NBT & TSC: TOGETHER AT LAST!
By: Hal de Becker
In a city that’s known as the “Entertainment Capital of the World” some hype and hyperbole is to be expected. But on rare occasions what one reads, sees and hears about an event turns out to be true. Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 40th anniversary performance and debut at The Smith Center was one of those ‘rare occasions.’
Upon entering TSC’s marble foyer, patrons encountered an electrifying atmosphere of expectation.Each was presented with an elegantly nostalgic 77 page commemorative souvenir program chronicling in words, photos, posters and playbills NBT’s history from 1972, when it was founded as Nevada Dance Theatre, to its present position as TSC’s resident ballet company.
Former company members had graciously been invited to attend the performance and in the lobby before curtain time, amidst sculptures reminiscent of their past dancing days, numerous friendships were warmly renewed with laughter, hugs and an exchange of memories.
When seating began, many of the 2000 patrons entering the venue’s concert hall, including myself, were doing so for the first time. The vastness of the surrounding space, especially above, exceeded anything I’d expected as did the 64 foot curtain behind which lay almost 6000 square feet of stage area.
Much has already been written, and will continue to be, about this astounding facility.For now suffice it to say that it is truly and totally worthy of the term “World Class.”
So on to the performance.
Surely, one of the most exquisite moments in the entire ballet repertoire is when the curtain opens for Serenade revealing a tableau of 17 dancers bathed in nocturnal blue light, their arms outstretched as if in a pose of longing.
The ballet, choreographed by George Balanchine in 1934, has a quality as mysterious as Fokine’s Les Sylphides in that it suggests, but never confirms, human relationships involving love and desire.
In one passage of Serenade a man is embraced by three women each seemingly trying to possess him.But is that really the meaning? Why is one girl’s hair wildly loose and free while the others’ are tightly coiffed?The ballet evokes many such riddles but Balanchine has left it to the imagination of the audience to solve them – or to think it has.
After nearly 60 years and despite being frequently seen in imitation certain choreographic passages are still profoundly effective and seem as innovative as ever. The most familiar
is the ballerina on pointe in arabesque slowly rotated by the hands of her unseen partner. Another is when five ladies, standing in a row facing front, slowly descend in unison into splits.No show-off virtuosity; no bravura; just beautiful slow movement.
Many choreographic ideas in Serenade were repeated and further developed in later Balanchine masterworks.Not unlike an early Beethoven symphony, the seeds were there just waiting to bloom.
If I were to name a few NBT dancers as being outstanding I’d have to name them all: theentire company rose to the auspicious occasion with a performance that was sheer perfection.
Their port de bras (arm movements), an extremely important element of the ballet, were soft and fluid and, when required, always together.Leaps were soaring, landings soundless.At no time was a faulty step, a hopped pirouette or clumsy lift observed.
More importantly, however, the dancers had a mature grasp of the ballet as a visual realization of the music, Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. And with equal maturity they conveyed the choreographer’s personal responses to the music: the otherworldly aura; the tantalizing questions; the veiled passions.
Under the baton of Terence Kern, the music received a memorable performance by the string ensemble of the Las Vegas Philharmonic.It must have been a joy for the dancers to perform to such a glorious composition and such superb playing of it. It was a joy listening.
In what to some seemed an incongruity, singer/composer Matt Goss and his band performed four songs to which James Canfield, NBT’s artistic director, set compatible jazzy choreography.The dancers gave the moves appropriate improvisational qualities.
Guest Artists Xiomara Reyes and Herman Cornejo, principal dances with American Ballet Theatre, performed the “Diana and Acteon” pas de deux choreographed by Agrippina Vaganova the renowned pedagogue whose teaching system is familiar to ballet students around the world (including the budding ballerinas at NBT’s academy).
The dance depicts the mythical huntress Diana who, with bow and arrow, pursues Acteon whom she has transformed into a stag. In the proper hands (and feet) the duet can be a major tour de force – which is exactly what it was for the NBT gala.
Mr. Cornejo ignited his arsenal of technical fireworks with gravity-defying leaps and the ability to slow down eight pirouettes to a dead stop on balance. Ms. Reyes gave a spirited interpretation of her role.Her fouette turns were lightning fast and her grand jete leaps propelled forward in the Russian style to cover long distances.
Had the venue not been so solidly constructed the excited audience would undoubtedly have ‘brought down the house’.
Ms. Reyes, a product of Cuba’s famed National Ballet School, has danced leading roles in classical and contemporary works with ABT and other companies.Mr. Cornejo, a native of Argentina, won the gold medal at the International Dance Competition in Moscow when he was only 16 years of age.Since then he’s performed worldwide with major ballet companies and has been a principal dancer with ABT since 2003.
Red Angels, by the late Ulysses Dove, was performed by four guest dancers from Pacific Northwest Ballet: Sarah and Seth Orza, Carla Korbes and Lucien Postlewaite. It was set to music by Richard Einhorn and accompanied from the pit by violinist Mary Rowell.
Although the score had a country western flavor the choreography was generic and an example of Mr. Dove’s use of classical ballet in a contemporary, un-formal construction. Sarah Orza best captured the implied aggression, physical flexibility and angularity of the work.
Ms. Korbes and Mr. Orza performed the ‘white swan’ adagio from the second act of Swan Lake. It is a love duet that begins with Odette, the white swan, being terrified and distrustful of the prince who loves her.He, with kindness and gentle embraces, gradually gains her trust and her love.
Mr. Cornejo returned to dance Tango & Yo, a solo he choreographed to music by his countryman Astor Piazzolla. It wasn’t altogether a solo. Much of the dance revolved around the black fedora hat so highly prized by Argentina’s men and by tango dancers in particular. Both dance and dancer (and hat) were a huge success as the appreciative audience vociferously demonstrated.
The troupes’ final curtain calls with everyone still in their glittering costumes resembled the clichéd ‘cast of thousands’ and made a perfect finale to a once in a lifetime event that is now a memorable part of Las Vegas history.