Archive for January, 2011


Tango Buenos Aires, a dance company from Argentina, came to Artemus W. Ham Hall on Jan. 22 and offered forth one of the most exquisite cultural exports from the region: tango. This particular type of dance has been portrayed in American culture in myriad ways, often as part of situations having to do with long-stemmed red roses, adulterous women and debonair men in tuxedos. However, the company proved that while there is fire and passion in many a well-executed tango, this is far from the only emotion that the dance can embody. Ultimately, like so many other facets of arts, dancing a tango well goes hand-in-hand, or perhaps stem-in-mouth, with an artist’s unflinching ability to tell a story.

Tango Buenos Aires told a story beautifully, making one of the greatest strengths of the troupe its audience appeal. The performers themselves were engaging because of their variety and approachable because of the subject matter being tackled. After all, many in the audience have probably walked into a club to see an object of affection gallivanting around with someone else. This was the premise set forth in the first act and revisited throughout the show and the pedestrian story created common ground for an audience that might otherwise have been intimidated.

Like other revolutionary movements that have rocked the global pop culture scene, the tango evolved from something that was, well, not on the average list of parentally sanctioned activities. Heralding from dance halls, river settlements, brothels and halfway houses, the dance went through a quick teenage phase during which it went by such names as “habanera” and “milonga.” The accompanying music, traditionally played on the piano, bass, cello, violin, flute and accordion, grew alongside the movement and is still considered as much of a staple as the dancing itself.

The musicians that accompanied Tango Buenos Aires held up their end of the deal famously, adding a lacquer of depth and emotion to the dancers. The audience was also treated to several orchestra-only numbers throughout the show, which were beautifully played and further demonstrated the variety of the genre. Live music, especially from such nuanced musicians, is simply indispensable.

The concert was a balanced blend of the familiar, the unknown, the surprising and the simply enjoyable. Tango Buenos Aires neatly sidestepped pretention, opting instead for unsullied communication with the audience. They were rewarded with a standing ovation, and the dancers and musicians performed an encore jubilantly. At the end of the final vignette, the performers waved to the audience from the stage. It was a credit to the company that many in the audience waved back.

Editor’s note: A different, revised version of this story ran in the Rebel Yell, the official student newspaper of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Check out the byline of my mild-mannared alter ego here.

Of all of the diverse and meaningful words in the English language, there are a few that carry with them a particular sense of purpose.”Thanks” is one of them, along with it’s close siblings, the lesser-used “you’re welcome” and the perhaps over-used “I’m sorry.” “Help” would also make the cut, but for slightly different reasons: it entails more vulnerability than the others and it entails a call to action.

Dance director Marko Westwood lives above an elderly couple whose rent money was recently stolen. The two are facing an immediate payment of $400 with more due later and eviction if they cannot pay. Westwood and the performers in Nevada Repertory Dance Theater, his company, have teamed up with the folks at Insurgo to produce a concert whose proceeds will directly benefit this couple.

The show will be at Insurgo’s Bastard Theater on Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $10 cash at the door. To make a donation directly to the couple online, visit the Insurgo homepage. Either way, they will thank you.

If exercise is your substance of choice, don’t worry —  rats enjoy it, too. A new article on Slate.com talks about the research being done on gym rats, of both the fur-covered and the Lycra-covered varieties. Researchers have known for a few years that lab rats with regular exercise regimes, like running on a treadmill for 90 minutes each day, are less likely to ingest drugs when given the option to do so. Humans are the same way. And the kicker? Scientists figure that both species are less affected by drugs when they’re exercising regularly because exercise affects the body in ways that mimic these substances.

For anyone that claims that dance is their drug, that will probably make a lot of sense.

If you’re like me and the thought of missing a dance class ignites a response bordering on obsessive, you’re probably as glad to hear this as I was. (“It’s physiological! I’m not crazy, I’m subject to biological processes!”) Studies indicated that, although the effects of exercise are much less extreme than drug use, withdrawal symptoms (although not the severity of them) might be similar in both cases. Some of these findings could help explain the anxious feeling that dancers and other athletes experience when they have to miss out on a workout.

Also addressed in the story is the idea of thresholds, which is where it takes more exercise to achieve the same physiological effect as before and is something familiar to athletes. Some interesting species of rats are also discussed, including a variety that, if allowed, will run on a wheel until it is too weak to move. So go easy on that petit allegro, ok? And check out the full article here.

Wednesday is fast becoming a day of remembrance for slain dancer Debora Flores-Narvaez, who was reported missing last month and whose body has recently been found. Entertainers across the city are banding together to raise money for family members of the dancer, who said they are planning to send her remains back to Puerto Rico, her homeland. In addition to “A Celebration of Life,” the benefit concert at Crown Nightclub, renowned choreographers Eddie Garcia and J.J. Villar are holding a workshop at the Rock Center for Dance.

The “Live to Dance Another Day” workshop is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and admission is a $10 minimum donation. Proceeds will go to support Flores-Narvaez and The Shade Tree, a shelter in Las Vegas. For more information on both the concert at the Rio and the workshop at the Rock, head over to DebbieBenefit.com.

Norm Clarke over at the Review-Journal reported this morning that there will be a benefit concert at the Crown Theater at the Rio to help the family of Debora Flores-Narvaez. She was a dancer in the Luxor’s “Fantasy” show and was allegedly murdered by her ex-boyfriend last month. The benefit is set to begin at 11 p.m. on Wednesday and there will be an after-party at 2 a.m. at the Artisan. Proceeds from both will be donated to help offset the cost of transporting Flores-Narvaez’s body back to Puerto Rico for burial. For the full story and details, check out the link above.

“Disney On Ice” glided into the Thomas & Mack Center on Wednesday and had the venue well-chilled until Sunday, Jan. 16. Mickey and Minnie Mouse orchestrated a cast of more than 50 other Disney characters in a performance designed to showcase something that cultures all over the world relate to: celebrations.

The opening and closing pieces were bustling and joyful, with introductions of new and old characters alike eliciting appreciative reactions from fans in the crowd. Technology was combined with gregarious performers to recreate the warm-fuzzy Disney vibe and spectators were engaged from the start. Characters urged the audience to say “aloha” with Lilo and Stitch, chant “bippity boppity boo” with the Fairy Godmother and to tell Mickey not to try even a teensy bite of the poison apple. The delights kept coming from there.

The show presented nostalgic moments for adults as well. Some of the children in the audience may have been too young to remember Mickey’s ordeal as the sorcerer’s apprentice in “Fantasia,” but the chorus lines of brooms elicited smiles from attendees that have been with Disney since the beginning. The number was excellently choreographed and proved that if there’s one thing that Disney does well, it’s production numbers with characters in costumes so comprehensive that they can’t see their own feet.

Pinocchio claimed it was his birthday (he was lying, as his expanding nose revealed), so Alice, the Mad Hatter and Tweedles Dee and Dum joined Mickey and Co. to celebrate an un-birthday instead. Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, invited the best and baddest villains for spooky festivities. Cruella De Vil, Captain Hook, Jafar and a poison-apple-toting witch crusaded around the ice until Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Daisy dressed up as ghosts and “boo!”ed them away with help from youngsters in the audience.

Lilo and Stitch joined in for a trip to a Hawaiian luau and skaters in brightly colored feathers brought in a Brazilian Carnival. Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen, from 2009′s “The Princess and the Frog,” ushered in Mardi Gras to a jazz tune in skirt-swinging New Orleans style. Mulan, accompanied by a samurai for the purposes of partnering, celebrated  the coming of spring alongside skaters twirling LED-encrusted fans. A Chinese dragon in blazing yellows and oranges undulated onto the ice and wrapped up the act.

Christmas was the star of the second half of the show, featuring Goofy dressed as Santa and a pristine white sleigh covered in lights. Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang from “Toy Story” also made an appearance, drawing a roar of appreciation from the audience. It seemed odd to have only one of the December holidays celebrated after the diversity of the first act, but it gave the show a warm, if singularly Christian, note on which to end.

Even the lesser-celebrated holidays were represented. For Valentine’s Day, Minnie asked the Fairy Godmother to make her a princess and, with the help of dynamic Disney duos, learned about the power of love. The iconic princesses all performed pas de deux with their corresponding princes to show Minnie what love means. Mulan, whose story involves finding not love but her own purpose in life, partnered with an anonymous samurai and illustrated the importance of finding yourself before looking for someone else.

The technical aspect of the production wasn’t overlooked, either, as a time-lapse at the end of the show revealed. “Disney on Ice” will have visited 56 cities in the United States and Canada by the end of the season, and it takes eight semi trucks to transport the show from place to place. There are 38 skaters, 5 staff members, 13 crew members and 44 vendors, totaling 100 people that travel to each city. There are more than 100 props, more than 70 balloons and more than 100 pounds of rhinestones in the show. It takes 30 loads of laundry per week to maintain the costumes and there are about four costumes per skater, which adds up to more than 155 outfits.To make the light patterns on the ice, technicians use 1,920 gobos that attach to each light. There are 10,000 LED lights and there is one person on staff that can make it snow.

Such is the magic of Disney. The show was fabulous and filled with the contagious energy that has made Disney such a media mogul. Even Sin City appreciates connecting with its inner child.

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As anyone at the Onyx Theatre will tell you, experimentation is always good.

So is collaboration. Marko Westwood, in conjunction with RagTag Entertainment, brought both to the stage on Jan. 7 and 8 with “A Little Song and Dance.”  Ten choreographers joined forces with vocalists and musicians and put on the Broadway-themed concert as a benefit for education, with proceeds donated to the Miley Achievement Center in Las Vegas.

As a show, “A Little Song and Dance” was very different from the usual Onyx fair. Christopher Peterson’s renditions of Marilyn Monroe’s “I Want to be Loved By You” and Carol Channing’s “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”  were about as adult as it got. (Peterson, who is behind the “Eyecons” show, changed the “diamonds” to “condoms” in the latter song, with suggestive hand gestures and altered choruses and verses to match.)

The rest of the concert was a combination of musical theater, character dance and vocals. While some of the choreography was unremarkable and a few of the transitions were rocky, the sincerity of those involved glimmered through. The vocalists especially were excellent; Ava Galore was the quintessence of the exasperated woman in “Wherever He Ain’t,” from “Mack and Mabel” and Leah Kreitz and Michael Close were fabulous as both singers and characters in “Sssssss,” which opened the show.

Collaboration between vocalists and dancers was another strong element of the performance and an intriguing aspect that could be explored more in subsequent concerts. “Brothers,” featuring dancers Jaime Velilla and Westwood himself, was performed to RagTag Entertainment’s vocals of “Will I?” from “RENT” and was as magnetic as the opener. Having the vocalists in the house while two dancers twined around each other onstage was immersing and a choreographic feat by Westwood.

“Sssssssss” was an a cappella and dynamic version of “Steam Heat” and embodied the best that the show had to offer: ingenuity, audience-friendly characters and big, belting voices. A construction worker played percussion in the background while Kreitz and Close sang from a bus stop downstage. Unexpected comedy was lent by the musical accompaniment, utilizing the likes of a balloon and a bottle of pills. Two claps at the end triggered a Clapper and laughs from the audience. Dancers Jose Favela, Jesus Nanci and Erin Sullivan showed off some stomp-style skills and tipped a fedora to Bob Fosse.

Two other numbers were Fosse-themed. “Hey There Big Fella,” to a remix of “Big Spender” was a predictable but bodacious number choreographed by Westwood that featured the usual bar downstage and sexy attitudes from the dancers. “All That Jazz,” choreographed by Serena Bartholomew, was quick and rife with smiles from the dancers, which helped mitigate sections that weren’t as clean as they could have been.

Character numbers were seen in Petrina Olson’s “Target Practice,” to a track from “Annie Get Your Gun,” and Tiffany Caudullo’s “The Harsh Truth,” to “Turn Back, Ol’ Man” from “Godspell.” Olson’s choreography, complete with fake rifles, was simultaneously tom-boy and girly, a trick that was potentially hard to pull off but well-executed. Caudullo’s choreography, featuring Westwood as Jesus, was tastefully understated. Her vocals were well-projected and the technique of accompanying dancers Anna Fazio and Adrianna Rosales was apparent.

Fazio also performed to “Look at Me Now” from “The Wild Party,” demonstrating some of the stronger technique in the show with extroverted, infectious energy. Onishia Murillo choreographed a delightful and surprisingly fresh number to “It’s a Hard Knock Life,” with herself, Bartholomew, Kreitz and Marissa Mendoza as the personality-filled orphans. “Hear Me,” to “Listen” from “Dreamgirls,” another number by Olson and danced with Nanci, was standard, perhaps overdone contemporary, but it made good use of the space and the dancers exhibited emotion well.

Two violin numbers rounded out the show. Caudullo, dressed appropriately in two different glittering gowns, performed “Show Me” from “My Fair Lady” and “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera.” Both provided visual reprieves and underscored the many hats worn by these performers.

If “A Little Song and Dance” had been a boat, a few sailors would probably have been bailing water. However, professionalism wasn’t necessarily the point here; Westwood is onto something and it isn’t girls in underwear. He’s found an under-represented genre, incredible potential in partnerships between groups and and a less visible age range to cater to, and he would do well to keep experimenting.

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