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Dance productions an elevating, emotional experience

Marko Westwood is frustrated.

When I ask the 20-year Las Vegas resident what it’s like to try getting word out about his dance company he replies, with a voice too eager and a smile too broad, “Oh, it’s so amazing! It’s flowers and unicorns and rainbows!”

In other words, it sucks.

Westwood, 44, the founder of Nevada Repertory Dance Theatre, works hard at not becoming negative. After all, he’s aware that people are not obligated to support the arts. But he’s at a loss as to what to do to boost interest – especially with the press. He thinks the local media – even those who pride themselves on extensive arts coverage – usually ignore dance simply because it’s not on their radar.

I was among the guilty. While I’ve always enjoyed musical theater choreography, I felt dance concerts were too highbrow for me. I don’t know the technicalities of good movement, and I’m not always able to figure out what’s going on. Years ago, Westwood urged me to attend concerts without analyzing, without trying to decode. “Just take it in and see how you feel afterward.”

Good advice.

I’ve since seen his company perform and I no longer fear not being able to dissect the moment-by-moment. I wrote a couple of columns about what I experienced and what it meant to me without any concern about being “wrong.” Westwood made accessible to me a new form of communication.

But how can he convince the virgins out there to take a chance?

His company, which often performs as part of someone else’s program, tries to keep ticket prices in the $8-$12 range. “Less than the price of a typical movie,” he points out. And for that pittance, folks are getting not only highly trained performers, but up to a year’s worth of hard work.

While chatting recently at a coffee shop, a talk frequently interrupted by students and well-wishers, the choreographer asked a local musician about an idea he had for orchestrations to his upcoming December production of “The Nutcracker Hoedown.” (Winds up cost for Westwood’s idea would be in the $2,000 range, which may render it impossible to break even, let alone make money. Westwood doesn’t seem concerned. He’s used to losing money.) I was struck by how soon this man is already working out details for his 11-month away production (rehearsals will last about four months) and how he’s able to stay enthused despite almost nonexistent audience interest.

“I do this because I want to, because I love it,” he says. “My attitude now is that if other people come and enjoy it, then that’s great. But it’s not necessary.”

I suspect that’s the pose Westwood is determined to adopt because it keeps him from giving up. But why should locals make a point of checking out his company?

“Dance allows you to suspend reality and enjoy life in a different kind of way,” he explains slowly. “Watching someone onstage with such an air of grace and effortlessness can change your perceptions. It elevates you.”

I don’t know as much as Westwood about the art, but my reaction is, “what he said.” There’s an elevation I experience from ballet, contemporary and modern jazz that I find unique to the art form. Dance has become an emotional experience for me, rather than an intellectual one, and I think that’s what’s gotten me hooked. (Info: NRDTLV.ORG)

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@ aol.com.You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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