Las Vegas Sun

August 1, 2014

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Nevada Ballet revels in fans’ love

The standing ovation will come as no surprise. This audience loves its ballet company. They know its history. They know the performers. They're in it for the long haul.

At intermission they discuss who in the company is married to whom, the intricate costumes and the gorgeousness of principal dancer Yoomi Lee.

Last weekend's "Don Quixote" was Nevada Ballet Theatre's best start, saleswise, in its 36-season history.

The absence of live music and that the corps de ballet is sometimes out of sync doesn't seem to matter. The audience hurls its applause. Faithful subscribers have been attending performances for nearly 20 years, and the ranks of new patrons are growing.

Subscriptions, which account for half of the ticket sales, are up 16 percent from last season. Matinee ticket sales have more than doubled in three years.

Younger audiences are targeted through local magazine spreads. Photographer Jerry Metellus' photo exhibit of the dancers, opening next week at the West Sahara Library, portrays them as stylish young hipsters with undeniable athleticism. There is even talk of a young patrons program.

Additionally, a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil has artists from each show working with Nevada Ballet dancers on a choreographer's showcase.

This all looks good for Nevada Ballet, which started in 1972 as a way to give Strip performers a chance to return to their classical roots. Artistic Director and choreographer Bruce Steivel is credited with the recent popularity. He's added 30 ballets to the company's repertoire since arriving 11 years ago and brought to Las Vegas prominent names in the dance world.

Last year Balanchine was on the program, requiring the ballet to open the balcony at Artemus Ham Hall for more seating. This year's program includes works by Twyla Tharp and Balanchine. Nevada Ballet also is involved in cross-cultural collaboration with Seoul Ballet Theatre in Korea.

Steivel says, when he arrived, the company was desperately in need of new ballets, new choreography and dedicated dancers. Salaries were embarrassingly low and turnover was high. Staff will agree.

Ballet Mistress Clarice Geissel-Rathers, who has been with Nevada Ballet since 1983, says a growing repertoire helps bring new opportunities and challenges for dancers and attracts stronger dancers. "Twenty years ago we were a very small company and only had so much support."

Nevada Ballet has definitely strengthened itself artistically. Yoomi Lee, who has been with Nevada Ballet since 1991, is technically superb, bringing elegance and emotion to her performance. But there is still a wide gap between the principals and corps de ballet, something Steivel chalks up as the norm in any company. Steivel says the corps de ballet is stronger than it has been and "the public is getting used to seeing them very uniform and together."

There is always that nagging element of dancing to canned music, but a live orchestra would increase costs and raise ticket prices. Spokeswoman Cindy Fox says ticket sale s cover only 27 percent of the budget. The earned revenue is growing, but the company relies on sponsorships and donations. Live music aside, Steivel says, a new ballet can cost $250,000 to $1million .

But the company plans to bring in live music before it moves into the Smith Center for Performing Arts in 2011, even if it's only a few instruments. Grants are being written , and in February the company will be using a trio of strings from the Las Vegas Philharmonic for a performance of a Steivel premiere.

Executive Director Beth Barbre, who put live music on her agenda when she arrived last season, says that musically "it is our hope that we continue to build and keep building."

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