Banquet of a Dance Feast

21st Annual Las Vegas Dance In the Desert Festival

Summerlin Library & Performing Arts Center

July 26 and 27, 2019

 

Gourmet dance feast.

This annual festival is food for the soul.

After 21 years, Dance in the Desert Festival still brings outstanding dance presentations from around the country to Las Vegas to delight the artistic palate of dancers and non-dancers alike.

Each year, there are dance pieces, dancers, and messages that are unforgettable. One exits in a daze of wondrous soaring and flowing human images permanently etched into memory.  The choreographic creativity and the performing expressiveness change the heart and breath, metaphysically transforming even those who only watch. Witnessing the creations is an annual pilgrimage to a dance sanctuary, a reinvigoration of the imagination and soul.

The festival opened with Kaleidoscape Dance’s Siren’s Call, a lovely flowing number, a beautiful welcoming piece. This was followed by a premiere from Dulce Dance Company called Transcending Whole (photo).This male solo was electric and gripping. It exuded athleticism, yearning and tortured suffering. Costuming complimented the choreography and style.

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Dulce Dance Company’s “Transcending Whole”. (Photo credit: Richard Brusky)

Special mention of the lighting by the theatre lighting designer must be made. Each piece was uniquely and thoughtfully lit.  The transitions and designs gave each dance piece its own world and ecosystem.  The lighting did exactly what it should – framed the dancers in mood-appropriate aura.

Las Vegas Dance Ensemble presented a premiere also, C’est Notre Temp. This vivacious piece had a lyrical, balletic style. It was spritely and lively and very enjoyable. Concert Dance Company offered an earthy, old-world and pioneer feel in its Boarder Crossings.

Wight Noise Dance Company presented Beauty from the Ashes, a large group number with a contemporary style and notably interesting formation changes. The same company presented Journey, a male duet with an excellent flowing style and great energy that was very uplifting. The lighting was wonderful.

Movement Theatre CoLab offered a lovely, edgy, science-fictiony duet in Visions & Vortices for Two ver 1. The lighting was artistically haunting. Each pose was a portrait unto itself. The style was robotic yet sinuous. The dancers’ great technique and partnering prowess were enhanced by their interconnectedness. They also offered Traces of Self which showcased great interactive choreography and solid technique.

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“Visions and Vortices For Two ” by Movement Theatre CoLab. (Photo credit: Richard Brusky)

Canyon Movement Company surprised and delighted the audience with a comedic piece about the frustrations of waiting…and waiting….and waiting… in a doctor’s office garbed only in a dignity-depleting hospital gown. What fun can a dancer have with a rolling exam stool that spins and rises and falls and a flowing gown that flaps in the wind?  A lot! Exam Room humanized the long, cold wait for health care. It was charming, and the dancers showed their joy to great effect.  This writer can’t wait to do a spinning fan kick on a rolling stool at the next doctor’s visit! courtesy of Sean Openshaw Photography. Please give him the credit.  The picture is Gina Darlington in Exam Room by Canyon Movement Company.

Gina exam room
Gina Darlington in “Exam Room” by Canyon Movement Company. (Photo courtesy of Sean Openshaw)

Diane McNeal Hunt/ELEVATE Danceworks presented I Gave My Heart, a beautiful smoothly-danced solo that was simple, clear and precise. Turiya Chavez offered a timely piece The Many, which began with sound bites of a certain politician repeating “Billions and billions”. Dancers in business attire embodied chaotic yet robotic strength. Cat & Fish Dancers’ Micah Burkhardt performed a solo Soft Front that showcased his limber, dynamic style, and highlighted his smooth yet powerful movement. Rat Race by DMJ Dance Collective featured a large group in green costumes using balloons that had minds of their own. The dancers had terrific technique and synchrony. The piece was sharply and cleanly executed.

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“Rat Race” by DMJ Dance Collective 

Jaricco Dance presented PULSE, a suite with sections named Connected, Hope and Inner Pulse. This piece had simply marvelous dancing with consistent attack and precision right through the demanding choreography until the last second. The choreography and performance were intricately sophisticated, and presented with virtuosic technique that made it easy for the audience to get lost in the magic.

Many gracious thanks to Kelly Roth, Dance Program Head of CSN and Artistic Director of Kelly Roth & Dancers and Concert Dance Company, who keeps the festival running and fresh every year. In answer to your musings in your program note – you bring more healing to the world than you know.

Grade: A+++

Audience: all ages

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+++

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.

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+