Friday, June 8, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Choreographer returns to showcase
When Silke Ortloff began choreographing for dancers from the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Las Vegas’ seven Cirque du Soleil shows, she had a major challenge to overcome — clothing.
"I can't really bring that in (this show) because there (will be) children in the audience," Ortloff said with a laugh.
Ortloff is one of 11 choreographers who created pieces for this weekend's "A Choreographer's Showcase," a collaboration of dance and acrobatics featuring performers from the Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Cirque du Soleil shows. Performances are at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Elvis Theatre at Aria.
"Because they all have their own shows, this is the first time some of these individuals get to interact with each other," said Steel Wallis, the production manager for this year's showcase.
For the past month, the artists, production directors, technical crews and wardrobe designers have spent their free time putting together the show. It's a hectic production schedule on top of their regular jobs, but they do it because it gives them a chance to stretch their creative wings.
"With Cirque, you can't do whatever you want because you have to stay pretty strictly within the concept of the show," Ortloff said. "With 'Zumanity,' you have individual performers, so there is some leeway to be creative, but as an artistic director, you don't always have the freedom you have as a choreographer. That's why I wanted to join this."
The choreographers create pieces that utilize the ballerinas' grace and the Cirque performers' strength.
"One of my favorite pieces was a baton twirler who did a piece to 'Swan Lake,'" said Beth Barbre, executive director of the ballet. "It's really taking the best of both worlds and making something unique out of it."
"What is really thrilling to me about this project is that every year it's different," Barbre said. "Even though we're bringing back some of the numbers from past shows, they will have new talent and a new stage."
Tickets cost $20 or $40 and are available online or by calling 590-7760.
The Sun went behind the scenes of the show to find out what it takes to put together such a production. Here's are look at a few of the people involved:
Choreographing the numbers
Amy Von Handorf of the Nevada Ballet Theatre admits to being a little mesmerized by the special effects in Elvis Theater.
"I want fire," she recalled saying. "Naturally, I was just joking. But they said, 'We can do that.'"
With such a grand setting and such talented ballerinas and acrobats, the creative mind of a choreographer can run wild, Von Handorf said. The challenge is getting the control needed to create a coherent performance.
"It really is kind of overwhelming," she said. "You have so much at your fingertips."
Von Handorf decided against using fire. But her number will include a ballerina dancing on a bar suspended 10 feet above the stage.
Setting the stage
Steel Wallis' first challenge as production manager was getting all the performers and choreographers together.
"We have the Nevada Ballet and all the Cirque shows (with) seven companies," Wallis said. "You have eight schedules you have to work around."
Then, Wallis had to contend with the massive size of the Viva Elvis Theater, which at 80 feet is about twice as big as a traditional stage and much larger than the practice rooms at the Nevada Ballet, where choreographers and the performers had been training. The artists moved to the larger stage only a week before the showcase.
"You see it in their faces as they walk into the space," Wallis said. "They see the piece in a whole new light. You see them have that moment of, 'Here it is. My vision is coming to life on the stage.'"
Wallis oversees the overall production of the showcase, making sure the numbers aren't swallowed by staging and effects.
"It's easy to put up video and flashing lights, but it's also easy to lose the focus of what's important: highlighting these young choreographers and dancers," Wallis said.
Lighting the way
Whether she's walking down the street or into a restaurant, Steph Weiss notices lights.
"My husband makes fun of me," said Weiss, assistant lighting director for the Viva Elvis Theatre. "Everywhere I go, I look up to see what the lights are or how they are working. I definitely see things that way in my life. It's what carries with me everywhere I go."
For "A Choreographer's Showcase," crews try to fashion the lighting to fit the mood each choreographer is trying to convey, Weiss said.
"If their piece is very sweet and slow, we try to make the lights match that," she said. "If their piece is really loud and active, we can make the lights more colorful and move more so that the lights add to what they're doing on stage."
Working with new artists on a new show produces its own electricity.
"It makes the energy in the room really exciting," Weiss said. "People are bouncing ideas all around. We might perform Cirque (shows) thousands of times and we may only do this twice, but we put just as much into it. The passion is there because this is what we do with our lives."
Dressing the parts
When Erina Parks first moved to Las Vegas, she — like many in the entertainment business — needed a job.
So she volunteered for the Nevada Ballet, helping with costuming.
Now, as a costume designer for "Viva Elvis," she wants to give back to the place that opened their doors to her. She has created costumes for "A Choreographer's Showcase" for the past two years.
"It's interesting to see how a choreographer can bring together 15 people in four to six weeks," Park said.
This year, Parks designed costumes for a number in which the dancers represent elements of the earth: water, fire, earth and air.
"How do you translate air?" she asked. "We can't see it, but you know it's there. So I looked up and saw clouds. Then I started working with whites, silvers, grays and blues. You hope that people can get an idea, like a 5-year-old can be sitting there and get what we're trying to do."
Parks works her regular job from 4 p.m. to midnight and often continues to work well past her shift. She typically sleeps in the morning. But for the past month, she has used her mornings to sew costumes for the showcase.
"Sometimes, you have to just pinch yourself with a needle and keep going," Parks said. "Once that curtain opens for the first time, you breathe a sigh of relief. It was worth it."