A MOVING FEAT
By: Hal de Becker
It was an apt title for UNLV’s recent Dance Department concert at Judy Bayley Theatre. There were indeed lots of feet, plenty of movement and many artistic accomplishments.
Along with the dancer’s feet came 26 well trained bodies, good looks, musical sensitivity and the ability to project, technically and dramatically, the choreographic intentions of the works performed.
Dance styles were varied although most works, even the most contemporary, were constructed on a foundation of classical ballet technique that extended the range of the movement possibilities available to the choreographers.
Under Louis Kavouras, the department’s chair, training in classical ballet has become an indispensable part of the university’s diverse dance curriculum and has conspicuously elevated the capabilities of the students.
One shouldn’t be misled by the term “students.” In recent years the department’s performances that I’ve attended have all been thoroughly entertaining and professional-level productions.
The latest was no exception.Of the six pieces presented, at least four would be suitable to enter the repertoires of many professional dance companies.
The Place That Time Forgot was created by Don Bellamy for three men and six ladies to the sound of pulsating drums and sonorous gongs. It depicted a ceremonial dance entreating the appropriate gods for rain.
Without resorting to predictable pantomimic clichés or the usual ‘Afro-Cuban’ moves, the piece was suspenseful, exciting and hugely original.
The occasional contrast between dance and music was surprisingly and uniquely effective.This was particularly apparent in a compelling duet performed by the gifted Nao Hayakawa and charismatic Avree Walker.
Their movements were slow and drawn out, the accompaniment wildly rhythmic, the result mesmerizing.
Shaquida Vergo’s striking red and black costumes of midriff tops and open sided skirts and headdresses of short hollow tubes through which ponytails passed and tufts of hair swirled out of at the top, made a major contribution to the work’s impact.
At the end, the dancers knelt to the ground and, in the hush of silence that precedes a storm, quietly and confidently awaited their gods’ response to their supplication.
Dolly Kelepecz’s Marvelous Music Box was set to music by Beth Mehocic that evoked the early 20th century French school of Debussy and Ravel.It was performed on stage by harpist Emily Montoya.
The ballet was a fully developed well-structured gem possessing the same soothing polish that distinguished the music.
In an especially effective opening, harp and harpist were on one side of the stage and on the other was, what appeared to be, a large round object. As a trace of fog drifted dreamily onto the scene, that object began unraveling like a ball of yarn to reveal a cluster of five intertwined dancers.
The pure balletic choreography for the four ladies, all on pointe and wearing appropriate white chiffon skirts, was juxtaposed with stylish plasticity for the man.He was danced by Jesus Nanci with a tasteful touch of exoticism.
At the end of the piece the dancers waved farewell to the harpist as though they might have been her own inner ephemeral images of the music while she had been playing it.
The invasion of China by America’s commercial culture was humorously and artistically addressed in Jeneane Huggins’s Taste of Modernism.
Ms. Huggins’s choreographic critique was insightful and delightful, never straying from its tongue in cheek approach. At one point, the dancers did a Radio City Music Hall line up to the music of a soft drink commercial.
With a beguiling smarmy smile Justin Velarde portrayed the villain of the piece: a composite corporate figure of MacDonalds, Pepsi Cola and Nordstroms. He wore a long shiny coat decorated with dollar bills, fast food cartons and soda cans.There was no mistaking the message.
The eleven dancers, all lovely young ladies, wore short colored robes of vivid magenta and their hair in the traditional bun with added spikes.There was no mistaking the villain’s destination.
Aside from the spoofing and clever symbolism, the jazzy dances and deft group interaction confirmed the choreographer’s expertize.
Two other dances, Debra Noble’s Out of Night and Margo Mink Colbert’s 5 For5, didn’t rise to the same high level of the other works on the program.
Ms. Noble’s piece did get off to a good start with its nine dancers moving slowly forward from the rear of the stage while, one at a time, executing arm movements that the ensemble gradually did all together.
But it then declined into uninventive tediousness with dancers running to and fro, one arm raised in the air resembling an infamous salute.
5 For 5’sbasic ballet poses and arm positions and an especially awkward looking roll on the floor also suffered from redundancy.The dancers did their best but were unable to rise above the material.Bright yellow, purple, orange, white and blue toe shoes didn’t improve the look of the piece -- or the feet.
A street scene, probably from the past when streets were safe, was the setting for Greg Sample’s Sample Simon to songs by Paul Simon.
The dances were lively and definitely not ‘simple’.If they seemed so it was only because the choreographer succeeded in imbuing them with a sense of playful freedom and spontaneity belonging to youth.The nine dancers performed flawlessly.
They were variously attired in the shirts, pants, vests, shorts and dresses that one might expect to see youngsters wearing on any country street frolicking or just ‘hanging out’.
The work’s captivating joyousness made it an ideal finale to an exhilarating performance.