Double Dipping

Crossbreed Frank and Twyla and imagine the artistic offspring:

“I Get a Leg Kick Out of You”? “The Ballerina Is a Tramp”? “I’ve Got You Under My Tights”?

Sinatra swagger becomes ballet beauty in “From Stravinsky to Sinatra” — featuring Twyla Tharp’s take on the head Rat Packer’s repertoire — this weekend in a cultural double dip at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Performing Arts Center.

While Nevada Ballet Theatre dancers dabble in pirouettes and plies at Artemus Ham Hall, drama dominates across the courtyard as Nevada Conservatory Theatre mounts William Inge’s portrait of marital misery, “Come Back, Little Sheba” at the Judy Bayley Theatre.

“Some people say there’s nothing (cultural in Las Vegas) and then you see all this,” says “Sheba” director Jeffrey Koep, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “And this is just what’s here at the university.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes goes balletic as the finale of a program comprising the Las Vegas premieres of George Balanchine’s “Rubies,” James Canfield’s “Equinoxe” and “Nine Sinatra Songs,” Tharp’s 1982 piece set to several of the Chairman’s chestnuts, including “Strangers in the Night,” “All the Way,” “One for My Baby,” “Something Stupid,” “My Way” and “That’s Life.”

“Frank was one of the best storytellers ever, so when you have couples demonstrating different forms of love, who better to tell that story?” asks Keith Roberts, the dancer staging the Las Vegas version who also headlined “Movin’ Out,” the Broadway ballet choreographed by Tharp to the Billy Joel oeuvre.

As befits the dean of doo-be-doo-be-doo, ballroom-style ballet is the motif, the ladies draped in Oscar de la Renta-style gowns, with seven couples sweeping across the stage beneath a sparkling glass ball in the first Tharp piece presented by Nevada Ballet Theatre.

“I’m teaching them not only the steps, but the style and feel and nuance of it,” says Roberts, who has performed the Sinatra selections and chooses the bluesy, after-hours “One for My Baby” as his favorite. “It’s a different style for ballet dancers. They’re classically trained and suddenly they’re being asked to do something quite different. This is Twyla’s version of ballroom dancing — very elegant, but with her special stamp on it.”

Across from Ham Hall’s ballet ball, “Come Back, Little Sheba” catches a Broadway zeitgeist, debuting just after a revival starring S. Epatha Merkerson of “Law & Order” fame bowed in New York to positive buzz. “I don’t think we’ll lose a lot of audience to them yet,” Koep quips.

Inge’s early-’50s drama explores the stale marriage of Lola and her alcoholic husband, Doc, whose regrets over lost dreams and scuttled expectations — metaphorically couched in the title alluding to Lola’s long-missing dog, Sheba — are suffered anew when Marie, a vibrant college coed, rents a room, stirring their dormant disillusionment.

“When we had a read-through and Lola is going out and says to Marie and Turk (the lover with whom Marie is cheating on her out-of-town fiance), ‘You can have the living room to yourself and play the radio and make a plate of fudge,’ the students thought that was the funniest thing — it isn’t exactly revolutionary in 2008 that a college female and a college male might be having sexual relations,” says Koep about its now-quaint attitudes.

But even though, a half-century past its premiere, its once-explosive themes of sexuality and boozing no longer pack the same societal wallop, its sense of truth endures.

“With Doc’s alcoholism, back then we didn’t have the scientific studies about dependency and abuse and enablers, but when you get down to the hell Doc goes through and the terror it strikes in Lola, that’s not far off from what you see today,” Koep says.

“And a married couple of 20 or 30 years finding they’re not compatible, that’s not new, it’s just that people get out of it easier today. This isn’t a play you update and set in 2008 because it’s so rooted in the values of that period. But have the values changed that much? I think you let the play stand on its own.”

Quick fix for marital monotony? Fire up some Frank for a little doo-be-doo-be dancing.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0256.

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