Ballet Without the Theater

Beyond Words and Text brings stories to life while allowing fans a peek behind the scenes

As a lover of dance, I’m often left wanting to know more about the creative process behind a great artistic performance. Fortunately, Nevada Ballet Theatre created a learning opportunity by opening its rehearsal space to the public for a series of performances called Beyond Words and Text: The Studio Series.

Walking into NBT’s Summerlin headquarters on April 9 felt similar to entering a friend’s house for the first time. This “home,” however, is a modern, spacious facility housing seven studios and a dance boutique.

Inside the studio where the performances took place, black curtains are draped over the mirrors and a gray marley dance floor covered the wood underneath. Although the space had been effectively converted into a black box theater, when sweat-suit-clad dancers donned iPods and rehearsed in front of the audience before the show, I could imagine what a real rehearsal was like.

Beyond Words and Text came about when artistic director James Canfield challenged NBT’s 28 dancers to choreograph a dance representation of a story, fable, movie or literary work. Canfield chose nine pieces to be featured in the studio series, although the dancers only perform five during any given performance due to time constraints. Of those nine, he predetermined Amadeus and Jungle Book. My fellow ticket-holders and I had the pleasure of choosing the remaining three pieces by casting votes. I felt proud when two of my three picks were in the lineup, which included The Velveteen Rabbit, Sleeping Beauty and Death of a Salesman.

The third wall was further deconstructed when the choreographers spoke about their journey from concept to creation. For example, Amadeus choreographer Jeremy Bannon-Neches explained how the four female dancers who represented both musical notes and townspeople were the most integral part of illustrating the tension between rival composers Mozart and Salieri. In Sleeping Beauty, gestures were used to stand for abstract ideas such as beauty, and the unconventional dance moves done on pointe were meant to show the strength of women. These added insights helped me examine each literary work more deeply than I otherwise could have.

But perhaps the best part of the performance was learning that NBT intends to bring these works to schools throughout the community in an attempt to expose students to dance. I only hope they learn as much as I did.

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