“The audience brings the imagination, and the artist brings the stimulant to release the audience’s aesthetic vision.”
–Alwin Nikolaïs & Murray Louis
For a three-day period, the center of West Coast dance was not San Francisco, not Portland or Seattle, but Las Vegas.
This past weekend, new choreography by experienced and fledgling dance-makers debuted at two separate events in the Valley. Friday and Saturday, the College of Southern Nevada performed its Fall Dance Concert, and on Sunday, Nevada Ballet Theatre and Cirque du Soleil combined their considerable talents in a Choreographers’ Showcase.
At CSN, choreographer Kelly Roth is the driving force behind the dance groups. With a small budget and inexperienced talent pool, Roth has become skilled at producing good shows with few resources by inspiring commitment and enthusiasm in his student dancers.
The CSN fall program included two revivals and two new works. In “Blantonic Variations,” to music by Las Vegas composer Walter Blanton, secure work from Ryan Bondhus and Alison Marsh explored the intricate music, while catching its urban vibe.
The standout, though, was the premiere of “Adieu au Gâteau” (“Farewell to the Cake”), a look at the French aristocracy at the start of the Reign of Terror. Roth and Allie Lincoln did justice to the poignant material, and Las Vegas Philharmonic members Dee Ann Letourneau (violin) and Mary Trimble (viola), in costume and onstage for the entire work, accompanied the dancers. Part mythological (Pygmalion and Galatea) and part historical, the dance concisely revealed the personal and political illusions that led to the collapse of the ruling class brought on by the French Revolution. The deceptively light and kinky work, though abstract and nonlinear, presented a clear narrative. In 10–15 minutes, it covered the same material as the film Dangerous Liaisons, and did it better.
The theme of aristocracy run amok offered an effective lead-in to the final work on the program—the revival of Roth’s 1997 “Wisdom”—a well-crafted dance-theater look at the absurdity of the British royal family, the cult of celebrity and other events that occurred during the year of Princess Diana’s death.
Across town on Sunday, NBT, in partnership with Cirque du Soleil, presented a program of new works choreographed by members of NBT and the various Cirque companies. NBT Artistic Director Bruce Steivel cultivates new choreographers, understanding that they are the future of dance in Las Vegas. Thanks to the vision of the Cirque organization and Tom Mikulich, president of TI, the choreographers from both groups had the luxury of a first-rate venue and all the technical support imaginable.
NBT’s Krista Charnea Baker in “Within the Silence” demonstrated a gift for corps choreography; she kept her dance constantly moving forward, breaking up the corps work with short solos, duets and trios, then brought everyone back together for a satisfying conclusion. Working with a smaller group, Zeb Nole of NBT took the prize for most creative use of music in “Blues in Orbit.” Who knew that Miles Davis and Duke Ellington could be the foundation for a folk-infused deconstruction of Rite of Spring?
From Cirque, Yanelis Brooks (Mystère) produced the sexually charged crowd-pleasing duet “Show Me Your Hands,” which she performed with fellow Cirque member Pepe Muñoz (Zumanity)—nothing too deep here, it was just plain hot. Fellow Cirque choreographer Gail Gilbert closed the show with “How and Near” to original music by KÀ conductor Richard Oberacker. A lively piece, it offered KÀ’s Noriko Takahashi the opportunity to prove that she is an engaging dancer as well as a world-champion baton twirler.
NBT fans know Racheal Hummel-Nole as an intelligent and engaging performer, and she brings these qualities to her choreography. In “Another Lonely Day,” an examination of personal relationships, she used her wide step vocabulary and mastery of the nuts and bolts of partner work to capture the audience. Hummel-Nole understands that lifts need to look good from all sides, and that coming down is just as important as going up; she also understands that “abstract” does not mean “unclear” and kept the narrative flowing throughout the intricate piece.
As is usual for a showcase, some of the pieces demonstrated how new some choreographers were to the process—corps dances often moved from static pose to static pose, some lifts included awkward angles, and occasionally a dance ran out of choreographic energy before the end. There were also some missteps in the costuming—including an overuse of short-pants/unitards, which make all the dancers look thigh-heavy, and the regretful Cirque tendency to raid the J.C. Penney men’s underwear department for tighty-whiteys.
While the technical prowess and production values of the NBT/Cirque performance might have exceeded that of CSN, each program presented innovative choreographic and artistic visions that featured dancers with a clear commitment to the new works. Most important, both programs showed that, although high production values can add to a theatrical experience, it is the dancers and their commitment to the art that make the show.
Fall Dance Concert
November 30, December 1
CSN Dance Department
CSN Horn Theatre
Nevada Ballet Theatre, Cirque du Soleil
Mystere Theatre, TI