By:  Hal de Becker


Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater is on the move and in the right direction judging from its recent concert at The Smith Center.


Dancers are the backbone of any company and what struck me most forcibly about this performance was the high artistic and technical quality of the dancing. 


The program opened with Solstice choreographed for ten dancers by Bernard Gaddis, the troupe’s artistic director, to music by George Winston.  The choreography possessed a fluid poetic beauty enhanced by the sensitive performance of the dancers.     


Many of their moves and poses -- bodies leaning sideways, knees bent, one arm curved overhead the other at the waist -- suggested Indian art and, perhaps, philosophy for even in its more forceful moments the piece radiated harmony and peacefulness.


The first and last sections of the work used the full ensemble while the center segments featured solos, duets and small groupings many of them ballet-based.


The dancers were as skilled and secure in the balletic passages as in the modern which is not always the case with contemporary mode troupes.  Charmaine Hunter and Donald Williams, directors of LVCDT’s conservatory, provide their ongoing training.   


Especially notable were two solos.  One was exquisitely performed by Maria Fernanda Vicuna-McGovern who with a singular facility to create an illusion of suspension evoked a dreamlike atmosphere.  The other, a vigorous masculine dance, was forcefully executed with strong presence and technique by Roman Pantoja.


The death of choreographer Ulysses Dove in 1996 was a tragic loss for the dance world.  Well versed in classical and contemporary disciplines his works are frequently a bold combination of both with a thread of harsh male dominance connecting some of them.   


His Bad Blood, choreographed in 1984to music by Laurie Anderson, received a superb performance by LVCDT. 


Its direct statements, sometimes erotic, sometimes violent, were always vividly inventive in their use of the human body.  By the latter I don’t mean stretching a leg up to the ear but rather rapid changes of positions, angularity, shifts of balance, startling moves. 


A number of unique lifts with women thrown overhead from one man to another were indeed startling -- and daring.  Because they were executed with artistry they never appeared acrobatic but seemed instead an expression of transitioning relationships. 


In another passage a man with knees deeply bent balanced tensely on his haunches atop the back of a bench on which a lady sat below.  Suddenly and simultaneously they both threw their knees wide apart as if sharing at the same moment an identical thought, urge or desire.    


Mr. Gaddis was seen to good advantage in the piece as were Aida Francesca Garcia and Christina Taylor.  All the dancers provided outstanding performances which attested to the good physical and artistic coaching they had received in preparation for this challenging work.  


Crashing… Through by Hope Boykin often seemed to be a maelstrom of sprinting legs and flinging arms intended to provide a visual realization of the compelling, often turbulent scores by John Metcalfe and Ensemble Resonance.  The dancers consistently rose above their material.


The Firebird, choreographed by Mr. Gaddis closed the program.  It was well danced and pleasantly choreographed but considering the company’s abundant artistic assets was disappointing being neither contemporary in style nor particularly original. 


Like some other members of the audience, I had expected a contemporary choreographer as gifted as Mr. Gaddis to present a unique, innovative treatment of the fairy tale ballet.


Other contemporary dance makers have done as much with classical ballet’s sacred cows.   Among them Matthew Bourne’s all male Swan Lake; Mats Ek’s Giselle set in a lunatic asylum; Mark Morris’s updated naughty Nutcracker; and more recently UNLV’s Kavouras-Allen modern-day setting of The Rite of Spring.


The recent rendition included some apt additions such as the Firebird’s brief imprisonment in a gilded cage and a Prince who actually danced instead of merely mimed.  But otherwise it was a standard version reminiscent of the 1910 Fokine/Stravinsky original which continues in the repertoire of many of today’s major classical ballet companies.     


However, any shortcomings the work had were eclipsed by Ms. Vicuna Fernanda-McGovern’s portrayal of the title role.  With rare artistry, beauty, purity of line, musicality and technical assurance she embodied all the Firebird’s exotic other worldliness.    


Costuming for all the dances, from Solstices’ flowing chiffon skirts to Firebird’s flaming red tutu were outstanding as were Sandra Fong’s effective lighting designs. 


LVCDT was co-founded in 2007 by Ms. Hunter and Mr. Gaddis.  Its early performances were held at the West Las Vegas Library before it joined the galaxy of renowned dance companies appearing at The Smith Center including among others Nevada Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Joffrey Ballet.

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