Nevada Ballet Theatre, Cirque du Soleil join for sixth annual collaboration with showcase

In this corner: culture. In the opposite corner: showbiz on the Strip.

But if you think the twain never meet, think again — because Nevada Ballet Theatre (the resident dance company at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts) and Cirque du Soleil (represented by multiple multimillion-dollar showroom extravaganzas) mark their sixth annual collaboration this weekend with “A Choreographers’ Showcase.”

The showcase will be presented at 1 p.m. Sunday — and again Oct. 13 — in Treasure Island’s “Mystere” Theatre, featuring eight new works choreographed, and danced, by members of both companies.

This year, however, there’s an exception to the usual new-works-only rule: the punchy, kinetic “Read My Hips,” staged by “Mystere’s” artistic director, David Gomez.

From celebrated dancer-choreographer Daniel Ezralow, who also choreographed Cirque’s “Love” at The Mirage, “Read My Hips” makes its Las Vegas debut at Sunday’s showcase. (Chicago’s Hubbard Street Dance introduced the modern dance staple in the early ’90s.)

Ezralow “possesses the knowledge of the contemporary dance arena, yet has a keen understanding of the ballet,” according to James Canfield, NBT’s artistic director. “ ‘Read My Hips’ will communicate the diversity as well as the commonalities of both NBT and Cirque du Soleil artists.”

During a recent run-through at NBT’s Summerlin headquarters, however, it’s all about the beat — catching up with it, keeping it, anticipating it — as Ezralow coaches dancers through a transitional sequence they’d just learned the day before.

Clustering and undulating like a human amoeba, the dancers link their hands and shake their heads as they move. Ezralow shakes his head along with them, echoing and observing their actions in time to Michel Colombier’s explosively percussive score.

“It’s got to be very cartoony,” Ezralow advises them on their collective movement.

The dancers repeat the sequence, Ezralow gesturing with his hands like a symphony conductor, urging them, “Faster, faster, faster! You’ve just got to hit the floor like you fell out of the sky.”

And though the vintage dance “is like an ancient memory for me,” Ezralow admits, he remembers enough of it to dance along with the performers he’s rehearsing, clapping his hands to trigger their steps.

“Go, go, go, go, go, go, go! And go!” he directs before joining them on the dance floor to demonstrate how a progression of movements should flow: “Contraction, second position — and up!”

When the sequence concludes, Ezralow offers an encouraging word (or five): “That was good — much better.”

The “Read My Hips” rehearsal climaxes a run-through that includes six of the eight new works. (Three of the showcase’s dances were created by NBT members; five are from Cirque artists.)

“Love’s” Jacqui Guimond, for example, choreographs “The Ballet,” a whimsical encounter between four classical ballerinas — and one break-dancing, hip-hopping guy.

“Ka’s” Tori Lubecki contributes an emotional pas de deux, while NBT’s James Cleary puts seven couples on stage, arranged in stately stances, until — one by one — they surrender to the kinetic energy of a suddenly pumping electronic beat.

NBT’s Braeden Barnes is the first to break free and catch the dance fever. But it’s hardly his only “Choreographers’ Showcase” role.

Barnes also steps out in the next piece — his own. Titled “Us and Them,” its musical accompaniment ranges from the syrupy-sweet strings of “Theme From ‘A Summer Place’ ” to the Chemical Brothers’ electronic sounds as the dancers express conflicting impulses.

It’s about the dancers “seeing the other side of their personalities,” Barnes says, adding that “it’s great to experience different styles, different choreographers” by participating in the showcase.

That’s just as true for local audiences as well as participants, says Andre Kasten, a “Love” dancer who’s one of the featured “Showcase” choreographers. (And yes, Barnes is dancing in Kasten’s piece too.)

After all, the Cirque du Soleil audience doesn’t necessarily attend NBT performances, and vice versa, Kasten points out, so the showcase represents “a great connection for both.”

Aspiring showcase choreographers submitted applications to the companies’ respective artistic directors (NBT’s Canfield and “Mystere’s” Gomez) for consideration, outlining their ideas.

“This project’s all about ideas,” Barnes says. Besides, he adds, “who wouldn’t want to choreograph on the ‘Mystere’ stage?”

Choreographers are encouraged “to use the whole production value” of that high-tech stage, Kasten says, from the fog effects to the props. (His own piece includes “rain and bunch of stuff” before the dancing starts.)

In addition to two public performances by the 51 NBT and Cirque artists, “A Choreographers’ Showcase” will present a special Friday matinee for Clark County students — and participants in Future Dance, NBT’s education and outreach program.

Some 22 Future Dance students — ages 8 to 17 — also will get into the act onstage, performing a special hip-hop number choreographed by Terane Comito, NBT’s education and outreach director.

The student program strives to provide “unique dance and theater experiences — as well as additional performance opportunities they wouldn’t receive otherwise,” according to Comito. “Exposure to various artists and choreographers is a key ingredient in their growth and increases their knowledge of the art form.”

That sentiment holds true even for the professional dancers participating in the showcase.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to work with both sides,” says Kasten, who “comes from a very contemporary (dance) background.”

That contemporary edge “adds so much to classical,” says NBT’s Barnes. “It’s really nice to take a break from tutus and tights and ballet shoes.”

Contact reporter Carol Cling at ccling@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272.

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