Just off the heels of the cheekily experimental play “Stupid F***ing Bird”, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Theatre and Dance ended its uniquely hindered season with a brilliant Spring Dance Concert.
Readers familiar with the department’s struggles will know that lack of technical support confined the year’s plays and musicals to the intimate-at-best, cramped-at-worst Redfield Studio Theater. Dance takes to the Lombardi Recreation Center, where its venue seats only 82. Such limits proved a bugaboo to would-be audience members: all five nights of the Spring Dance Concert sold out a day before the showcase opened.
Which is a shame, really; dance this good deserves to sell out a theater thrice that size.
The Spring Dance Concert, which opened April 19, does for faculty and visiting choreographers what its fall counterpart does for student-devised work. Professors Eve Allen Garza, Cari Cunningham and Nate Hodges each get a showing; as do guest artists Shinichi Iova-Koga, Philip “Flick” Flickinger and Maggie Stack.
As Cunningham, also the concert’s coordinator, promised in her introduction, “You are definitely in for a smorgasbord of dance delights.”
Flickinger’s work, to a propulsive mashup of songs by jazz ensemble BADBADNOTGOOD, opens. With a slow build, a willingness to phase in and out of synchronization and a frankly beautiful use of the human form, it’s a true stunner.
Laserlike focus from the dancers makes it ultra-satisfying when the choreography finally breaks down and lets them move at the same time. At others, suspense and mesmerism take hold. Intricate lifts and a versatile use of props phase the viewer through spontaneous duets, trios and quartets. It’s one of those artistic experiences where you’re not always entirely sure of how you’re supposed to feel — but the ambiguity only makes it better.
In a testament to the department’s ever-impressive range, Flickinger’s tone gives way to a wildly different answer in Eve Allen Garza’s. “Visage Heureux,” a highly charismatic number for six, takes after mime to the silky tones of 20th-century French Pop singer Charles Aznavour.
Garza’s approach is to dial up character and physicality to delightful technicolor extremes, and the result is sweet, sincere and tongue-in-cheek all at once. Mariana Delgado Ceniceros, Lucas Moir, Tullia Rosa and company are so intensely fun to watch that you can’t not follow them wherever they lead. In fact, their charm is almost deceptive: the choreography’s effortless look belies some pretty intense physicality. You can only really see it, though, when one of them falls into a splits like it’s nothing.
With another genre nose-dive, the concert turns to the work of Shinichi Iova-Koga for what might be its strangest and most ambitious number. Besides its solemn opening — with haunting vocals from dancer Maddy Regrut — the piece eschews music entirely. Viewers are brought into a barren world strongly implied to be post-apocalyptic, and gray jumpsuits carry the dancers through a ritual exhumation.
Crystal Holmes, as the unearthed corpse du jour, gives a performance as eerie as it is impressive. A stone-faced ensemble, meanwhile, falls into abrupt, sometimes inexplicable repetitive action. More skeptical viewers no doubt struggled, but they likely found it memorable all the same.
After intermission comes a sprightly, hopeful-tragic number that opens with The Beatles’ “Two of Us,” choreographed by Maggie Stack. Brightly colored plainclothes, a prop suitcase and origami planes carry the piece, “Home,” through a dynamic portfolio of music and yearning. The choreography is complete with a motif that takes a few exposures to recognize, but is immediately potent once you do.
Its final third, marked by a change of lighting and tone with Jóhan Jóhannson’s “Flight From The City,” speaks beautifully to how desperately so many of us want to leave home, and often can’t. Dreams give way to practical constraints: there may be seven people on stage, but there’s only one suitcase.
For the night’s only solo, graduating senior Petra Warburton takes the stage to solo harp. Choreographed by Cari Cunningham, the piece, “Figure of Eight,” showcases Warburton’s strengths, yet feels like it’s missing the dimension and excitement of an ensemble. But that might just be because the Spring Dance Concert was unfairly good at making every member of a group shine.
That more than holds for the last number of the night, a sea-tossed, theatrical pirate odyssey choreographed by Nate Hodges. Hodges, who also contributed choreography to this spring’s “Cabaret,” weaves together a quest for treasure, a tragic love story and no small role for comedy.
Some familiar talented faces don pirate wear for the adventurous number, from its raucous use of a sea shanty popular on TikTok a few years back to its absolutely jubilant finale to “Come Sail Away” from Styx. Crystal Holmes is again excellent, but in an entirely different and riotously funny way. She’s joined by Danielle Hunt and Alyssa Von Eberstein, who broke legs in “Cabaret” and “Stupid F***ing Bird,” respectively.
This year, the Spring Dance Concert proved a powerful showcase of what dance can do. As evidenced by the rest of the season, the department has myriad talents and surprises in store — all the more reason they should get the resources and venues they deserve.
Peregrine Hart can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pintofperegrine.