Archive for March, 2011

"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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An architect, a theater consultant and an acoustician walked into a bar.

Just kidding. They did walk into the Fifth Street School on March 9, though, along with a sizable crowd of performing arts enthusiasts. The Smith Center, due to open in 2012, was the golden child of the evening. Project CEO Myron Martin was joined by architect David Schwartz, theater consultant Joshua Dachs and acoustician Paul Scarbrough for an installment in the Symphony Park Lecture Series dedicated entirely to the new arts center.

“I think we really did come up with something that really does speak to Las Vegas,” Schwartz said. He spoke of the multiple international trips that he and the rest of the design team made to find inspiration for the Smith Center. Schwartz finally came back to Hoover Dam for inspiration. “There is nothing, or almost nothing, that someone hasn’t already done,” he said. “It’s a much better place to begin than anything on the Strip.”

Pure aesthetics aren’t the only considerations being made by the design team. “”These spaces are all about bringing people together to share special moments,” Dachs, the theater consultant, said. “If a room can’t quite help do that, it has failed. It’s actually literally shaping the room to accommodate the performances that will take place onstage.”

Martin concurred. “[It’s an opportunity] to give people in our community not only the chance to build something, but to build something special,” he said.

The three panelists were charismatic and the information they gleefully doled out was fascinating. How do you insulate a concert hall against the sounds of a nearby railroad? Well, you stick it on a three-foot slab of concrete, Scarbrough said. Oh, and there’s another foot-thick slab in the ceiling for the same purpose. No big deal.

The Smith Center will include two buildings and three separate performances spaces. It will be the first LEED-certified performing arts center of its size. The exterior of the building will be sided in Indiana limestone, the same off-white substance used for the capital building. Each star dressing room has a window to the outside, ensuring natural light. The seating in the hall will follow a “stacked” design so each seat isn’t excessively far from the stage. For balconies, this necessitates a special warped construction that still optimizes acoustics and sight-lines for the upper levels. Sound-reflective surfaces selected explicitly for this purpose will exemplify audial quality as well.

Other concessions had to be made based on the unique environment of Las Vegas. The ideal humidity for a concert hall, for example, is about 40 percent. However, as Scarbough pointed out, intentionally injecting Vegas air with that much moisture would create a dank, unappealing feel for patrons. Instead, designers restricted absorptive surfaces in the hall and installed an automated door system that can “bleed” sound off should the need arise.

It’s really difficult not to be excited about something like this. Having a space designed to attract artists of exceptional quality is an incredibly positive step, and not just for the sake of entertainment. Betsy Fretwell, the city manager of Las Vegas, spoke briefly about the connection between the Smith Center and the continual efforts to revitalize the downtown precinct of the city.

“A lot of people really don’t realize that redevelopment is job creation,” she said. “That really means economic development, jobs and value for our community. Symphony Park is already changing the skyline of downtown.”

For more information on the Smith Center, visit the Symphony Park website here. For further stats and photos, check out an article here from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

New York City Ballet is concerned with birds other than just swans, it turns out. The company has recently been paying a lot of attention to a little blue bird that tweets. Devin Alberda, a member of the NYCB’s corps de ballet, used his Twitter account in a way that raised administrative concerns, and a potential social media policy is now included in ongoing contact negotiations between the company and the American Guild of Musical Artists, the dancers’ union. Boston Ballet is considering a similar deal.

For any of you social media junkies out there, these issues of privacy versus transparency probably ring true. So what do you tweet about? Do pre-workout snacks or post-party escapades make the list? Do you think company directors or administrative execs should be able to issue guidelines about ethical Twitter use? I want to hear about it! Leave comments below, or (and you had to see this coming) hit me up on Twitter @lvdanceinsider.

Want to read more? Find the rest of the story from The Wall Street Journal here.

Nevada Ballet Theatre, alongside dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, produced “The Tried and True and the New” on March 4, 5 and 6 at Artemus W. Ham Hall. True to its name, the concert included original works by George Balanchine, enthralling modern dance classics and the world premiere of an arresting new ballet by James Canfield.

Timeless choreography to Gaetano Donizetti’s “Variations” was an auspicious start to the performance. The company, clad in in pastel pinks and magentas, executed the demanding steps well and did justice to the notorious (and sometimes notoriously nasty) choreography of Balanchine. Although changements en pointe are not enjoyable things to execute, Allisa Dale managed to perform them not only proficiently but gleefully, which is a feat in and of itself. Grigori Arakelyan pulled off the same trick with traveling pirouettes, consecutive tours and the like. They are difficult steps, and the audience knows it. The artistry comes in when the dancers can perform them effortlessly.

The corps was captivating in its cohesiveness, lending the intricate choreography a sense of stability but remaining interesting throughout the piece. Musicality was undeniable; several sections showcased counterpoints, with one group placing an accent on the downbeat and another group doing the same on an upbeat. Too often, the results of this are muddy and incoherent. In this case, this was sleight of hand at its finest: it surprised the audience and was neatly concluded before spectators had fully come to grips with what had just happened. The effect was delightful.

The straightforward unison sections were another high point in the variations. Watching Dale step gallantly in front of a corps of polished ballerinas executing nit-picky steps in sync was a thrilling and revitalizing experience, and one that is not easily accomplished. This also justifies the longevity and persistence of Balanchine’s work.

“A Song For You,” choreographed by Alvin Ailey and danced by Matthew Rushing, followed “Variations” and was both a shift and a continuation. Horton may not be classical ballet, but the presence, control and quality of movement remained the same. The modern energy, underscored by dramatic lighting changes, brought dimension to the show from the beginning and left the audience ready to clap at a moment’s notice. Rushing obliged with attenuated lines and committed stillness, completing the number with a bow of undeniable sincerity.

In the second act, NBT divested itself of classical sensibilities and followed through with Rushing’s trajectory. “Still,” accompanied by live music and choreographed by NBT’s Canfield, was an unpredictable foray into a world that was intriguing in its strangeness. Mary LaCroix, who partnered with Arakelyan, seemed to be enamored with the experience herself, maturely escorting onlookers through this foreign, unfamiliar thing. Arakelyan was strong and understated in the pas de deux work, which was utterly contemporary. The tasteful lighting, almost Victorian set and fabulously embellished music completed the emprise.

Rushing joined Clifton Brown, also of Alvin Ailey, for a duet from “Concerto Six Twenty-Two,” choreographed by Lar Lubovitch and performed to a track by Wolfgang Mozart. The men mirrored each other with incredibly synchronization for much of the piece, synthesizing a tranquillity that could hardly have been more pleasant. The white costuming was classic Ailey and the blue wash of the lighting created an ethereal, spectral quality. Nearly flawless technique was the cherry on top.

“At the Border,” the final piece, was a crown jewel set in a concert of differences. The number was choreographed by Matthew Neenan and was an NBT company premier in this performance series (it was originally performed by Pennsylvania Ballet.) This represents a propitious step for the company for a number of reasons. The piece was made possible by the Jerome Robbins Foundation as part of the New Essential Works (NEW) program through the same, which gives second-tier companies a chance to develop and perform works of exceptional quality. (Canfield acknowledged this graciously during intermission, expressing gratitude to NEW program director Damian Woetzel.)

Forget the Balanchine. As a company, NBT absolutely sparkled in “At the Border,” filling a bare stage with insouciant energy, arcing jumps and far-flung limbs. Vitality radiated from the red- and blue-clad dancers and proved that, while they are fully capable of Balanchine classics, perhaps a contemporary groove is more fitting. Athleticism stood stoically beside technique and showcased the group at its finest.

For more information about Nevada Ballet Theatre and upcoming performances, check out their website here. Find an article on the Jerome Robbins Foundation’s NEW program here.

Las Vegas burlesque met Nickelodeon’s “Double Dare” on March 1 at FreeZONE, and it was was a pairing that has a lot of potential. “Burlesque the Game Show,” organized by Miss Miranda Glamour and Nomi Malone, featured striptease performances interspersed with less-than-wholesome games and challenges for audience members. Prizes, and surprises, abounded.

Lou Lou Roxy

Lou Lou Roxy guested in the show as well, twirling a purple spiral-emblazoned umbrella and hypnotizing the audience with classic variety show vibes. In the latter half of the show, Roxy sprouted feathers and molted clothes, eliciting cat calls and tips. Nomi Malone also performed a number en pointe to Across the Sky’s “First Love Song,” which had been seen previously at February’s “Burly-Q Revue.” Despite a shoe malfunction and a stage that left plenty to be desired, the piece was well-received.

Stage kitten Rosa and audience member

Stage kittens Rosa and Porcelain Vanity assisted Glamour with such games as “Treasure Chest,” involving throwing Mardi Gras beads down a stage kitten’s shirt and “Milking It,” where liquid had to be squeezed through pinholes poked in the fingers of latex gloves. The festivities continued with “X Marks the …” well, I won’t print that here, but it rhymes with “spot” and is probably the most adult version of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” that I’ve ever seen. The show ended with two audience members clad in ponchos of protection, diving face-first into bowls of whipped cream in search of three elusive cherries.

Winning contestants received a $50 gift card to The Rack and two tickets, redeemable for any show, to the Onyx Theatre.

Glamour and Malone are natural hosts, using brassy jokes and strong improv skills to cover minor holes in the show. Although turnout was modest and contestants had a habit of wondering off between rounds, the “Burlesque the Game Show” represents a good addition to the burlesque scene in Las Vegas. Momentum and an established reputation should also be helpful to subsequent performances.

For your chance to win, hustle on down to FreeZONE the first Tuesday of each month. Enjoy the photos below in the meantime.

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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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For dancers, first dance classes often make the same list as first kisses and the instance when shoe-tying suddenly made sense. It’s unfamiliar at first, but nothing can show you what you’re getting into like, well, just trying it out. Once you learn how it works, it stops becoming such a point of interest in your life and the memory of that magical beginning gets fuzzy around the edges.

Nikki Villoria, a local journalist and and blogger, decided to investigate the noble art of dance first-hand by taking classes ranging from tango to line-dancing to cardio jam. She’s made a mission to learn as many styles as possible in the next few months, one two-step at a time.

So while you may not remember what your first dance class was like, Villoria sure does, and she’s blogging about it. Check out her commentary here and remind yourself of how you fell in love with this crazy thing in the first place.