NBT brings dance to the desert
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Companies dance to commemorate Robert Joffrey
Two ballet companies and a jazz company, all from out of town, sashayed their way onto the Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall stage on Oct. 15, 16 and 17. In “An Unprecedented Event,” the Nevada Ballet Theatre (NBT), Ballet West, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago came together to pay tribute to Robert Joffrey.
To those familiar with the companies, it may at first seem like an unlikely quartet.
But it was the differences in each that made the concert cohesive and showcased the true breadth of Joffrey’s work.
For those not familiar with the ensembles or with Joffrey himself, the performance would have been an excellent introduction.
Joffrey (1930-1988) is highly acclaimed for a number of things, not least of which is making ballet accessible to the American public. The original Joffrey company began with six dancers, a station wagon and a U-Haul trailer.
What graced the stage at UNLV was vastly different while, strangely, staying fundamentally the same. The keen sense of individuality from Joffrey and his dancers strung the concert together.
NBT opened and closed the show with “Degas Impressions” and “Equinoxe,” respectively, which are two of their more contemporary ballet pieces.
“Impressions,” an 11-movement piece, was quintessential ballet at its sweetest.
Classical pantomimes propelled a parodied story of a ballet master and students in his class. James Canfield’s choreography was well-suited, as it was pert and precise without seeming overly mechanical. Character work was largely the point, and it was driven home quite nicely by the fresh-faced ladies in NBT.
Debonair men in tuxedos observed the corps from the side of the stage. (For anyone not fluent in ballet, “corps” is pronounced “core.” It literally means “body,” as in “body of the dance.”) The girls, who minded their pointe-shoed p’s and q’s, were put through a foreshortened ballet class under the direction of the persnickety ballet master.
At the end of the rigorous piece, the girls approached the master with mimed complaints of fatigue and sore feet, eliciting a laugh from the audience. The ballet master permitted them to exit the stage, which was humorous in itself — in an actual class, that would likely never happen.
Ballet West’s “Sinfonietta” was the brass to NBT’s strings and piano. The company, based out of Salt Lake City, bounded forth with a domineering energy and a questing theme. This made the piece more demanding to watch but equally rewarding.
Jiri Kylian’s choreography was contemporary by most ballet standards, but it was still highly accountable to classical technique. It was, quite simply, enthralling and complex to watch.
Hubbard Street, the lone jazz company in the mix, held up its end of the deal splendidly with a fleeting but fabulous “Pas de Deux from Gnawa.” (“Pas de deux” literally means “step of two” — a duet.) Music rooted in the Mediterranean shaped the piece, making it as sensual to listen to as it was to watch. The pair of dancers performed on a bare stage, which exemplified their movement, and their identical skin-tone costumes added to the neutrality of the set.
Nacho Duato’s choreography and the dancers’ execution, however, was anything but neutral. The fluid movement was mesmerizing in its detail and the self-possessed pair brought equal parts class and ferocity to the stage. For the audience, the number was far too brief.
Aspen Santa Fe’s “Red Sweet,” by Jorma Elo, comprised the last third of the show. Vibrant red and purple lighting accentuated the dancers’ dark copper costumes and exuberant energy.
The long, tilted lines of jazz technique were everywhere and breath-taking inverted lifts (with the dancer’s face near the ground and their legs near the lifter’s shoulder) made the norm.
Knife-sharp nuances and fantastic corps work were the name of the game for Aspen. The depth created by the eight dancers and the visual cacophony of the choreography earned a hugely enthusiastic response from the audience.
As with Joffrey’s philosophy of dance, it was the strength in differences rather than the safety of homogeneity that made the concert a success. While none of the choreography was original Joffrey fodder, the spirit of the man was unquestionably honored. “An Unprecedented Event” was just that: an original, unheard of happening with magnificent results.