In 1999, two local dance pros noticed that despite Las Vegas’ famed entertainment offerings there was a lack of depth in the local dance scene. In need of something more than the stereotypical barrage of showgirls, College of Southern Nevada Dance Program chief Kelly Roth and dancer Kyla Quintero created the annual festival Dance in the Desert. It’s intended to give local dancers and dance companies without large budgets an “outlet for their artistic stirrings,” Roth says.
They filled a necessary niche, and then Roth took the concept one step further. He now promotes the importance of looking beyond our city limits for artistic inspiration by inviting participation from artists throughout the country. In doing so, local dancers have the opportunity to exchange ideas and gain ins. Above all, Roth says that the festival experience can help alleviate the feeling of being marooned in a dance desert: “Sometimes it feels like you’re in a vacuum, then you have somebody else come and they reignite the belief that dance is worth doing and that it can sweep you away, out of the doldrums of daily existence.” Along with four local performance groups and CSN students, this year’s three concerts will include companies from as far away as New York. They will perform three separate pieces so audience members attending more than one concert will never see the same material twice. The material won’t follow the typical three-minute dance competition routine format. Roth encourages in-depth works and doesn’t impose a strict time limit.
Since its inception, Dance in the Desert has opened up networking opportunities for local dancers. Even the continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express where visiting companies are housed offers a great location for dancers to converse. Through formed relationships, local Dance in the Desert participants are part of an unofficial regional dance festival circuit. When time and funds allow, they are invited to visit neighboring festivals, and in turn, more interest is sparked interest for Dance in the Desert. Roth believes this cross-fertilization will enrich Las Vegas’ dance scene and, “keep dance as a viable 21st-century art form.”
The local and national companies appearing in Dance in the Desert:
Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater. Founded in 2007 by Bernard H. Gaddis, principal dancer and choreographer in Zumanity and Mystère. The company has nine dancers and a repertoire of more than 30 ballets.
Nevada Repertory Theatre. Founder and UNLV graduate Marko Westwood has been participating in the festival for 10 years and is presenting two new choreographed works along with a piece by Cathy Allen, associate professor at UNLV.
Canyon Movement Company, Flagstaff, Ariz. This all-female company will supplement their live performance with a video of their local landscape.
Maida Withers, Washington, D.C. This postmodern dancer who began her dancing career in 1960 will show a multimedia work recently performed in Russia featuring herself, another dancer and a cellist.