Company members from Nevada Ballet Theatre are stepping into the role of choreography to explore the artistic potential of fairytale worlds. “Beyond Words and Text” is an endeavor into the unexpected and, largely, the unexplored. While “Sleeping Beauty” is a ballet classic, there is hardly a Tchaikovsky version of “The Scarlet Letter.” NBT is changing that, one variation at a time.
Artistic director James Canfield introduced the project at the top of the show, saying that the choreographers were given specific parameters within which to operate. Each chose a fairytale, fable or work of literature to explore through dance and fellow company members performed the variations at NBT’s Summerlin studio.
One of the most interesting and enjoyable parts of the show was at the end of each piece, when the choreographer would explain why they chose the story they did and what their artistic objective was. In the performance I saw last week, choreographers Jeremy Bannon-Neches, Kalin Morrow, Sarah Fuhrman, Anthony Paparelli and Barrington Lohr were insightful and verbose and it was obvious that they had researched and examined the ideas behind the pieces they were creating.
The results were wonderful. Bannon-Neches drew in literature right away with “Amadeus,” based on the rivalry between composers Antonio Salieri and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The piece was literal but not pandering and the characters established by the dancers were easy to relate to, giving the number the potential to educate without alienating.
Fuhrman also adopted an erudite air with an aggressive, intense vignette on “The Scarlet Letter.” The movement was as expansive emotionally as it was physically and added considerable excitement to the tale normally relegated to the dismal realm of “required reading.” Music played a role in this also, shifting from a movie-score feel to Gary Jules’ “Mad World.” Choices like this speckled the show with a contemporary sheen and made classical ballet more accessible to those unfamiliar with it.
Morrow, Paparelli and Lohr gravitated in another direction, each choosing a story that most children are familiar with beginning at an early age. “The Jungle Book,” a modern-tainted, earthy feeling variation by Lohr, closed the show with a delicate ferocity that would have given Disney’s “The Lion King” a run for its money. Paparelli ambitiously recreated a scene from “Sleeping Beauty,” reinvented with a panther-like Maleficent and sensual fairies. Seeing classically trained dancers performing such contemporary movement was a welcome treat the performers’ mature presence only added to this.
“The Red Balloon” was the subject of Morrow’s choreographic musings. Precise choreography twined around the dancers while a helium-filled balloon bobbed along, the happy companion to a lonely child. Although the original story ends on a light-hearted note, Morrow said she decided to linger on the moment when the balloon is popped and the boy faces the difficulties of growing up. There is bravery in such an ending and the piece certainly benefited from it.
Canfield spoke briefly about the potential these variations have as new full-length works and the performance possibilities afforded by the Smith Center, slated to open in 2012. Mostly, though, Canfield played the part of the overjoyed parent, chastising dancers for their modesty and happily listing accomplishments of individual performers and the company as a whole. “I am so proud that we have such strong voices in choreography,” he said at the beginning of the concert. “It is our responsibility to keep those alive.”
“Beyond Words and Text” is running on select days of the week until April 17, with one of two separate programs being performed. (There are nine variations; each show will include four or five of them.) For tickets and additional information, visit NBT’s website here.