Nicole Shutt practices her moves for the Fall Dance Festival.
Nicole Shutt practices her moves for the Fall Dance Festival.

Reno university students working under the direction of Hollywood choreographer Rob Schultz. Nationally acclaimed Minh Tran & Company bringing an Asian-modern dance fusion to Nightingale Hall. A dance number set to music that young people might recognize, from a film made from a popular book series about a gifted boy wizard.

“I love Harry Potter,” says Barbara Land, a music and dance instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno. “When I finished the last book, I cried for two days. It was traumatic.”

Using music from the Harry Potter films, Land choreographed one of six student dance numbers to be featured this weekend at UNR’s Fall Dance Festival.

Around 15 years ago, the Fall Dance Festival got its start as an informal showcase for student work. Students performed in the Lombardi Recreation Building.

Now, renowned choreographers like Rob Schultz come to town for a week to work with students. In addition to appearing in movies like She’s All That and Gigli, Schultz has choreographed Grounded for Life on the WB and several other television shows. He’s danced with the Backstreet Boys, Toni Braxton and Vitamin C.

Schultz’s relationship with UNR goes back to before he’d developed a name in Hollywood, Land says. That’s why he keeps coming back.

“He likes us, likes our students, likes the way he’s treated when he’s here,” Land says.

Minh Tran, whose company is based in Oregon, though his early training was in Vietnamese opera in Saigon, now merges his Eastern training with Western dance aesthetics. At the UNR festival, Minh Tran & Company will perform “Nocturnal Path,” called “lavish” by an Oregonian reviewer: “Buddhist acolytes in burnished-gem silken robes flowing in meditative ceremony towards an inexorable distance.” A grant received by Sierra Arts helped fund Minh Tran’s visit to Reno.

This year’s performance will be held in Nightingale Hall—a stage that demands a high-level professional performance, Land says. She feels that UNR’s dance program is getting ready for a grand jeté—a leap forward. With the breakup of UNR’s College of Arts and Sciences, fine art departments like dance moved under the umbrella of the College of Liberal Arts. That’s opened up new funding possibilities, Land says. The department is also in the process of hiring a new faculty member, an assistant professor in modern dance.

About 700 students take academic and technique classes in the dance department. Around 50 students are pursuing a minor in dance. Next year, department administrators hope to approach the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents with a plan to offer a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance. That would give students interested in dance a chance to focus fully on their art.

“Right now, we’re competing with their criminal justice or other major,” Land says.

Commitment that verges on downright obsession is critical for dance students who want to excel.

Land, who teaches an advanced ballet class that boasts some of the finest dancers in Reno, began ballet at age 5. She says she never took time off. Not while she was pregnant with each of her four children. Not while she was a mom.

“That’s the only time I get upset with students,” she says. “When they disrespect something I’ve devoted my life to 100 percent.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *