Category: Inside opinion: show reviews

Performers showcased a fuller Fosse flavor in "Sing, Sing, Sing," which closed the concert.

A small, sultry cast slunk onstage to some spectacular renditions of Bob Fosse’s work in “Take Off with Us,” a benefit directed and choreographed by Cirque’s Giulio Scatola and presented by RagTag Entertainment. The Ovation theater at Green Valley Ranch played host and, while the production elements were understated by Las Vegas standards, the show didn’t need them. The performers delivered tasteful and tantalizing sensuality, coupled in most cases with grand stage presence. All of this made the $15 ticket price a stellar value.

Leads Traci Kesisian and Savannah Smith were knockouts; their full, emotional voices bore the show along effortlessly. Scatola’s choreography also did them justice, as they both neatly sidestepped the old paradigm of singers who don’t dance. Kesisian and Smith held their own with the ensemble of dancers backing them, propelled by compelling command of the stage.

The rundown of “Take Off with Us” was short, sweet and sassy. Dancers Claudia Cervenka, Erin Marie Sullivan, Kady Kay, Rochelle Wolfe, Caitlin Cray Shea and Tenile Pritchard demonstrated great versatility, switching between the lovely, lilting “Take Off with Us” opener and the coy, snappy “Bye Bye Blackbird.” “Blackbird” especially was svelte and feminine and played well to the audience.

“Big Spender,” another predictably dance-y number, featured the entire cast and resisted any precious ambiance, opting for gritty authenticity instead. Beautiful girls cat-calling to guys across a bar is a familiar scene in Las Vegas, but the girls’ playfulness garnished the number with laughs.

They gotcha! Traci Kesisian, flanked by Claudia Cervenka (left) and Erin Marie Sullivan, made it clear that these performers aren't playin'.

Smith’s and Kesisian’s vocal solos well placed in the program. Smith began the show with “Take Off with Us” and, later, “All that Jazz,” seamlessly switching keys and showing off her delightful belt. Kesisian’s voice hearkened back to the edginess of Gwen Verdon, a point she underscored beautifully in the up-tempo “I Gotcha” and “Mein Herr.”

The due shone in “Class,” “Nowadays” and “Life is a Bowl of Cherries.” Their professionalism was clear, and their enjoyment bled into the audience throughout the show. Arles Estes bears mentioning as well, as his arrangements of “Take Off with Us” and “Cherries” were just the right degree of smooth and snazzy. Kesisian and Smith’s dance break in “Nowadays” was also excellent, rife with jazz hands and Charlestons.

Individuals in the ensemble, equally hard to forget, made their voices heard in “Cell Block Tango,” perhaps the most personality-filled number in the show. Each performer delivered a snide monologue about doing away with lying, cheating men, and the audience was roaring by the end of the act.

“Sing, Sing, Sing,” the traditional Fosse closer if there ever was one, wrapped up the concert. The performers were decked in fringe and glitter and their swishing costumes added an audible element to the Fosse-filled finale. Jazz hands, pigeon toes and distinctive, attenuated lines gave a final tip of the fedora to the show’s inspiration.

One final performance of “Take Off with Us” is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Green Valley Ranch. (Doors open at 7 p.m.) Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at the door, but arrive early, as the house fills fast. Proceeds benefit Golden Rainbow, an organization assisting those living with HIV and AIDS.

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Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater opened its arms to the community for its fifth season and debuted new company members during two free concerts on Feb. 10 and 11. “An Evening of Dance” and “An Afternoon of Dance,” performed at the West Las Vegas Library Theatre on Lake Mead Boulevard, were also appropriately timed for African American History Month, a fitting gesture from the diverse company.

The show itself encompassed a breadth of genres and ended on an audience favorite, a dynamic piece by artistic director Bernard Gaddis called “Ebony Suites.” Think of Twyla Tharp’s contemporary ballets, rife with strong characters and intertwining story lines — and fabulous dancing, of course.

Christina Taylor, a new member of LVCDT, began the piece with a soulful and dignified solo to “Grandma’s Hands,” a rich and heartfelt track. Eddie Otero continued the tale with “Ain’t no Sunshine,” something of a signature piece for him, which was evident in the enthusiastic response from the audience.

Marie-Joe Tabet and Christopher McKenzie, spicy and silky-smooth in equal measure, brought a lovely fire to the number. The two toyed with each other, sidling up and sauntering away in an elaborate and engaging emotional display. McKenzie, another new LVCDT dancer, performed Gaddis’ former role well, capitalizing on the Ailey-esque choreography with his viscous smoothness.

In an antithesis to the dramatic duet, Antoine Banks-Sullivan and Erin Christiansen-Moya swooped in with a candy-sweet pas de deux to the timeless “At Last.” The light-hearted chemistry and polished choreography suited the couple well. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” a raucous and grooving good time performed by the whole “Ebony” gang, wrapped up the suite. (The cast changed slightly between the two shows, with Roman Pantoja, Nadjana Chandra and Lindsey Hashiguchi swinging in for Saturday’s program.)

“Dreamtime,” a cerebral piece by Elisa Monte, explored the aboriginal Australian idea that spirits vacate people’s bodies at night. The number used mirroring and counterpoint judiciously to create a nice sense of duality, and the fluid staging suited the dynamic movement. Tabet, emanating an air of regality, stood out as alacritous and commanding. Intriguingly lit from the side, “Dreamtime” was a contemporary step right up LVCDT’s alley.

“Bata” began the show with percussive style and a red-lit stage. West African undulations twined around Horton lines, underscoring the strong energy and swaying hips of the company. Some of the unison choreography was a little questionable, but the audience members made it clear that this didn’t bother them a whit.

Overall, the pacing of the show was decent, although two intermissions made the program a bit lengthy. Taylor, McKenzie and Caine Keenan, newcomers to the company, fit in well with the other dancers and brought unique artistic vibes of their own. Gaddis made an appearance in a button-down and slacks for this show and explained that he’ll be dancing less with the company, although his high-spirited introduction of his dancers made it clear that his commitment level to the company hasn’t shifted much.

LVCDT will be setting foot (or feet, as it were) onstage at the Smith Center in May.

If fat babies with bows and arrows aren’t enough to remind you of the heart-happy holiday that’s coming up, then another Vegas tradition should. Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, a mainstay in the arts scene in the city, is offering two free concerts on Feb. 10 and 11, just in time for both Valentine’s Day and African American History Month. (Diversity is an integral part of the company’s mission statement.)

“An Evening of Dance” begins at 7 p.m. on Feb. 10 and “An Afternoon of Dance” is at 1 p.m. on Feb. 11. Both shows are at the West Las Vegas Library Theatre at 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd. Come early, because general admission means that good seats fill fast. For a review of last year’s show, follow the link here.

Photo by John Beane

Insurgo Theater Movement debuted a new version of what is becoming a classic tragicomedy clown “Nutcracker” Dec. 19-Jan. 7 at the Plaza, this year including two glib, flightless birds as protagonists.

The show opens witha a strategically lit set made of plastic, draped and stapled to the back of the stage. A frosty, arctic climate is the setting, as it turns out; a white stage and two waddling penguins (Michelle Meyer and Melanie Ash) confirm the locale.

Comical exchanges between the birds comprise the bulk of the show, but it is no less poignant because of this. Sweetness abounds, and the appearance of a dashingly dressed — and superbly acted — Nutcracker (Brandon Oliver Jones) provides yet another avenue for wordless warm fuzzies.

The plot itself is Insurgo nuance at its best. A Nutcracker mysteriously appears in an enormous gift-wrapped box and decks out a chilly set with Christmas cheer. Penguins cavort, Santa’s jolly offstage presence is implied and, especially for an offbeat production, the show ends optimistically.

However, stealthily woven throughout the plot is a thread of references to such issues as overfishing and ocean pollution. Suffice it to say that a hungry penguin gnawing on a plastic bottle isn’t 100 percent funny, and it probably wasn’t intended to be. It’s clear that director John Beane and assistant director Daneal Doerr have some big topics on their minds, but this does little to dampen the whimsy of the show.

From a choreographic standpoint, “The Insurgo Nutcracker” is spot-on. Clutzy, cuddling penguins carom around the small stage, bumbling into each other, the  Nutcracker and various inanimate objects. The effect is darling and makes for  most entertaining versions of “Nutcracker” classics like “Waltz of the Flowers” and the snow scene from George Balanchine’s original. And with a 40-minute running time, the production is accessible to all but the most staunch of Scrooges.

Needless to say, this might not make the list for balletomanes. However, for the rest of us, “The Insurgo Nutcracker” warrants recognition as a holiday tradition in the making. Sugarplum is nice, but until you’ve seen a pique-turning penguin in a tutu, you have yet to witness the full embodiment of “sweet.”

Nevada Ballet Theatre crowned its year of milestones on Dec. 17-24 with a version of the “Nutcracker” that was a sweet sip of tradition and contemporary creativity. This year, the company turned 40, the “Nutcracker” tradition turned 30 and this year marked NBT’s third year performing at Paris Las Vegas. Don’t let the long history fool you, though. Artistic director James Canfield’s partnerships with choreographers like Ballet Idaho’s Peter Anastos contributes to the progressive feel of classic works like “The Nutcracker.”

Anastos was the choreographic brain behind this year’s production and his whimsical movement, while not vintage “Nutcracker,” somehow suited the Las Vegas aura. Holly Madison of “Peepshow” at Planet Hollywood also had a brief cameo in a matinee performance. Balletomanes might be cringing, but it’s hard to argue with something that makes a classical ballet more approachable to a wide audience.

As a whole, the ballet fit the bill as a sugary-sweet holiday confection. Warm pantomime set the scene in the first act, with children carrying garlands and gifts madly dashing around decked-out adults. An air of geniality mantled the party scene and the exuberant academy students lent a rosy glow.

Marcus Bugler as Herr Drosselmeyer was wisely cast; his effervescent animation of the magician was infectious as he ushered the children and the plot along. Josue Calderon and Betsy Lucas as Fritz and Clara, respectively, embodied bubbly excitement admirably. The brief pas de deux between Clara and Preston Swovelin’s Nutcracker Doll in the first act was delightfully sweet and sincere.

Leigh Hartley’s Ballerina Doll would have been the perfect object of a young girl’s affection, blowing kisses and tottering about. The Mouse Doll, danced by Ariel Triunfo, was spunky and precise, eliciting laughs from the audience in short order. The battle scene, populated as it was by munchkins in mice costumes, continued the adorable ambience.

The Snow King and Queen, danced by Grigori Arakelyan and Leigh Hartley, amplified the dreamlike nature of Anastos’ choreography. Hartley’s airy suspension suited the role, although the multitude of partnered penches left the audience with an inkling that Hartley could do more — with one of her exemplary side extensions, perhaps. Nonetheless, the delicately falling snow was another Las Vegas Easter egg and the frosty royalty, accompanied by flurries of Snowflakes, concluded the first act well.

The Kingdom of Sweets, enchanting as it is, was further exemplified by Anastos’ playful choreography. Sarah Fuhrman’s pert Sugarplum and Amy Von Handorf’s Arabian variation stood out as especially fresh, and Jeremy Bannon-Neches as a grandiose Cavalier was a strong complement. While purists might dispute the contemporary riffs, the modifications were refreshing for a ballet with such tenure. Zachary Hartley was outstanding in an unorthodox, one-man Russian variation, wowing the audience with robust displays of double fans, coffee grinders and high-flying leaps.

Alissa Dale’s Dewdrop Fairy flounced delicately with a company of flowers in the iconic waltz, the length of which was offset by the activity that remained at a nice simmer. The Spanish chocolate was full of spice and sass and the reed flutes number was a gilded and candy-sweet affair. The bright and chipper Chinese tea number and NBT’s signature saltwater taffy sailors rounded out the act in fanciful style.

Overall, NBT and Peter Anastos seem to be a good match. Perhaps the biggest tragedy in the show was the lack of live music, especially in a city that is full of more-than qualified musicians.

Beyond the holidays, though, Canfield’s willingness to experiment bodes well for a company that will soon have large slippers to fill. In May, the company will be stepping into a theater at the Smith Center that will seat more than 2,000 people, which is a daunting prospect for any regional company. However, NBT seems well positioned to make this transition, and being backed by the Las Vegas Philharmonic (also at the Smith Center) likely won’t hurt either.

UNLV dance department students descended upon the studio theater Nov. 17-19 for this semester’s student choreography concert. Hands met feet. Shoes were put on, then taken off again. The usual unitards were replaced with bra tops and tights and a measure of head-tip-eliciting content was well represented. And there was a rodent on a leash.

Hands, meet feet. Now, run!

“Hands Meet Feet,” the titular piece for the show, was exactly what it sounds like. Choreographer Margot Mink Colbert, one of the faculty in the department, had her dancers clamping onto their own (and other people’s) lower appendages and trying to walk, roll and otherwise flail about the stage. The name of the piece was actually a nonverbal symbol from the Labanotation system, which is a type of writing system used to record choreography in incredible detail.

The piece was cerebral and postmodern and the quirkiness was enjoyable. A ferret, inserted seemingly last-minute at the end of the piece (on a leash and properly supervised, I should add) embodied the nature of the piece: strange, but cute. But still strange.

“Code Simulations” (or “Stimulations,” in part of the program, which was probably a mistake but quite funny anyway) was a multifaceted piece by Michael Coleman. A gritty edge and some punchy choreography paired well with the electronic feel. Mood shifts drew thoughts of a circuit-breaker or switchboard and the interlacing movement completed the motif.

Krista Caskie’s “Synthetic Consciousness”  had a similar theme. Dancers Alex Lum and Summer Reece, both encased in different colored unitards, executed intriguing partnering. Technicians should also be lauded here, as the number was compelling from visuals alone.

Alien shapes and stark silhouettes made Krista Caskie's "Synthetic Consciousness" visually interesting

“Hope,” by Nichole Reyes, was a straightforward swirl of tulle and tenacity. The dancers seemed more aware of the audience, peering out from the stage emotionally. Jennie Carroll’s “Through the Space” was multidirectional and had a similar effect. The bounding, wiggling movement combined with curious faces and bright strings in the soundtrack was worth cracking a smile for. The choreography was nicely musical and different enough to be interesting.

Novelty made an appearance, as it is wont to do in college dance shows. “Hound,” choreographed and danced by Jaleesa Staten, centered on a television tuned to static downstage and an angst-filled, disrobing dancer with a mystifying inner monologue. RJ Hughes’ “Music Box Boundaries” was more conventional, with tulle-garbed performers breaking out of respective boxes, only to be sucked back into them during the coda. Hughes added some swag to the familiar storyline, which kept the predictable ending from being too painful.

Mirrors added another dimension to Bakalas' piece

“I Am …” with choreography by Amanda Bakalas, used three mirrors positioned upstage, facing the audience, to convey the journey of three different relationships. Love, loss and breakups abounded and the piece ended on an exasperated note, with the dancers seeming to fight against the reflections.

Alex Lum’s “Fresh Kicks” furthered the vein of poignancy with his anticonsumer, anticonformist message. A hop hop beat backed Avree Walker as he donned a pair of Nikes, the $100, pop culture status symbol. An army of masked Nike-wearers coalesced behind him, creepily infiltrating Walker’s happy-go-lucky vibe. Eventually, the shoes came off and, as you might have guessed, Walker walked free. Like Hughes’ piece, the strong execution of the number mitigated an over-hashed theme.

“Sojourner,” Vikki Baltimore-Dale’s jazz contribution, had a masculine, tribal energy and was more visually accessible than other pieces in the show. Hillary Gibson’s “Celebracion de Movimiento,” which ended the show, was similarly straightforward. “Here I Am, There I Go … Once Again” by Jesus Nanci was balletic and doleful, although the source of the somber notes remained obscured.

In a broad sense, this could be said for much of the show. Blossoms of inventiveness peeked through the concert, but it seems that college dance will always be college dance, with graduation deferred indefinitely.

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Nevada Ballet Theatre and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago joined forces for a concert of counterpoints on Oct. 29 and 30 at Paris Las Vegas. The companies, directed by James Canfield and Glenn Edgerton, respectively, offset each other nicely in classical and contemporary works and the house was commendably full for Halloween weekend.

The stage at Paris played host to dichotomous pieces: NBT began the show with George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” appropriately styled with a sparse stage and stark white costumes. Hubbard Street’s “Too Beaucoup” comprised what Canfield and Edgerton both called an antithesis, captivating in its contemporary isolations and deep, black stage. (If you’re paying attention, yes, the floor was switched — twice, from white marley to black and back again. The wait for each was less than ideal but certainly acceptable given the circumstances.)

The juxtaposition was nice. NBT did well with Balanchine’s choreography; the unforgivably symmetrical staging was well executed and the dancers were musically in tune enough to do well by Mr. B. The natural dynamism of the piece glimmered through, although a touch more personality from individual dancers would have been the cherry on top. Demetria Schioldager, a creature of elastic arabesques, partnered well with Grigori Arakelyan and added some quiet composure to the busy number. It wasn’t all graceful extensions, though, as a number of choreographed slides added an element of Balanchinian derring-do.

Hubbard Street’s “Too Beaucoup” was, as the name implies, nearly too much indeed. Choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar set some fantastic movement to music by Ori Lichtik and the effect was other-worldly. Watching the piece was something akin to staring at a double-jointed dancer cracked out on caffeine moving in ridiculous ways with a strobe-light in the background.

The quality of movement was foreign and intriguing, with the odd quad pirouette or split layout thrown in for kicks. The visual cacophony, designed to explore the nature of individuals functioning within a larger system, seemed to warrant a quiet rest and a sip of water for mentally overstretched audience members. Kylian’s artistic statement was well established, although the piece probably could have ended 10 minutes earlier and had just as much impact. The audience response, however, was explosive.

“Petit Mort,” another Hubbard work choreographed by Jiri Kylian of Nederlands Dans Theater, was a beautiful step in a more classical direction. The piece was full of attenuated limbs and twining partnering, hoop skirts, kinetic physicality and swords. The fencing foils even served as impromptu dance partners and added, forgive me, an edge. The movement was enthralling, punctuated by the snick of swords, and comical in turn. There is something quite funny, after all, in a dancer that suddenly zips out from behind the free-standing hoop skirt and bodice you thought she was wearing.

NBT’s “Cinq Gnossiennes” was a poignant meditation on the nature of relationships set to Erik Satie’s nuanced piano accompaniment, performed by Carol Rich. Canfield’s contemporary choreography melded well with the company’s classical technique and the mesh allowed a broader spectrum of emotion to sift through. The lighting accentuated this, shifting with each movement but maintaining the core theme. It was a lovely and affecting set to watch.

“Up,” NBT’s suite of variations to different renditions of Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon,” served as a sweet, if somewhat anticlimactic, finale. The mood swung from cute and pink to blue and jazzy to whimsical, exuberant and sexy. It’s difficult not to appreciate the creativity spawned from a single motif, although audiences without a predilection for the tune might be out of luck.

Despite the nearly three-hour running time, “Dance Dance Dance!” was a lively and varied program. Classical ballet and Chicago jazz mixed well at the hands of Canfield and Edgerton, partners in crime whose shennanigans date back to their days in the Joffrey company together. This amiable relationship was obvious throughout the show. Perhaps, a year from now, Hubbard Street and NBT will be bumping elbows in Reynolds Hall at the Smith Center.