Review-Journal and visit the “Triumph” website here for details and ticket information. Behind-the-scenes photos are available from the Las Vegas Weekly here.

Stay tuned here for updates as well: interviews with cast members are coming soon. Happy (time) travels!

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As any dancer in a large-scale production can tell you, track sheets (essentially backstage road maps for entrances, exits, costume changes and the like) can get complicated.

Here at the Insider, things aren’t too different. There’s a lot going on this month, so here’s a breakdown of some of the crazy stuff that is happening (or has recently happened) throughout the month of November. If you know of an event that you would like to be included, shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment below.

Tuesday, Nov. 9 — ongoing: Cirque’s “Viva ELVIS” soundtrack hit digital shelves today. Follow the link here and find it on iTunes. “Blue Suede Shoes” is free til Nov. 16.

Thursday, Nov. 11 — 10 p.m. at Daddy Mac’s: “Burly-Que Revue,” the monthly burlesque show. See it the second Thursday of the month. 

Friday, Nov. 12 — 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. at Tunay Ink: locking workshop with Scoo B Doo. Work through wrist rolls, scoo bot, Scoo B Doo, and learn about where locking came from in the first place.

Sunday, Nov. 14 — 1 p.m. at the Rock Center for Dance: master class with choreographer Bonnie Story (see her work in “High School Musical” and “Viva ELVIS”).

Tuesday, Nov. 16 — 9 .m. at Blush Nightclub at Wynn resort: Third annual Go-Go Cup, $30, locals and industry free. Winners will be chosen by crowd participation. Register at blush@lasvegasnightgroup.com.

Thursday, Nov. 18 – Saturday, Nov. 20 — 8 p.m. – 10:15 p.m. at UNLV‘s Dance Studio One in the Ham Fine Arts building: “Kinetic Connections.” Tickets are $18 for the general public and $10 for students, seniors, military and UNLV faculty and staff. Tickets are available at the UNLV Performing Arts Center Box Office. Call (702) 895-ARTS (2787) for details.

Friday, Nov. 19 at Tunay Ink: Hip-hop jam with Fuku Burger and Tunay Ink. Details TBA.

Saturday, Nov. 27 — 12 p.m. – 4 p.m. at the Rock Center for Dance: Step Up and Dance, a fundraiser organized by Melina Rounis (“The Beatles LOVE”) in partnership with Three Square food distribution center. Donate $10 and up and dance as much or as little as you’d like. The more the merrier, so please invite your friends, stop by and donate and show some LOVE. You do not have to be a dancer to attend this event. All proceeds go to the Clark County Food Bank.

Wednesday, Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. at the Onyx Theatre: “Karnival”: Las Vegas’ only monthly themed variety show. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 7:30.

Friday, Dec. 10 – Thursday, Dec. 23 — 10:30 p.m. at the Insurgo Bastard Theater: “Insurgo: The Nutcracker,” adapted and directed by John Beane.

Friday, Dec. 17 – Saturday, Dec. 26 at the Paris Theatre in Paris Las Vegas: Nevada Ballet Theatre’s “Nutcracker.” For ticket prices and information and show times, follow the link here.

A nearly four-year-old Vegas-based company underscored an unwritten rule in the dance world in Vegas: This is not a “company” kind of city.

Roman Pantoja and other LVCDT members perform"Ebony Concerto"

The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater performed their annual fall concert series Nov. 5 – 7 in the West Las Vegas Library Theater on West Lake Mead Boulevard. In a city dominated by iconically elaborate productions, dance companies like LVCDT are an anomaly and, potentially, a breath of fresh air.The small theater drew a modest (but very supportive) crowd and the show was a solid run at strong concert dance, which is something generally missing in Vegas.

Bernard Gaddis is the founding artistic director of LVCDT and boasts a resume with credits from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Philadelphia Ballet Company and Cirque’s “Zumanity” and is currently performing with “Mystere.” He is oft-quoted about the aspirations he has for the company, saying he wants it to become a strong Vegas voice in the dance world — a noble goal. And by most accounts, he has the experience and the vision to back this up.

However, the continual justification of the company’s success doesn’t necessarily come across positively. You sold out a couple thousand-seat theater in Mexico —okay, awesome. Where’s that audience now?

Granted, LVCDT has several things, and people, working for it. Gaddis’ experience could be an obvious asset, although the accompanying diva mentality tends to be alienating. For the fall 2010 concert, accomplished guest choreographers Milton Myers and Greg Sample each set pieces on the company. Most of the dancers themselves are polished and the partnering in particular was excellent.

Because of the ground-breaking nature of the company, though, balancing the deliberately different with the audience-accessible can be a challenge. A performer’s connection with the observers and fellow dancers alike is tantamount to this accessibility and this was somewhat lacking in the fall concert.

The show featured five pieces, one each choreographed by Milton Myers, Marie-Joe Tabet, Greg Sample, Debra Lacey and Gaddis himself.

“Ebony Concerto,” choreographed by Myers to a Stravinsky jazz score, was an exuberant contemporary ballet that opened the show. The highly interactive piece bounded forth in the same vein as Jerome Robbins’ ballet “Interplay,” eliciting laughs from the audience and starting the show on a playful note. Strong production elements were evident in the use of lighting, producing classy silhouettes and emphasizing the back-and-forth nature of the piece.

Tabet’s solo, choreographed by Gaddis, was appropriately titled “Ms. Marie-Joe’s Blues.” The number echoed the jazzy vibe of the first piece and threw in a dash of blues for good measure. Tabet’s piece was to a track by Melody Gardot and mirrored the artist’s low and beseeching voice with flexed-hands choreography and a pleading feel. The number outlasted its welcome slightly as the pedestrian choreography became predictable, but it was well-performed and pleasantly intimate.

Sample’s piece “Eliade” defied the “contemporary” in “contemporary ballet” and opted for “modern ballet” instead. The effect suited the company and the theatrical nature was engaging. Synchronized choreography and simultaneous duets illustrated the cohesion of the corps and LVCDT’s strength in numbers. However, a strange dissonance was found in the stage presence (or lack thereof) of the dancers singled out as soloists. Despite the dynamic choreography, individual performers appeared to have a hard time establishing themselves as principals.

“Whelm,” choreographed by LVCDT’s senior associate director Debra Lacey, stood out through its African modern, Horton and Graham aesthetics and audible breath. Teasing glimpses of audience-friendly battements and impressive turns were few in choreography redolent with Graham hands and long lines, but inventive partnering and a more evident storyline was mitigating.

Gaddis’ somber “Opulence” was perhaps the most emotionally expanded in the show and the dancers were much more engaging as a corps than individually. The choreographer’s affinity for pas de deux was evident and several such vignettes would have done well at the top of the performance. The choreography could have been more synchronized, but the contemporary ballet label fit perfectly: it was sassy and self-possessed, if a little muddy at times.

As a whole, the show highlighted the paradox of the young company talking a big game. Having the self-confidence to run with the big dogs is one thing, but perspective is entirely another, and, perhaps unlike LVCDT, perspective might be a bit underrated.

 

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