Tag Archive: modern


For much of the dance world, tradition is the backbone in the body of technique. Ballet and modern are perhaps at the helm of this, each with long histories of established customs. This rigorous structure allowed for an interesting tangent in the 1980s in the form of exploratory, creative movement; a sort of cubism of the dance world. These tendencies persist today, and not just in modern dance.

Russian ballet might not fall under the “unorthodox” category for most people, but that’s how Tobi Tobias described recent performances by Mariinsky Ballet.  Although Tobias undercuts the production of “Anna Karenina,” he speaks candidly and gives fair voice to the dancers who “did their best under the unfavorable circumstances.” The review also includes an assessment of Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Little Humpbacked Horse,” a remake of a ballet whose history began in 1864. Find a link to the story here.

The second installment in the wave of the unusual is enumerated in Deborah Jowitt’s latest post about Jonah Bokaer and his pieces “Recess” and “Why Patterns.” Paper and ping-pong balls both make appearances and contribute to larger questions: What is a pattern? When does it cease to be one? What do 10,000 small, plastic balls have to do with anything? Jowitt muses on these and other issues in her post on DanceBeat. Read it here.

For dancers, summers don’t always mean sleeping in, laying out by the pool and staying far away from school. In fact, many spend hours a day in classes, and lounging in bed is made difficult by early mornings in dance studios. Summer intensives are known as such for a reason; those who have attended tend to remember them with a combination of a smile and a grimace.

Intensives usually stretch from one week to a couple months and the programs often have kids in dance classes for six or seven hours a day. The experience acts as a rite of passage for many, and not just from a training perspective. Students are usually between the ages of 12 and 18 or 20 or so, and summer intensives provide a structured way for young adults to be away from their parents.

These can also act as extended auditions. Ballet and modern schools often use the time to observe dancers in a close and consistent environment, evaluating whether each student would be a valuable addition to a training program or second company.

The non-intensive type of audition is another summer staple, with dancers flocking to impress directors of prominent companies. These can be international affairs and, for some companies, the idea of auditioning for them is brand-new. The Bolshoi, for instance, held their first open audition happened recently.

The New York Times recently ran an excellent feature on dancers completing summer intensives in New York City. The Moscow News also detailed the first open audition held at the Bolshoi, ever. Both happen during the summer and both represent important rituals in the dance world, whose memories tend to eclipse lazy afternoons on a beach.

The Obama administration plan to improve the United States’ relationship with Russia, but not just through bureaucratic means. The U.S. State Department will provide support for Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s performances in the International Chekhov Festival in Moscow, where the company will perform three well-known Cunningham works on June 14 – 16.

The trip is part of what is being called the legacy tour, undertaken to commemorate the death of Merce Cunningham, an internationally acclaimed modern dance pioneer, in 2009. “Biped,” “Xover” and “RainForest” will be performed and the State Department will assist an online project that will catalogue the process of creating “RainForest.” A series of educational programs, including a film series and a workshop from the company, will accompany the performances.

Interested in reading more? Check out the full story on Artsbeat here.

"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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Student and professional choreographers collaborated on the third concert of the fall semester at UNLV’s Dance Studio One on Nov. 18, 19 and 20.

“Kinetic Connections,” the name of the show, demonstrated the seemingly never-ending stream of abstract, movement-related concert names that the dance department is capable of generating. The pieces themselves, however, showcased a depth of thought on the part of the choreographers.

Guest artists Lawrence Jackson and Lynn Neuman added a professional breadth to the work of the students, but much of what the new choreographers set could have stood on its own anyway.

Jackson's "Exurgency"

Jackson’s “Exurgency” kicked off the show in purple-hued style, juxtaposing calm and precise steps with complex and busy staging. The space in the choreography left room for the dancers to connect with each other, creating a pleasant kind of tension and reality in the transitions. The movement itself was linear, modern-based and prone to canons and it was evident that the piece had been well-rehearsed.

Silence, quickly followed by a track redolent with piano and ambient noise, followed the first number. Jaleesa Staten’s “Hounded,” a pas de quatre, was cloaked in a wandering, baleful guise. The periodic stillness offset more frenetic sections and fierce extensions punctuated the piece. By the end,  the four girls had disrobed down to nude underwear and three were sitting against the far-upstage wall. One girl was left downstage and alone, filling the space with sadness amidst the sound.

Julia Peterson’s “The Strength to Be” was a fresh, industrial-feeling hip-hop piece with syrupy syncopation and strong accents. Ballet technique was evident and the diversity from both the dancers and the choreographer was welcome. The stone faces were an interesting detail, however. In a piece devoted to the strength of individuals, a more direct connection with the audience (indeed, a congregate of individuals), was strangely missing.

Sherer's "Sudden.Anxious.Flood"

“Sudden.Anxious.Flood.,” by Sandra Sherer, lived up to its name. The choreography was cyclic and desperate-feeling, exemplified by dancers rocking nervously and scrambling with abandon. The feverish, nightmare-like soundtrack completed the motif.

Neumann’s piece, explained briefly in the program, was a sort of tribute to Leo Baekeland and, perhaps more importantly, to the substance he invented: plastic. The piece was appropriately titled “Baeke’s Land” and was built around  the laying down of neon tape. The dancers, each attired in what can only be described as the worst of the leavings of the 1980s, executed the pleasantly cacophonous choreography well. The steps were contemporary and almost lyrical  and a section of contact improvisation seemed a fitting tribute to decades past.

Wilkerson's "With Love in Love"

Perhaps the most pedestrian story was displayed in “With Love in Love,” by Ashley Wilkerson. The music was reminiscint of a vintage Disney movie and the sweetheart characters matched perfectly. The straightforward narrative, with its unabashed entertainment value, was a respite from some of the more abstract pieces. Dancers Rachael Hayner and RJ Hughes did well with the choreography, although establishing a connection with the audience seemed to be a challenge at times. More expressive faces could have cleared up somewhat ambiguous scenarios throughout the piece.

UNLV’s emphasis on modern-based technique was evident in Jennie Carroll’s “Unlimited,” accompanied by deep acoustic guitar. The clear, linear movment contrastd with the fragmented and multifaceted nature of the piece, leading to a visual complexity that seemed to fit the title.

“A Jar of Broken Pieces,” choreographed by Emily Miller, was a percussive and pleading piece exemplified by the intense reds in the four girls’ flouncing tutus. The sweeping aggressivnes and shorter length made it more audience-accessible and the movement was well suited to the group of dancers.

Anna Fazio’s “Society” surged forward from the beginning. The start of the piece had a dark vibe to it and the choreographic progression of the dancers, often with oen following closely behind the other, could have symbolized an evolution of sorts. The frenzied running seemed to be further commentary. Either way, the eye contact between both the dancers themselves and the dancers and the audience was excellent and engaging.

Michael Coleman's "As the Last Petal Falls"

Michael Coleman’s “As the Last Petal Falls” brough a sense of calm to the stage. The choreography was busy, occasionally overly so, but the transitions of quiet walking lent some visual white space. Ballet technique was evident in attitudes and coupes and the movie-score-like track only added to this.

“Lonely Fire,” choreographed by Tiffany Caudullo and the only solo in the show, was a low and sultry number. The choreography was well executed, although there were perhaps a few too many still spaces for a potentially dynamic piece. The floor-centered movement was inventive, however, which mitigated this considerably.

Jessica Coleman's "V-XVII-MCMLXXXIII"

“V-XVI-MCMLXXXIII,” (yes, that is the title of a piece) was choreographed by Jessica Coleman and closed the show with musings about the nature of time. Ticking in the track was soon interrupted by a disruptive beat and the dancers became the cogs of a clock with many, many hands. The piece was engrossing in its complexity and the alarm bell that ended the number was fittingly jarring.

Time also ticked away steadily throughout the nearly two-hour concert. However, the variety of ideas in each piece made the show more entertaining than it was elongated. Big ideas are coming out of the small theater at UNLV.

What do these four companies have in common? They performed together in “An Unprecedented Event,” a collaborative concert tribute to the late, great Robert Joffrey.

The show was hosted by Nevada Ballet Theatre at UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall on Oct. 15 – 17.

It was wonderfully unpredictable and unspeakable gorgeous.

Interested in reading more? Check out my mild-mannered alter ego on the website for The Rebel Yell, the official student newspaper for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Comments? Questions? Leave ‘em here.

In a flurry of flexed feet and out-of-the-box-ness, the Las Vegas Academy produced their annual fall dance concert on Oct. 15 and 16 at the LVA Performing Arts Center on East Clark Ave.

If they had been graded on improvement from their show earlier this year, they would be graduating with honors at the end of the year.

Most of them, anyway. A few hitches still existed and many of these few were due to choreographic choices. The structure of the pieces  was consistently better overall, but a number of cliches ran rampant.

Square, obvious  turns in second smack-dab in the middle of a piece are bad enough on competition stages. Do you really have to have 30 dancers stop dead in a concert and whip out fouettes en masse?

Some choreographers at LVA would tell you, with no small measure of certainty, that yes, you do.

Retro choreo aside, many pieces stood out as forward-thinking, either in subtle ways or big ones.

 

"Citrus Glow"

 

“Citrus Glow,” the opening number choreographed by Kristine Keppel, was an endearing experience reminiscent, somehow, of Jason Reitman’s 2007 film “Juno.” Carefree energy coupled with the natural buoyancy of high school made this piece heart-warmingly age-appropriate. The movement was a smooth mix of the sincerity and silliness, with cart-wheels, pantomimes of jump-rope and stints of ring-around-the-rosie. Personality was everywhere.

“Be Present,” also by Keppel, demonstrated the depth of what can be accomplished with a larger corps. Although bigger numbers of performers can sometimes be inhibiting to the clarity of a piece, Keppel’s cohesive themes  provided structure. The men at the school were also showcased well.

A few Easter eggs of novelty pieces interspersed the show and were few enough to be enjoyed. “Don’t Eat What They Are Feeding You,” by Jeneane Huggins, and “Are You Out or Are You In?” by Karen Turnabull were good examples.

 

"Don't Eat What They Are Feeding You"

 

“Don’t Eat What They Are Feeding You,” in the first act, pivoted on each performer’s set of spoons. Small, soup-size ones in the beginning were soon outclassed entirely by spoons that were 2/3 the height of the dancers. The props were used creatively (with lots of digging and stirring involved) and the piece was surprisingly serious.

Turnbull’s “Are You Out or Are You In” began with strips of black-lights laid on the apron of the stage. This was coupled with the white-striped sleeves and socks of the costumes, which produced a cool glowing effect that limited choreography only occasionally.

Later in the piece, each of the performers in the piece had a medium-sized cardboard box surrounding his or her middle. These boxes came on and off throughout, ending with one lone soul high-stepping around all the boxed bipeds around her.

 

"What Is Life Worth Living For?"

 

Maturity is a precious thing in young adults and this quality shone through in two pieces in particular. “Touched,” by Kristine Keppel, and “What is Life Worth Living For?” by Jeneane Huggins and the E2 company, were both at the end of the show, illustrating what youthful energy can build up to.

Partnering was present in each both pieces, and this served two purposes: it singled out individuals from a sometimes overwhelmingly large corps and it gave the audience a chance to watch the performers connect one-on-one. The intimacy between the couples was touching and sincere and the maturity was undeniable.

Other pieces were enjoyable for different reasons.

“Thanks for the Memories,” choreographed by Lisa Lazenby, had a club beat,  in-your-face energy and sassy guitar, which was a good fit for the teenagers. “The Disappeared,” by Karen Tunbull, was a sexy, playful number to a song not unlike something heard from the Beach Boys. Chiptune transitions and quirky head-bobs lent some funk.

Thomas DiSabato’s “Lifeforce” had a fizzy effervescence to it and was highly visual. The choreographer has branched out from his usual as well, exploring a more soft-core contemporary that suited the ethereal nature of the piece.

A few of the more irritating moments came in “Walk Away,” also by DiSabato, and Lisa Lazenby’s “The Ageless Dream.” Straight technique certainly has its place, but come on now. These kids can do much more than square chasses.

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