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

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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.

Burlesque Hall of Fame 2013 Tournament of Tease

A crowd awash in gowns, victory rolls, sequins, feathers, rhinestones, glittery neckties and tuxedos swept into the Orleans Hotel for the annual Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender. Audience members and performers from around the globe gathered to celebrate glamour, beauty, and the art of the tease. This annual Las Vegas event hosts some of the most creative, artistic, and original performing seen at any time of the year in Las Vegas.  Burlesque is alive and well, and this weekend shares its seductive, naughty, and comedic best with the world.

Elektra Cute
Elektra Cute

The third night’s “Tournament of Tease” featured current acts vying for best in their category, as well as the contest for the new Miss Exotic World. Various acts highlighted classic stripteases, innovative ideas, and special skills such as acrobatics, fans, reverse-strips, and butterfly skirts.

In the “Best Debut” category, Elektra Cute wowed the audience with her Art Deco-era style and mystery. The drama in her expression was riveting, and her costume pieces were elegant, flapper-inspired works of art.

Eliza Delite brought her creative Pope-inspired act, starting in Victorian-era robes and crown, then disrobing into a beautiful gold cape which she manipulated in beautiful butterfly-movement using embedded sticks. She evoked the image of one of the first motion-picture-captured dancers in silent films, who turned in a circle as she fluttered beautiful fabric wings. Ms. Delite was regal and old-Hollywood retro.

Lady Borgia started with nice fan work that ended too soon, but transitioned to very nice dancing using her flowing dress teasingly.

Laurie Hagen presented a reverse strip that also attempted to give the feeling of movement done in reverse. Her jerky movements were foreign to this art’s normally beautiful and graceful style, but was an interesting variation.

In the “Best Group” category, Swing Time presented a comedic take on a threesome with great boylesque and nice group sculptures. They won their category.

Burlesque artist Lou Lou D’Vil won the crown of Miss Exotic World, Queen of Burlesque with her classic, elegant striptease and ermine-dripping costume.

LouLou D'vil doing her winning number.
LouLou D’vil doing her winning number. Photo Credit: copyright Don Spiro. Photo from 21stCenturyBurlesque.com.

While the Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekender is not for all ages, it presents an expressive art form that is enjoying a well-deserved revival.  Especially in a city of raunchy strip clubs and nightclubs, it is a welcome breath of beauty, camaraderie, and glamour.

Rating: A

Ages: 18+

Marta Becket Ends 43-Year Run at Amargosa Opera House

“The Sitting Down Show” (closing night),  Amargosa Opera House, February 12, 2012

The desert ballerina has retired.

Marta Becket
Marta Becket

Marta Becket, the dedicated performer who brought the Amargosa Opera House back to life with her one-woman dance-mime shows, gave her final public performance on Sunday February 12.  Though she no longer can dance, she sat regally on a throne-like chair with costume pieces and props in easy reach, and shared her memories of her life in Death Valley Junction.  She acted out real-life characters that populated her adopted town, as well as fictional characters from musicals she had conceived, composed and danced.  Her memory was relentless, and her wit fully intact.  She demonstrated that her passion for art, music and dance is matched only by her keen observation of people around her and her comedic storytelling.  She was luminous, entrancing, and consummately entertaining.

Ms. Becket was a performer in well-known Broadway productions in the 1940s, yet by the late 1950s she felt her artistic options drying up in New York.  She created solo shows that toured around the country.  In 1968 she inadvertently discovered the abandoned hall at Death Valley Junction when her car got a flat tire nearby.  She refurbished the hall over time, painting every inch of the inside with richly-detailed murals of a royal medieval audience.

Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage
Amargosa Opera House, view of the house from the stage. Murals by Marta Becket.

Ms. Becket labored at her art – including dance, piano, singing, composing, writing, painting – in a place most performers would not feel comfortable.  Far from a metropolis, cultural mecca, famous theaters, devoted art lovers, and other artists.  She had none of the support upon which most artists thrive or depend – neither from wealthy patrons, nor celebrated dance companies, nor an artistic community.  She created her art in the vast openness of Death Valley.  Completely alone, entirely un-networked.

She proved that it doesn’t matter where you do it; it matters that you are doing it.

Ms. Becket brought art to the desert, to people who had never seen it before, who never thought they desired to.  She planted the seed.  It didn’t grow big, but it grew strong and held on, like desert sage brush.  Audiences never forgot her shows.

She didn’t let geographic status erode her passion or dilute her vision.  She claimed the emptiness of the valley, and the opera house, as her blank canvas.  And she created her art on her own terms.

She did what she wanted, where she wanted.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals
Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals

Discarding the group-think of the New York arts crowd (that Manhattan was the only desirable locale for true artists), Ms. Becket asserted a bold notion: art is art, no matter where it’s created.

That insight freed her to explore and express all her talents.

She didn’t need tuxedoed audiences, thousand-seat theaters, employment in world-renowned companies, million-dollar sets — or even a stage crew — to validate her sense of being an artist and performer.  She found a space in which to revel in her own creativity and style, unencumbered by the strict expectations of the artistic and show business communities in large cities. As she wrote in her original lyrics, “No longer a slave to theatrical tradition; I’ve found my place in the sun.”

Of course, she was often unencumbered by an audience to see her work.  Many nights, when no one came to her scheduled performance, she danced only for the royalty in her hand-painted murals.  Yet, she always felt that joy of being onstage.  She was happy.

Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals
Detail of Amargosa Opera House murals. Words on parchment read: "The walls of this theater and I dedicate these murals to the past, without which our times would have no beauty".

She performed not for money, fame, status or recognition, but for the joy of creating — that transcendent fulfillment that results from planning, rehearsing, creating concepts, constructing sets and props, and coordinating all of it to convey a story of human desire or experience.  Like a writer composing a book, she was never sure if anyone would see her work or care for it.  Undeterred, she continued to dream and create, because that was what her soul yearned to do.

Ms. Beckett lived her soul.

Vegas Vaudeville: Songsters, Hoofers and High-Class Stage Actors

At CSN’s Nicholas J Horn Theater, Sept 16, 2011

What images does the word “vaudeville” flash in your mind?  Scenes from “Singin’ in the Rain” of comedic violin duets?  Or maybe Bob Hope slap-stick skits? Soft-shoe dancing? Eclectic magicians?  If so, you would have felt in your element at the recent “Vegas Vaudeville”, which the Lion King cast presented at the Horn Theater.

Vegas Vaudeville: Singer/dancer Deidre Lang
Singer/Dancer Deidre Lang; dancers Robert Knowles and Jarrett Kelly

Reviving the classic vaudeville structure – the original variety show – this production presented actors, singers, dancers, magicians and specialty acts in an atmosphere of rollicking humor and punnery (a new word, invented by me about 7 seconds ago.  Now, if I can just get it on the Colbert Report, it might make it into Merriam-Webster by next year…).  The production was kept to a PG-rating, allowing audience members of all ages to enjoy the entertainment.

Vegas Vaudeville
Vegas Vaudeville. Photo credit: MaryAnn.

In the spirit of the original vaudeville shows from the time of the Depression, a genuine ham was given to one lucky audience member.  Yes, a ham.

In a further nod to customs of the time, the show ended on a heart-felt, rousing patriotic note.

Vegas Vaudeville: Escape Artist "The Elusive Mr. Lex"
Escape artist "The Elusive Mr. Lex"

An exceptionally-fake, large hairy primate made a guest appearance, attempting to sweep a sweet dancer away from her human crush; a sign-changing chorine morphed into a teasing coquette with one last surprise up her, ahem, sleeve; singers of tremendous talent belted and serenaded all manner of songs; comedic magicians, glass-eating stilt-walkers, an escape artist and a pearl-draped tap dancer shared their unique obsessions —  all linked and segued by the limitless talent of a ukulele-playing, rhythm-footed crooner and all-around jokester MC.

Vegas Vaudeville: singer/dancer Deidrea Halley
Singer/Dancer Deidrea Halley

“Vegas Vaudeville” was consummate, innocent, silly fun – for the cast, as well as for the audience. “Vegas Vaudeville” may be presented again in Las Vegas in the near future, so make sure you don’t miss it.

Disclosure: This blogger may have been the chorine sign-changer in “Vegas Vaudeville”, choreographed a dance number and served as the publicist.  OK, she actually was.  But she wrote about it in a pretty unbiased way, eh?

Vegas Vaudeville
Vegas Vaudeville: Songsters, Hoofers and High-Class Stage Actors