Gala celebrates Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 40th anniversary, arrival at Smith Center

You can’t have a future without a past.

James Canfield, Nevada Ballet Theatre’s artistic director, paraphrases Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" when he notes, "What’s past is only prelude."

And Nevada Ballet Theatre’s season finale – Saturday night at The Smith Center’s Reynolds Hall – reflects that philosophy.

The gala celebrates not only NBT’s 40th anniversary but its debut as one of The Smith Center’s two resident companies. (The other, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, is expected to provide live accompaniment at Saturday’s gala.)

Billed as an evening of "Dance, Music, Style and Class," the gala spotlights both classical and contemporary ballet, featuring NBT dancers and guest artists – from the New York-based American Ballet Theatre and Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet – along with Caesars Palace headliner Matt Goss.

The program’s variety means that even "if you’re not a tremendous ballet fan, there’s something for everyone," comments NBT co-chair Nancy Houssels, who founded what was then Nevada Dance Theatre with Vassili Sulich , the troupe’s first artistic director.

And while "there’ll never be a way to put onstage 40 years of history," Canfield says, the program does include nods to the past.

For example, the inclusion of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Carla Korbes and Seth Orza , dancing the White Swan Pas de Deux from "Swan Lake" reminds Canfield of his own guest-artist days – when Sulich asked him and his partner to dance the same duet in 1986.

Korbes and Orza will join Pacific Northwest colleagues Lucien Postlewaite and Sarah Ricard Orza for "Red Angels," from contemporary choreographer Ulysses Dove.

"It’s like the perfect opposite," Korbes says of the two dances she’s performing – one a quintessential classical ballet and the other "sexy, sensuous and modern."

Korbes was in New York for the 1994 premiere of "Red Angels" and "it brought the house down," she recalls.

In her view, it shows "how ballet has evolved," moving beyond traditional repertoire. "Nowadays, I think dancers can’t afford to do just classical work," Korbes says.

Another guest artist, American Ballet Theatre’s Herman Cornejo , also has a dual showcase, demonstrating his versatility by performing the Diana and Acteon Pas de Deux with ABT’s Xiomara Reyes – and a solo, "Tango & Yo," danced to the music of Astor Piazzolla.

Cornejo ranks as "one of the world’s best male dancers," Houssels says. "This guy defies gravity. He’ll give us some thrills."

NBT’s own performers dance the program’s opener and finale.

Launching Saturday’s gala: George Balanchine’s 1934 classic "Serenade" – the first ballet Balanchine created in America. (Like "Swan Lake," it’s set to a Tchaikovsky score.)

The Balanchine Trust, which oversees the legacy of the late master choreographer, is very particular about who’s ready and who has the dancers to perform his signature works, Korbes says. "Any company in the U.S. that can do Balanchine – it means they have a good reputation."

(NBT will be doing more Balanchine next fall when the company joins Pacific Northwest Ballet and Salt Lake City’s Ballet West to present the choreographer’s three-part "Jewels.")

Canfield himself choreographed the gala’s finale, "Four Songs," which teams the NBT dancers with Goss, who will perform "Evil" (featured in his Caesars Palace show), Leon Russell’s "A Song for You" and two new songs.

"It’s a different use of live music," Canfield says of the piece, citing his interest in bringing different arts and cultures together.

Goss echoes that philosophy, noting his dream of doing a full-length ballet someday.

"On the whole, all mediums should try to collaborate," Goss says. "That’s when great things happen."

After 38 years of performances at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to say NBT is eager to celebrate its new home would be an understatement.

"Not to diminish UNLV – they gave us a home for 38 years," says Houssels, but the move to Reynolds Hall not only gives NBT’s dancers "a psychological lift" but "a great technical lift" as well.

"For dancers, the stage is perfect," she notes. "The space is there."

So is the space to hang scenery – which will enable NBT to stage a brand-new "Nutcracker" for the holiday season.

Even more importantly, however, Reynolds Hall offers NBT "a consistency," not only for the company’s dancers but its audiences, Canfield says. "It’s a nice feeling when you know everything has a level of familiarity."

In other words, they’re home – and there’s no place like it.

Contact reporter Carol Cling at or 702-383-0272.

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