Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2019

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Cruising NBT’s ‘Tenth Avenue’ is a bit of a winding trip

NBT-Slaughter on Tenth Avenue

Denise Truscello/Wire Image

Las Vegas Sun columnist John Katsilometes aims a pistol at the stage at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts during rehearsals for Nevada Ballet Theatre’s production of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” part of “A Balanchine Celebration,” set for Saturday and Sunday at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

John Katsilometes Takes the Stage

Nevada Ballet Theatre wardrobe manager Chris Larson works on Las Vegas Sun columnist John Katsilometes Nevada Ballet Theatre prior to a rehearsal for Launch slideshow »

On Thursday night, I turned to one of the stagehands for Nevada Ballet Theatre and said, “I can’t figure out what to do with my hat, if it should be on my head or in my lap. I feel like it should be on my head when I am aiming the gun …”

The response: “That’s a question for Philip.”

That’s always the response when sorting out what to do and when, and what to say and how to say it, in the upcoming NBT presentation of “A Balanchine Celebration: The Best of Ballet, Hollywood and Broadway.” The production is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (and you can still get tickets at TheSmithCenter.com).

“Serenade” and “Who Cares,” which is a tribute to George Gershwin, bookend the three-act presentation. I’m part of “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” in the bit role of the Gangster, who is being recruited to off the male lead dancers.

My partner in the speaking scenes is NBT artist Joshua Kekoa, who hails from Honolulu and was educated at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. This was ideal training for his role in “Slaughter,” in which he plays a Russian dancer whose confidence far outpaces his aptitude.

Philip, in this context, is Balanchine Trust repetiteur Philip Neal, a former principal dancer in New York City Ballet who has known NBT Artistic Director James Canfield and NBT Executive Director and CEO Beth Barbre since he was a kid. No Balanchine performance is revived anywhere without permission from the Balanchine Trust, and Neal represents the trust in this production.

He is the overlord. The Godfather, to use “Slaughter” lingo. And as such, he carries ample clout with NBT artists. It is Neal, with ballet mistress Tara Foy, who has worked with the company during the many hours of rehearsals for this show.

Some of the directives that have been issued to me, and to the dancers in the production, seem to make little sense until you’ve been backstage with a ballet company. What I’ve heard over the past eight days:

• “You need to be heavy-footed. Really heavy-footed. You’re walking like you’ve been inside a theater many times, which I’m sure you have.”

• “Dumb it down. This guy is sort of dumb. He’s tough, but he’s dumb, too.”

• “Lose the facial hair.” (Not for me, but for at least two members of the troupe.)

• “You hand me the money and the ticket, and I’ll hand you the gun.”

• “You’ll need to make it from the stage to the box in about 35 seconds, but Joshua can extend the scene if you can’t make it in that time.”

• “You have to act like, ‘I’m taking orders from this ballet guy?’”

• “You take the money and observe it. You’re thinking, ‘A-ha! I’ve got the money!’”

• “Remember, it’s hat, gun, hat. And when you sit, it’s hat-gun-sit, simultaneously.”

• “Really feel the spotlight. Go right to the light and feel it.”

• “Give a pause, like it just occurred to you that, yeah, maybe you should have worn a tux. It’s just occurring to you as you walk off.”

• “You want to hide the gun but also show it to everyone before you hide it.”

• “When you can’t shoot him, act like you’re really frustrated. ‘C’mon! I have to shoot this guy!’”

• “You’re looking around at the theater like a guy who has never been inside a theater. Really observe the crowd.”

• “When you walk out of the curtain, just push it aside really manly-like. Shove it out of the way. Don’t be delicate at all. Be in the character.”

• “The tie needs to be tied short, gangster-style.”

• “You need to slow it down. Everything needs to be slowed down. This is your moment. Enjoy it.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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