★★★½☆ - Satisfying
UNLV Department of Dance was recently ranked eighth in the nation on College Magazine's list of top ten dance schools in 2019. Having a high level of artistic integrity, the accolade is well deserved.
UNLV Dance emphasizes collaboration in the study and creation of dance, and that was the theme of their latest concert, "Collective Visions," presented at the Judy Bayley Theatre last weekend. While artistry and energy were in high supply during the opening night performance, the show lacked some of the visual luster and accessibility that have marked many of their productions in the past.
"Clocks Don't Work Here" is a lyrical piece choreographed by artists-in-residence Jeanine Collins and Andy Lott in collaboration with 11 ensemble dancers. Set to the music of Olafur Arnalds and others, the work is an ambitious meditation on personal awareness and individual empowerment, particularly of the female kind. Having a spiritual bent and using chairs as an extension of the body, it may have been inspired by Ulysses Dove's 1986 ballet "Vespers." The chairs are a metaphor for the shackles that bind a person who waits for the idealized, perfect life to happen instead of taking control of their destiny and living life in an authentic way.
Much of the dancers' movement occurs while seated, with limbs extended like the hands of a clock and with wavelike motions. At one point dancers stack the chairs in a pile as if escaping from a cluttered mind, and the lights are shadowy and fleeting like a collective memory. But the piece itself gets cluttered with some crowded groupings and tends to be so dark that we can't see dancers' expressions, and it's difficult to connect in a meaningful way.
"Going Up" is a playful jazz piece choreographed by Richard Havey, set to the singing of Ella Fitzgerald. With a 1930's vibe it features a girl and a guy who meet awkwardly in an elevator and break out in dance to Cole Porter's "It's too Darn Hot" in the laundry room (or on the roof) of an apartment building, under lighting that is colorful and bright to reflect the "heat." The lead dancers are flirtatious and charming with their swing dance moves and lifts (coached by Sean Cronin), while the ensemble dancers have varied levels of experience but are energetic in their characterizations and seem to enjoy every moment onstage.
"Mimic" is an enigmatic piece choreographed by artist-in-residence Ari Mayzick assisted by Molly Harris, set to the atmospheric music of Kronos Quartet. Full of relentless, frenetic energy, the work is complex and demanding on performers and viewers alike. Dancers appear in individual spotlights wearing head-to-toe black, with bright red hands that frame the body and highlight a self-embrace. In the dark lighting they are like creepy ninjas or creatures struggling to emerge from the primordial soup, and their movement is athletic and jazzy and often in unison. The piece is disturbing yet intriguing, and difficult to watch.
"Napoli Pas de Six" is a dance from August Bournonville's 1842 romantic ballet "Napoli," restaged by Dolly Kelepecz-Momot with Cronin as partners coach. It's an engaging Neapolitan street scene that features four women en pointe and two men in various combinations, pairings, and solos. Zach Frongillo is a standout with his springy entrechats, tours, and perfect "Bournonville" jete. Soloist Diana Peck's "Bournonville" is just as good along with her elegant port de bras, although the ladies don't always seem so assured on their toes during their intricate footwork, and the dancers are still developing in the genre so their characterizations aren't quite fleshed out.
"Yoke" choreographed by Ari Mayzick to the music of Max Richter and danced by Mayzick and Octave Parfait--who both dance for the Martha Graham Dance Company--is a mournful modern piece that proves to be the most complete and fulfilling work in the show. It depicts two individuals in a struggle that feels like an evolution of sorts, who are on different paths with different movements that are minimalist and sustained, and that repeat, oppose, and echo each other. It's a powerful moment when they come together in an embrace of discovery in the end.
"Emotions" is a complicated modern work choreographed by James Jeon to the music of Philip Glass. An expansive exploration of how negative emotions are able to coalesce to create harmony, it's a surrender to strong feelings that are difficult to overcome. The ensemble of nine dancers appear like apparitions in the shadowy darkness as they hit and kick, push and contract, and yank at their clothing as if to free themselves of constraints. In the noise there are silent screams, and in silence, audible gasps. Their own emotional shadows hover over them on the backdrop upstage, and they come together in unison to lift each other up and experience a Christlike release, arms outstretched. The piece is thought-provoking and superbly danced.
Dance is full of intimate and delicate moments and gestures that are easy to miss if the lighting is too dark. Michael Jarett's lighting designs are admirably specific and reflective of the ever changing mood of each piece, and he often uses a muted color palette and plays around with shapes, textures, and patterns to good effect. But on either extreme his lights are so stark or so dark that contrast is lacking and scenes look flat, and dancers are difficult to see. Seeing the lines of a dancer's body and the shimmery pop of skin contrasted against a costume under sculptural lighting is a dopamine booster, and is so important to drawing the viewer in.