Nevada Ballet Theatre: “The Tried and The True and The New”

 

By: Hal de Becker

 

It has been said that to dance well, dancers need good choreography.Last week at Ham Hall, Nevada Ballet Theatre’s youthful dancers were given a lot of good choreography and they did indeed dance well.

 

Balanchine’s delightful “Donizetti Variations,” set to themes by the title’s operatic composer, was a perfect opener. The eleven dancers, wearing bright smiles, colorful lilac costumes and brimming over with enthusiasm, looked as though they couldn’t wait to begin dancing.And when they did, they performed the charming poses and combinations of steps with energy, musicality and well matched lines in identical but separated groups.

 

Jeremy Bannon-Neches was back in top form with his customary presence and strong, effortless technique. Among the many notable young ladies were Alissa Dale at ease and comfortable in a challenging solo; Sarah Fuhrman with a pleasing flare for humor; and Janel Meindersee excelling in the rapidly paced passages.There was a touch of humor (the only one on the program) when Donizetti’s cheerful music took a brief melodramatic turn and the dancers covered their faces fearfully with one arm spoofing operatic (and silent movie) pantomime.

 

The program’s two finest performances were delivered by Matthew Rushing and Clifton Brown, guest artists from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. The solo, “A Song For You,” was danced and interpreted with unique artistry by Mr. Rushing.It was choreographed by the late Mr. Ailey to a love song composed and performed (on tape) by Leon Russell. Gestures reflecting the song’s lyrics were not gross or excessive and were executed with sensitive delicacy.The purity of Mr. Rushing’s lines and movements gradually revealed his superb classical technique, one that flowed naturally from him and which he put totally at the service of the choreography never allowing it to intrude upon the spirit of the dance.

 

Donizetti Variations. Photo by Virginia Trudeau

 

He was joined by Mr. Clifton in a Lar Lubovitch piece for two men, “Duet From Concerto Six Twenty-Two” to music by Mozart.According to the program notes, the work has become “…the anthem for the AIDS era...” However, as performed by the two dancers, it seemed to be a celebration of boundless friendship transcending any era.

 

Many of the lifts were impersonal rather than intimate and their positions often horizontal instead of curvaceous which may have given them their uniquely masculine quality.It was flawlessly performed by the two dancers.

 

Another duet, “Still,” by James Canfield, was choreographed to an original score for cello and piano by Adam Hurst and expertly performed on stage by the composer and pianist Vince Frates.The opening musical theme was appealingly melodic but eventually monotonous. Mr. Hurst, mounted on an elevated platform surrounded by lit candles, wore a suit and fedora hat while the two dancers below seemed to be costumed as pseudo gypsies.

 

The dancing evoked an aura of angst and gloom with the duo longing and searching but never finding – anything: more mood than meaning. Lots of arm gesticulations and knees drawn up into contracted torsos were among the oft repeated movements.Of the four dance sections, Gregori Arakelyan’s solo was the most interesting.

 

Matthew Neenan’sexciting “At the Border,” to the thrilling music of minimalist composer John Adams, made a perfect finale.The title refers to change, the crossing of a border to move “…from one space to another…”. The driving force of the music and choreography spurred the dancers to reach ever increasing heights of execution. At times, as they raced across the stage in a never ending series of innovative leaps and lifts, they created the illusion that they were being pursued by the music or were themselves chasing it.

Towards the end, the dynamic synergy of the unrelenting score, the choreography’s determination and especially the dancers’ apparent unlimited strength and stamina became almost mesmerizing.It was a powerful piece at every level and after the performance some members of the audience, in praising it, told me that just watching left them exhausted yet exhilarated.

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