Tag Archive: UNLV


Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall used to be a catch-all destination for out-of-town artists of all stripes. When the Smith Center opened, suddenly this spotlight zoomed from UNLV’s campus to the crown jewel of Symphony Park, and oft-lauded artists with hefty reputations seemed to follow.

Seems simple, right? Smith Center sells out and Ham Hall shuts down. But wait, because just like those infomercials … there’s more.

Steve Bornfeld wrote a refreshingly optimistic piece for Vegas Seven about the niche that Ham Hall is likely to occupy in the greater swath of performing arts in Las Vegas. It’s titled, appropriately, “The Adjustment Bureau,” and it is certainly worth a read for arts freaks of any degree.

"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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"Melodic Hallucinations" by Stephan Reynolds

UNLV’s dance department produced “A Moveable Feast” on March 25 and 26 at the Judy Bayley Theatre and, with the help of guest choreographers, further reiterated the school’s strengths in contemporary dance. Modern was highlighted to a lesser extent and ballet, which was also part of the program, could have been left out. Amidst everything else, it probably would not have been missed.

The proliferation of new choreography from the likes of Stephan Reynolds, Lawrence Jackson and Lynn Neuman brought a freshness to the show and gave the dancers a chance to show off in a style that is a collective aptitude. A character-style piece midway through served as an emotional reprieve and added variety. Neon tape and experimental concepts made a modest appearance as well.

An interesting thing happened, though. For much of the concert, the choices of the choreographers and the strengths of the dancers coincided perfectly. This intersection created an aura of confidence for the group and, lo and behold, true performance and presence emerged. This group is generally proficient in most of the works being showcased, but seeing the dancers perform something that looks and feels good to them was a treat.

Reynolds grabbed the audience’s attention with “Melodic Hallucinations,” a gritty, industrial number that was pleasantly reminiscent of “The Matrix” (if, of course, Neo could whip out some funky dance moves.) Reynolds made it clear that he is no stranger to producing pieces like this one; the staging, imaginative costuming and integrated set were well-received. A stripped stage and striking lighting were perfect complements.

"Baeke's Land" by Lynn Neuman

Two other pieces followed a similar vein. “Exurgency,” by Jackson, was steeped in suspense and urgency. The spacing was precise and visual and the modern influence was subtle and tastefully implemented. Maurice Watson’s “A Search for Serenity” was a quirky, sexy, swinging jazz number in six. Syncopation and soul ran through the music, which was spiked with bright brass tones that were wisely utilized by the choreographer. Sections of unison and clump-style spacing kept the number grounded.

“Baeke’s Land,” by Neuman, was a foray into the unexpected. The concept of the piece centered on the invention of plastic and its effect on the human body and, ironically, was quite an experience for the mind as well. Playful choreograph was paired with a serious subject and it made for a nice juxtaposition.

A disappointment in the show was “Prelude, Fugue, Postlude,” by Dolly Kelepecz and Andrea Dusel-Foil. The biggest problem was discordance: the music was nice, the fluid staging was engaging and the choreography was nontraditional and interestingly composed. However, the energy of the dancers was far, far below what is necessary to make a piece like this work. UNLV is not American Ballet Theatre, and that’s perfectly ok. Ballet in general, though, demands an amount of caring and presence that was simply not seen. The piece seemed somehow obligatory, like a necessary experience borne with a grimace.

"Prelude, Fugue, Postlude" by Dolly Kelepecz and Andrea Dusel-Foil

This disillusionment was redeemed with “Assembled,” a piece in the middle of the show that was choreographed by Miguel Perez, Alain Lavalle and Vanessa Reyes. Relationships between vibrant characters were acted out amongst a long table and chairs and individual personalities poked through at every available moment. Sections of sassy, girls-only jamming, heart-felt longing for a boy and back-and-forth group interactions were humanizing. Like most of the rest of the show, it was as entertaining as anything on MTV.

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The dance department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is bringing several East Coast companies to Las Vegas for special performances throughout their regular spring season.

Jeanne Ruddy Dance, a company of professional dancers exploring the realm of contemporary and modern dance and improvisation, will be performing at the studio theater on campus on Feb. 25 and 26. The work performed at UNLV will include pieces by Jeanne Ruddy, Mark Dendy, Jane Comfort, Janet Lilly, Peter Sparling and Ziv Gotheiner. Each of these performances will be followed by “Dancescapes,” a 50-minute concert comprised of work that UNLV students will be presenting at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in Australia.

For those of you that want to get your current events knowledge going on, take note of Artichoke Dance Company and the concerts happening on March 31 and April 1 and 2. The dancers, under artistic direction of Lynn Neuman, will be performing “Plastic People of the Universe” as a way of investigating how single-use plastics affect the environment and the bodies of carbon-based, bipedal life-forms (that’s us, in case you were wondering.) The interconnected plastic rings that hold six-packs of cans serve as the basis for costumes and the set, proving that these nifty little do-dads can do more than ensnare the noses of dolphins.

Both of these concerts are in addition to the dance department’s regular season. “A Movable Feast,” with work by guest artists and UNLV faculty, will be performed by dance department students on March 25 and 26. “Spring Blend,” with pieces created exclusively by UNLV students, will be presented on April 28, 29 and 30.

Ticket prices vary by event and venue. Find details and information at the Performing Arts Center Box Office or by calling (702) 895-2787. Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone or at the box office on campus.

Got all that? Here’s a recap just in case:

Jeanne Ruddy Dance:

Feb. 25 at 8 p.m., Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

HFA 111 at UNLV

“Plastic People of the Universe,” by Artichoke Dance Company

March 31 at 8 p.m., April 1 at 8 p.m. and Aril 2 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

HFA 111 at UNLV

“A Movable Feast,” by UNLV guest artists and faculty

March 25 at 8 p.m and March 26 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Judy Bayley Theatre at UNLV

“Spring Blend,” by UNLV students

April 28 at 8 p.m., April 29 at 8 p.m. and April 30 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

HFA 111 at UNLV

The Senior Adult Dance and Theater programs at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas presented “Variety Show” on Dec. 4 in conjunction with Colleges Against Cancer, a subsidiary of the American Cancer Society. The money raised through performance and raffle tickets was donated to the organization to, according to their website, help individuals suffering from cancer “celebrate more birthdays.”

The show, performed in UNLV’s Student Union theater, was organized and choreographed in part by Richard Havey and Carole Rae and featured members of the group Fine Wine as special guests.

The cast of the show presented pieces choreographed by, for the most part, themselves. Many of the numbers had been part of midterm projects for senior adult dance classes at UNLV and were based around the cultures of different countries.

Gerd Hitchcock represented Sweden in lively blue and yellow, Maura Harrower high-stepped in proper Irish style and Alice Dodd twirled an umbrella in the name of England. Eilah Cheek depicted Italy and Yvonne Du Plain was joined by Cheek, Dodd and Hitchcock to represent Hava Nagila.

Sharron Libby, sashaying in blue and pink, portrayed Antigua, which was contrasted with the percussive nature of Mary Smydo’s African-themed number. Vickie Peiper rounded out the multicultural part of the show with a vocal and dance piece based on the culture of Brazil.

The theater side of things was also well represented. Monologues interspersed the performance and exemplified the vibrant personalities that glittered throughout the show. Harriet Stich, in the spirit of the season, impersonated a yowling store manager in the final days of holiday shopping. Stich  manned a clipboard and warned store associates about the stigma of the “chicken list,” reserved for those that opted out of working during the rush.

Vince Ragazzo performed Jimmy Durante’s “The Day I Read a Book” and the humor was well received by the audience. Sandy Runkle switched the vibe with a dramatic monologue called “The Memoirs of Cleopatra.” Guest group Fine Wine performed a tap number, as did Carol Cravens, Sonja Swenson and Ann Vizziccarro. John Slocum’s booming, baleful voice filled the theater on several occasions.

The group numbers, especially “BollyWood” by Carole Rae and “Tambourines” by Alice Dodd illuminated the lighthearted and playful aspect of the show. Although the attendance left something to be desired, the performers stayed true to the adage of putting on strong show no matter the size of the audience. Another old saying holds true here as well: a photo is worth 1,000 words. Here are a bunch.

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.

It was close to midnight, and something evil was lurking in the dark.

It was a mass of college students.

Just kidding.

College students and zombies alike congregated in a ballroom at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Student Union to learn vintage “Thriller” choreography made famous by the King of Pop.

(Find a link to my podcast, hosted by Podbean, here, for an interview with the two dancers that taught the choreography.)

CSUN, the Consolidated Students of the University of Nevada (Las Vegas), is the student government at UNLV. The group organized the event on Oct. 21 for students to learn the original MJ choreography just in time for Halloween.

By all accounts, the event went quite well. Hundreds of people participated, many of whom were in zombie garb for the costume contest that was the culmination of the evening.

Erika Bruno and Alex Lum

Dancers Erika Bruno and Alex Lum occupied a stage at the front of the room, acting as in-person choreographers. Two big-screen projectors were set up alongside them, displaying Jackson’s original video courtesy of our good friends on YouTube. (The link is for the full video, story included. Skip to 8:28 for choreography.)

CSUN’s Director of Entertainment and Programming Chelsea Seegers demonstrated as well as organized, dancing along on stage and running around in equal parts.

Pint-sized b-boys from Rock Steady Crew were also in attendance, meaning that professors weren’t the only ones schooling college kids. (Check out footage toward the end of my video above.)

CSUN promises this will be a UNLV tradition. Hopefully they’re right — it’s certainly worth continuing.

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