Contemporary West Dance Theatre Triumphs Again

(Saturday Feb 7, 2018 at Charleston Heights Arts Center, Las Vegas.)

Contemporary West Dance Theatre blazed back into the hearts and minds of Las Vegas in their inspired performance at the Grand Re-Opening of the Charleston Heights Arts Center.

This dance group brings the highest level of dance performance to the intimate stages of Las Vegas, time after soaring time. Their performances are singularly breath-taking and awe-inspiring.  The physicality evidenced in each moment of movement proves that superhumans do walk among us. Their performances are not simply dance; they are art on a cellular and existential level, art that has the power to rewire tech-overloaded brains to absorb the wonder and miracle of movement expression. Contemporary West rescues and resurrects our yearning and humanity.

Contemporary West

“Dreamtime” was a standout piece. Haunting in both movement and lighting, it pulsed with a techno-musical base, overlaid by sinewy, robotic, explosive, and utterly unique movement vocabulary that evoked both primitive and sophisticated stages of human prehistory.   Suffused with a primeval energy that brimmed with primal emotions of fear, desperation, and stoicism, the dancers moved as a flock or nimble herd — perfectly in synch, yet without interaction. Raptor and bird-like animal movement interwrapped with the artifice and control of hieroglyphic-style body profiles and poses. Wild, untamed hair and tattered animal-skin body coverings crafted an aboriginal presence.  “Dreamtime” is a timeless, astounding work of art.

“Take 5” brought us back to the 20th Century, dropping us into the middle of a steamy 1950s,  rock-and-roll/Motown youth culture. With the ladies in print dresses, and the men in suspenders and fedora hats, this period piece explored the highs, lows, and fickleness of romantic flirtation and passions. It was a upbeat, slightly gritty study of youthful lust and impetuousness. The dancers demonstrated full investment in their characters, never allowing a second to go by without embodying individual emotion. “Take 5” satisfyingly told the story of modern men and women weaving their ways through intense social interactions, and the losses and wins inherent in the process.

Contemporary West’s ballet-length pieces are a balm to the tech-weary soul, healing food for screen-strained eyes. The perfection of technique and performance quality of the dancers is extraordinary. This company is a veritable living treasure of Las Vegas.

Also of Note: Charleston Height Arts Center is a newly-remodeled community arts center, hosting classes in dance and arts, an art gallery, big band dances, and a beautiful, intimate proscenium theatre. Having anchored the Las Vegas arts scene since its opening 40 years ago, The Charleston Heights Arts Center continues to house and nurture the performing arts. Watch for performances scheduled there; they are chosen carefully by the staff ,and always of excellent quality. You’ll fall in love with the arts all over again!

Audience: All Ages

Rating: A++++++++

Lighting & Sound: A+++

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Spirited Cast Whisks Us “Into the Woods”

High energy suffused every character and moment during opening night of Broadway Bound’s “Into the Woods”. This company of teen actors continued its legacy of thespian quality far exceeding the apparent age and experience of each cast member, and delivered a polished product of near professional level. into-the-woods-2

The company’s performance obviously reflects the knowledgeable guidance of its adult production team: Michael Vojvodich (director), Alex Cheney (musical director), Ashley Oblad (choreographer). The quality of the vocalists surprised and delighted from the first moment and through the entire show. The singing and acting brought Sondheim’s music and Lapine’s book to vivid life, memorably impressing every audience member— exemplified by the youngsters gamboling around the courtyard in circles during intermission, gleefully singing “Into the woods! Into the woods!” A production that brings such immediate joy to even the youngest audience members is truly a gift to the community.

Production values rivaled anything seen in Las Vegas. Costumes were chosen and styled to perfection. Wigs were bold and symbolic; prosthetics were excellent. The sets were visually magnificent: the opening set was minimalistic, using a variety of textures to aptly indicate various locales; the main set featured a fantastic backdrop as well as lush, dark, yet luminous sets. The staging was effective and clear. Choreography fit the style, mood, and story line.

into-the-woodsIndividual performances were very enjoyable. Each character exuded such vivaciousness, focus, and commitment that it was easy to get swept away in the story and mood. The quiet moments were touching. Each actor was charming and engaging. Comedic timing was sharp and sophisticated, using silence and delays to great effect.  Of special mention was the comedy of the angry, prodding witch, the princes, and the Narrator; and Cinderella’s vocals.

The overall sense of jubilance, fun, and snappy timing in this show will delight attendees of all ages and backgrounds.

Audience: all ages

Rating: A

Dance in the Desert 2015: A Delicious Buffet of Modern Dance

The 17th Annual Dance in the Desert is a scrumptious buffet of elite dance companies showcasing classic modern and artistic dance. Multiple dance companies from around the region and country are gathering at Summerlin Library Performing Arts Center this weekend to share their repertoire with Las Vegas.

Opening night was a hearty offering of traditional modern dance mixed with contemporary and fusion styles. This is a classic dance festival, with the focus on choreography and the dancers—a clean, bare, set-less stage with intense lighting, minimal backdrops, and simply great dancing.

Fixed Perfection, Shadows was an iconic number. It began with a solo dancer, bound in a straight jacket, who repeated verbal phrases frequently heard in dance classes that urge dancers to kick higher, work harder, dance more perfectly. The soloist’s ramblings built into a frenzy, until she screamed “I have to be perfect! Somebody tell me I’m perfect!” Her monologue completely captured the repetition and torture and pressure that dancers endure for their art, and the implanted neuroticism that urges them on while sometimes becoming their undoing. Self-loathing perfectionism amidst all the created beauty. The cruel truth is—a dancer can never be perfect. Beauty, Insanity. Dance.

"Interactions" by MAC & Company
“Interactions” by MAC & Company

 Wright Noise featured strong lines and formations, with an almost military feel in its attack and discipline. An EKG-style design, projected behind the dancers, imparted a pulse-like undercurrent to the number, mirroring the urgency of the movement.

"The Eve Complex" by Dulce Dance Company
“The Eve Complex” by Dulce Dance Company

Silent told a tragic story of a woman wrongfully imprisoned told through lyrical, heart-felt choreography,

“Sanitas” by Kelly Roth & Dancers

Kelly Roth’s Sanitas was a brightly-lit narrative with clever partnering, live violinist and pianist, and a joyful feel.

 Wind: 3 by 2 featured 3 duets with entrancing interaction and chemistry between the partners. This sweet, flowing number had intricate partnering that was mesmerizing.

“Def.i.(d)ance” by JarricoDance

 

The closing number, Def.i(d)ance was perfectly placed in the program. 7 dancers in plain black 2-piece outfits brought heavy-hitting rhythms and choreography to the stage. Both the movement and music had a tribal feel, with a hip hop edge and attack. Defiance was the defining emotion. This number was a feast for the senses and left the audience cheering. A perfect, strong, rollicking ending to the night.

With free admission and an intimate, comfortable venue, this dance festival is a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered by arts-lovers in Las Vegas. If you want a taste of New York-style modern dance, here it is. Las Vegas is very lucky to have Dance in the Desert.

Rating: A+

Audience: all ages

Creeptastic Kookiness Abounds in “Addams Family”

An outstanding, unforgettable, and thoroughly enjoyable showing of The Addams Family” exploded on the beautifully-appointed stage of the Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center. Opening night of the Broadway Bound production burst out of the opening gate with hilarity, dazzling vocal talent, snappy dialogue, stunning sets, and costume perfection. One might never guess the tender age of the cast, based on their talent and remarkable performances. They truly lived up to the name of the company, exhibiting the skills and moxie that just might take them all the way to The Big Apple. (And if not, Las Vegas would be lucky to have them as part of our burgeoning theatre stable)

Broadway Bound's "Addams Family" at Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center.
Broadway Bound’s “Addams Family” at Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center.

Many of the actors turned in striking performances. Gomez (Jackson Langford) was riveting in his accent, mannerisms, timing, and expression. His was a must-see performance, for any theatre-goer in the Valley. Morticia Addams (Suzanne Fife) exuded languid sultriness. Wednesday Addams (Rachel Martinez) deadpanned her crack-up lines with pure commitment. Uncle Fester (Andy Lawell) gamboled with the glee of the ghoulish uncle. Lurch (Alix Locke-Wells) delivered his guttural assertions with underplayed sublimity. Grandma Addams (Sierra Gregg) impressively adopted severely geriatric posture and diction.

Multiple group dance numbers featured swirling, effective formations and uncluttered choreography. The ensemble performed the diverse choreography confidently and cleanly.   A tango number was sharp, stylish, and dramatic. Both in the scenes and dance numbers, there were many terrific photo moments that provoked an itch to pull out a camera and snap away. The book was delightful, brimming with gratifying character development, and breezily addressed perennial topics such as the meaning of life, love, and relationships.

One of the many memorable moments of Broadway Bound's "Addams Family" at Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center.
One of the many memorable moments of Broadway Bound’s “Addams Family” at Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center.

The show was great fun, spooktacularly entertaining, and first-rate in production value.

Not. To. Be. Missed.

Rating: A++

Audience: All ages.

Yoomi Lee Voted Best Ballerina in Las Vegas

Congratulations to Yoomi Lee of Las Vegas Ballet Company for being voted “Best Ballerina” of 2013 in Las Vegas by readers of Desert Companion Magazine!

Her elegance has graced the stages of Las Vegas for more than a dozen years, and brought the love of ballet to countless students at Kwak Ballet Academy. Having written about Lee and her husband in a previous blog, it is a pleasure to congratulate her on her well-deserved recognition by the community!

Yoomi Lee and Kydong Kwok
Yoomi Lee and Kyodong Kwak

Jubilee! Could Have Been Saved by Better Marketing

Now that Bally’s Jubilee! has been officially shuttered for the next month to update and change unspecified portions of the show, questions still abound about what prompted this decision of Caesars Entertainment to give up on the last gem of the golden age of Las Vegas showgirl production shows.

In a cynical sense, change in Las Vegas entertainment is always driven by one thing: money. Shows were originally mounted in casinos to attract, retain and reward gamblers. It’s only logical that if Caesars felt changes must be made to Jubilee! it was because the show was not generating enough money.  Since the show was paid off decades ago, and the performers are paid the least of any performers on the Strip, the lack of profit must primarily be due to lack of ticket sales.

Jubilee! Finale Jewel Box
It’s that hard to market and sell tickets to THIS!?!! Gimme a break.

Jubilee! is as beautiful and gorgeous as at any time in its 33-year history; wardrobe legends Donna Shad London and Marius Ignadiou have done extraordinary work in preserving the condition of these decades-old costumes. The gorgeousness and retro-quality of the show would be any Las Vegas marketer’s dream because of its uniqueness, high production quality, and historical value. The show should be raking in the money.

So, if the show is aesthetically spectacular, with a world-class talented cast, and is the last jewel of an era that millions pine for, why is it not selling?

In marketing terms, it’s not selling because the target audience is not being reached or influenced. In public relations terms, it’s not selling because it hasn’t been branded effectively.

Looked at with a non-insider’s eye, marketing and PR efforts lack some important components:

  • There are no social media channels for Jubilee!.
    • There is no active official Facebook page for Jubilee! There is a Facebook page entitled “Jubilee! at Bally’s Las Vegas”, but it has no posts, and so appears unused.  9,448 people have visited the page (that’s 9,448 people out of 40 million Las Vegas visitors each year), but there is no indication how many likes it has.  There is no impetus for anyone to “like” this page, as it appears inactive.  So, there is no active Jubilee! page on Facebook for audience members to “like” or follow.  Therefore, there are no daily posts showing up on followers’ Facebook pages to remind them of the gorgeous show, which is the whole idea of social media in marketing.
    • “The Pulse of Las Vegas”, Caesars’ Facebook page, occasionally posts about Jubilee! special appearances, but does not promote the show or describe it.
    • There are no Jubilee! Instagram or Twitter accounts — no other social media that is easily found by Internet surfers.  There are no links on the Bally’s website entertainment page to any social media.

Dear Caesar’s PR/marketing team,

Facebook and social media are free advertising.

Sincerely,

Everyone on planet Earth.

  • There are no Jubilee! souvenirs or t-shirts on sale. From a marketing view, souvenirs and t-shirts are one of the most popular items for tourists, and one of the most effective ways to spread the word about the show in distant parts of the country and world.  A show-goer has no memento of the Jubilee! experience, and therefore, it fades in his memory as soon as another experience creates a more immediate memory. If a show-goer had a t-shirt or desk souvenir that could be worn or displayed in the weeks after the show, the memory of the show would be rekindled, the show-goer would likely tell others about it, and maybe make plans to return again. Word-of-mouth would be created, and the show-goer’s friends might put Jubilee! on their lists of things to do in Las Vegas. Nothing (i.e. no souvenirs) leads to nothing, unfortunately.
  • There are no programs. This abolishes any chance of audience members bonding with the cast and show, as programs give information, stories, and up-close images that people relate to and remember. Another lost marketing opportunity.
  • There are no billboards of Jubilee! around town, only two on Bally’s own marquee, and even that is reduced from the previous three. If you are driving eastbound on Flamingo, you see no advertisement for Jubilee! on the Bally’s marquee. There were many years when Jubilee! did not even do taxi cab banners.
  • There are no local TV commercials for the show that this writer has seen, as a member of a moderate TV-watching public.
  • Jubilee! is listed at the bottom of the entertainment show page on  Bally’s website, below every other entertainment offering at Bally’s.  It is listed AFTER “Tony & Tina’s Wedding”, (which isn’t even running); below once-a-week shows “Dancing Just Like the Stars” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”; and below a singer who imitates other singers and doesn’t even have a national name in the US.  Any PR or marketing person knows that website viewers tend not to scroll to the bottom of pages. So by pushing Jubilee! to the bottom of the page, they are burying it beneath imitators, not-open shows, and once-a-week, low-production knockoffs. This is not the way to promote a multimillion-dollar, world-class show.
  • Jubilee! has made some recent guest appearances on TV talk shows, which is great PR placement. Guess how most of us found out they had happened? Social media postings by the cast.

This lack of, refusal to implement, or ignorance of modern and effective promotional techniques leaves people who care about Jubilee! feeling one thing: that Jubilee! has been abandoned by Caesars.

Jubilee! Opening Act
Hundreds of Beautiful Girls. This could go viral! Oh, wait, it’s not on social media.

Caesars has the amazing opportunity — nay, the responsibility — to keep Las Vegas showgirls alive in the mind and awareness of the public, if they want it to sell tickets. Caesars has a virtual lock on the Las Vegas showgirl – they basically own the brand, as no other show has classic Vegas showgirls wearing $3,000 Bob Mackie costumes. How they have not seen this as an opportunity to take over the image and make it work for them is beyond the comprehension of outside PR professionals. It’s a tragically lost opportunity, in marketing, sales, and to lovers of classic Las Vegas entertainment.

Dear Caesars Marketing/PR Team,

Many people love to see gorgeous, gifted, topless dancers draped in glittering rhinestones tell a story through dance.  So, please let us know that you still have them on stage.

Sincerely,

Everyone in the world

By bringing in the choreographer of a current hip hop/pop celebrity to revamp the show, it seems apparent that Caesars is targeting the Millennial generation as preferred audience members. Which is fine – although it ignores the fact that many Millennials have never learned to appreciate full-length live theatre or elegant performances; they only know Youtube videos and Pussycat Dolls (although Dancing With the Stars is helping with that, somewhat).

Hiring this new choreographer has garnered some news coverage for the show, but mainly within Las Vegas and regional print newspapers and online news.

The best way to find and communicate with Millennials is through social media. That’s where they live.  So, even if Caesars is willing to pay for new choreography and music, their target audience won’t know about it, or learn why they should care, unless Caesars goes to where they hang out. Not print newspapers, not TV news.  Online — in social media.

Since 2010, notably, the fastest growing demographic of Facebook users is senior citizens — people aged 50 and older. This older generation, known as the “Baby Boomers”, appreciates and seeks out classy theatrical productions, and would highly value information about shows like Jubilee!

If social media and innovative branding had been used expediently, years ago, to promote the show, would the image and popularity of showgirls have been resurrected and ticket sales enhanced, without even needing to bring in such drastic changes and cost to the show? Has corporate resistance to new media, and lack of creative thinking, lost Caesars millions of dollars in ticket sales, and squandered the potential title of “home of the real showgirl”?

Jubilee! Disco act
Gorgeous showgirls, dripping in Swarovski crystals, dancing gracefully to Gershwin. Nah, people won’t want t-shirts or souvenirs.

From a marketing and PR standpoint, here are some suggestions for promoting Jubilee!:

  • Team Jubilee! up with “Dancing With The Stars”. It would be great PR for Jubilee! and for DWTS. Bring in guest celebrity/pro duos from DWTS to do Pink & Purple Ballroom, Top Hat, or any act, on a monthly basis, and then actually promote them on your new…
  • …Social media channels.  You should be using all of them. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and more.  Need some help?  Ask any 14-year old.
  • Hotel outdoor wrap advertisement with Jubilee!’s name on it.  Full coverage of the entire Strip-facing side of the hotel. Using Jubilee! showgirls in the current restaurant wrap is nice, but it looks incidental and does not actually promote the show directly.
  • Bring in internationally-known guest artists, who use retro style in their performances, for guest spots.  Justin Timberlake, Neil Patrick Harris, Hugh Jackman, Michael Buble, Michael Feinstein, Tommy Tune, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellweiger, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander could all be candidates. Brand Jubilee! as THE place for classy, musically-trained pop and movie stars to show their singing and dancing skills. And then, you could mention it on…that’s right! You guessed it correctly…your new social media channels.
  • Hand out free Jubilee! postcards to every audience member as they leave.  People love free things.  They can take photos of it and post it on their Facebook pages.  Then their friends will see what show they went to.  It’s a handy way to control the online image of show. This is called what, Caesars?  Right again!  “free advertising”. Did you also know your PR department can track social media mentions, so you can actually measure how your free advertising is working?  Cool, huh.

Jubilee! is a timeless icon of lush beauty and elegance that speaks across time and cultures.  It is an important cultural institution.  Caesars shouldn’t abandon it without updating — updating the marketing and PR efforts.  It CAN reach a new audience without changing the essence of the show.  Brand it right, promote it smartly, and Caesars will have an irreplaceable money-maker on its hands for a very, very long time.

Disclosure: This writer was a performer in Jubilee!. This writer is near completion of a Masters degree in Media & Communications Psychology from Touro University Worldwide. This writer receives no remuneration for posts to this website.

 

Lavish Costuming and Sets Transport Music Man

June 12, 2013

Spring Mountain Ranch

Super Summer Theatre’s “The Music Man” premiered with visual and musical glory that rivaled the golden sunset itself.

The timeless and well-known story was brought to life by Huntsman Entertainment’s high production values and astounding investment in the visual elements, which framed and matched the musical talent endemic in the cast.

"Music Man"
“Music Man” at Super Summer Theatre

The costumes were beautiful in design, construction, and materials. Constant costumes changes gave a fresh and eye-inspiring feel to every scene. The opening black-and-white palette gave way to an explosion of color half-way through the show.  The costumes were intricately designed, down to bloomers under the skirts.

The detailed sets were a feast of turn-of-the-century colors, shades, and architectural detailing. The huge backdrop channeled antique parchment, while the bridge’s sculptured-stone façade was perfectly convincing, as were the portals’ faux-brick treatment.

The choreography was lively and well-rehearsed. Parts closely resembled the movie choreography, and all were nicely staged and exciting to watch.

There were many charming moments in the show that make it very memorable (they won’t be revealed here).

This was a classic presentation of a timeless, family-friendly musical, with production values far beyond what one would dream of in a community production; that is the magic that so many wonderful theatrical groups bring to Las Vegas, now including Huntsman Entertainment.  This show splendidly brought the joy of musical theater to the Super Summer Theatre audience.

Rating: A- (=go see it!)

Ages: all.