A CHOREOGRAPHERS’ SHOWCASE: 2012
By: Hal de Becker
“A good show, but not as good as last year,” was typical of the comments I heard repeated by a number of patrons at the conclusion of this year’s ‘Showcase’ performance at the Aria Resort.
And I agree.
The 2011 collaboration between artists of Cirque du Soleil and Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT) was indeed a superb show: exciting, innovative and beautifully danced.The 2012 edition was equally well danced but some numbers were repetitious and unexceptional.
Contributing choreographers were about evenly divided between Cirque and NBT and included Mukhtar O.S. Mukhtar, Alissa Dale, Preston Swoven, Jeremy Bannon Neches,
Khetanya Henderson, Jordan McHenry, Silke Ortloff, Amy Von Handorf, Tori Lubek, Leisha Knight and Kishema Pendu Malik.
One of the program’s most memorable pieces was Mr. Mukhtar’s ARTists.With his inventive use of dance and acro, and the black and white costumes that resembled piano keys and evoked musical harmony, his call for harmony between peoples was realized with lucidity and consummate artistry.
Some other choreographers also based their numbers on ‘causes’ from planet exploitation to religion or other specific subjects, but they lacked Mr. Mukhtar’s ability to communicate and entertain at the same time. And while he conveyed his message mainly through compelling choreography, others relied heavily upon projected pictures and words and, when lacking those assists, usually failed to express their intentions withchoreographic clarity.
The theme of ‘childhood revisited’ in Mr. Swovelin’s Simple Adventures wasn’t new, but the sensitive manner in which this young choreographer addressed it was surprisingly mature, even poetic:
A large cardboard box lies on its side at the center of a dimly lit stage.As a young girl approaching adulthood crawls through the box, the side of the stage she enters becomes illuminated revealing children at play. When she moves out through the box the stage darkens again and her playmates fade from sight. She returns back through it and rejoins them in their games. But soon her companions pass into a different cardboard passageway and leave her behind -- her childhood forever gone.
At the other end of the dance spectrum was Alissa Dale’s Retrograde, a joyful lighthearted piece for ten young ladies. Its astute musicality, charming and varied combinations of dance steps and the pleasant simplicity of swirling colorful skirts made it one of the show’s major delights.
At one point in Retrograde, the black backdrop separated horizontally creating a long narrow strip of light and a scrim behind which two dancers performed in silhouette. It was an especially effective effect.
Mr. Neches’ Two, Please consisted of two duets danced by two different couples to two songs -- Georgia on My Mind and L-O-V-E. Through the buoyant choreography the performers gave the happy impression that they were dancing for the sheer fun of it.
Ms. Henderson’s Working in Progress was performed to just the rhythmic clapping of hands.It was an appealing, well-constructed work in which each of the five dancers had a turn in the center as the others circled around them.The often naturalistic movements, such as rapidly repeated bending at the waist, were well-suited to the basic nature of the accompaniment.
Some works seemed detached from their music. In one, dancers executed familiar linked poses to music which served more as background than accompaniment. In another, a Spanish guitar solo wasn’t stylistically reflected in the bland choreography. And, unless intended as satire, a violin solo of America the Beautiful and the slinky moves set to itwere incompatible.
The live vocal and musical contributions were excellent. Particularly noteworthy were the sustained melodious passages in the Faure song, Apres un rev, played by Jean-Francois Thibeault on a trombone. No easy feat.
The venue’s capacity for special effects, creative lighting, huge projections and spacious staging were all impressive although, at times, they overshadowed some of the less distinguished dances.
The quality of these programs may vary somewhat from season to season but they are always a satisfying event to attend.And, as a recipient of ‘Cirque’s’ local cultural support, the proceeds benefit NBT, a non-profit organization.