Tag Archive: jesus nanci


"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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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.

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A company based out of Philadelphia shook up UNLV’s studio theater on Feb. 25 and 26 with classic modern dance that was spiked with contemporary twists. Jeanne Ruddy, a former member of Martha Graham’s company, choreographed a piece, with additional works by Zvi Gotheiner, Jane Comfort and Peter Sparling and Janet Lilly comprising the first half of the concert. A preview of the UNLV-generated “Dancescapes” took over the second act.

Janet Philla in "Significant Soil"

For being separate entities, the two sections were remarkably well-matched. The show began with “Significant Soil,” a solo choreographed by Ruddy and danced by Janet Philla or Christine Taylor, depending on the concert. The piece played on novelty a bit with a man-sized coil dangling from the ceiling and stretched the length of the stage, but the prop was tastefully incorporated. The movement was breath-centered and emotional, depicting inner torment well and reminding the audience why, exactly, modern dance can be so enjoyable to watch.

“Enflold,” by Gotheiner and danced by Rick Callender and Melissa Chisena, also utilized set pieces well. The colloquial number was performed on a bench and, considering the constraints of remaining largely stationary, the choreography was inventive and elaborate. Literal themes were taken a step further with “The System,” a work about relationships that was equally tumultuous and contemplative. Choreographers Sparling and Lilly have created a unique and balanced piece that explored abstract movement without losing the attention of the audience. Dancers Callender and Janet Philla exemplified this with vibrant personalities and committed character-work.

“Four Screaming Women,” the culmination of the first act, was less a dance piece than an item of social commentary. Callender, Philla, Taylor and Meredith Riley-Stewart stood onstage and performed a symphony of repetitive movements, each accompanied by a phrase like “That’s wrong, that’s right,” “Is that what you want?” or “Did you vote? Did you win?” The call-and-response construction was often humorous, always entertaining and stopped just short of being obnoxious. Comfort, the choreographer, constructed the piece extremely well with mixed meters and wisely chosen phrases that begged the question, “Do we really sound like that?”

Melissa Chisena, Janet Philla and Meredith Riley-Stewart in "No Fear of Flying"

The second act, a mini-concert in itself, was more sympathetic to jazz than to modern but was tonally similarly to the first. Mark Dendy’s “No Fear of Flying,” performed by Chisena, Philla and Riley-Stewart, was a montage of strong female characterizations underscored by thought-provoking themes and a playful mood. A flight-attendent-style briefing for the audience, complete with blue-suited dancers with plastic smiles, was a high point of the piece and could have been a number in itself.

“At First Sight,” by Louis Kavouras, was fun and frolicsome and dancers Rachael Hayner and Alex Lum exploited this to the utmost. The two characters met, fell in love and enjoyed a fleeting few minutes of dewey-eyed romance before Hayner, quirky and exuding effortlessness, pilfered Lum’s backpack and traipsed away. Lum was adorable in his crestfallenness, completing the piece perfectly.

“The V Files Medley” by Vikki Baltimore-Dale and “Prelude, Fugue, Postlude” by Dolly Kelepecz were the two most traditional pieces and added a note of solidity to the show. Baltimore-Dale did well by her dancers with edgy undulations and featured solos, although unison choreography could have been stronger. Amanda Bakalas, Anna Fazio, Jesus Nanci, Lum and Hayner each approached the choreography differently and this, accompanied by Baltimore-Dale’s signature Afro vibe, made the number dynamic and exciting.

Rachael Hayner, Alex Lum and Jesus Nanci in "Prelude, Fugue, Postlude"

Kelepecz’s piece began with nontraditional lifts and choreography that was clean, straightforward and well-paired with the music. A fission-fusion method of staging was engaging to follow and avoided the static “principal and corps de ballet” configuration. The five dancers from Baltimore-Dale’s piece performed Kelepecz’s as well — the red-blooded jazz made for an interesting undercurrent and Kelepecz used this energy artfully.

Margot Mink Colbert’s “Swan Homage” also sidestepped the standard ballet, although for entirely different reasons. Nanci, clad in austere blacks and whites, danced alongside a projected image of Anna Pavlova performing Michel Fokine’s choreography from the 20th century. The effect was pleasantly perplexing with a nod to the humorous and summed up the concert nicely:

Odd and enjoyable.

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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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