Meet the dancers

Gail Gilbert
Photo: Lois Greenfield

A decade old and still going strong, or at least still going, the annual Dance in the Desert festival celebrates dance entertainment that doesn't come wrapped in feathers and sequins with a Barry Manilow soundtrack. While troupes come from all over the western U.S., some of the most exciting performances will be by performers from right here in Las Vegas. Meet some of Dance in the Deserts local talent.

Company name: Gail Gilbert Dance Ensemble

Director: Gail Gilbert

What they will be performing: I’m working with a special piece of music that was done especially for me by a local composer here in town, Derek Jones. The dance is called About Time and is performed by four women.

Style of dance: modern. Does a lot of experimenting.

Company name: Saving Grace

Director: Solinea Isbell

Year formed: 2002, 2nd year at festival

Dance styles: ballet, jazz and modern

What they will be performing: "Between the Lines," a ballet that enacts a storyline about the dichotomy of how people see themselves on the outside and how they are craving to be in the inside. It’s inspired by the idea that we are not really alone even though we feel alone sometimes; how we are all in this together. The second piece is "My Will," a series of duets that are in reference to finding yourself through what Christians believe to be God's will. If we make the right choices we can be one and be at peace.

About Saving Grace dance company: We are all professional dancers who get together once a week. No one gets paid. It's a way to keep up our art form in Las Vegas. We started off in a church where we would do interpretative dances to songs sung at church. We evolved from there. The message is about finding yourself, healing and hope. At Christmas time we are going to gather other groups to perform with us and donate the profits to Safenest, a local domestic abuse shelter for women.

What inspires you about dance: I've always been a dancer. It's my way of communicating best. We all have a way of communicating best, whether it's in the corporate world, writing or singing. This is the way that we give our best back to the world. Using my body and using music together is where I communicate best. All the members of Saving Grace feel the same way. We love to move to music and communicate that way.

Where you've seen her: I've danced and sang in Jubilee and performed in Le Cage at the Riviera. I've been a character artist and a performer artist and a gondolier at the Venetian.

Company name: Westwood Dancers

Director: Marko Westwood

Year formed: 1998, 10th year at the festival.

Dance styles: Contemporary and modern, but within this framework I do a variety of things. I'm constantly experimenting in the contemporary world with different genres and I try to never do the same thing twice in a row.

What they will be performing: Three pieces. One is a contemporary piece called "Sh-ts and Giggles" that is for the fun of the movement. Sometimes you should just look at movement and just be glad that you can get up in the morning and walk. Dance because you can dance. Don't worry about anything else but having a good time.

Another is called "Battle Cries" and is a mix of African, modern and hip-hop (afro-mod-hop). It's grounded, earthy and tribal. The third is called "Back into the Fold" and is a contemporary piece done to Celtic music and is done with three stools that rotate and we use them as our dance partners.

On Kyla, the founder of Dance in the Desert, who was hit by a drunk driver: They are going to have a dedication for her after the Saturday night performances - a video presentation and they are going to give her a dance award, a DAFFY. We are all very much indebted to Kyla's dedication and desire to promote the art of dance. Every year I say how happy I am that it was started because without it, what would we do? Probably wind up dancing in some poor parking lot.

What do you like about the festival: I think the greatest aspect of the festival in its entirety over the last decade is how it gives artists like myself the opportunity to present new work. Sadly, our attendance has never been abundant, but whoever gets to attend the festival gets the chance to see local artists and artists from Utah, California and Arizona. It brings art to the valley, which we desperately need. I remember my first time at the festival, it was at a matinee with Kyla, there were 20 people in the audience in a theater with 300 seats. I was like, “Oh man, there's got to be more people out there!”

Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater

Company name: Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater

Founder: Bernard Gaddis

Year formed: 2007. 4th year at the festival.

What they will be performing: A duet called Love and Stillness about a couple who come to a crossroads in their relationship and have to decide whether to continue on or to go their separate ways. Performed by Jaclyn Pagone and Chaz Glunk.

Favorite thing about the festival: It’s great to see dancers from all over coming together and supporting one another. The artistic organizations here are so few and they are not getting the credit they deserve. So I feel like we have to help each other and lift one another up in order to make art a bigger thing here in Las Vegas.

What inspires you about dance: I’ve been dancing for almost 27 years and I’ve gone through many genres of dance. I was a principal for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York. I love the ability to make people feel without speaking, the joy of just moving and experiencing the feeling of abandonment on stage. It helps you become free.

Company name: Coppola Tap Ensemble

Founder: Anthony Coppola

Year formed: 2007. 2nd year at festival.

What they will be performing: Three short pieces, all very different: Latin tap dance, a lyrical tap dance and a specialty rhythm piece.

How you know him: UNLV dance department faculty and runs dance program at the Henderson International School

Company name: Rupa Modern Dance Company

Founder: Debra Lacey

What she will be performing: World premiere of a duet piece, Twisted; Within.

What inspires her to dance: I've been dancing since I was five, so it’s been a part of my life since I can remember. I'm a technician of dance and I believe the technique of the dance leads a dancer or the artist in expressing the emotions and the truth of what they’re trying to communicate with their body. That challenge of refining myself to be able to communicate with my body is what keeps me active in this field.

What she likes about the festival: I like the collaborative aspect of it, meeting new lighting designers and technicians and other dancers. It’s really a wonderful venue for all these talents to come together to share their inspiration and have the collective force. It's a rare opportunity.


Jennifer Grafiada

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