Category: @ Insurgo Bastard Theater

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.”

Nutcrackers are creaking to life all over the city, trailed by sugarplum fairies and tragicomedy clowns alike. Nevada Ballet Theatre’s classic production is holding down the fort for the ballet purists while Insurgo Theater continues its tradition of a postmodern stage show at the Plaza.

NBT’s expansive, pointe shoe-clad cast will be debuting at Paris Las Vegas on Dec. 17 for an extended 10-show run. This year’s production is choreographed by Ballet Idaho’s artistic director Peter Anastos, hailed for his light-hearted choreography and whimsy. The show features more than 100 roles for children and the full pantheon of Nutcracker royalty from the sugar-coated Land of Sweets. (For a review of last year’s “Nutcracker,” follow the link here.)

Update, Dec. 20: Click here to read Julia Osborne’s review of NBT’s “Nutcracker” on the Las Vegas Review-Journal website.

Ticket prices range from around $38 to about $131 and matinee and evening performances are available. For more information and to reserve tickets, click here or call 702-946-4567.

Insurgo is turning tradition on its head in typical indie-theater style. “The Insurgo Nutcracker,” now in its third year, will run from Dec. 19 through Jan. 7 on the third floor of the Plaza Hotel and Casino downtown. This year’s iteration will incorporate new characters with a cast of the tried and true. The performance will feature dancer and actor Michelle Meyer and actress and vocalist Melanie Ash, with actor Brandon Oliver Jones as the titular Nutcracker.

Running time for the Insurgo show is about 40 minutes and it’s suitable for adults and offspring alike. Tickets are $15 plus taxes and fees and sponsored tickets for families in need are available. For more details about tickets and venue, visit the show’s event page here. (A review of last year’s show is available here.)

Happy holidays from the Las Vegas Dance Insider! May your heads be filled with visions of sugarplums, or dumpster-diving Samuel Beckett-style traicomedy clowns, or whatever. Cheers!

Insurgo Theater specializes in improv, but Marko Westwood proved on Feb. 2 that he’s not so bad at it, either. When an elderly couple that lives below Westwood had their rent money stolen, Westwood organized a last-minute benefit concert to keep the couple from being evicted.

“THANKS,” a concert featuring dancers from Westwood’s Repertory Dance Theater and performers from the Insurgo troupe, was the result. Tickets were $10 at the door and a donation box was made available on Insurgo’s homepage with the goal of collecting the $400 minimum payment.

All told, the effort was reciprocated with $820.

"Twelfth Night," Insurgo Theater Movement

Considering the short notice, the cohesion in the show was impressive. Insurgo kicked in several scenes from their erotic Shakespeare rendition called “Twelfth Night,” which was a wise plug for current and upcoming shows. Other improv skits from their “Improvious Bastards” series illuminated the breadth and talent of the performers and were fantastically funny to watch.

Dance numbers made up about a quarter of the show. “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” previously performed in a show at the Onyx in January, made an appearance and featured Serena Bartholomew and Petrina Olson. Olson also performed “Gravity,” a contemporary number full of lyrical swings and falls. Marko and Megan Westwood performed “Always/again,” an amazingly poignant study in dependence and separation. “Inner Sanctum on the Outside of My Sleeve,” by Jewel Racquel, centered around a red plywood cube and concluded the show in appropriate avant garde fashion.

Mick Axelrod performed several installments of “Wordsplay,” a charismatic and literary riff on the oh-so-eloquent English language — think rap, 17th-century style. The acts were both lexically aloof and conversational, an interesting juxtaposition that made them quite enjoyable. Ava Galore’s vocals were excellent as well in “Wherever He Ain’t,” a strong character number backed by a voice that can’t be knocked. Geo Nikols lip-synced to “Billie Jean” and graciously kept the program from getting too serious.

Quirky comedy was well represented and well received. Sam Craner performed “The Date,” a skit about a man preparing a candle-lit dinner when his date cancels at the last minute. Rosalie Miletich Ellis and Dave Surrate took the cake for acts that induced a head-tip, a wrinkled brow and a laugh. “The Interview” took place between an interviewer and a potential employee, who would spontaneously switch into canine mode and bark and growl at the interviewer. The doggie-style skit was just barely on this side of palatable, which is, of course, exactly how Insurgo likes it.

So despite the short notice and the hodge-podge program, the show was a success in more ways than one. Perhaps Westwood and the Insurgo gang should produce impromptu concerts more often. They certainly have a knack for it.

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Of all of the diverse and meaningful words in the English language, there are a few that carry with them a particular sense of purpose.”Thanks” is one of them, along with it’s close siblings, the lesser-used “you’re welcome” and the perhaps over-used “I’m sorry.” “Help” would also make the cut, but for slightly different reasons: it entails more vulnerability than the others and it entails a call to action.

Dance director Marko Westwood lives above an elderly couple whose rent money was recently stolen. The two are facing an immediate payment of $400 with more due later and eviction if they cannot pay. Westwood and the performers in Nevada Repertory Dance Theater, his company, have teamed up with the folks at Insurgo to produce a concert whose proceeds will directly benefit this couple.

The show will be at Insurgo’s Bastard Theater on Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $10 cash at the door. To make a donation directly to the couple online, visit the Insurgo homepage. Either way, they will thank you.

What do two clowns, a nutcracker doll and a rock version of Tchaikovsky’s “Sugarplum Fairy” theme have in common? They were all part of the “Nutcracker” vignette that took place from Dec. 17-19 and 21-22 at the Insurgo Bastard Theater.

A cast of three (Sandy Stein, Breon Jenay and Michelle Meyer) presented the 45-minute show in wordless, exaggerated and, indeed, comical style. The crew (Geo Nikols, Daneal Doerr, Brandon Jones and director John Benae) ran the tech side of the show smoothly.

No bones were made about this being classically-inspired; a few of the key story elements stayed the same, but the vast majority of it was a product of the minds at Insurgo. It was a very comgenial compromise: if we’re only allowed to have one holiday ballet, making it clown-ridden, unorthodox and avante garde was a welcome change.

Based on a simple story, the plot followed two hard-bitten but endearing characters, a man and a girl he discovered in a dumpster, living on the streets. A boom-box, circa 1980, cranked out music while each danced in turn, trying to one-up the other and proffering a hat hopefully at the end of each routine.

Before long, both characters had bedded down in blue twilight and the girl set about exploring the man’s camp. A heavy-metal version of the familiar “Sugarplum” theme heralded the arrival of a nutcracker doll that the girl pulled out of the dumpster in the corner. The classic child-falling-in-love-with-a-toy story commenced.

Eventually, the man disappeared offstage and took the doll with him, leaving a hysterical girl begging alone. When a pack of rats (but no, not the Rat Pack) invaded the camp, a fully alive nutcracker bounded out of the dumpster and came to her rescue, also bearing a small tree, gifts, long tangles of wrapping paper and a shoebox of snow.

After the nutcracker heel-clicked leprechaun-style to a few of the original Tchaikovsky variations, the girl fell asleep to the lullaby of the “Arabian” theme and the nutcracker disappeared back into the dumpster. The girl woke up, alone once again, and the rats, like any persistent villains, returned shortly thereafter.

The epic battle between the nutcracker the the mouse king took place in one of the most action-packed areas of the set: the dumpster. As in the ballet, the nutcracker vanquished over the rodent and tragicomedy-clown-fantasy sanity was restored. After a moment of silent suspense, the man emerged from the dumpster with the nutcracker doll in hand, much to the delight of the girl.

What the story lacked in depth was absolutely made up for by vivid characters. Stein and Jenay both did an exceptional job with no lines to speak of (or to speak at all, actually) and the show was nonetheless enlivened by their gregarious acting.

There was no party scene, no Kingdom of Snow and no Land of Sweets populated by gumdrops and marzipan. However, Insurgo’s take on the Christmas classic is a valid addition to the holiday scene in Las Vegas. After all, if we an call hookers on the Strip dressed up as Santa festive, then “A Nutcracker: a tragicomedy clown fantasy” can certainly be included.

For ticket information, visit or call (702) 771-7331. Bring canned goods for $1 off the ticket price per can, up to five per ticket.

Insurgo's promo image for the performance

A dance performance, choreographically centered around chairs, was performed in a small theater in the heart of Las Vegas.

I know what you’re thinking.

Think again.

Jenna Wurtzberger debuted her first full-length modern showcase at Insurgo’s Bastard Theater on Sept. 23. Titled “The Crowded Chair,” the  hour-long show made use of the theater’s sparse interior and local-artsy vibe.

It also proved that, despite having an idea that could turn into a boring, cliched performance, 23-year-olds can do some pretty impressive things.

Wurtzberger is a UNLV graduate who holds a degree each in dance and psychology. Her college connection was evident in her casting choices: dancers Ashley Wilkerson, Katie Duffy, Alex Lum, Cheryl Snow, Sandra Sherer, Kim Weller, Michael Coleman and Zack Davis are  also students at the university.

Despite this influence, Wurtzberger sidestepped some of the most common college dance pot-holes. The show lasted for just under an hour and had no intermission, and, despite the small cast, necessary pauses for costume changes were mercifully brief.

More abstractly, “The Crowded Chair” was serious without being somber and thought-provoking without being overindulgent.

Instead, the show provided a fluid story with enough space for the audience to fill out themselves. The music was also a boon–light piano was underscored by brooding instrumentals and strong percussion added an almost hip-hop feel.

In the spirit of many progressive dance shows, the audience was mystified shortly after entering the house. Every member of the cast was sitting in a randomly-positioned chair onstage, looking bored or stone-faced and moving only occasionally.

The show began with the dancers still onstage. By the end of the piece, each performer had taken the focus briefly, dancing a quick solo before suspending their chair somewhere on the set and exiting. The absolute stillness from the other artists onstage added to the ambiance, and those moments of waiting to see which dancer would move next were some of the best in the show.

The concept of tension was redolent throughout.  This brought to mind the complex interplay  in relationships, either between a couple (as in “Finding the Contrast,” a desperate and pleading number), a  trio (“Keeping the Koy” and “(I)”), between one and many (“Why,” performed in silence) or in the solitude of only one (“Pain of Truth.”)

Unison wasn’t a strong point and (as per Insurgo’s usual), lighting wasn’t spectacular.

However, the choreography was distinctly modern but not contemporary, which seems to be an increasingly endangered characteristic  nowadays. The nuances of each piece varied to fit the dancers, which exemplifed the small cast and fortified the artistic maturity of the choreographer.

Beyond technique, the willingness to take risks shone through the entire show, making it a refreshing alternative to multimillion dollar productions elsewhere. This flying-leap tendency gave “The Crowded Chair” an edginess that made it well-suited to Insurgo and, for that matter, a young and ambitious choreographer.

In another collaborate performance dubbed “1230 Clownshow,” Molodi partnered with a several clowns (not 1,230–sorry), a couple mimes and a guy in a banana suit to put on an impressive and truly funny variety show. View details about the comedy show here, and read a review about one of the performances here.

And, as promised, feast your eyeballs on some exclusive photos. The images are also available as a Flickr set.

Note: the show covered by April Corbin (author of the review above) differed slightly from the one reported here. If we had seen the same one, there would most definitely be pictures of scantily-clad gold dudes stacked on top of each other on this site.

Trust me.