Brave New NBT

Ballet company aims season finale at building a wider audience

Photo: Sarah Feldberg

A roomful of slender women in leotards and flowing skirts rehearses the moves of a ballet, bodies struggling to arch and dip, according to the stager’s wishes. Brows fold in concentration, and mouths transform from smile to taut determination to the occasional grimace of frustration.

“I don’t think pretty; I think power,” chides that stager, Maiqui Manosa, pausing the music as a dancer bends too gently into a move from Lambarena, a ballet by choreographer Val Caniparoli scheduled to be featured in the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s American Masters season finale April 10 and 11 at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall. Lambarena melds the classical sounds of Johann Sebastian Bach with African chanting and drumbeats, and the same cultural weaving is mirrored in the dancers’ forceful yet elegant movements.

Inside the dancers' studio

Were this a scene from a movie, our protagonist would be one of the dancers—struggling with her weight, her feet and a director who simply doesn’t understand her passion for hip-hop. But in Las Vegas at this particularly trying time, the star underdog is the Nevada Ballet Theatre itself, struggling to entice new audiences into its seats and renew interest in local ballet in the midst of the economic hailstorm.

“New” and “young” are the keywords being bandied about the NBT’s airy headquarters in Summerlin—as in, younger audiences and new ticket-holders. Nevada Ballet wants them—needs them, in fact—after a tumultuous start to 2009, which saw innovative choreographer James Canfield appointed artistic director only to be forced to lay off nine of 31 dancers and postpone May’s intended season finale (New Works ’09) to meet budget shortfalls. Ticket sales, contributions, academy tuition and special events, all important revenue streams for Nevada Ballet, are down. So generating a new, younger audience has become an elevated priority for the 37-year-old company, one NBT hopes will be advanced by the distinctly contemporary program of American Masters.

“I wanted to balance out what would be entertaining, educational, sophisticated and then, on the flip side, would enlighten people’s spirits,” Canfield says of choosing the numbers for Masters. The program comprises five ballets, three of which were choreographed by Canfield and two of which will feature guest dancers from the New York City Ballet: Albert Evans, Sebastien Marcovici and renowned ballerina Wendy Whelan, whom Canfield describes as “one of the most unprecedented ballerinas of our time.” (All three visiting dancers were underwritten by a donor, Nevada Ballet spokeswoman Jenn Kratochwill is quick to point out.)


Nevada Ballet Theatre's American Masters
April 10 and 11, Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday 2 p.m.
Artemus Hall at UNLV
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Nevada Ballet Theatre displays some fancy footwork (4/8/09)

Still, the elite dancers’ names are unlikely to attract the new and young. The cost of the evening might, however. Tickets are available for as little as $10, the same price as most movie tickets around the Valley.

“Clearly, we’re all struggling, but we are down to a $10 ticket,” Canfield says. “Not to sound desperate, but we want people to know that this is an important event. If you’ve never thought ballet is for you, this really will be something for everybody.”

Rounding out the program, which closes with Lambarena, are: Liturgy and After the Rain, two Arvo Pärt-scored pas de deux to be performed by Whelan and one visiting male dancer apiece; Neon Glass Pas de Deux, Canfield’s ballet set to the music of Philip Glass and originally staged with Dale Chihuly’s internationally revered blown-glass creations; and Up, Canfield’s inviting opener performed to seven different renditions of the song “Blue Moon.” Sounds like “new” and “young” have found their way onto the stage, at least. Even the costumes for American Masters offer a counterpoint to stereotypical ballet-wear. As Kratochwill puts it, “There are no tu-tus.”

Photo of Sarah Feldberg

Sarah Feldberg

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