For six months, a select number of Las Vegas’ greatest performers have worked to choreograph, direct and produce a show that will stage just three performances.
In one of the most only-in-Las Vegas offerings one can find on the Strip, “A Choreographers’ Showcase” pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theatre and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show centered on celebrating the performers’ expansive talents.
“It’s one of the most unique, special collaborations in existence anywhere,” Nevada Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Roy Kaiser says. “And this is the only place this can happen.”
In its 12th year, choreographers from the two companies are encouraged to embrace the theme “Beyond the Stage” by utilizing unique staging and multimedia elements.
The result is a show of original dance numbers that make use of the artists’ various disciplines, set-design resources and staging of the “Mystere” Theatre at Treasure Island.
As a creative guide for the show, which debuts Sunday, Taras Shevchenko, a performer from Cirque du Soleil’s “Love,” is helping choreographers realize their artistic visions.
In expanding the live performance beyond the stage, choreographers will incorporate video projection. And Shevchenko has been stepping n to help produce the new medium.
For a piece by the ballet’s Jaime DeRocker that plays on the idea of working in a cubicle, Shevchenko coordinated the use of office space to film a video that will air during the performance.
“The main goal is to support them in making sure their vision is presented in fullest,” he says. “It’s about creativity, taking chances.”
For her piece “Through Your Eyes,” ballet artist Krista Baker is portraying the story of her relationship with her husband.
“It’s the first personal choreography piece I’ve done,” Baker says. “Usually I’m more abstract. The challenge is being more vulnerable with my choreography.”
To represent establishing a home in the Las Vegas desert after six and a half years of long-distance dating, Baker filmed supplemental footage of her two dancers at the dry lake bed in Sloan.
Set to a slow-moving score, her pas de deux features dancers dreamily swaying and spinning in front of images of the desert at sunset.
As a dancer, Baker looked for artists who could find a personal connection with her choreography.
“I was looking for dancers who could show emotion off the bat, without forcing it out of them,” she says. “I want them to take what I give them and make it their own.”
Arnaud Boursain, a performer in “Zumanity,” and his co-choreographer Alexis Ochin often build pieces that center on larger, global issues.
“Our first pieces were more contemplative, more a song for hope,” Ochin says. “This one is a raging call for sanity.”
In “Hubris,” the duo intends to confront audiences with the realities of climate change. The piece opens with a large red curtain rising to reveal the bodies of the dancers, meant to represent the issues humankind faces in our treatment of the Earth.
“In French, ‘entertainment’ is the same word as ‘diversion,’ ” Ochin says. “When we hear ‘entertainment,’ we think ‘what don’t you want to look at?’ Art has to make you think and question you.”
The piece requires their ballet and circus dancers to not only dance, but to perform in a more theatrical style than they may have before.
In his second year with “A Choreographers’ Showcase,” “Hubris” is challenging ballet artist Robert Mulvey to move and act in new ways.
“I think that’s the breath of the whole program,” Mulvey says. “The only place you learn is outside your comfort zone. So if I just stay in my comfort zone, I’m taking myself out of that.”
For Allison Burke, 27, an ensemble dancer and aerialist with “Love,” the theatrical work is intimidating.
“It’s such a challenge, something I’ve never done before to unwire the ‘prettiness’ of dance and be ugly and act like a buffoon,” Burke says.
She describes the piece as avante-garde, apocalyptic.
“We’re embodying these clown characters and getting this message across that the earth is dying,” she says. “It’s a satire of our current society.”
In the piece, Burke represents a myriad of personalities, all shaping a narrative of buffoonery toward unsustainable global consumption.
“I’m happy to make them think, even if they think I’m ugly,” Burke says. “The bigger goal here than just being pretty on stage is to get the message across.”
Rather than just convey a thematic element, Ochin and Boursain’s secondary goal with “Hubris” is to conceal who may come from ballet and who may come from circus.
While dancers come from disciplines as far-ranging as hip-hop, contemporary and traditional dance, the choreographers are aiming to create a common language through unified movement.
In France, Ochin and Boursain say that producing a show like “A Choreographers’ Showcase” would be difficult if not impossible, but it is uniquely suited for Las Vegas.
“Vegas is a nest for creativity,” Ochin says. “You have artists from all over the globe and a chance to put everything in a big cooker. And you have this perfect collaboration in Vegas. It’s a country of yes.”