Golden Rainbow’s “Ribbon of Life” 25th Year

I stopped by the tech rehearsal for Ribbon of Life today, and had the chance to see the first half of the show.  Looks like another terrific show with top-notch talent from around the city!

The show features comedy, dance, singing and personalities galore.  Edie, the MC from Zumanity (and a past host of Broadway Bares), hosts the show, providing introductions and banter between acts.  There will be a live band and original numbers from such shows as “Jubilee!”, “Fantasy” and “Peepshow”.

The opening dance number is a rousing rendition of “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line” featuring dozens of “Strip alumni” (dancers and singers who performed in big production shows on the Las Vegas Strip in the last 25 years).

Golden Rainbow's "Ribbon of Life" 2011
Golden Rainbow's "Ribbon of Life" 2011 Tech Rehearsal. Dozens of Strip alumni perform in "I Hope I Get It".

Another number features certain alumni and future performers of all ages, a real tribute to show biz peeps and their families.  Called “Heroes”, it creatively showcases alumni parents and their progeny as cartoon superheroes in a very fun way.

Future Performers in Training
Future Performers in Training

The “Fantasy” cast presents “Big Spender”; “The Lion King” cast brings to life “The Color Purple”; and the “Jubilee!” cast stages “Burlesque” the movie.

Be sure to attend the show on Sunday, June 26 at 1 p.m. at Paris Las Vegas (more info here.)  It’s an amazing mix of styles, performances and talent, and it’s all for a really great cause.

Jabbawockeez “Mus.I.C.”: Hip Hop Rocks!

At the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino

June 2011

Jabbawockeez "Mus.I.C."

They’ve done it!  Jabbawockeez have smashed the glass hip-hop ceiling and brought breakdancing, popping and locking to the legitimate stage.

The dreams of the movie characters in Breakin’ and Beat Street — to show the world that hip hop is a true dance and art form – have finally been brought to reality through the perseverance and artistry of this dance crew from California (Turbo and Ozone, rejoice!).

Jabbawockeez absolutely commands the stage with the precision, grace and explosiveness of their unique hip hop style.  And – unexpectedly – comedy!  The show was laced with unpredictable moments, and even skits, full of good-hearted humor.

The most striking element of the show was the storytelling.  Through mime, specific choreography and hand signals, the dancers communicated stories and messages that seemed all the more powerful because they did not involve spoken word.  In fact, they had no qualms about letting the music go quiet and telling their stories in utter silence on stage.  The Jabbawockeez were masters of physical acting and imitation.

The concept of the show, to “find the muse that inspires you” was a wholesome, universal theme.  The different facets of the show, from the sets to the framework of each number to the transitions and the stories told, were sophisticated and absorbing.  Directors Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo have done a solid job of creating a compelling and entertaining experience.

The choreography was constantly in flux, changing in style and tempo, reflecting and interweaving with the music.  This was another strong point about the performance – the choreography was a remarkable visualization of the music.  Each gesture fit the musical style and accented musical moments.  Each number was unique – no monotony to be found, anywhere.

Jabbawockeez onstage at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino
Jabbawockeez onstage at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino

The group’s dance style is “Beat Kune Do”, or hip hop freestyle, alluding to Bruce Lee’s eclectic martial arts “style of no style” Jeet Kune Do.  It is a feast for the eyes, and offers an ever-changing mixture of break dancing, uprocking, popping, locking, martial arts, parkour, acrobatics, jazz dance and mime. Some call it “lyrical hip hop”.

The intricacy of the movement was astounding – every joint, down to each finger, was precisely choreographed.  The dancers performed in superb synchronization, canon and opposition.  If you have ever danced, you can appreciate the high degree of training and dedication one needs to reach their level of ability and showmanship. If you haven’t ever danced, you will still be impressed by the athleticism and distinctive style. (Disclosure: this writer invested countless hours practicing popping, locking, and breakin’ with a crew local to her high school on Long Island in the early 80’s.  This stuff is not easy!)

The show was punctuated by unique touches, such as dancers being dragged off the stage by their feet, a hip hop rendition of the most popular movie musical in history, and a tribute to Leonardo da Vinci (no specific details will be revealed here, as the unpredictability of the show is part of its genius).

The soundtrack by The Bangerz, a medley of hip hop, rap, rock and pop from George Kranz to Beyonce, pumped up the excitement while helping to communicate the stories.

The masks?  Most people would assume that masks would hide emotion and make the dancers seem like cold, distant characters.  But the Jabbawockeez are so accomplished in body language that the masks became clean canvases upon which they projected many emotions.   More than once, the audience was convinced that certain masks had smiled, or frowned, or pursed their lips. The emotional conveyance was amplified by the masks, not hidden – an amazing feat, and proof of their astonishing command of bodily expression.

Jabbawockeez in different costumes from "Mus.I.C."

Dancers and dance groups have historically been anonymous, lacking fans, tours, big contracts or recognition.  Celebrity that is so quickly accorded to vocalists has been denied to dancers, especially hip hop and street dancers.  Appreciation and fame is rightly deserved by the Jabbawockeez.  They are as talented, artistically expressive and technically brilliant as the best dancers (and singers) of any other style in the world.

Jabbawockeez achieves the wish of generations of street-dancers:  to perform in a professional setting that spotlights hip hop’s power, diversity and evocativeness. They not only bring the street style and culture of hip hop to the big stage, they elevate it to an entertainment tour de force unparalleled in any other show in this country.

Jabbawockeez Mus.I.C is innovative and riveting on every level.  There is no show like this.  Anywhere.

Rating: A+

Audience:  All ages

Las Vegas Ballet Company, Kwak Dance Academy

Las Vegas Ballet Company, Kwak Dance Academy
Las Vegas Ballet Company and Kwak Dance Academy in performance May 28, 2011

Interview with Kyudong Kwak

June, 2011

I met with Kyudong Kwak, artistic director and founder of the relatively new Las Vegas Ballet Company and Kwak Ballet Academy, and chatted about the state of the arts and culture in Las Vegas, the challenges of starting a new business, his feelings about dance, and the ever-increasing hurdles to mounting a ballet performance in Las Vegas.

Andrea: Many people say there is no culture in Las Vegas.  How do you feel about that?

Kyudong Kwak: They are right!  For a city this size, there is very little culture, compared to other cities of the same population.  Las Vegas is quite large, yet has a surprising lack of visual and performing arts. I’ve performed in many cities and countries, and every city seems to have more cultural offerings than Las Vegas.  And other cities promote ballet and fine arts really well, so why not Las Vegas?  Las Vegas is the “Entertainment Capital of the World”, so ballet and fine arts would create more balance and give visitors and residents more options in entertainment than circus shows and other production shows.

I feel that this is a huge drawback for businesses, in that if a business is thinking about coming to Las Vegas, they hesitate because of the lack of education, first, and lack of culture, second.  More culture and fine arts will make the city much more attractive to people and businesses.  Kwak Ballet Academy and The Las Vegas Ballet Company will contribute greatly to the fine arts in Las Vegas.

A: Your academy and company only recently opened.  How has it been going for you?

KK:  Opening my own school was my dream.  But everyone thought we were crazy to try this, even our landlord.  We spent quite a few months building our classes up.  Our roster is now over 70 students, and I can finally exhale.  Word is spreading that we offer serious, classical ballet training and so now even professional dancers from the Strip are seeking us out for our training.

While we thought that opening a school was hard, putting on our first show seemed impossible, with everything that had to get done!  My wife and I did everything – choreograph, teach, tech, lighting, programs, posters, costumes, advertising.  And the expense for custom-fit costumes was enormous!  For instance, 16 pairs of handmade tutus for the dancers would have cost almost $30,000!  Luckily, our amazing tutu maker, Suzanne Dieckmann, generously taught the students’ parents how to make the tutus, so it only cost us $1000, for materials, in the end.  It’s caring people and volunteers like this that have made it possible for us to have our shows.  All of this reinforced for me that good relationships and good communication with everyone who works with you or helps you is priceless.

For many small companies and schools, the costs of costumes are so high that they can’t perform a classical repertoire.  But because of all the people who helped us out, we were able to offer a classical repertoire with classical costumes.

A: At what point in your life did you feel drawn to dance?

KK:  I found dancing addictive from a very early age.  I was always the first student to get to the studio, and I’d lock up the studio at night and put the key under the flower vase, since everyone else was gone.  I danced as long as possible every day.  I went to company class and trained from 10a.m. to 6 p.m., and then I would also go to the class that was open to the public, too.  I always wanted to dance more, go to more classes; it was the most fun thing to do.  Other people would go out to clubs or movie theater or do other things for fun, but I just wanted to dance all the time because it felt like the best thing in the world to me.

I met my wife in dance class when I was 17, and we’d go out for coffee after rehearsing all day.  We’d look at each other and ask “What do you want to do this evening?” and we’d both answer “go take another ballet class!”  We both love it so much!

Here at the Kwak Ballet Academy, I focus on classical repertoire, because I believe it is the foundation of dance.  If you train in classical ballet dance, you can go into any other form of dance later on, no problem.  Ballet builds your strength and technique, and you can use that to do anything else better.  It improves one’s dancing quality in every other style of dance.  That’s why classical ballet training is valuable for everyone.

A: When was your most recent concert?

KK: Just last month, May 28 at the Summerlin Library.  We had two shows that day, a matinee and an evening performance.  The student company performed “Glory”, an original work that I choreographed, and Yoomi Lee and I performed “Paquita”.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how we will do more performances, as the library has raised its theater rental rates by tenfold, recently.   It would cost thousands of dollars to rent the space, now, and there is no way that even a sold out show would pay for that.  Even smaller, older theaters in this area are charging so much to rent them that neither I nor any of the other small dance or theater companies can afford to rent them to present concerts.  We’ve all stopped scheduling performances. Musical theater productions, ballet and small dance company performances are gone, at this point – all gone.  Basically now there is no place for community-based performing arts to perform.   I don’t know how we will find a solution, but I will work hard to find one.  I want to give my students and company many chances to perform.

Las Vegas Philharmonic, “An Evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein”

Performed on March 26, 2011

UNLV’s Artemus W. Ham Hall

Las Vegas Philharmonic
Las Vegas Philharmonic "An Evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein"

The Las Vegas Philharmonic‘s “An Evening with Rodgers and Hammerstein” was a rousing, touching and aurally-inspiring event, full of quality musicianship, talented singing and ideal performances.

The program featured diverse selections from Carousel, The King and I, and The Sound of Music, including instrumentals such as the “The Carousel Waltz” and vocalist solos and duets ranging from love songs to uptempo numbers.

Each guest singer sang with conviction, passion and gorgeous tones.  Their voices caressed the lyrics, and transported the audience to the romance and unique storylines of the classic musicals.  Each singer’s voice soared beautifully above, around and through the music.

In the duets, the voices and music intertwined and blossomed into glorious gardens of harmony.

The Las Vegas Master Singers was a beautifully blended chorus, singing precisely yet with greatly developed feeling.

Music Director and Conductor David Itkin explained the significance of the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein within the context of American musical theater and American culture, which gave deeper appreciation for each piece and its performance and created a personal connection with the audience.

Derrick Davis (baritone), a singer from the cast of Disney’s The Lion King at Mandalay Bay, performed the first solo, backed by the Las Vegas Master Singers.  His deep, resonating vocal quality conveyed both warmth and excitement.

Davis, who recently guested for 3 months as the lead character Mufasa in The Lion King’s national touring show, was overjoyed to perform with the LV Philharmonic.  “Performing with the Las Vegas Philharmonic was literally a dream come true,” says Davis.  “Ever since my childhood trips to Carnegie Hall, I’ve wanted to perform musical theater with a philharmonic symphony.  I could never share that dream with anyone because it was considered “corny” in my childhood neighborhood to like musicals, and also the chance for a person of color having the opportunity to professionally perform concerts seemed very small to me, because there were so few role models for me.  Performing with the Philharmonic has made me realize, for the first time in my professional career, that I can do anything that I set my mind to.  It has created a huge motivation in me to keep growing, to keep trying new things, to keep evolving as an artist.”

When asked his opinion of the cultural scene in Las Vegas, Davis exclaimed “There’s a huge cultural scene in Las Vegas!  UNLV presents an amazing amount of talent.  There are museums and other forms of traditional culture, and the Smith Center will surely open many doors for the cultural arts here.  Cirque [du Soleil] and the shows on the Strip provide a different kind of culture that’s not found in other places, but it’s still culture.  It’s culturally-specific to Vegas.”

The other featured vocalists included Joan Sobel (soprano) and Larry Wayne Morbitt (tenor) from The Phantom of the Opera (Las Vegas) and Lynette Chambers (mezzo alto), a professor of voice from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.  All graced the event with superb vocal tones and emotion.

The prodigious talent on display in this performance is very heartening to any follower of culture in Las Vegas.  The Philharmonic orchestra was as refined and powerful as the Boston Pops — perfection in concert.

Las Vegans, you’ve got all the culture you could ask for right here in Sin City, starting with our own Philharmonic.