Ballet gets hip

Tatu, the Un-Ballet That Rocks

Dancers, from left, Nicole Shutt, Eve Allen and Maegen Price-Lundstrom rehearse for Tatu<i>, a ballet that cranks up the rock ‘n’ roll</i>

Dancers, from left, Nicole Shutt, Eve Allen and Maegen Price-Lundstrom rehearse for Tatu, a ballet that cranks up the rock ‘n’ roll

Photo By David Robert

As I remember my childhood days in ballet class, in my powder-pink leotard, learning my five basic positions to Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I wish someone had told me then how cool ballet could be. I might have stuck with it. As it is, I quit after two years, and I still lack grace and athleticism. Watching the performers at A.V.A. Ballet Theatre rehearsing for Tatu, the Un-Ballet That Rocks, I wonder what I’ve been doing with my time.

Tatu is like no other ballet performance you’ve ever seen. From the music selections, which include Metallica, Aerosmith, Enya and Seal, to the scaffolding and punk accessories, this seems more like a rock concert. No pink tutus here; not a bun in sight.

Alexander Van-Alstyne, founder/ artistic director of A.V.A. and choreographer of Tatu, calls it “fantasy ballet.” With seven performers, ranging in age from 15 to mid-30s, the show is broken into vignette “scenes,” in which dancers portray real-life moments. It’s the third year the ballet has been performed.

“It’s a contemporary, modern, lyrical, emotional dance, done en pointe [on toes],” he says. You might actually forget that part, though, because the music and the spirit are so un-ballet-like. “It deals with things teens and adults go through, like going to parties, depression, feeling rejected by love, trying to fit in, the club scene. … I’ve seen people identify with it, and in some places, they even cry because it just hits them.” And, he points out quickly, men love it.

Lead dancer Nicole Shutt has been dancing since age 4 with A.V.A., and has appeared in all of the company’s performances since age 9. This is her second lead role; her first was as Clara in the 2004 production of The Nutcracker. Shutt’s natural talent shines through in Tatu, not just with ballet, but with acrobatics; she dances up and down scaffolding and even on top of a spinning bed. It’s a huge departure, which she’s thrilled about.

“This is probably my most favorite show, because it’s so non-traditional,” she says, while taking a rehearsal break. “Each dancer in this can have her own personality, versus regular ballet, where you’re just ‘person in back with rose.’ I can be an individual and show my feelings, my strengths, my interpretation of the scene. And it’s so much easier to dance to this kind of music, you want to keep dancing; you just dance to it naturally. It’s music I already listen to.”

Dancing alongside the 15-year-old Shutt are University of Nevada, Reno students Eve Allen and Kristen Christiansen; University of Nevada, Las Vegas student Alexis Andrews; and locals Emily Bedell and Maegen Price-Lundstrom, both in high school. A.V.A. dancer Erica Millick makes a cameo as “the DJ.”

Make no mistake; this is a highly professional, extremely talented group, regardless of age, which is why Tatu speaks to any audience member. There are even cult Tatu fanatics.

“People who are seeing it for the first time, they’re shocked but excited,” Shutt says. “They always want more when it’s over. And my friends, even the big macho football players, look forward to it all year. When we can get things like that to happen, get those people to appreciate ballet, that’s the most important thing.”