Dance dance revolution

The UNR Spring Dance Concert

Dancing for spring: Janel Davis and other dancers rehearse for UNR’s spring dance recital.

Dancing for spring: Janel Davis and other dancers rehearse for UNR’s spring dance recital.


You might think that combining traditional Chinese dance with jazz, modern and classical ballet would make for a very confused dancer—two left feet and 10 broken toes. But a diverse array of dancing fools—students, professors and professional dancers from around the world—are coming together for the annual Spring Dance Concert hosted by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Music and Dance. This year’s line-up features the choreography of UNR faculty Kristen Avansino, Cari Cunningham and Barbara Land, as well as guest artists Jon Lehrer and the Lily Cai Chinese Dance Company.

“Spring is our big end-of-the-year show,” says Land, director of the UNR dance department. “We’re not in Boston, we’re not in New York. We’re not in San Francisco. So the availability of artists—we just don’t get that. And it’s not so much that we don’t get it, our kids don’t get it.”

The dance department has a grant from the Ben Snow foundation to demonstrate dance for public schools. Every spring, they invite approximately 22,000 children to come to campus and see the performance—free of charge.

The first act will feature the choreography of Avansino, a choreographer and professor who served as director of the dance department for almost nine years. Her contribution this year will be a contemporary dance piece combining athletics and dance, and features the senior dancers in the program.

Cunningham, a professor of modern dance, will present “What We Carry,” a modern quartet and collaboration with Jean-Paul Perrotte, a member of the UNR music faculty and a composer specializing in electronic music and musique concrete.

Land teaches classical ballet and dance history at the university and is the choreographer for Nevada Opera. Her piece in the spring concert is a restaging of the ballet suite from Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen. “These dancers in the first act of our show are our advanced dancers,” she says. “You would think they were professional dancers—these kids are good. They work very hard. They study ballet as hard as any professional would.”

Lehrer grew up in Queens, N.Y., and didn’t originally set out to be a dancer. A typical city kid, he played baseball. When he was in college at the University of Buffalo as a business major, he started dating a dancer. When they received their grades at the end of their freshman year, Lehrer recalls, “She got all A’s, and I did not. So, I said, ‘Well of course you got all A’s. It’s easy. All you do is dance all day.’” His girlfriend insisted that she worked just as hard—if not harder—combining academics with a busy dance schedule. Lehrer wasn’t buying it so his girlfriend dared him to take a dance class. “I fell in love with it. I had never danced before, had never done anything in the arts. I had no idea what I was doing, but it clicked.”

Now he owns his LehrerDance, a dance company. His piece in the spring concert will blend ballet with his own particular style.

“It really combines the line and precise technique with the LehrerDance style, which is highly athletic, edge-of-your-seat, very fast,” he says.

The second half of the Spring Dance Concert will feature the Lily Cai Chinese Dance company. Lily Cai, founder and artistic director of the company, is from Shanghai. Now living in California, she is considered a major authority in Chinese dance. She will give a free public lecture on dance criticism and aesthetics at UNR on April 30. Her dance company combines traditional Chinese dance with American modern dance.

The Spring Dance Concert promises to be an evening of action, drama and culture. Land sums it up: “Again, that is what quality is. For some, this may be the only dance they see. And it better be good because it will imprint on their memory.”