★★★★☆ - Delicious
Experience shapes art. UNLV Dance's recent fall concert "In Between" featured profoundly personal works by student choreographers that seemed to emanate straight from the heart, as well as those which took a panoramic look at more abstract ideas.
Carolyn Lajara offers a deeply-felt meditation on grief in her piece "For My Papi," set to the wistful music of Oliver Tank. About a young woman (Alissa Kuhn) struggling to deal with the death of her father (Malik Gray) who appears to her in a vision, it features religious imagery and captures the psychic inner turmoil of sorrow, which both Kuhn, Gray, and the ensemble of otherworldly beings embody with their frustrated movements and mournful facial expressions. We see the bond between Kuhn and Gray in their fleeting duets and lifts, and feel for them when Gray is swept away by the beings while Kuhn tries in vain to follow. The clarity of Lajara's narrative along with the haunting music, movement, and performances make this a piece that lingers.
Gray's own riveting work "Insecurities of a Dancer," set to "She Used to be Mine" by Sara Bareilles, is an introspective and spare, melancholy chair dance that examines the crippling self-doubt that keeps many women from achieving their dreams. After describing their perceived physical shortcomings in voiceover, five seated women dance with restricted movement that builds in momentum until the music stops abruptly, and we are jarred out of the moment as the women slide off and under their chairs. As the music resumes they dance and move the chairs freely - they have broken out of the chains of doubt and are now in control of their destiny.
The slow-jazz piece "Love Unraveled," choreographed by Rebecca Huppenthal to "Almost Blue" by Chet Baker, is like watching the memory of a painful break-up through a filter into the past. To tinkling keys and a soulful trumpet Gray and Kristina Hakobyan make a sensuous pair, perfectly attuned to each other as they gesture and move softly in unison both separately and through anguished lifts and penchés. It's an ache to which everyone can relate.
Kalie McLaughlin blends dance with theater to create her clever "Time Has a Time of its Own," set to music by Collen Whitton, which studies time as a human construct and our exasperating race with it. Both funny and complex, a quartet of dancers perch on individual hourglasses, tapping their feet as they wait impatiently for time to pass, and enact comedic voiceovers with movement to match the words.
Kuhn's evocative "Evolving Existence" is set to "Bend Your Knees" by James Vincent McMorrow and is a spiritual piece about the struggle for self-fulfillment. A central dancer in spotlight moves plaintively while confined on a rotating disc as others move freely around her. The yearning, reaching, and pretty positions contrast starkly to another piece of the supernatural kind, Lay'la K. Rogers' unsettling and cinematic "I Can't Help Myself," choreographed to the music of Svedaliza and others. A procession of women in mourning wear black dresses and veils of Spanish lace, carving the space with their forceful movements under moody lighting (atmospherically lit by Eric Haufschild), pointing fingers like it's a day of reckoning and giving a feeling of despair that we are reluctant to experience.
There's a calming quality to Jayden McCree's "Ái," choreographed to the music of Wong Hu Mao and others, with a sculptural, Asian-inspired aesthetic. The dynamic lighting intensifies dancers' angular movements as they shape the area around them, and the mood shifts with the music as dancers balance and bow with intricate hand gestures giving a beautiful visual effect. Another aesthetic and spacious work is artist- in-residence Kristine Keppel's "Unforeseen," set to "I Found" by Amber Run. Inspired by inspiration itself, there's a dreamy sadness to the piece that features fluid, emotional movement in ever-changing combinations of dancers leaping and lifting with the wonderful Zack Frongillo in a central role.
At first glance the final piece of the program, "Vega: #vegasdancestrong," choreographed by faculty member Vikki Baltimore-Dale, might seem like a work about the Oct. 1st tragedy. But perhaps that's for another time, because it's actually an elegant tribute to the extensive dance tradition of Las Vegas. Set to the music of Rupert Gray-Williams and others, the piece is metaphorical on many levels. The "Vegans" in their disco-look, colorful dresses, stiletto heels, and subtle headpieces evoke not only showgirls and Cirque performers on stilts, but also strippers, especially when the "Watchmen" appear, carrying their long poles. Baltimore-Dale paints a mesmerizing stage picture of dualities as the Vegans glow with their conservative,
controlled-yet-bold movement that gradually becomes flowing and soft. The Watchmen use the poles as levers for their own difficult moves and leaps, and support the Vegans during acrobatic lifts.
Kudos to all the choreographers, dancers, and technicians who participated in the compelling "In Between."