Category: @ University of Nevada Las Vegas


Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall used to be a catch-all destination for out-of-town artists of all stripes. When the Smith Center opened, suddenly this spotlight zoomed from UNLV’s campus to the crown jewel of Symphony Park, and oft-lauded artists with hefty reputations seemed to follow.

Seems simple, right? Smith Center sells out and Ham Hall shuts down. But wait, because just like those infomercials … there’s more.

Steve Bornfeld wrote a refreshingly optimistic piece for Vegas Seven about the niche that Ham Hall is likely to occupy in the greater swath of performing arts in Las Vegas. It’s titled, appropriately, “The Adjustment Bureau,” and it is certainly worth a read for arts freaks of any degree.

UNLV dance department students descended upon the studio theater Nov. 17-19 for this semester’s student choreography concert. Hands met feet. Shoes were put on, then taken off again. The usual unitards were replaced with bra tops and tights and a measure of head-tip-eliciting content was well represented. And there was a rodent on a leash.

Hands, meet feet. Now, run!

“Hands Meet Feet,” the titular piece for the show, was exactly what it sounds like. Choreographer Margot Mink Colbert, one of the faculty in the department, had her dancers clamping onto their own (and other people’s) lower appendages and trying to walk, roll and otherwise flail about the stage. The name of the piece was actually a nonverbal symbol from the Labanotation system, which is a type of writing system used to record choreography in incredible detail.

The piece was cerebral and postmodern and the quirkiness was enjoyable. A ferret, inserted seemingly last-minute at the end of the piece (on a leash and properly supervised, I should add) embodied the nature of the piece: strange, but cute. But still strange.

“Code Simulations” (or “Stimulations,” in part of the program, which was probably a mistake but quite funny anyway) was a multifaceted piece by Michael Coleman. A gritty edge and some punchy choreography paired well with the electronic feel. Mood shifts drew thoughts of a circuit-breaker or switchboard and the interlacing movement completed the motif.

Krista Caskie’s “Synthetic Consciousness”  had a similar theme. Dancers Alex Lum and Summer Reece, both encased in different colored unitards, executed intriguing partnering. Technicians should also be lauded here, as the number was compelling from visuals alone.

Alien shapes and stark silhouettes made Krista Caskie's "Synthetic Consciousness" visually interesting

“Hope,” by Nichole Reyes, was a straightforward swirl of tulle and tenacity. The dancers seemed more aware of the audience, peering out from the stage emotionally. Jennie Carroll’s “Through the Space” was multidirectional and had a similar effect. The bounding, wiggling movement combined with curious faces and bright strings in the soundtrack was worth cracking a smile for. The choreography was nicely musical and different enough to be interesting.

Novelty made an appearance, as it is wont to do in college dance shows. “Hound,” choreographed and danced by Jaleesa Staten, centered on a television tuned to static downstage and an angst-filled, disrobing dancer with a mystifying inner monologue. RJ Hughes’ “Music Box Boundaries” was more conventional, with tulle-garbed performers breaking out of respective boxes, only to be sucked back into them during the coda. Hughes added some swag to the familiar storyline, which kept the predictable ending from being too painful.

Mirrors added another dimension to Bakalas' piece

“I Am …” with choreography by Amanda Bakalas, used three mirrors positioned upstage, facing the audience, to convey the journey of three different relationships. Love, loss and breakups abounded and the piece ended on an exasperated note, with the dancers seeming to fight against the reflections.

Alex Lum’s “Fresh Kicks” furthered the vein of poignancy with his anticonsumer, anticonformist message. A hop hop beat backed Avree Walker as he donned a pair of Nikes, the $100, pop culture status symbol. An army of masked Nike-wearers coalesced behind him, creepily infiltrating Walker’s happy-go-lucky vibe. Eventually, the shoes came off and, as you might have guessed, Walker walked free. Like Hughes’ piece, the strong execution of the number mitigated an over-hashed theme.

“Sojourner,” Vikki Baltimore-Dale’s jazz contribution, had a masculine, tribal energy and was more visually accessible than other pieces in the show. Hillary Gibson’s “Celebracion de Movimiento,” which ended the show, was similarly straightforward. “Here I Am, There I Go … Once Again” by Jesus Nanci was balletic and doleful, although the source of the somber notes remained obscured.

In a broad sense, this could be said for much of the show. Blossoms of inventiveness peeked through the concert, but it seems that college dance will always be college dance, with graduation deferred indefinitely.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Kavouras' choreography embodied the splintering complexity of glass in many instances.

UNLV’s dance department created a concert to honor Tiffany Studios in New York, which is an institution committed to maintaining traditions of scrupulous commitment to quality. This studio doesn’t turn out dancers, though. It turns out lamp shades.

“Glassworks” was a three-piece showcase performed on Oct. 21 and 22 that celebrated the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, an artist with a flair for stained glass and a vision of bringing that to people at every economic level. He believed that the beauty of glass should be shared with anyone who wants to partake of it. Most dancers can relate.

Louis Kavouras choreographed the opening number of the concert, an arching modern piece with an unpronounceable name. The title is the entirety of Schrodinger’s equation, a mess of Greek letters and symbols that describes how the quantum state of a system changes over time. Its solutions describe such things as particles and waves of light and this lofty, cerebral tone twined through his choreography.

Deep strings and a visually compelling set played host to a flock of dancers with good musicality and commendable spacial awareness. The piece churned with splintered factions of dancers, grouping, moving, regrouping, lemming-like at times but almost constantly in motion. The effect was one of near chaos, or many stories at once, or passing time.

The lighting contributed to this; the stage was a beige canvas continually painted with light and the set was gorgeous: stained glass-style hangings draped the wings and a translucent scrim emblazoned with geometric patterns completed the motif. The differing dynamics of movement undulated throughout and gave way to a quiet, amber sunset. The audience whooped.

Choreographer Richard Havey's jovial personality shone through in "Unbroken Times."

Richard Havey brought a delightful, 1950s-jazz-meets-the-millennial-generation with “Unbroken Times,” an energetic jazz piece underscored by a set of magentas and greens. Characters, extravagantly dressed in skirts, slacks and heels, alternated between big battements, rond de jambes and coupe seconds, nicely interspersed with sections of flouncing about in character. There was a rambunctious hipster vibe to the number, something akin to the visual cacophony of fine society with musings about the passing of time thrown in for fun. Havey was doing what he does best, and it was a wonderful change of pace for the show.

Cathy Allen’s “Shattered” summed up the performance with a postmodern feel, a curious set and an even more perplexing soundtrack. The overall effect was one of peeking at a foreign situation; watching from a safe distance seems wise and more mysteries keep presenting themselves as the interactions continue. A beautiful mobile dangled shapes of translucent, colored material over an otherwise tan stage. Dancers in blues and greens interacted beneath this silent spectre, reaching to it occasionally but keeping it at a level of oblique awareness throughout. It was simply interesting to watch and the disconcerting music, composed by UNLV’s Beth Mehocic, only added to the supervenient vibe.

“Glassworks,” as abstract as the concept may seem, was a multifaceted exploration of the nature of art, no matter the medium. The set itself deserves a tip of the hat; a small note in the program acknowledged the work of dance majors in building the phenomenal pieces, and the time these took was evident. The concert’s impact has much to do with the parts of the stage that weren’t moving as the parts that were. Visual beauty exists on several levels, after all, and this show made that quite apparent.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

"Reverberation"

UNLV students stepped up to the plate on April 28 – 30 for “Spring Blend,” a dance concert choreographed exclusively by students that acts as both a final examination for the choreographers and a performing opportunity for their classmates. The semesterly performance is essentially the culmination of four months’ worth of creative energy from dance majors enrolled in an upper-division choreography class. The show features work from dancers with varying amounts of choreographic experience and often drifts in a pleasantly experimental direction.

An interesting trend is emerging, though. While many of the pieces were distinct from what the faculty might choreograph, almost all of them seemed to be following the same unspoken conventions. First, music must not have lyrics. Second, contemporary jazz and modern are the preferred genres and subject matter should generally be serious. Striking out in a tap- or musical-theater-ly direction is, apparently, discouraged and lots of running is a good thing.

"When in Motion"

This being said, the concert still offered up some intriguing bits. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of any of these shows is the brave exploration of new ideas and concepts, and this was present in several cases. Innovative use of props added some dynamics to the middle of the show in Jennie Carroll’s piece  “When in Motion,” which closed the first act. A tube-like piece of fabric created a physical barrier and underscored the metaphorical confinement that threaded through the number. Some difficult issues (like rape, perhaps, or assault, depending on interpretation) were addressed in “Deluge,” a busy and chilling piece by Michael Coleman.

Another obvious difference between this and other concerts was the in-the-round setting, with portable chairs added to the studio theater’s three sides of the stage not already occupied by the existing seating structure. This accentuated an awareness of space that was visible in the dancers from the beginning of the show, and the three-dimensional nature of the pieces that resulted was fantastic. The back of a dancer is usually as nice to look at as the front, after all, and the additional depth was appreciated.

“Reverberation” by Rachael Hayner was a multidirectional work with a light-footed, precise and unique feel. The unison sections throughout were a strong choreographic choice and the dynamism at the end made up for a slightly predictable finish. Ashley Wilkerson’s piece, titled “Drop Break Dive,” closed the show with a similar vibe. Pendular, reactive movement interspersed high-energy segments and the result was a push-pull piece with feeling.

The calmer side of contemporary was depicted well in “Together We …” and “The Road to Acceptance” by Juliana Balistreri and Nichole Reyes, respectively. Both were contemplative and expressive and had the knack of allowing the audience to hear the full breadth of the music. “Potentiate,” by Kimberly Weller, had a similar sense of longing and unfulfillment, deeply tinged by an impression of urgency. Jesus Nanci’s “PURGE” followed this trajectory as well with athletic, percussive motion and tribal energy.

"Coming to Terms"

“Halt,” choreographed by Jaleesa Staten, was an ironically unceasing sweep of movement toward the end of the second act that followed closely on the heels of Amanda Bakalas’ “Coming to Terms.” The latter had some nice notes of ballet and a more literal storyline than other pieces in the show, acting as a sort of palate-cleanser for the second act.

The most unique number in the show also illuminated a distinct feature in Las Vegas that the dance department at UNLV would do well to emphasize: nontraditional, mime-like character acts. Many shows on the Strip feature parodies and clown skits and Courtney Pollum’s “JUST FANTASTIC” was right up this same alley with a mostly silent narrative between two ridiculous characters. The variety was refreshing and represented a wise step in an applicable direction.

Altogether, the show was enjoyable, especially if this happened to be an audience member’s first exposure to work at UNLV. It is clear that veterans in the department have big ideas, which are absolutely essential when setting out into the big, wide world of dance. Variety and versatility would assist this readiness, though, and would make these performances that much more felicitous.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Company members depicting the chemical symbol for the plastic molecule using neon tape in "Plastic People of the Universe."

A dance company with a funny name came to UNLV on April 1 and 2 for a concert that was part neo-classical modern and part social commentary. Artichoke Dance Company, which is based out of New York, hit the stage of the studio theater clad in costumes adorned with those plastic six-pack holders that kill dolphins. “Plastic People of the Universe,” an artistic exploration of the properties and ramifications of plastic in our society, was no less surprising or enjoyable.

A short, cheeky film started the show with what would accompany the audience throughout the entire concert: a disconcerting mix of humor and apprehensive disillusionment. Intimidating facts about the breakdown and reuse of plastic would be presented to generate an ominous feeling, but then a cute turn-of-phrase or sly joke would break the gloom and doom. This accomplished precisely what so many organizations cannot: a consciousness of humanity’s impact that was tinged with purposeful optimism.

Artistic director Lynn Neuman’s “Plastic People of the Universe,” the concert’s namesake and the entire first act, was a tasteful venture into the experimental. Dancers George Hirsch, Malinda Crump, Aidan Feldman, Maxx Passion, Toby Billowitz and Neuman herself acted as competent guides, directing the audience with a wide vocabulary of movement. (Student dancers Hillary Gibson, Candi Hanson, Jesus Nanci and Ashley Wilkerson augmented the cast as well.) Classic modern concepts like weight-sharing and contact improvisation were morphed into contemporary cousins of what has been around since the 1980s, which created a relevance typically unheard of in this genre.

Technique was evident in many cases and the movement itself was at once accessible and alien, made even more so by the commitment of the dancers to the odd and unorthodox. At one point in the show, dancers traversed the stage and called out chemical compositions of the human body, down to amounts found at 0.175 percent. This sort of thing, on top of everything else, gave “Plastic People” weight and immediacy and engaged the audience in a concept that could have been overlooked or tuned out otherwise.

Toby Billowitz and Maxx Passion in "Commuter Connection"

For all the inauspicious insinuations presented in the first act, the second was a purely enjoyable study of characters and circumstances. “Commuter Connection: A Rush Hour Romance” featured dancers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, each reading a publication as if on a bus or subway. One commuter, portrayed by the eye-catching Passion, was a disorganized, frantic, cellphone-weilding mess that was as endearing to the audience as she was obnoxious to the other characters. Passion’s fearless acting was mirrored by Billowitz, who gracefully rendered an understated and kindly character. The piece was scored by well-selected Tchaikovsky tunes and added just the right hue of humor to the concert.

“Recession Dances, and so can you!” expanded the scope of Artichoke’s commentary and examined the effect that economic changes have on the arts. The suite of pieces featured dances popular in other recessions from the 20th century, such as the sugar push from the West Coast, the mambo, the tango and the lindy hop. Modern laced each of these, creating a cohesive experience without becoming monochromatic. Animated personalities from the dancers and incredible choreographic breadth from Neuman exemplified the versatility of this little company from the other, more distant coast.

Toby Billowitz, Lynn Neuman and George Hirsch do the lindy hop in "Recession Dances, and so can you!"

The concert, as well as the weekend of Artichoke’s Las Vegas tenure, was over too soon. It is rare to see such a relatable conglomeration of difficult realities and redeeming light-heartedness, but the company members and dancers from UNLV pulled this off seamlessly. And if an off-the-wall dance performance can’t make people think twice about buying bottled water, it is unlikely that anything else ever will.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers