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.

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+

M&M’s “Love 2 Dance”

Aug 19, 2011 at South Point Casino

The joy of richly-experienced performers pervaded the cozy stage as the 14 international dancers revealed intimate memories of their dance careers.

Audition fears, inspiration sources, performance experiences, and personal reasons for dancing were questions asked and answered through dance and live recitation.

M&M
M&M Love 2 Dance

Among the standout acts were Don Bellamy’s recollection of dancing with Alvin Ailey and sacrificing electrical service for dance shoes; the full company demonstrating the humorous side to auditioning (featuring terrific breakdancing); Tony Coppola’s tap solo  and percussion work; and the hip hop-styled “Money”, which elucidated the challenging costs of classes, shoes, rehearsal space, agents and costumes.

Top acts in the show were “Big Spender”, “I Wanna Be A Dancin’ Man” and “Love 2 Dance”.

“Big Spender”, danced and acted by statuesque former showgirls Liz Eliot Lieberman, Lynn Martin Fouce and Karlyn Zambrotta, incorporated Fosse-style choreography and clever banter based on their true life stories.  It was the most delightful and enchanting act of the night.

“I Wanna Be A Dancin’ Man”, a group chair dance, was well-conceived, well-sung, tight and concise.

“Love 2 Dance” featured each dancer stating what he or she felt when dancing, and then soloing to his or her preferred rhythm, played live on drums by Coppola.  An engaging chance to get to know the dancers, and the first indication of the wide variety of dance training among the cast.

The show’s strengths were the variety of musical and dance styles, the technique of the dancers, Coppola’s percussion playing and the live storytelling.  The weaknesses of the show were the costumes, the length of numbers, the ‘Q&A’ structure – and the live storytelling.

Music styles ranging from hip hop to standards, and dance styles from ballet to hip hop, varied the visual and aural experience.  The dancers’ technique shone for the most part (M&M aborted several lifts in the latter part of the show; fatigue could have been a factor).  The personal stories were riveting, celebratory, tragic, inspiring and heartbreaking.  The stuff of a great show.

Speaking or singing while dancing is extraordinarily difficult, and it was executed quite well.  However, heavy breathing, an unavoidable result of dancing, was picked up by the mics,  and was distinctly distracting.  This may be something that their sound guy can smooth out.

Visually, the most disappointing aspect of the show was the lack of costume changes and color – dancers wore the same outfits for several numbers, and everything was black.  Color livens a show.  Melinda’s red dress in the finale was a relief, but it came too late.

Many of the numbers ran too long, and there were too many of them.  The numbers and show would have more punch if shortened.  Ruthless editing will achieve this.

M&M’s elder-characters were funny and would be an appropriate act in a variety show (assuming seniors aren’t offended by them).  However, in the end, the elder-spoofing and Q&A structure were superfluous and jarring.  Omitting them from this show, (yes, cutting all of it out)  and letting each act flow seamlessly into the next would generate anticipation and mystery before each act.  Each act would reveal an answer to an implied question – and that question might vary for each audience member, thereby having different meaning to each observer.

At the very least, M&M should cut the on-stage explanation of how they put the show together.  If it  has to be explained, then the show doesn’t stand on its own legs.  This show can.  An on-stage introduction is scaffolding  —  which should be removed once a structure is completed.  Creator/director thought processes can be shared in director’s notes in the program.

This show has great ‘bones’, in the form of world-class performers with decades of experience.  The Las Vegas community is fortunate to have creative, passionate performers who gather and craft original productions.  “Love 2 Dance” is a nice concept and with further development will become a good show.

Rating: B+

Audience: all ages