LVCDT’S ‘‘BEST OF’’ 10th ANNIVERSARY PROGRAM
By: Hal de Becker
Photos By: Jason Skinner
Fans of Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater were thrilled by its recent concert at The Smith Center. For patrons not already familiar with the troupe the performance would have been a happy revelation.
The generous program was a collection of 18 memorable works from the troupe’s repertoire. The dance styles encompassed lyrical, rhythmic, idiosyncratic and other contemporary components. The choreographies, though not credited in the printed program, were superb: some touching, others exciting all of them riveting.
Dancing, like the choreography, was flawless. The 18 dancers, beautiful ladies and handsome men, were all talented, versatile artists. Their performance vividly displayed a unique company style that no doubt reflected the artistic vision of LVCDT’s founder/director Bernard Gaddis.
The dancers’ commitment and joyous sincerity went beyond mere ‘opening night’ exuberance. It was apparent that they had been meticulously rehearsed and prepared - and not only in dance steps. They were also attuned to musical and interpretive nuances probably due to intense and insightful coaching, and inspiration, from Mr. Gaddis.
Costuming (also uncredited) was original and captivating. Colors of stark black or white, and luminous shades of blue, yellow and purple harmonized with the essence of each dance. The billowing skirts and skin tight leotards seemed at times to be extensions of the dancers’ bodies.
Wisely, there was no scenery to clutter and distract; just a star-studded backdrop and the occasional chair or bench. Lighting was meaningful and refreshingly non-intrusive.
But above all, this was a performance of dance that surely fulfilled the audience’s every expectation.
The concert opened with ‘Lotus’ set to Vaughan Williams moving ‘Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallas’. The music, except for several swelling passages of the main theme, had a hushed, almost sacred quality the solemnity of which was sustained by the 10 dancers. Maria Vicuna-McGovern was outstanding as the soloist in yellow.
The choreography was composed of solos, duets and ensembles in a blend of fluid, free style movements tastefully punctuated with classical ballet arabesques, extensions and lifts. Especially effective was the choreographer’s use of momentary silences when, in the absence of music, a dancer’s move would project a sense of aloneness.
‘Gabriel One’, a solo performed by Mr. Gaddis, was one of the concert’s highlights. The dancer’s charismatic presence was palpable the moment he stepped on stage and began a slow descent forward into a picture perfect penche arabesque.
Every dance on the program was memorable but for me the ‘best of the best’, was ‘Embraceable You’.
Like masterworks of all art forms, this ballroom style duet may have seemed simple. That was, of course, a deception which itself was part of the artistry. It received an unforgettable performance by Stephanie Powell and Bernard Gaddis.
Tall and slender, Ms. Powell’s long lines added to her elegant and exquisite dancing. When lifted overhead she made us believe she was flying in slow motion. Mr. Gaddis was the essence of gentle masculinity. Tender but strong. His moves melted into hers and his sensitive support always seemed a natural part of the dance.
Every glance they exchanged, every touch, evoked a sense of poetic romance. No frenzy, no tension, no effort. Just two beautiful people moving slowly and intimately to soft music. It could have been a dance of love or seduction, or maybe both. In any case they made us believe that they believed they were alone on the floor and in the world.
The jazzy, up-beat ‘Take 5’ for three couples might be described as a sexy street scene. The men’s long legged stretched lunges, slightly off balance, were strong and original.
‘Bang Bang’ opened with Marie-Joe Tabet facing a tailor’s mannequin dressed in a man’s suit. As the song about a tragic shooting unfolded, she removed the mannequin’s jacket, embraced it and then flung it away as if throwing off an unwanted memory.
‘Fraternus’, an intriguing, powerful work, opened with five men wearing priests’ floor length black cassocks. As the vigorous dance progressed the cassocks swung open and were whirled like capes to reveal a bright red lining. It was as though the men were being freed from an oppressive force while the red lining symbolized an erotic element.
The choreography included fascinating rapid arm and hand movements that mirrored the music and, despite their speed and complexity, were executed by the dancers in perfect unison.
‘Vespers’ involved six women attending a church service. Their relationship with each other was characterized by fear, confusion, rivalry and violence. Their inter-action with six chairs played an important part in the dance-drama.
A whimsical solo to a part of Stravinsky’s ‘Ebony Concerto’ was performed by Matthew Palfenier in a costume of vertical black and white stripes representing piano keys. Addrianna Rosales ignited the fiery ‘Spanish Harlem’ number as did Nadjana Chandra and her three partners in ‘Hot Chocolatta’, both set to a rhythmic Afro-Cuban beat.
The song ‘Don’t Explain’, immortalized by the late Billie Holliday, was danced by Agnes Roux. In the lyrics a woman assures her unfaithful sweetheart that, despite her own pain, she still loves him. Roux conveyed the theme with clarity. ‘Fraternus Solo’ evoked the impression of a pagan ritual. Eddie Otero, topless and wearing a black, tattered skirt and long braided hair piece, gave a frightening and spellbinding performance.
In ‘An-A Ha Moment’ 12 dancers focused on a dim light bulb hanging from the end of long cord as might be found a cheap hotel room. Although they seemed to be paying homage to it, as if it were a religious icon, the dancing was rollicking and humorous with the men wearing black sox held up by old fashioned garters.
‘Night Creature’ was another powerful ensemble work beginning and ending with the dancers assembled in a triangle pointing to the front. It was a wildly wonderful jazzy piece with non-stop rubbery hip gyrations. There was even a short, snappy ballet section with five ladies doing entrechats. The powder blue costumes were gorgeous.
In ‘Goodie Goodie’, a popular song from the 1940’s, Katlin Reese Davin let her ex-beau know she was glad that this time he was the one being dumped. ‘In the Dark’ was a warm, boy meet girl duet. A lyrical solo, ‘Solstice’, showed Vicuna-McGovern’s balletic skills to good advantage.
The concert closed with ‘Ebony Suite’ and it was a finale to end all finales.
It opened with the cast siting on chairs, ladies seated stiffly, men slouched down, all seemingly bored. Suddenly one gal, Vanessa Reyes, jumped up and with punching torso contractions began an abandoned dance which by its end had engaged everyone in a bacchanal of fun that included humorously exaggerated bumps and grinds.
When the ovations finally began to subside, Mr. Gaddis gave some post-performance remarks from the stage. He stated that maintaining the company had been a continual struggle and that this performance was originally intended to be its last. He never mentioned money, but for all dance organizations that is a large part of the struggle.
He credited the dancers’ loyalty, dedication and, at times, sacrifices with persuading him to keep trying. Consequently, another performance is scheduled for February.
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre, like any high quality, home-grown dance company, must not be permitted to disappear from the Las Vegas cultural scene. If it does, shame on us all.