★★★★☆ - Delicious
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater presented their emotional, mystical, and whimsical dance concert “Shared Treasures” at West Las Vegas Library Theatre last weekend, giving free performances for the public in honor of Black History Month. Subtitled “A Retrospective of African American Dance,” the offering featured four works from the company’s repertoire including three choreographed by African Americans prominent in contemporary dance.
During intermission founding artistic director Bernard H. Gaddis stepped on stage to explain that the show was sponsored by the library and that the company hoped it would “speak to the whole community” and be “a voice for everybody in the community.” If the applause was any indication on Saturday, the eclectic and appreciative audience heard that voice loud and clear.
Zane Booker’s 2009 moody, contemporary dance “Portraits” opened the show. A character-driven piece set to St Germain’s bluesy “Rose Rouge,” it features dancers portraying historical civil and feminist rights activists such as James Baldwin and Gloria Steinem around whose stories the choreography was shaped. This wasn’t noted in the program so it wasn’t always clear who was playing whom, but each figure got their moment in the spotlight (poetically lit by Sandra Fong) by performing their own dance so that their individual struggles could be seen.
With a free-form feel the five sensuous yet anguished dancers in jazz dresses or black trousers (by Gaddis) often gestured from the solar plexus in an expression of oppression, covering their mouths to stifle a gag and to show that their voices had been suppressed. Ashley Gezana did a joyful Charleston and Eddie Otero a confident power walk to the vocal refrain of “I want you to get together,” and with outstretched arms and the clapping of hands the dancers drew us in.
Gaddis’ own 2008 contemporary ballet “Love in Stillness” is a romantic duet set to the sharp, cold sounds of a piano with the warmth of a dramatic cello gradually layered in. Accomplished ballet dancers Mary LaCroix-Lohr and Barrington Lohr are a real-life husband and wife and were the perfect adagio team to to tell the story of a couple who are no longer happy in their relationship together yet aren’t quite ready to go their separate ways. With beautiful technique, extensions, and lifts, the pair took us on an emotional journey through the ups and downs of their love affair. We saw attraction and repulsion, despair and joy. Each feeling was focused on, each gesture defined. It was easily the most understandable dance of the bunch and also the most aesthetically spare, with the colorful lights of Matthew Howard and simple costumes of Gaddis complementing the clean lines of the dancers.
Elisa Monte’s 1986 hypnotic dance “Dreamtime” suits the athletic company well. Set to the percussive, pulsating score of David Van Tieghem, the work is an homage to Australian Aboriginal creation myths, or the time before time. With electronic music and robotic-type movements the piece definitely has an ‘80’s feel, but the muscular dancers in their loincloth-skin costumes (by Monte) powerfully evoked the spiritual ancestors as they moved on and off stage with precision, creating dreamy, geometric lines. They resembled warriors or hunters at times, with bent knees and angular arms raised as if holding spears or boomerangs ready to strike, or frenzied spirits in a trancelike state like the one dancer Marie-Joe Tabet brought to life. The psychedelic, theatrical haze-filtered lighting of William Grant gave the specters a stunning, shadowy universe to inhabit.
Milton Myers’ 1991 whimsical ballet “Ebony Concerto” is set to Igor Stravinsky’s difficult composition of the same name. Written for bandleader Woody Herman in 1945, the title has a double meaning, referring to the color of the clarinet Herman played and also to the skin color of Stravinsky’s favorite jazz musicians. In three movements and with a dissonant sound, Myers’ piece has a decidedly French flair and depicts a Parisian street scene. The dancers wore black unitards (by Myers), some with white stripes evoking a mime in the vein of Marcel Marceau. In fact, dancer Matthew Palfenier may have symbolized a sort of Pierrot, and charmed with his precise, flexible floorwork and subtly comical performance. There were three excellent partnerings featuring intricate lifts in the dance as well, and the lights (by Fong) helped heighten the pedestrian setting with striped lighting and an upstage, backlit scrim showing dancers as observers as they ambled behind it.
“Shared Treasures” was an entertaining, polished gem of a show the whole community could enjoy.