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Here's where Soleil meets the plie

December 09, 2007|Richard Abowitz | Special to The Times

Cirque du Soleil has five shows playing to packed houses. Meanwhile, the far lower-profile Nevada Ballet Theatre is readying to perform "The Nutcracker." Last week, the two groups from different ends of the entertainment world collaborated for an appreciative audience of well over 1,200 people, mostly locals, who paid to pack the Mystere Theatre at TI.

This diverse crowd, from children to retirees, was lucky enough to see one of only two performances of the oddly named "Choreographer's Showcase," with its very un-Vegas subtitle: "A Project Designed to Stimulate and Encourage Artistic Growth." The name was clunky but the concept fascinating: a collaboration between Cirque's performers and traditional ballet dancers.

Last year, the event was held by the Nevada Ballet Theatre alone at Paris and managed an audience of about 120.

This year's talent collaboration reached to all levels. One routine was built around music (ranging from swelling classical to a minimalist section with sampled voices) composed by Richard Oberacker, the conductor of Cirque's "Ka" at MGM.

According to Karen Gay (get this title), Cirque's director of global citizenship, many of the people involved were doing this for a chance to try something different creatively, be it costumes, makeup or lighting: "The technical staff put in hours upon hours of work into this for really no compensation. But they have been doing 'Mystere' for 14 years, and this lets them take their talents further and apply them to something new."

Laura Everling, a "Ka" acrobat and dancer, was one of the first aspiring choreographers to sign on from the Cirque end. And, she agrees, the chance to try something new was a lot of the appeal: "Over the past two years, Cirque has been really good about giving us opportunities to create our own work. They know that there is only so much creativity we can put into a show that essentially has to happen the same every night. So in order to keep us good and to keep us living here in Las Vegas, they have to give us other outlets."

So Everling chose to work only with traditional ballet dancers for her routine. "In Cirque, a dancer often does many different things, but a ballet dancer is trained in a very specific art form. I would present to them a combination that was sweeping and spiraling. But when they did it, I would suddenly see a lot of lines: straight fingers, straight backs and no release in the head and elbows and openness in the shoulders. But the ballet is such great core training that you can let go of little things and still have that solid stance and alignment."

According to NBT principal Racheal Hummel-Nole, working new territory was just as exciting and extreme. For her choreography, she matched Cirque dancers to ballet partners. "The ballet dancers tend to be more polished and the Cirque dancers more fearless. For me, pairing them allowed them to absorb each other's strengths." To further move out of her comfort zone, she used a mix of pop songs by James Blunt and Ben Harper to accompany her choreography.

But it wasn't the differences between the dancers that, for her, stood out the most. "Both train very hard and are very flexible," Hummel-Nole said. To her, the most amazing difference was being able to work with the "Mystere" stage with its lifts, ample front, trap doors and other technological graces. "It was a little daunting, but it was amazing to see what we could do."


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