Archive for December, 2011


Two and a half years after “Disney’s The Lion King” roared into Las Vegas in March 2009, the herd at Pride Rock is dispersing to other grasslands. The Las Vegas run of Broadway’s sweetheart showcased dancers and vocalists with talent and ferocity, but a smooth criminal named Michael Jackson is slated to reside at Mandalay Bay, the former pride lands.

Lion Kingers have been doing more than their eight-show schedule at Mandalay, though. In the years they’ve been in Vegas, cast members have organized and participated in benefits, concerts and showcases. This community focus means that they will be missed in more places than just a resort on the Strip.

John Przybys wrote about the show closing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Check out the story here.

I wrote about “Lion King” showcases on several occasions. Click on the links below to read more.

Check out my original review of “The Lion King.” Cast members performed “The Moment” at E Strings bar on Dec. 6 of 2010. “Vegas Vaudeville”  and “Live. Love. Dance!” hit the stage at the Horn Theatre on Sept. 16 and April 22, respectively. On Sept. 11, some “Lion King” performers contributed to  “God Lives in Glass” at the Judy Bayley Theatre.

“Lion King,” in all its theatric splendor, is a production that will be sorely missed, even in an entertainment-saturated market. Whether Pride Rock residents are staying in the city or moving elsewhere, I wish them all the best. Hakuna matata!

Take an insane mashup by Greg Gillis, who fused bits of 373 different songs from all genres onto a single CD. Add a rebel ballet dancer — it’s been done before, but bear with me — a flash tapper and a slick, snazzy popper/street dancer. Throw them all into New York City, stir, and watch what happens for the next 72 minutes.

Director Jacob Krupnick dreamed up this recipe and the result is a vertiginous, improvisational jam between the three loosely defined characters throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Anne Marsen, the main character, boogies to the continuous track, bumping into fellow dancers John Doyle and Daisuke Omiya in her flamboyant frolicking.

Part of the film went viral earlier this year, but the creation was screened in its entirety on Dec. 8 at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. If you enjoy artfully blended music, smile-inducing improv, man-on-the-street-style dancing and confused looks from passersby, visit the Girl Walk // All Day homepage to watch episodes of the project. For some interviews with the dancers and creators, head over to a story from the Wall Street Journal here. The first episode is below.

Nevada Ballet Theatre crowned its year of milestones on Dec. 17-24 with a version of the “Nutcracker” that was a sweet sip of tradition and contemporary creativity. This year, the company turned 40, the “Nutcracker” tradition turned 30 and this year marked NBT’s third year performing at Paris Las Vegas. Don’t let the long history fool you, though. Artistic director James Canfield’s partnerships with choreographers like Ballet Idaho’s Peter Anastos contributes to the progressive feel of classic works like “The Nutcracker.”

Anastos was the choreographic brain behind this year’s production and his whimsical movement, while not vintage “Nutcracker,” somehow suited the Las Vegas aura. Holly Madison of “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood also had a brief cameo in a matinee performance. Balletomanes might be cringing, but it’s hard to argue with something that makes a classical ballet more approachable to a wide audience.

As a whole, the ballet fit the bill as a sugary-sweet holiday confection. Warm pantomime set the scene in the first act, with children carrying garlands and gifts madly dashing around decked-out adults. An air of geniality mantled the party scene and the exuberant academy students lent a rosy glow.

Marcus Bugler as Herr Drosselmeyer was wisely cast; his effervescent animation of the magician was infectious as he ushered the children and the plot along. Josue Calderon and Betsy Lucas as Fritz and Clara, respectively, embodied bubbly excitement admirably. The brief pas de deux between Clara and Preston Swovelin’s Nutcracker Doll in the first act was delightfully sweet and sincere.

Leigh Hartley’s Ballerina Doll would have been the perfect object of a young girl’s affection, blowing kisses and tottering about. The Mouse Doll, danced by Ariel Triunfo, was spunky and precise, eliciting laughs from the audience in short order. The battle scene, populated as it was by munchkins in mice costumes, continued the adorable ambience.

The Snow King and Queen, danced by Grigori Arakelyan and Leigh Hartley, amplified the dreamlike nature of Anastos’ choreography. Hartley’s airy suspension suited the role, although the multitude of partnered penches left the audience with an inkling that Hartley could do more — with one of her exemplary side extensions, perhaps. Nonetheless, the delicately falling snow was another Las Vegas Easter egg and the frosty royalty, accompanied by flurries of Snowflakes, concluded the first act well.

The Kingdom of Sweets, enchanting as it is, was further exemplified by Anastos’ playful choreography. Sarah Fuhrman’s pert Sugarplum and Amy Von Handorf’s Arabian variation stood out as especially fresh, and Jeremy Bannon-Neches as a grandiose Cavalier was a strong complement. While purists might dispute the contemporary riffs, the modifications were refreshing for a ballet with such tenure. Zachary Hartley was outstanding in an unorthodox, one-man Russian variation, wowing the audience with robust displays of double fans, coffee grinders and high-flying leaps.

Alissa Dale’s Dewdrop Fairy flounced delicately with a company of flowers in the iconic waltz, the length of which was offset by the activity that remained at a nice simmer. The Spanish chocolate was full of spice and sass and the reed flutes number was a gilded and candy-sweet affair. The bright and chipper Chinese tea number and NBT’s signature saltwater taffy sailors rounded out the act in fanciful style.

Overall, NBT and Peter Anastos seem to be a good match. Perhaps the biggest tragedy in the show was the lack of live music, especially in a city that is full of more-than qualified musicians.

Beyond the holidays, though, Canfield’s willingness to experiment bodes well for a company that will soon have large slippers to fill. In May, the company will be stepping into a theater at the Smith Center that will seat more than 2,000 people, which is a daunting prospect for any regional company. However, NBT seems well positioned to make this transition, and being backed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic (also at the Smith Center) likely won’t hurt either.

Nutcrackers are creaking to life all over the city, trailed by sugarplum fairies and tragicomedy clowns alike. Nevada Ballet Theatre’s classic production is holding down the fort for the ballet purists while Insurgo Theater continues its tradition of a postmodern stage show at the Plaza.

NBT’s expansive, pointe shoe-clad cast will be debuting at Paris Las Vegas on Dec. 17 for an extended 10-show run. This year’s production is choreographed by Ballet Idaho’s artistic director Peter Anastos, hailed for his light-hearted choreography and whimsy. The show features more than 100 roles for children and the full pantheon of Nutcracker royalty from the sugar-coated Land of Sweets. (For a review of last year’s “Nutcracker,” follow the link here.)

Update, Dec. 20: Click here to read Julia Osborne’s review of NBT’s “Nutcracker” on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.

Ticket prices range from around $38 to about $131 and matinee and evening performances are available. For more information and to reserve tickets, click here or call 702-946-4567.

Insurgo is turning tradition on its head in typical indie-theater style. “The Insurgo Nutcracker,” now in its third year, will run from Dec. 19 through Jan. 7 on the third floor of the Plaza Hotel and Casino downtown. This year’s iteration will incorporate new characters with a cast of the tried and true. The performance will feature dancer and actor Michelle Meyer and actress and vocalist Melanie Ash, with actor Brandon Oliver Jones as the titular Nutcracker.

Running time for the Insurgo show is about 40 minutes and it’s suitable for adults and offspring alike. Tickets are $15 plus taxes and fees and sponsored tickets for families in need are available. For more details about tickets and venue, visit the show’s event page here. (A review of last year’s show is available here.)

Happy holidays from the Las Vegas Dance Insider! May your heads be filled with visions of sugarplums, or dumpster-diving Samuel Beckett-style traicomedy clowns, or whatever. Cheers!

Rounis sports her "Feed Your Creativity" t-shirt, which was included for anyone who donated $20 or more.

Melena Rounis, a Cirque dancer in “The Beatles LOVE,” put on the third annual Step Up and Dance fundraiser on Nov.19, which raised more than $700 in a few short hours to help feed hungry families in Nevada.

Rounis’ recipe for this event has proven true over the years. For participants, it’s simple. Pay a $10 minimum donation and take your fill of half-hour-long master classes in a variety of styles. This year, teachers included Rounis herself, fellow Cirque dancers Katy Tate, Sheila Joy and Fred Odgaard, Tyrell Rolle of “The Lion King” and master locker Scoo B Doo. Around 50 people showed up to dance and donate.

Participants could pick and choose from the smorgasbord of styles, which spanned the genres from old-school hip-hop and locking to burlesque, jazz and funk. Dancers of all ages and with varying experience levels got down for a good cause and Rounis said she was thrilled with the turnout this year.

“I think this year was great because it had a perfect dynamic and a great number of people,” Rounis said. “There was space for everyone to dance, so I think every year has been a success. I’m not humble at all,” she continued, laughing.

Katy Tate, dance captain at “LOVE,” taught what she called a “Lil Wayne” contemporary combination and concurred with Rounis about the importance of outreach. “How great is it to be able to do what you love and support those in need?,” she asked.

Tate said that thinking of others is important for more than just charity. “If you’re thinking about yourself the whole time, you only have a fraction of a class,” Tate said, encouraging dancers to watch and learn from each other in dance classes.

Katy Tate combined classical movement with contemporary style in her combination to Lil Wayne's "How to Love."

Tyrell Rolle of “The Lion King” voiced a similar message during his funk class. “You shouldn’t be a one-sided dancer,” he said emphatically. “Whatever it is, commit to it.”

And Rounis, despite dancing 10 shows a week for Cirque, is committed to Step Up and Dance. Another workshop is taking place on Dec. 18 at Drive Dance Center in Vancouver, a dance studio Rounis co-founded. “I think it’s going to be huge,” Rounis said. “I’m already out of posters and fliers and they’ve only been promoting for a week! But that’s a good thing.”

Despite challenges of working around professionals’ schedules and organizing events remotely, Rounis said she has high hopes for the fundraiser in the future. “Honestly, since I’ve started this event, it just keeps getting better each year,” she said.

Although it might seem like a long time before the next Step Up and Dance event, check out the photos below in the meantime.

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Hey, Cirque fans! If you’re interested in knowing more about the iconic entertainment company, check out Cirque Week, a series of behind-the-scenes demos and discussions of all things Cirque du Soleil. (Ticket information and a schedule is available here.)

Company executives chatted about what it takes to keep a company like Cirque going. Participants checked out costumes up close, watched rehearsals of bungee routines from “Mystere” and saw exclusive footage of the Cirque mother-ship in Montreal. These are a few examples of the breadth of programming Cirque has put on to let superfans get to know the company better.

The 10-day series is almost over, but stop by Best of Las Vegas to see my coverage of a few of the events. There’s nothing wrong with living vicariously, right?

The secret behind Cirque is yours to seek

More to ‘Love’ for Cirque Week

Cirque’s insight = serious business

Cirque coach shares secrets

I had the great privilege of seeing “Michael Jackson’s The Immortal World Tour” when it opened Dec. 3 at Mandalay Bay. Three syllables: uh-maze-ing. Hop over to my story on Best of Las Vegas to find out more about the King of Pop’s legacy a la Cirque du Soleil!

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