★★★★★ - Irresistible
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater is celebrating their Tenth Anniversary this season, and they opened with a sublime fall concert at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Veterans Day. By turns mystical, whimsical, and jazzy, the program was a beautifully danced retrospective of seventeen repertoire favorites and the Las Vegas premiere of Founder and Artistic Director Bernard H. Gaddis' aesthetic, neoclassical ballet "Lotus."
Amazingly, Gaddis didn't think the company would make it to the ten year mark. In an emotional talk with the audience after curtain he related how, after having difficulties, he wanted to give up and retire the non profit company. He lost dancers as a result but others rallied behind him with a renewed dedication and determination to keep the vision alive, while returning artists lend their talents by appearing in the concert as guests.
The sweeping, dreamlike "Lotus" opened the show, danced by eight company artists and two apprentices. Gaddis, along with composer Alan Chan, was commissioned in 2014 by California's Laguna Arts Festival to create a work inspired by the 1967 oil on canvas "Lotus Land" of Dynaton artist Lee Mullican, which is an abstract, colorful painting suggesting the mythological Greek lotus eaters who ate the tranquilizing flowers to maintain an altered state.
In revision Gaddis has set the work to Vaughn William's serene "Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis." Gaddis composed textural layers of symbolism for the piece around ideas of spiritual enlightenment through nature as expressed in the cosmic painting, allowing them to develop gradually and blossom much like a lotus flower pushing through water to bloom on the surface.
In front of a starry backdrop and immersed in shadowy, blue and yellow lighting, dancers wear long, satiny and ruffled dresses in brilliant colors to suggest flower petals, moving the fabric as an extension of their bodies' and also to define the space around them. Movement is soft, swirling, and circular, with gentle chainés, curved arabesques, and flowing arms increasing in urgency as the music swells. Though the piece feels a bit long it is visually stunning and evocatively performed, with nicely matched pairings and a sun/flower goddess central character exquisitely danced by Maria Vicuna McGovern. We not only see a flower blooming but also a society of people living immersed in a narcotized trance.
Three other emotionally haunting works composed by Gaddis in a spiritual vein were also given. In his own moving solo "Gabriel Sorrow," wind roars ominously through the classical orchestration. In his long white skirt the angelic looking, graceful Gaddis is a man who is clearly grieving a loss. He collapses in a gesture of anguish and reaches pleadingly up toward a symbolic light, and we feel his pain.
The forceful and cinematic "Fraternus" is about a sinister seeming brotherhood of powerful men. Performed to chanting chorale music and against a blood red backdrop, five men dressed in long black priest robes move in ritualistic circles so quickly and effortlessly it appears they are floating above the floor. They spin and leap zealously using their red lined robes as capes and look like flying, winged gargoyles. And in a disturbing, mesmerizing solo from "Fraternus" the masterful dancer Eddie Otero undulates under a single spotlight in total darkness, writhing and contracting with complete believability as if he's an ancient, tribal shaman on a vision quest.
Ulysses Dove's seminal work "Vespers" is a contemporary ballet about six proper women and their experiences at church during evening prayer. Set to the percussive sounds of Mikel Rouse's "Quorum," the stark piece features choreography using chairs, danced with abrupt, perfectly timed precision by the company. The stage picture is striking, with performers in black jazz dresses lit luminously against the darkness so that their glowing skin matches the wood of the chairs. They pirouette and jeté in antagonizing duets, dance frenzied solos of spiritual ecstasy, and perform a dramatic seated line of sequential forward bends and head tossing back arches.
Interspersed throughout were fun jazz numbers like Alvin Ailey's whimsical "Night Creature" set to the music of Duke Ellington and performed joyfully and flirtatiously by the company. "Embraceable You" is a steamy romantic duet sensuously danced by the expressive Gaddis and the elegant Stephanie Powell; "Take Five" features girls and boys in an exuberant dance off set to a rhythm and blues, surf sound; "Ebony Concerto Solo" features the charismatic Matthew Palfenier as a Pierrot type character moving to the dissonant sounds of Igor Stravinsky; "Hot Chocolatta" is a delightful Latin infused piece featuring Nadjana Chandra; "Don't Explain" features a seductive Agnes Roux; the athletic Marie Joe Tabet despairs in "Bang Bang;" a sassy Vanessa Reyes leads "Spanish Harlem" into the soulful, company danced finale "Ebony Suite;" plus other pieces all charming in their own way.
LVCDT is a fine company of diverse, passionate dancers with plenty of room to bloom.