Nancy Houssels: A Place to Dance

EXCITEMENT WAS IN THE AIR by early October at the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Summerlin academy as the new season approached. NBT was moving forward with its fall schedule of events, celebrating its 40th anniversary and honoring Eva Longoria as “Woman of the Year” at its Black & White Ball in January. The company was going to have its own home for the first time in its four decades when it capped off the season with a March move to The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

Artistic director James Canfield and Nancy Houssels, co-founder and co-chair of NBT’s board of trustees, had just returned from Portland, Ore. At the time of their interview for Diamond Cake. They had just seen the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s inspirational performance of All Wheeldon. It was their first trip together to see another company perform. The four contemporary dances by Christopher Wheeldon served as a galvanizing example at what was possible when a company engages in collaborations with world-class choreographers in the making.

NBT’s added a collaboration of its own to the 40th anniversary season – Canfield calls 2011-2012 a milestone in the maturation of the company – with the Hubbard Street Dance Co. from Chicago. “We want to challenge ourselves and try new things,” Canfield said of the opening show DANCE DANCE DANCE! that took place Oct. 29-30 at the Paris Theatre at Paris Las Vegas. The five acts spanned classical to contemporary ballet, including a piece Canfield choreographed called “Up” that contained seven variations on the song “Blue Moon.”

The company then moved into its 30th year of performing The Nutcracker. With choreography by Peter Anastos, a veteran of more than 100 stage works for national and regional ballet companies in the United States, the humorous and whimsical version of the holiday favorite featured the entire company and more than 100 students from the academy. The 10 performances were highlighted by a Dec. 18 Sugar Plum party at Paris’ Sugar Factory, with a chance for family and friends to meet the characters from the show and dine on a holiday buffet.

This month’s highlight is the Black & White Ball, the annual gala that attracts some 600 locals and serves as the major fund-raiser for the company. Eva Longoria joins the long list of women recognized by Nevada Ballet Theatre as “Woman of the Year” at this year’s event, an honor that in recent years has gone to Paula Abdul, Twyla Tharp, Bette Midler, Marie Osmond and Priscilla Presley. Houssels recalls the first woman honored 28 years ago, Elaine Wynn, when the ballet threw its inaugural gala at the Golden Nugget. “In those days, they were always honoring men. This was a big chance to honor women,” she said.

Longoria gets the nod for her contributions to the world of arts and entertainment, her philanthropic endeavors and her connection to Las Vegas as part owner of Beso at CityCenter’s Crystals. “Eva is a talented performer who maintains a giving spirit in her career,” said Houssels. “Her charitable work is impressive, specifically her work with Eva’s Heroes, which she founded. We are excited to celebrate her many accomplishments [and] shed light on her philanthropic endeavors – a side not often seen by the public.”

In the spring the Studio Series returns with Beyond Words and Text. The program started two years ago as a chance to give gold and silver patrons a look behind the scenes at the inner workings of the ballet. The company turns the studio into a black box with students and members of the company performing their own choreography to the works of an American playwright, cartoon or film. Canfield describes it as a performance that is very raw with no makeup, scenery or costumes. “It’s a great opportunity for the artists to touch the community in a very special way,” he said.

As if the season couldn’t get more exciting, March 10 marks the unveiling of their new home at the Smith Center. The true opening for Nevada Ballet Theatre comes May 5, when the 40th anniversary gala and debut take place at the new venue. “I think the timing is right,” Houssels said of the European-style theater the company will call home. “I think this community of 2 million is ready for it. The theater was built with a traditional look. I call it a forever theater.”

“What a testament to the community who fought for it,” added Canfield.

Previously published by diamondcake. Updated by smallTALK. Archived for Nancy Houssels.