Tag Archive: modern dance


If you missed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the newly opened Smith Center on March 20 and 21, never fear! You can see some great photos from the Las Vegas Sun at the Sun’s website here. Alvin Ailey is movin’ on, but the Smith Center remains, and it will be playing host to a veritable feast of talent for the arts center’s dynamic inaugural season. Find out more about upcoming shows at the Smith Center here.

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.

It’s a typical scenario: a YouTube video goes viral, perhaps through Facebook or Twitter. A news program might pick up on it, using the clip as a cute segue between news stories or commercial breaks. More people find out about it, the video accrues more hits and the cycle continues.

There isn’t usually a modern dance company involved, though.

Choreographer Shena Tschofen was inspired by a particular video that was hugely popular around this time a year ago. She and a small company of dancers reinterpreted the video, called “Cows and cows and cows,” in a live-stage piece that does the impossible by making the original clip just a little bit weirder.

The original video is below. Follow the link here for Tschofen’s version from CBS News.

If you have any experience with reinterpretations of animated works, choreographers with crazy ideas or head-bobbing bovines, feel free to share in the comments below.

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.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30 other followers