This performance could have gone seriously wrong—a hyper-religious topic that ends with the heroine being burned at the stake, performed by student dancers, some well-trained and some new to the game, along with a first act of chirpy selected short subjects completely unrelated to the main piece.
The evening’s centerpiece, Archetype: Images of St. Joan, choreographed by Artistic Director Kelly Roth, follows the career of St. Joan, the young French peasant girl who led the armies of France against the English during the latter half of the Hundred Years War. She claimed she did so at the instruction of various saints, which came to her in the form of visions and voices. For political and religious reasons, she ended up as the grand finale for the prison fireworks display.
The dance work had the slow, measured pace of a silent film, which is not surprising, as the accompanying music, Voices of Light (1994) by Richard Einhorn, was designed to be performed with Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent film masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. Its pace reinforced the somber subject material.
The dancers matched the dramatic impact of the solo voices, chorus and orchestra. Alison Marsh was perfectly cast as Joan, displaying a solid technique matched by strong acting chops. Marko Westwood as the Soldier, Kelly Roth in a dual role as Archbishop and Inquisitor, and Jerrett Runnells as Charles VII all handled their assignments with conviction and security.
The surprise of the evening, however, was the students, some of whom had been dancing just two months. All the performers, were invested in their roles, maintaining character and hitting their marks. In a professional production, this is to be expected. But college and university dance departments vary greatly from year to year, depending on the talent enrolled. This group is one of Roth’s best.
The first opening act was Time Can Pass Us By, a romantic duet by choreographer Westwood celebrating the wonder of new love. Westwood and Jenna Tolentino were charming as the lovers. A second duet, Husbands and Wives (Couple One), choreographed by Ann Ludwig and elegantly performed by Kelly and Leslie Roth, explored the graceful yet playful nature of mature love.
The final work, LO2VE, also by Westwood, was an accessible group piece to music by Jordin Sparks—imagine So You Think You Can Dance, but good. Westwood is in terrific performing and choreographic form these days. Rumor has it that he is pulling together a new dance repertory company. Worth looking out for.
Originally published December 9, 2009, Las Vegas Weekly