The viral video clip of seven-year-olds in booty shorts dancing to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” has, if nothing else, raised the question about how quickly the children of today are gravitating toward adulthood.
This reverse Peter Pan-ism was evident not only on Youtube but during the Las Vegas Academy’s spring dance performance as well. Despite the cast of more than 200 teenagers, personality, playfulness and the timelessness of high school was distinctly lacking.
Replacing it instead was a Disney-does-gloom-and-doom vibe, accompanied by subject matter more suitable to a generation concerned with adjustable-rate mortgages, not prom dates.
The show, performed at the Las Vegas Academy (LVA) Performing Arts Center on May 21 and 22, was the spring showcase for the school, with 13 numbers and two acts that fell gracefully within an hour and a half. Extensive rehearsal time was evident in the synchronization. Staging and lighting mostly enhanced the performance.
However, diversity in composition was an issue and the audience was often left with the peculiar sensation that these kids could do more than the choreography was allowing.
A reminder of the professional aspirations of the LVA students and staff came early.
Before the show, Jeneane Huggins, chairperson for the dance department, emphasized the importance of not calling out individual names during a piece on the basis that this potentially distracts the dancer. She continued that this could also equate the concert to a dance competition which, ostensibly, LVA performances are not.
This competition-style dance was peeking through anyway, represented by applause-generating turns in second and the ever-famous heel stretch.
Granted, these movements looked considerably better on this ensemble of performers than it would on others, but added up to the equivalent of asking a smartphone to communicate through binary code. It is, quite simply, over-qualified.
Another striking aspect of the concert was the number of dancers onstage; at a time when young adults are working to find their own voices, individual features were sparse and truncated.
A piece in the first act titled “Let Me Introduce Myself” featured music by the artist Linkin Park seemed especially age-appropriate. The choreography was centered around the action of the performers peeling off layers of black clothes to reveal the colored leotards, and personalities, underneath.
Ultimately, the piece had too many dancers in the ensemble and, ironically, not enough freedom for the individuals themselves.
It was evident that some truly talented performers were onstage, but the moments of eye-catching personality were few. There is strength in numbers, but there is also strength in standing out and the choreographers at LVA would do well to remember that.
It is possible that choreographers had their hands tied; the pieces were cast based on class level and there might be a stipulation that every class member must perform or that no dancer be obviously singled out. However, if the latter is indeed the case, this seems like a counter-intuitive approach to training students that will soon be entering a world where soloists abound and principal positions are coveted.
Despite casting and competition-style choreography, the LVA showcase scored well in the lyrical and contemporary jazz department.
“Edge of Darkness,” another lyrical piece in the second act, also briefly satisfied the audience’s craving for dancers by themselves with a fleeting pas de deux, performed well in the short time allotted. Fluent staging patterns emphasized LVA’s strength of well-rehearsed timing and enlivened some of the clichéd choreography.
The lack of stylistic breadth was evident in “A Play-Date with Janet,” which featured music by Janet Jackson. Strangely, jazz choreography dominated during “Rhythm Nation” and “Feedback,” two of Jackson’s tracks with iconic hip-hop choreography.
The piece needed more grit, fewer ponytails and stronger funk, although the dancers did well with the choreography and life-experience they had. Like walking in Mom’s high-heels, it would probably get better with time and practice.
The lone ballet piece in the show seemed rudimentary and exemplified a lack of truly classical technique. It was staged in such a way that some of these deficiencies were hidden, but the dark lacquer of the music seemed ridiculous on such young performers.
Potential for cute character pieces lurked in several numbers.“On the Other Side of the Circus,” a caricature of circus life, would have made an interesting parody in a Cirque-ridden town had it been developed more fully. However, there was little connection between the choreography and the story being told in the music, resulting in a disjointed piece.
A few things stand to LVA’s credit: the technique of the dancers was consistent and consistently higher than it might be elsewhere. The well-oiled nature of stage blocking painted the picture of many diligent rehearsal hours, although engaging the audience seemed to be a trying task.
Several graduating seniors were also relocating to prestigious college programs (with not a single one going to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to major in dance. I’ll let you ponder that.)
Overall, the audience was left with the impression of strong performers being limited by unimaginative choreography and a simultaneous race through adolescence, which made the showcase somewhat bittersweet.
14-year-olds trying to be 20 dominated both stage and audience and, along with the first-grade “Single Ladies,” served as a reminder that the childhood and teenage years are best relished, not rushed.