SIMPLY ELLA: WHAT A SHOW!
By: Hal de Becker
Who needs elaborate special effects and machinery when you’ve got two great singers, a gifted choreographer and twenty wonderful dancers?
The “Simply Ella” show at The Smith Center was a tribute to legendary song stylist Ella Fitzgerald and starred Reva Rice, Clint Holmes and Bernard Gaddis’s Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre (LVCDT).
The show’s unique concept had the exciting dance troupe and the two star singers joining forces in a way that brought out the best in everyone.
LVDT opened the show with Mr. Gaddis’s abstract Ballet # 37, a classical dance from the waist down but for arms and torsos a contemporary work with razor sharp moves.
It opened with 16 dancers posed in the standard balletic 5th position, legs together, arms to the side, when suddenly from that calm stance they exploded into moves of mesmerizing fury with irrepressible attack.
The costumes, designed by the choreographer, were as striking and original as the choreography. The ladies wore tutus that rather than draping down from their waists encircled them like flat discs with black and white scroll designs. The men wore white tights with the same scrolls and the surface of the stage was similarly illuminated.
These vibrant visuals were as compelling a part of the choreographer’s vision as was his powerful dance realization of the music, a thrilling score unfortunately not credited.
The second dance was Alvin Ailey’s 1974 classic Night Creatures to a score by Duke Ellington. It should be noted that like George Balanchine’s works, permission to perform an Ailey dance is only granted to a company deemed worthy of the honor.
The choreography was a treasure trove of idiosyncratic moves including loose wrists and bobbing heads all based on swing, boogie and jazz sounds. There was no plot but the dancers, in shimmering, silver-blue costumes and with ever-moving hips and limbs, gave the piece a tantalizing quality of joyous flirtation.
In the third section Ms. Rice, Mr. Holmes and a six piece jazz band joined with the dancers in ten numbers set to songs associated with Ms. Fitzgerald and choreographed by Mr. Gaddis. Filmed excerpts of Ms. Fitzgerald were intermittently projected onto a large screen.
Most of the numbers drew from the 1940’s WW II era replete with bobby soxers and sailors. The period was flawlessly evoked by the choreographer and included a bubbling and authentic jitterbug finale.
Rice and Holmes are, or course, renowned singing stars who also possess good looks, charisma and crystal clear diction (a rare joy now-a-days) all of which were abundantly apparent in their performance. They also moved with an ease that blended well with the dancing cast.
Rice’s sensuous timbre and exquisite modulation were especially apparent in her rendering of The Man I love; her up beat Tisket a Tasket drew a huge ovation. Mr. Holmes’ high powered The Lady is a Tramp and tender Embraceable You were just two examples of his versatility. In their duets they projected immense charm.
Each song was accompanied by a vignette-like dance the choreography of which captured the essence of the lyrics.
All the dancers were excellent and those who come immediately to mind include the five couples in tux and gowns waltzing to ‘S Wonderful; Mary LaCroix finding her basket in ‘Tisket’ and Haniyyah Tahirah and Justin Daniel steamy in the Hotta Chocolatta cha cha. Marie-Jo Tabet was a high spirited vamp in ‘Tramp’ and Krystal Daniels got even in Goody Goody. Maria Fernanda Vicuna McGovern and Mr. Gaddis were touchingly romantic in Embraceable You.
In addition to being an outstanding choreographer, Mr. Gaddis is a brilliant dancer with a dynamic presence and it was especially rewarding to see him perform in all three sections of the show.
Simply Ella was simply a wonderful show perfect for concert hall or showroom stage. It proved that live, talented people still provide the best entertainment of all.