★★★★★ - Irresistible
Nevada Ballet Theatre presented their 46th season-ender "Ballet & Broadway" at the Smith Center recently, and it was a great way to showcase the company's sophisticated aesthetic and also give a glimpse of programming going forward under the guidance of new artistic director Roy Kaiser. He envisions more outreach, more programs, more performances, and more growth and diversity in the company's repertoire, including new original works that encourage dancers to further develop breadth and depth in their artistry.
The four ballets on the bill complimented each other nicely, though the program as whole flew by quickly. But their pre-show discussion "Insights" featured Kaiser and choreographer Matthew Neenan in an engaging conversation about the company and the artistic process, the performances were passionate and the technical aspects top-notch, and the fifty-piece orchestra (members of the Las Vegas Philharmonic) conducted by Leif Bjaland was pristine.
Christopher Wheeldon's dreamy 2002 ballet "Carousel (A Dance)" is like cotton candy at the county fair. It's delicate and sweet and melts away quickly leaving a hint of flavor on the tastebuds. Inspired by Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein's 1945 musical "Carousel" with a nod to the original choreography of Agnes De Mille, the story revolves around the romance between a carnival barker (Steven Goforth) and a pretty ingénue (Alissa Dale). Their pas de deux was shy at first as she ran and he chased in a game of reluctant flirtation. But their awareness grew and they became more impassioned, with Goforth giving a subtly assertive, bad-boy air and Dale embodying the essence of simplicity.
Betsy Lucas, Kenneth Shelby, Emma McGirr, and Enrico DeMarco made charming demi-caractére pairs, while the ensemble evoked the town folk with canons of successive, repeating movement on down each line. Dancers leaped and seemed suspended in air, and they moved together in a circular pattern that culminated with girls perched artfully on boys' shoulders, holding long poles so they resembled carousel creatures as they moved up and down. The nostalgic music, hanging string lights, vintage-look costumes, and inventive movement painted a dynamic and dramatic stage picture indeed.
George Balanchine's 1964 ballet "Tarantella" is set to the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The dance probably originated in ancient times as an antidote to the bite of a venomous spider, but Balanchine's version is a folksy courtship duet that highlights the virtuoso abilities of its two dancers. The quick, clipped, and intricate movement also requires strength and stamina, and artists Mirella Costa Neto and Jun Tanabe had the technical finesse and cheerful demeanor to pull it off. The exuberant Neto was a joy to watch with her leggy pas de chats, crisp fouettés, and deep pliés á la seconde, while Tanabe was nearly flawless with impressive ballon on his high leaps and beats. He wasn't as vigorous as Neto in his portrayal, and both could have used more flair with the tambourine, but they made a dazzling pair.
Guest choreographer Matthew Neenan composed his new contemporary ballet "Until December" on company artists Dale, Jaime DeRocker, Christina Ghiardi, Brooke Lyness, McGirr, Sergio Alvarez, Goforth, David Hochberg, and Benjamin Tucker. Set to "December," Las Vegas-based Michael Torke's forceful yet melancholy 1995 composition for strings, the work had an exquisite world premiere during the show.
The abstract piece featured the girls en pointe and ever-changing combinations and groupings of dancers in turns, lifts, and jumps that often corresponded to punches in the music. Classical movement often juxtaposed or morphed into modern forms, like a jazzy walk done with bent knees and swinging arms that ended with the flick of a hand and a caress of the face. Pairs often mirrored each other's movements, and there was a plaintive quality overall with a lot of physical contact between performers suggesting a longing to connect. They were like synchronicity, or like pieces of a puzzle trying to fit together.
George Balanchine's noir jazz ballet "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" was set to the music of Richard Rodgers originally for the 1936 film "On Your Toes." The piece takes place in a speakeasy and features the tragicomic saga of a Striptease Girl (Ghiardi) courted by a Hoofer (Tucker) who makes the Big Boss (Goforth) angry enough to kill. Dancer extraordinaire Morrosine (Joshua Kekoa) also wants Tucker dead and in a humorous bit hires Gangster (John Katsilometes) to do the deed.
The ensemble filled out the piece as dancehall girls or keystone cops, and all were full of energy and enthusiasm. But the vivacious Ghiardi stole the show as she danced with abandon and flexible extensions and jazzy kicks. She and Tucker made a sensuous pair with their simmering split lifts and amazing can can kick dip, while Tucker put on his acting chops for the comical, never-ending tap dancing bit.
Kudos to the technical crew including lighting by Peter Jakubowski, costumes by Christopher Larson, staging by Tara Foy, and many more.