Tag Archive: jazz

What do these four companies have in common? They performed together in “An Unprecedented Event,” a collaborative concert tribute to the late, great Robert Joffrey.

The show was hosted by Nevada Ballet Theatre at UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall on Oct. 15 – 17.

It was wonderfully unpredictable and unspeakable gorgeous.

Interested in reading more? Check out my mild-mannered alter ego on the website for The Rebel Yell, the official student newspaper for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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In a flurry of flexed feet and out-of-the-box-ness, the Las Vegas Academy produced their annual fall dance concert on Oct. 15 and 16 at the LVA Performing Arts Center on East Clark Ave.

If they had been graded on improvement from their show earlier this year, they would be graduating with honors at the end of the year.

Most of them, anyway. A few hitches still existed and many of these few were due to choreographic choices. The structure of the pieces  was consistently better overall, but a number of cliches ran rampant.

Square, obvious  turns in second smack-dab in the middle of a piece are bad enough on competition stages. Do you really have to have 30 dancers stop dead in a concert and whip out fouettes en masse?

Some choreographers at LVA would tell you, with no small measure of certainty, that yes, you do.

Retro choreo aside, many pieces stood out as forward-thinking, either in subtle ways or big ones.


"Citrus Glow"


“Citrus Glow,” the opening number choreographed by Kristine Keppel, was an endearing experience reminiscent, somehow, of Jason Reitman’s 2007 film “Juno.” Carefree energy coupled with the natural buoyancy of high school made this piece heart-warmingly age-appropriate. The movement was a smooth mix of the sincerity and silliness, with cart-wheels, pantomimes of jump-rope and stints of ring-around-the-rosie. Personality was everywhere.

“Be Present,” also by Keppel, demonstrated the depth of what can be accomplished with a larger corps. Although bigger numbers of performers can sometimes be inhibiting to the clarity of a piece, Keppel’s cohesive themes  provided structure. The men at the school were also showcased well.

A few Easter eggs of novelty pieces interspersed the show and were few enough to be enjoyed. “Don’t Eat What They Are Feeding You,” by Jeneane Huggins, and “Are You Out or Are You In?” by Karen Turnabull were good examples.


"Don't Eat What They Are Feeding You"


“Don’t Eat What They Are Feeding You,” in the first act, pivoted on each performer’s set of spoons. Small, soup-size ones in the beginning were soon outclassed entirely by spoons that were 2/3 the height of the dancers. The props were used creatively (with lots of digging and stirring involved) and the piece was surprisingly serious.

Turnbull’s “Are You Out or Are You In” began with strips of black-lights laid on the apron of the stage. This was coupled with the white-striped sleeves and socks of the costumes, which produced a cool glowing effect that limited choreography only occasionally.

Later in the piece, each of the performers in the piece had a medium-sized cardboard box surrounding his or her middle. These boxes came on and off throughout, ending with one lone soul high-stepping around all the boxed bipeds around her.


"What Is Life Worth Living For?"


Maturity is a precious thing in young adults and this quality shone through in two pieces in particular. “Touched,” by Kristine Keppel, and “What is Life Worth Living For?” by Jeneane Huggins and the E2 company, were both at the end of the show, illustrating what youthful energy can build up to.

Partnering was present in each both pieces, and this served two purposes: it singled out individuals from a sometimes overwhelmingly large corps and it gave the audience a chance to watch the performers connect one-on-one. The intimacy between the couples was touching and sincere and the maturity was undeniable.

Other pieces were enjoyable for different reasons.

“Thanks for the Memories,” choreographed by Lisa Lazenby, had a club beat,  in-your-face energy and sassy guitar, which was a good fit for the teenagers. “The Disappeared,” by Karen Tunbull, was a sexy, playful number to a song not unlike something heard from the Beach Boys. Chiptune transitions and quirky head-bobs lent some funk.

Thomas DiSabato’s “Lifeforce” had a fizzy effervescence to it and was highly visual. The choreographer has branched out from his usual as well, exploring a more soft-core contemporary that suited the ethereal nature of the piece.

A few of the more irritating moments came in “Walk Away,” also by DiSabato, and Lisa Lazenby’s “The Ageless Dream.” Straight technique certainly has its place, but come on now. These kids can do much more than square chasses.

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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.