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December 22, 2014

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Playing well together

Nevada Ballet Theatre and Cirque du Soleil partner up with great results

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Justin M. Bowen

Lonely Hearts” by “Love” dancer LJ Jellison.

A Choreographer's Showcase is an unfairly boring title for the annual collaboration between Cirque du Soleil performers and Nevada Ballet Theatre dancers, staged last Sunday at the Mystere Theatre at Treasure Island. Dancers from both companies — the Strip monolith and the small but accomplished hometown troupe — worked together for months to present 11 new dancer-created dances, and the result was thrilling for performers and audience alike.

The first piece, "Vera Lifandi" by Nevada Ballet's Mary LaCroix, opened with a strikingly dramatic entrance, made possible by Mystere's technologically advanced stage. Eight stargazing dancers, silhouetted in an icy blue light, were slowly elevated from a stage pit to the haunting crescendos of "Saeglopur" by Sigur Rós.

NBT's Grigori Arakelyan choreographed "Nocturne," a romantic triad set to a cocktail-jazzy tune by Armenian composer Arno Babajanyan. One of the particular joys of this Showcase was seeing a dignified dancer like Arakelyan freed from handsome-prince mode, really having fun and creating characters.

Several numbers offered classical ballet with a creative twist. NBT's Jeremy Bannon-Neches' "Connected Perspective," an indigo mood for six nightbirds, was set to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and beautifully described by the dancers. And Chiyoko Koyano made a graceful dance called "Dying Swan" for her Ka colleague, Noriko Takahashi, a baton-twirling virtuoso. Against the Saint-Saens melody, the fleet, fluid ballerina seemed somehow to be impelled by the flights of her silver baton.

A woman dropped a coin in a juke-joint jukebox, beginning the hugely entertaining, Fosse-esque "Lonely Hearts," by Love performer LJ Jellison, and Radiohead's "Creep" — accompanied by a blast of light — was a galvanizing shock of rude, racy comic energy for six dancers.

Khetana Henderson, also from Love, created a quartet of brief, bracing dances for groups, duos and soloists, set surprisingly and stunningly to spoken word — Shakespearean soliloquies, to be precise. The dancers not only moved to the cadences and emphases of the words as if they were music, they expressed and enacted their meaning. If I had to choose an MVP from the whole program, I'd give it to NBT's Griffin Whiting, who radiated enthusiasm and commitment.

I enjoyed just about everything, and was perhaps most impressed by "Retrograde," choreographed by NBT dancer Alissa Dale, who set her triparted piece for 10 women to solo guitar works by Leo Kottke and John Danley. The movement was witty, fresh and friendly — smiling dancers! — and the staging was stylish, certainly satisfying that portion of dance fans that likes to see twirling skirts.

The amusing, exhilarating "Swingin' Mid Mod," by Ka cast member Gail Gilbert, ended the show with three vigorous vignettes for 16 dancers, set to jump-jivin' songs by Louis Prima, Keely Smith and others. At the end, the dancers waved goodbye to the standing, cheering crowd as they slowly disappeared back down into the Mystere stage.

A Choreographer's Showcase is repeated April 25 at 1 p.m., and I strongly suggest you don't miss it.

— Originally published on LasVegasWeekly

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