While performing arts organizations around Reno-Tahoe folded up their tents, headed home, and went exclusively online for 18 months due to the pandemic, Reno’s A.V.A. Ballet wasn’t content to leave it at that. Instead, A.V.A. had distinction of being one of the only troupes in Northern Nevada to perform before a live audience — first with its beloved The Nutcracker, which it performed at The Pioneer Center before an intimate audience of 50, then with The Little Mermaid in spring, which welcomed an audience of 250.

Now, as the Post-Pandemic-Summer-of-Love-for-Live-Events gloriously returns audiences to IRL performances and an actual Artown festival, A.V.A. is celebrating by bringing back one of its most popular shows of the year: Vortex: The Ballet That Rocks. This Artown offering returns home to the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in South Reno, where performers can (finally!) play to a full house.

Described by Steve Trounday, A.V.A.’s board vice president and secretary, as “a ballet for people who don’t usually like ballet,” Vortex merges the grace and precision of classical ballet — with its grand jetés and pas de deux — with the excitement of contemporary music by popular rock artists, not to mention sets that feature scaffolding, intriguing props, and innovative lighting design, all to thrilling visual effect.

Artistic Director Alexander Van Alstyne’s over-the-top choreography is set to music by such varied recording artists as Lady Gaga, Metallica, Jennifer Lopez, and Taylor Swift. Joining the A.V.A. ensemble this season are two visiting dancers from Ballet Idaho, Justin Hughes and Madeline Bay, both of whom have extensive training and experience with renowned companies from around the country.

Trounday emphasizes that because this isn’t your average ballet show, it won’t be your average ballet audience, either. “There’s a lot of applause, a lot of cheering, and the audience is a bit more interactive,” he says. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great way for people who are usually intimidated by ballet to see it in a whole different light. Though the dancing is en pointe, with classical, difficult moves, it’s not intimidating at all.”

And though the company bills this as a PG-13 show, thanks to some sexy dance moves and the occasional revealing costume, Trounday says plenty of families bring young children — including his own 4-year-old granddaughter — and love it.

Plus, what’s really family-friendly is the price: It’s free. Thanks to support from nonprofits including the Robert Z. Hawkins Foundation, E.L. Cord Foundation, the Nell J. Redfield Foundation, and the Arthur and Mae Orvis Foundation, admission is free. Attendees are welcome to bring picnics (without any glass), though wine and beer will be offered for sale. “We really hope people will buy our wine and beer, because that’s the only way, as a nonprofit 501(c)(3), that we can make some money,” says Trounday.

The show starts at 8:30 p.m. — a later-than-usual start time to make the most of its lighting design — but doors open at 7 p.m. to accommodate the crowd that begins lining up way ahead of showtime. “I had a guy call me last week who said he and his family are planning to get there at 6!” Trounday says. “It’s general admission seating, so it’s a good idea to get there early.”

A.V.A.Ballet presents Vortex: The Ballet That Rocks at 8:30 p.m. July 16-17 at the Robert Z. Hawkins Amphitheater at Bartley Ranch. Admission is free. More info here.

Posted by Jessica Santina

Jessica Santina is a freelance writer and editor who has been covering the arts and culture scene in the Reno area for nearly two decades. See more of her work at www.jessicasantina.com.