Tag Archive: jaleesa staten


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.

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"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.

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