Unchained Melody

Dancers become choreographers in fourth annual Cirque and Nevada Ballet collaboration

“I’ve got my paintbrushes and my canvases in front of me and each day it evolves and here’s a new color and here’s a new texture and it’s just fun to put the picture together,” explains artist Greg Sample. No, Sample is not a painter, but rather a dance artist for Viva Elvis and choreographer of Pressing Play, a fun, quirky dance piece created for the fourth annual collaboration between the Nevada Ballet Theatre and Cirque du Soleil, A Choreographers’ Showcase. The “canvases” are the dancers representing Nevada Ballet Theatre and each of Las Vegas’ resident Cirque du Soleil shows. The “paintbrushes” are the concepts and movements that come from Sample’s vision. The “colors and textures” are the varied dance backgrounds that each of the performers brings to the table and the undiscovered talents that emerge throughout the creative process.

Sample is one of the 11 dancers (six from Cirque, five from NBT) who accepted the challenge of choreographing works for the purpose of “stimulating and encouraging artistic growth.” They are a part of a unique collaboration that began in 2006 as a way for Nevada Ballet Theatre and Cirque du Soleil to get involved in the local arts community by highlighting up-and-coming local choreographers and providing an arena for the exchange of ideas among local artists.

“Many people don’t know how rich the art scene is here or how rich the dance scene can be. We really want to bring great art and great dance to Las Vegas. This is the future,” says Mary LaCroix, company artist for Nevada Ballet Theatre. This can be a rewarding experience for members of both companies, especially NBT dancers who have the rare opportunity to dance and have their choreographic works shown on a Cirque du Soleil stage while experimenting with nontraditional dance styles such as hip-hop.

Enriching the Las Vegas art scene doesn’t come without its challenges. The choreographers have one month to bring a piece from concept to stage, and with the full schedules of both Cirque and NBT performers, coordinating rehearsals can be a “logistical nightmare,” according to Sample. Factor in learning how to work with dancers trained in varied dance disciplines under tight time restraints and you have a true test of artistic perseverance.

Each choreographer attacks these challenges in a different way. LaCroix, who is choreographing and dancing in her second Showcase, says, “For me, I have a blueprint. I know I want certain visions in certain moments, but it’s very vague. I use the dancers and their strengths and go from there.” While Sample derives inspiration from a piece of music and then breaks down the score on paper using “a football-style diagram of X’s and O’s.” These approaches taken by the choreographers combined with their individual messages resulted in a program of “10 very different vignettes with stories that the audience can dive into,” LaCroix says.

This year’s showcase builds on the momentum from previous years. “Last year was great, but this year we’re taking it up a notch and we want to keep pushing the envelope,” LaCroix says. This includes moving the showcase from the Mystère Theatre to the Viva Elvis Theater. There will also be a matinee reserved for more than 1,000 Clark County students. All of the proceeds from the tickets sales from the two general admission shows will help pay for the students’ admission and benefit Nevada Ballet Theatre in its mission to paint the town with dance.