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Vortex, the Ballet that Rocks

Published July 7, 2023

Vortex, the Ballet that Rocks

by Steve Trounday

Two weeks ago, the Reno Rodeo celebrated 104 years of Wild West family fun. Over the years I’ve talked about the challenges of selling ballet to a rodeo town and how this has changed over the years. Prior to the pandemic, A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, has had record ticket sales over the past 20 years and it appears that the cowboys and cowgirls in the region are attending the shows.

Vortex: Sia performed by David and Nora, 2018

Of course, none of this would be happening if Alexander Van Alstyne, the artistic director for A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, wasn’t choreographing entertaining shows. The talent of the dancers and the orchestra provide a real treat for the senses. As a board member for the ballet and their volunteer marketing person, I am pleased to see how this art form has been so well received in the community. A.V.A. Ballet Theatre performs three classical ballets with the Reno Phil at the Pioneer Center and the popular rock ballet Vortex, The Ballet That Rocks during Artown.

When people typically think of ballet, they picture ballerinas dancing en pointe (on their tippy toes for the ballet-challenged like me) to the classical sounds of an orchestra performing Tchaikovsky’s moving scores. With Vortex, Van Alstyne likes to shake things up a little and does something that is a little unconventional. He choreographs an exciting contemporary ballet that’s like no other. Imagine ballerinas performing grande jetés to music by popular artists such as Rihanna, Metallica, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga. The dancing is classical ballet moves en pointe but with an edge and quite a bit sexier than say, Swan Lake.  

Vortex: Lady Gaga

Vortex is performed outdoors at the gorgeous Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch Regional Park. For those who may be intimidated by a ballet and avoid attending a classical one, this is the perfect show for the novice. It’s a little over the top but it is great entertainment. Van Alstyne changes the show each year, so you never quite know what he’s going to present. 

A staple of the shows is the scaffolding set and lighting. The dancers interact with both, and it gives the audience a visual spectacle. The props for Vortex are always interesting and it’s fun to see how the choreography is meshed with each one. Props from the past have included a shark cage, a rotating pyramid, cars, motorcycles, and ballet dancers’ barres. There’s the infamous spinning bed. Yes, a spinning bed and ballet – a unique combination. 

Van Alstyne says the spinning bed has been retired but he has some new surprises for the stage. Several of the crowd favorites will be returning including the dancing cowboys and spiders with absolutely crazy lighting.

Vortex: Spidey, 2017

The audience reactions at a rock ballet are a little different than those of a classic ballet. Polite applause and the occasional “bravo” you encounter at the Pioneer Center are replaced with shouts and whistles at Bartley Ranch. Yes, the rock ballet audience seems to interact more with the dancers, and the whole atmosphere is fun and a bit raucous. 

As with all A.V.A. Ballet Theatre productions, guest principal dancers from big city ballets will come to Reno to perform. This year, Marize Fumero and Marko Micov will be joining the cast of local dancers. 

Fumero was born in Havana and trained at the National Ballet School of Cuba. Upon graduation in 2009, she entered Ballet Nacional de Cuba where she performed many roles. In 2012, Fumero joined the English National Ballet where she danced as Aurora’s Friends and Jewel’s variation in Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty. She also appeared in Jiří Kylián’s Petite Mort, George Williamson’s Firebird as well as Derek Deane’s Swan Lake and Romeo & Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall. Fumero joined Milwaukee Ballet in 2014, and was promoted to Leading Artist in 2015. Fumero received a Miami Life Award nomination as Best Female Classical Dancer in 2017.

Vortex: Diamonds, 2018

Micov was born in Skopje, Macedonia, and began his ballet training under the direction of Sonja Zdravkova-Dzeparovska, PhD, at the school of the Macedonian Opera and Ballet where he was a member of the corps de ballet. Marko received a full scholarship from the Academy of Mystic Ballet in Connecticut and moved to the United States to continue his training and career. In 2012 he received an invitation from the legendary Gelsey Kirkland to join her company in New York City. In 64 years of Macedonian ballet history, he is the first dancer from his country to begin a professional career in the United States of America. The spring of 2016, he joined the Ballet San Antonio where he made his debut with the company in Ballet Alive and was named by artistic director, Willy Shives, to perform the lead male in Ballet San Antonio’s premier of Frederik Franklin’s Tribute. Micov joined Milwaukee Ballet Company for the 2019/20 Season and continues to dance with the company. He was featured as Fritz in The Nutcracker and performed in Garrett Glassman’s I Do, Don’t I? in Ballet Russe Reimagined.

Vortex: The Impossible performed by David and Nora

I asked Van Alstyne about the differences in choreographing the rock ballet versus a classical one: “I can be more inventive with the rock ballet,” he said. “I enjoy pushing the limits of the art form.”

Once again, due to the generosity of many private foundations and a successful classical ballet season, Vortex is being offered free to the general public. A performance being free to the public has always been a hallmark of Artown and A.V.A. Ballet Theatre is pleased to be able to showcase contemporary ballet to a broader audience.

There will be two showings of the rock ballet Vortex: Friday July 14 and Saturday July 15. Both shows start at 8:30pm. It’s just getting dark when the music of the rock ballet begins, and I can assure you the lighting is an integral component of the production. If you’re looking for a fun way to spend a summer evening, there is no better place than Bartley Ranch. The dancers from A.V.A. Ballet Theatre are sure to excite and entertain you.

On another exciting topic, A.V.A. Ballet Theatre and the Reno Phil will be preforming Coppélia at the Pioneer Center September 16 and 17. Jason Altieri will be conducting the Reno Phil. There is no canned music for an A.V.A. Ballet Theatre classical performance.

Steve Trounday is a board member at A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts.   

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