Dance group earns raves despite technical glitches

It was an evening of bravos and cheers from a nearly full Smith Center for the Performing Arts as the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater celebrated its fifth anniversary.

A wide-ranging program of seven dances included nine members of the company, six apprentices and others as well as co-founder and artistic director Bernard Gaddis.

While several works could trace their roots straight to Alvin Ailey and his well-known dance theater, others strayed into classical and even hip-hop for a grand showcase performance.

The evening opened with "Variations," by choreographer Milton Myers, who danced with Ailey, has taught throughout the world and now works with the Philadelphia Dance Company.

Performed to rapid, rhythmic recorded percussion by four men in red briefs and narrow swathes of fabric wrapped around their torsos, it was a tour de force in expected yet dramatic modern mannerisms. Here were the purposeful strides to nowhere, the pose/move/pose/move sequences, the intense coming together and moving apart. There were some surprises: At one point, it was dancers as whirligigs, standing straight as arms rotated.

Several of Gaddis' own dances were on the program. "Opulence" is a tribute to classical ballet in every way sans toe shoes and tights, with women in black tutus and men in elaborate jackets, worn with bare legs and bare feet.

The moves, the lifts, the pairings, even the fluttering hand fans suggested ballet. Women had the choice roles, now coquettes, now prancing a catwalk with a sneer, now demanding (and receiving) more attention from other dancers and the audience. Energy propelled the piece to a hypnotic and sudden end.

Gaddis choreographed and showcased himself in "Metamorphosis Two." Danced first to a piano and a constantly ringing bell, it was never particularly accessible but still intriguing, with its complementary and mirror moves, its assorted quick pairings and some images that would fit in a hall of Greco-Roman sculpture. Several sequences were poetic; others showed definite domination.

"Lifted," by Philadelphia choreographer Lorenzo Rennie Harris, brought dancers in oversize jeans, athletic shoes, tank tops and bikini tops to the stage for a mash-up of "West Side Story" and urban street smart with more than a bit of funk.

It was by far the most involving piece of the evening, and each dancer had the right "in your face" attitude and proper amount of swagger. Modern dance moves were incorporated as part of "Can you top this?" sequences with confidence and decisiveness.

"Read Matthew 11:28" included primarily the apprentices of the company.

The New Testament phrase to which it refers is, roughly, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest."

There was no rest here.

With choreography by Kryslin World-Heil and music by Bobby McFerrin, it included some intentionally awkward moves - backs jutting out, arms akimbo, a bit of a frug or the Hitchhike, perhaps - with the lithe arms and legs expected in contemporary dance for an ethereal melange.

The evening included the near- classic "Vespers," choreographed by late Ailey star Ulysses Dove and with a strong performance by six women in the company; and "Ms. Nina-Rose Blues," a quick, down-tempo jazz dance by Gaddis for company dancer Nina-Rose Wardanian.

Technical glitches were distracting and took away from an otherwise competent performance.

Curtain calls were too long or nonexistent. There was a rough fall, several slips, some awkward pacing and one certain wardrobe malfunction that left a female dancer raising only one arm throughout more than half of one presentation, grabbing a handful of fabric with the other.