Nevada Ballet Theatre: 40 Years Young

By Hal de Becker

Nevada Ballet Theatre began its 40th season in collaboration with guest company Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Paris Resort Theater.

With charm and candor, the two artistic directors, NBT’s James Canfield and Hubbard Street’s Glenn Edgerton, came on stage to reminisce about their careers and 35 year friendship.The relaxed, affectionate banter between the two not-so-old pro’s was delightful and made warm contact with the audience.

Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco” to a J.S. Bach Double Violin Concerto opened the program.Created in 1941 it’s a timeless masterwork and an ideal visualization of the music – at least when performed as it was by NBT’s dancers.

Two female soloists mirrored the music of the solo violins and a corps of eight others reflected the orchestra. The ballet, like the music, was in three movements.

In the first and third movements the fast combinations of classical ballet steps were complex and challenging with rapid ‘beats’ and pointe work and the serpentine interlacing of groups of dancers.

The slow middle movement featured a duet danced by pretty Demetria Schioldager partnered by Grigori Arakelyan.His dark good looks in contrast to her fair coloring, and their perfectly blended physical proportions made them a handsome, well-matched duo.With compatible styles, effortless lifts and strong techniques their partnership was a pleasure to watch.

From the ballet’s classic and neo-classic moves to a brief Charleston on pointe, the NBT dancers made it all look deceptively easy.

A new work by Mr. Canfield, “Cinq Gnossiennes”, was created to five compact piano pieces by French composer Eric Satie (1866-1925).The music was performed on stage by pianist Carol Rich with sensitive understatement that never intruded upon the dancing.

Satie’s lyrical sometimes witty compositions have attracted numerous choreographers.‘Gnossiennes’, pronounced noe-see-enns, is a term devised by the composer and possibly related to mythology and certain archeological discoveries of his time.

The five unconnected dances were staged for four men and three women performing in various groupings. Mr. Canfield’s choreography captured the music’s poetic mood with graceful body lines and movements, even in the floor-work.

The dancing was skilled and focused particularly in solos by Jeremy Bannon-Neches and Mary LaCroix.The section where the three ladies performed with their hair down and flowing loosely around their shoulders had a singular impact.

Lighting effects, from silhouettes to dramatic colors of orange, blue and green added to the work’s appeal.It was an altogether polished performance.

Mr. Canfield’s other piece, “Up”, was a letdown and seemed more lightweight then when viewed on a previous occasion.Set to seven versions of the Rodgers and Hart song “Blue Moon” the repetition of music, lyrics and even choreography inevitably became tedious.The ubiquitous silhouettes didn’t help.

A superbly danced solo by Mr. Bannon-Neches movingly evoked a sense of emotional inner-pain. In two other versions of the song, Alissa Dale, Sarah Fuhrman and Preston Swovelin were respectively and appropriately joyous and comedic.

Due to a technical problem, the programmed finale by the ensemble was followed by an empty, dimly lit stage and then an unexpected solo.Not surprisingly, the ending fizzled out in confusion.

NBT’s dancers, especially the women, have acquired a distinctive ‘look’ based upon mutually attractive faces and figures, techniques and harmonious movement.Their proficiency in classical and contemporary modes appears to be gradually producing a cohesive ‘company style’.

Twelve Hubbard Street dancers delivered a credible performance of Jiri Killian’s stunning masterwork, “Petit Mort”.

Although the style of the choreography is ‘contemporary’ and Hubbard Street is known primarily as a ‘contemporary’ dance company, “Petit Mort” requires its dancers to possess solid classical techniques especially in body lines, such as arabesques, and in partnering involving complex lifts and unique melding of bodies.

The title translates from the French as ‘little death’, a reference to the peak of physical love.With related symbolism, the dance opened to six lone men, their fencing foils resting at their feet, blades leaning on the floor.The men stepped on the raised handles of the epees causing the long blades to spring into an upward position.

Then from the rear of the stage they pulled forward a huge canopy covering themselves and the entire area.The canopy was quickly withdrawn, the men gone and in their place the prone figures of their female partners-to-be.The men re-entered and the duets began.It was a startlingly effective beginning to a piece that to its final moments never lost its beauty and power of invention.

Set to the sublime slow movements of two Mozart piano concertos, the choreography contained some of the most exquisite dance passages ever created for couples. Bodies flowed together like musical notes to execute choreography so mystic and beautiful in its contemporary forms that at times it seemed to infuse the 18th century music with a mysteriously modern quality.

“Too Beacoup”, or ‘too too much’ in French, was an apt title for the dance Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar created for Hubbard Street.It was seriously overlong: much too much of the proverbial ‘good thing’.

It began well. Attention was assured with 16 talented dancers looking nude in skin tight, skin colored full-body leotards; the men wore blond punk-style wigs and the ladies page boy ones.

For a time, the choreography had an almost mesmerizing affect with fascinating and repeated minimalistic movements ranging from the stiffly robotic to rhythmic rubbery isolations of shoulders, hips, heads and limbs.

Up to a point, the stylized choreography was pleasingly accessible, due in part to occasional simple, natural moves resembling what one might do alone at home, glass in hand, listening to a favorite piece of music.

But when Ori Lichtic’s outstanding electronic-percussive score was inappropriately replaced by standard songs and jazz arrangements the choreography became a repetitious, interminable series of anti-climaxes that begged the question: Were the choreographers compulsively unable to stop or did they just not know when to do so?