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Vortex, the Ballet That Rocks 2022

Published July 8, 2022

Vortex, the Ballet That Rocks 2022

by Steve Trounday

Two weeks ago, the Reno Rodeo celebrated 103 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. Prior to the pandemic, A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, had record ticket sales over the past 18 years and it appears that the cowboys and cowgirls in the region are attending the shows.

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 provides 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” 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, “Coppelia.” Most years the show is rated PG-13.

Photo Credit: Wes Jahn, Washoe County Regional Parks and Open Space

“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. Having canceled the 2020 show due to COVID-19 there was a lot of pent-up demand for live performances and in 2021, we had capacity crowds. I expect the same this year.

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 Spiderman with absolutely crazy lighting.

The audience reactions at a rock ballet are a little different from 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, Dawn and Erez Milatin will be joining the cast of local dancers. 

Dawn was born and raised in Melbourne, Florida. She began her training at Erika’s School of Dance and Space Coast Ballet Academy. She also trained on scholarship at The Harid Conservatory before moving to NYC in 2011 to join Gelsey Kirkland Ballet. Some of her highlighted roles while with GKB include Venus in GKB's premiere of Stealing Time; Kitri in Don Quixote; Aurora in Sleeping Beauty; Maria in Petipa’s Cavalry Halt; Antony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading Pas de Deux; Marie in The Nutracker; and Columbine in Petipa’s Harlequinade, after making appearances in various performances with New York Theatre Ballet.

Erez was born and raised in Israel. He started ballet at the age of fourteen at the Thelma Yellin School of the Arts. Two years later, he moved to New York to train with Edward Ellison. Three years later, he joined the Boston Ballet training program and eventually came back to New York to dance with Gelsey Kirkland Ballet. While there he performed the Nutcracker Prince in The Nutcracker, Harlequin in Harlequinade, Flames of Paris Pas de Deux, Basilio in Don Quixote, and participated in the premiere of Stealing Time

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 15 and Saturday July 16. Both shows are 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 “Swan Lake” at the Pioneer Center September 17 and 18. I am pleased to announce that local hometown dancer David Huffmire, now a soloist at Ballet West, will be performing the lead role. Chelsea Keefer, also from Ballet West, will be performing as Odette/Odile. Huffmire started dancing under the instruction of Alexander Van Alstyne when he was nine years old. He has excelled as a dancer and now performs with one of the most renowned ballet companies in the country. It is going to be exciting to watch him on the Pioneer stage with the large cast from A.V.A. Ballet Theatre. So, mark your calendars for these September performances. Laura Jackson 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. The next production is Vortex, the Ballet That Rocks July 15th and 16th at the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch.

More from Steve Trounday

Ballet with a Live Orchestra by Steve Trounday — June 10, 2022

En Pointe by Steve Trounday — May 13, 2022

Local Dancer’s Rise to the Top by Steve Trounday — April 15, 2022

Back on Stage with Beauty and the Beast by Steve Trounday — April 1, 2022


Chuck Reider | Contributor


This PBS Reno series delves into the local arts scene.