Archive for September, 2011


Cirque has once again expanded beyond Las Vegas borders with “Iris,” a $100-million homage to the imagination behind cinema and film-making. In a silver-screen-saturated locale, the exaggerated circus take makes for an interesting blend of traditional stage and Hollywood with some Cirque dynamism thrown in for good measure. The show is directed by Philippe Decouflé, a French choreographer who is making his debut with the show, and Danny Elfman composed the music.

Charles McNulty with the Los Angeles Times wrote about the show, which opened at the 2,500-seat Kodak on Sept. 25, and detailed several nuances that the production carries with it. The $253 VIP ticket price spurred conversations, as this is the most that has been charged for a theater production in Los Angeles. (Check out Culture Monster here for more on pricing.) McNulty also addressed the oft-discussed indecisiveness and visual clutter, which can be overwhelming for newbie and veteran Cirque-spectators alike.

Overall, though, it seems that “Iris” might be worth eyeing. Southern California is something of a new frontier for Montreal-based Cirque, so perhaps the novelty alone will draw an audience. Artistic ambition doesn’t seem to be an issue for the company in the past and I doubt “Iris” will be an exception.

For photos of the “Iris” cast before and after makeup, follow the link here. More information about the show can be found on the “Iris” official website.

American ballet companies have played host to Russian dancers for decades, with Soviet dancer Rudolf Nureyev leading the one-way exchange program beginning 50 years ago. David Hallberg, an American with American Ballet Theatre, is reversing this trend. The South Dakota-born dancer will be filling a principal spot with the Bolshoi Ballet beginning Nov. 4 and is the first American to enlist permanently with the company.

In an interview with the New York Times, Hallberg spoke about the ambassadorial aspect of joining the Bolshoi and about the “seriousness and depth” of ballet in Russia. For more, check out the full story from the Times here. For an interview with Hallberg from NPR’s Melissa Block, follow the link here.

Russia won’t be the only frontier that Hallberg will blaze with bold cabrioles. He’ll be joining Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central on Dec. 7 as the first ballet dancer to perform on the show. (Mikhail Baryshnikov — you might have heard of him — has also been on the show, but not to dance.) Hallberg will join the ranks of other performers that have been featured on “The Colbert Report,” including Savion Glover and members of the Broadway cast of “Fela.”

Keith Thompson, of "Jersey Boys," introduces the "God Lives in Glass" show and the book that inspired it.

Las Vegas performers repurposed children’s views of God and fashioned them into a mirror that reflected, among other things, the effects of the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The performance, titled “God Lives in Glass,” stemmed from a book by Robert Landy of the same name and proceeds from the show benefited a local nonprofit. Artists from the Strip and UNLV joined forces in a cast of more than 50 performers.

Family Promise Las Vegas was the beneficiary of the “God Lives in Glass” show, which was performed at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre on Sept. 10 and 11. While the project isn’t inherently centered on 9/11, composer Keith Thompson, musical director and conductor of “Jersey Boys,” spoke about the impact timing had on him.

“It’s a day, it’s a time, that I will never forget,” he said. Thompson spoke of the suspicion that followed Sept. 11 and about how meeting Landy shortly after the attacks inspired him “to continue to let the music live.”

And live it did.The “God Lives in Glass” book is a compilation of how children from myriad cultures think about God: what he looks like, how he thinks of the world. The show did an excellent job of melding images and text from the book with compelling music and inspirational vocal and dance performance.

There was no shortage of somber, heart-felt interpretations of divinity. However, bright pockets of childlike delight interspersed this, with such numbers as “God is a Tomato,” performed commendably by Zoe Konsur, and “Buddha Rap” by Tony Arias and Zaire Adams. Adults contributed to this as well. Brenda O’Brien lent some lofty articulation to “Religions,” a fabulously vibrant role call of belief systems.

Dancers from "The Lion King" perform "God Lives in Glass."

This being said, the overarching message of the show was weighty, but not necessarily in a negative way. “God Lives in Glass,” the titular track partway through the performance, featured dancers from “The Lion King” in a rousing number that underscored the message of the concert. Saleemah Knight’s choreography was technical enough to be impressive and the heart-felt movement fit perfectly with the show.

“Draw God” beat a similar path. Combined with keening vocals in “City of Walls” by Joan Sobel and Bruce Ewing, “The Eyes of a Child” by Tina Walsh and “Missiles and Stars” by Benjamin Hale and Niki Scalera, the effect was overwhelming at times.

Numbers steeped in joy also comprised much of the program. “The Jewel Blues” was an expressive and enfolding experience with big, swinging vocals by Nicole Pryor and some scintillating saxaphone from Eric Tewalt. Ewing, Ian Jon Bourg, Randall Keith and Patrick LeVeque elicited a roar from the audience with the robust harmonies in “All You Gotta Do is Pray.” David Demato regressed to the figurative age of 14 for “Heaven, Hell or Puberty,” which was as comedic and endearing as the title implies.

“A Boy is Coming to Heaven,” featuring Jimmy Lockett and Rashada Dewan, and “Open Your Heart,” by Christine Hudman, Dejah Gomez, Jason Andino and Tim Searcy made for an inspirational suite at the end of the show. Multimedia editing, projected onto a screen for much of the show, and a fantastic ensemble of voices and instrumentals drew the strings of “God Lives in Glass” together.

As a whole, the show was a good balance of sobering memories and sincere artistry. The orchestra deserves recognition here as well; the ebb and flow of wonderfully emotional music added considerable depth to the concert and pianist Philip Fortenberry offered a moving performance right at the end of the show. Combined with the timelessness of a child’s questions and a nation’s grief, “God Lives in Glass” was a highly appropriate homage to the events that transpired a decade ago.

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These two have a number of things in common. Both Vegas and vaudeville tend to be sexy and quite comical in equal measure. Sequens are often involved. Both showcase a wide variety of performers and talent, and on Friday, Sept. 16, these two legendary performing industries will be represented onstage by cast members of “The Lion King.”

These fine folks are sashaying away from Pride Rock for an evening of soft-shoe, song and dance, all accompanied by a side-show atmosphere that was the bread-and-butter of the showbiz world for 50 years.

The show is called, appropriately, “Vegas Vaudeville” and is a one-night-only event at 7 p.m. the Nicholas J. Horn Theatre on the Cheyenne campus of the College of Southern Nevada. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students. For more information or to reserve tickets, contact the CSN box office at (702) 651-5483 or e-mail pactickets@csn.edu.

For an oh-so-fabulous interview with “Vegas Vaudeville” and “The Lion King” cast members Deidrea Halley and Keith Bennett, follow the link here.

By the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers, a kind of rhythm has been established regarding Sept. 11, 2001 and how our country remembers it. Radio stations and news outlets run series on how people are coping one year, five years and a decade after the attacks. First responders speak about persistent health problems and politicians pontificate about what it means to be American.

Dance has its place in this rhythm as well. An article from the Washington Post featured Sarah Skaggs, a choreographer who has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts half a dozen times. Her commemorative project will be performed in Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and New York today.

The Joyce Theater Foundation presented a concert of modern works in New York this weekend, featuring pieces by the Limon Dance Company, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Jessica Lang and Alvin Ailey’s Matthew Rushing, accompanied by various groups of musicians.

Choreographer Jacqulyn Buglis and artist Rosella Vasta employed 100 dancers for a meditative piece performed at the Josie Robertson Plaza at Lincoln Center from 8:20 to 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the World Trade Center.

Las Vegas is part of this, too. “God Lives in Glass” is a commemorative concert that was performed yesterday; the closing performance is today at 1:30 p.m. at UNLV’s Judy Bayley Theatre. The show features performers from “The Lion King,” “Jersey Boys,” “The Beatle’s LOVE,” “Phantom,” “Menopause: The Musical” and UNLV’s music and theater departments. Ticket proceeds will benefit Family Promise and Nevada Conservatory Theatre. Admission is $25 for the general public and $20 for students, disabled patrons and seniors. Visit the UNLV Performing Arts Center site here or call (702) 895-2787 to reserve tickets.

For dancers, emotion is a universal trait and movement is our way of expressing it. However motivating sadness and fear might be, though, artists have been creating in the name of joy with equally powerful results.

A big, glowing silhouette of Elvis Presley gives audience members a taste of the show before they enter the theater.

Elvis Presley is being commemorated 10 shows a week in the most recent resident Cirque show in Las Vegas. “Viva ELVIS” is a glittering, multimedia-encrusted production incorporating dancers, vocalists and acrobats in a tribute to the life and music of the hip-swinging king of rock ‘n’ roll.

Similar to Cirque’s “The Beatles LOVE” at The Mirage, “Viva ELVIS” is one of the more dance-y shows on the Strip. Coupled with some impressive and innovative acrobatic swag, the show makes a strong visual impression (although Cirque’s “where do I look??” phenomenon isn’t entirely sidestepped.) The dancing itself includes a good measure of character, which put the dancers into the inner circle of the story instead of relegating them to the chilly regions of eye-candy.

“Viva ELVIS” began with a quick one-two punch from dancers and acrobats in “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” which comprised an energetic opener that gave the audience a friendly shake before the real story kicked in. Although the massive shoe, appropriately blue and suede, seemed a bit kitschy, the acro feats centered on it were attention-grabbing and the synchronization from the dancers was commendable.

“One Night with You,” an aerial pas de deux performed on a suspended metal-framed guitar against a background of stars, was a beautiful and sincere change of pace.

This was one of the outstanding strengths of the show itself: myriad emotions were fitted alongside one another, creating a comprehensive mosaic of Presley’s life. “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” another aerial duet, followed in a similar vein.

The enormous shoe at the top of “Viva ELVIS” wasn’t the only novelty. “Got a Lot of Livin’ To Do” employed seven trampolines in a delightful, superhero-themed number that underscored the importance of dreams. “Saved” was an exuberant piece that made good use of umbrellas and “Bossa Nova Baby” ushered in chill-inducing hand-balancing.

Cirque made it clear that multimedia is a huge priority; film clips interspersed the show and were integrated quite well. The transitions between numbers were fantastic and the pacing of the show was seamless.

“Love Me Tender” was a feather-soft rendition that showcased lovely vocals and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” featured sugar-coated pointework and partnering. Some truly exceptional band members made their presence known in “Burning Love” and cathartic contemporary choreography was well-represented in “Suspicious Minds.” “It’s Now or Never” was a tip-of-the-hat to the sexy side of Presley’s music, with some novelty spots and a smoldering pole trio.

A couple numbers stood out as high points in “Viva ELVIS.” “Jailhouse Rock” was an absolute hit with a captivating set, strong dancing, amazing acrobatics and excellent production elements. “Return to Sender” was equal parts precision and character work and high-flying acrobats were the cherries on top.

A cerceaux duet in a pair of giant wedding rings to “Love Me/Don’t” was a sweet and simple break for overstimulated eyeballs. “King Creole” and “Viva Las Vegas” were both big and raucous and a smart Western number even employed a flaming lasso.

Overall, “Viva ELVIS” was a nice balance of tried-and-true Cirque fare and creative contrivances. The strong dance element gets two vertical thumbs and several factors, like having a character narrating the show as Presley’s manager, made this a more coherent story than other Cirque endeavors. The tracks themselves are tastefully remixed and reproduced and the musicians are top-notch. Crowned by the shiny production elements and sheer out-of-the-box-ness, “Viva ELVIS” is a solid addition to fabulous Las Vegas.

Autumn can be a difficult thing to spot in Las Vegas. It tends to be stealthy, tiptoeing in with crisp breezes and a midday temperature that doesn’t make human skin boil. It’s a slow-mover, with those lovely fall colors not gracing the limbs of trees here until most places are getting their winter vibes on.

Academic schedules remain unaffected by our late-arriving season. Kindergardeners, graduate students and all learners in between donned backpacks this past week and headed back to school, stoically sweltering in the name of scholastic success.

Like a school holiday or Christmas break, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Vegas dance groups large and small are pulling together for some fall performances that might just be the happy hour that your long week needs. A few of them are listed below. If you know of something that isn’t mentioned here, shoot me an email or leave a comment below. Cheers!

“The Spade of Hearts Presents: The Variety Show”: Saturday, Sept. 3, 9:30 – 11:30 p.m. at Boomers Bar. Burlesque and comedy will be well-represented, with performances by Dave Johnson, Roxy Rock-It, JP Nomi Malone and more! Arrive early for free jello shots (9 – 10 p.m. or while supplies last) and enjoy drink specials throughout the night. Tickets are $15 for one or $20 for two at the door.

“Grindhouse Burlesque Presents: The Daily Grind!”: Sunday, Sept. 4, 9 p.m. – midnight at The Bikini Bar. Caramel D’lite will be emceeing the show, which will feature numbers by Roxy Rock-It, Rosalita Nikita, Porcelain Vanity and Lacey Moon. There’s no cover for the performance, but you have to be 21 or older (sorry, youngins). Check out the Grindhouse Burlesque website here for more.

“Waiting for Godot”: Thursday, Sept. 8 – Oct. 1, 8 p.m., at The Insurgo Theater at the Plaza Hotel and Casino. This round of performances kicks off the first casino-based resident space for a theater troupe in Las Vegas, so you can enjoy that fact alongside the spectacular work of Insurgo Theater and Samuel Beckett. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the box office until 15 minutes before the show. Call (702) 883-5500 to reserve them over the phone.

“Nuthouse by Michael O’Neal”: Fridays, Sept. 9 and 23, and Saturdays, Sept. 10 – 24, midnight, the Onyx Theatre. Lose your mind alongside the cast with this nutty, thoroughly inappropriate show that will take you on a tour of the mind of your average psychopath. Tickets are $10 and cocktails are available free of charge, although donations are accepted. The house opens at 11:30 p.m.

“1230 Clown Show: Rat Pack”: Thursday and Friday, Sept. 15 and 16, at, that’s right, half-past midnight. This jam-packed variety show is worth turning out for; there will likely be members of the audience who go to both performances, so don’t be shy about coming back. Find a previous review of the show here and be sure to get there early: seats fill fast. Tickets are $15 and doors open at 11:45 p.m.

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