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Brave new approach

Choreographer connects with the city as he creates for it

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Choreographer Thaddeus Davis works with Nevada Ballet.
Photo: Steve Marcus

When Thaddeus Davis came to town this month to choreograph a new piece for Nevada Ballet Theatre's Brave New World performance, we could only anticipate the result would be something with dramatic heft. His New York-based Wideman/Davis Dance company is known to tackle social-justice issues through narrative dance — be it homelessness, poverty, civil rights or the brutal story of a system-raised criminal.

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Nevada Ballet Theatre's Brave New World
March 27, 8 p.m.; March 28, 2 p.m.; $35-$75.
UNLV's Artemus Ham Hall, 895-2787
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His "An Incandescent Start" — one of three new works being performed this weekend at UNLV's Ham Hall — has depth. Set to music by cellist Joan Jeanrenaud, the abstract piece taps the extremes of the human condition through the push and pull, comfort and discomfort of human relationships, whether between friends or strangers in an elevator.

Named for an incandescent light that illuminates slowly, then generates heat, the piece is about extremes, Davis says — a physical exploration of the question: "Why do we respond to each other the way we do?"

The dance piece is a result of relationships between the choreographer and Nevada Ballet dancers, whom he'd never met. Rather than arriving with a preprogrammed piece to stage, Davis and wife Tanya Wideman-Davis came to see the dancers, absorb the city and organically grow the choreography with the dancers as a response to their energy. Any other city or any other company would have generated a different piece.

"As we work, we put ideas together," Davis says during a break in rehearsals his first week here. "We start working with dancers to see where they're going and make it up as we go along."

While the dancers rest, he talks with his wife, listens to various passages of Jeanrenaud's "Metamorphosis," then returns to the dancers to begin again. There is no counting. Davis instead sings the melody and, in a slow scat style, sings the names of the dance positions. In this piece, he's looking for a poetic feeling with a hard edge — that's why he chose Jeanrenaud. "I love contemporary classical music," he says. "It's aggressive. It has a hard edge, driving beat. I'm a major fan of Bach because his music is as contemporary as contemporary can be."

Davis' combined contemporary and classic approach to dance puts him in a similar league with James Canfield, Nevada Ballet's artistic director. The two met while working with the Northwest Dance Project in Portland, and later were both commissioned for works by Nashville Ballet.

"Thaddeus' work ethic and process parallels to what I believe is essential for a dancer's need to be challenged, and the company's need for new work," Canfield says.

Brave New World — named for the "new, unchartered territory" of its trio of premieres — also includes "Cyclical Night," a new tango-inspired piece by Canfield, with music by Astor Piazzolla, and a story ballet by Gail Gilbert, based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Nightingale," with music, naturally, by Igor Stravinsky. Gilbert, the artistic director of the Taos Dance Festival, was once described in the New York Times as having "one of the most vivid, bizarre imaginations in New York modern dance."

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Kristen Peterson

Kristen Peterson joined the Las Vegas Sun in 1998 as a general assignment reporter. In 2003, she turned her focus ...

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