Tag Archive: rachael hayner


"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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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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