★★★★★ - Irresistible
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theatre’s 2016 Spring Concert “Straight up with a Twist,” performed at West Las Vegas Library Theatre this past weekend, featured three gorgeous and splendidly danced contemporary ballets with two having world premieres. Artistic Director Bernard H. Gaddis chose pieces that made for a perfect fit, and though all were very different they were aesthetically complementary and carried a thematic thread throughout about the nature of humanity.
Opening the program was Ulysses Dove’s uncanny 1984 work “Bad Blood” set to a compilation of Laurie Anderson’s dystopian, synthesizer-infused “Excellent Birds” (a collaboration with Peter Gabriel), “Gravity’s Angel,” and “Walking and Falling.” A time capsule of 1980’s style, it’s about the complicated and often cruel maneuvering involved in male/female courtships, and the company forcefully captured the raw, passionate, yet strangely unsentimental essence of the piece. It’s not about love and romance but about manipulation and control, and the performance was both exhilarating and intensely cerebral to watch.
“I see pictures of people,” Gabriel sings, and in their white unitards (designed by Dove, executed by Casey Goshen and Erina Noda) the excellent ensemble created striking stage images under the stark lights of William Grant. In unnerving silence Matthew Palfenier commanded the boards with his athletic solo full of fast jazz spins, sustained movements, and flexed arms with clenched fists raised in a gesture of masculinity and power.
The imposing Gaddis and elegant Mary La Croix-Lohr shared an elaborate, intimate pas-de-deux as lovers with a complex relationship. They attacked the acrobatic lifts and sensual, sometimes graphic moves with precision and strength. An attraction-repulsion motif was expanded upon in the ensemble, with Marie-Joe Tabet, Barrington Lohr, Maria Vicuna-McGovern, and Avree Walker in impressive, dynamic pairings. The difficult choreography was erotically suggestive, full of hip-thrusting, spread-eagle lifts, and lifts that featured women running across the stage and leaping onto their men, straddling them at the waist or shoulders to show the desperation of their dysfunctional involvements.
Nicholas Villeneuve’s epic “To the Last Grain” was given a beautiful and breathtaking world premiere by the company. It’s a mesmerizing and spiritual contemporary ballet set to the music of Duke Ellington, though it definitely ain’t Swing. About ancient Indian ceremonial blessings involving Akshantulu, which is rice mixed with turmeric to create a sacred offering, it tells a universal story about a culture with an essential connection to nature. Immersed in the auspicious color of saffron, with peasant skirts and wraps designed by Noda and warm, sun-kissed lights by Matthew Howard, the ensemble created sumptuous stage pictures with ethereal movement and posing that echoed mythic paintings on archaic pottery.
The music also echoed the themes of the piece, with the periodic tolling of a bell marking the passage of time and a tinkling instrument simulating the sounds of falling rice and water. Rice was brought onstage in barrels and sprinkled about and the dancers bathed in it, worshipped it, and rejoiced in a successful harvest. There was an overall feeling of zen, serenity, and positive female energy.
La Croix-Lohr exquisitely danced the role of a royal goddess and the ensemble--Vicuna-McGovern, Adrianna Rosales, Walker, Palfenier, Justin Daniel, Rachel Murray, Nichole Reyes, and Lohr--provided strong support with the intricate choreography, which included demanding lifts, athletic jumps and spins, meticulous footwork, and sensuous contortions and undulations. The lovely Vicuna-McGovern also danced a substantial part, showing off her flexibility, extensions, and strong partnering skills in duos and trios. At one point a trip over a barrel caused a dancer to snap out of focus, but kudos to the cast for otherwise maneuvering atop the grain scattered onstage.
Gaddis’ own composition “An A-Ha Moment” also had a wonderful world premiere. With five crude, hanging light bulbs defining the space (designed by Howard), and with the dancers in white shirtsleeves and the men in underwear and socks with garters, the scene hearkens to an era of American history that suggests a story about working-class city folk who live in tenements and share a sense of community. Featuring the ensemble the piece opened with a comical pantomime with performers discussing the hanging bulbs, symbolic of bright ideas. The lights didn’t easily turn on until a mysterious girl appeared who with a simple clap was able to activate them.
Minimalist Steve Reich’s “Clapping Music” then began to play and the dancing ensued. At first the moves were folksy and clapping oriented, then opened up into different combinations of dancers and built into a high-energy frenzy as the music became an orchestration and violins began to dramatically swell. There were tricky pairings and trios and performers moving in lines that flowed into circles, and the dancing was exuberant and euphoric as if these were people reveling in their time away from the mundane grind of work. Then the light bulbs flickered and it was time to end the fun and prepare for the next day.
“Straight up with a Twist” was a sumptuous treat for the senses.