Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The casting of Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” is bouncing to the admirers at the end of its appearance at New York-New York, and alike as the acclaim continues, aerialist Wassa Coulibaly is hasty to leave the building.
She removes the ablaze agglomeration and beaded bodice of her apparel — accents to the leaps and gyrations of her animated African affiliated ball — and changes into a afar dress. Within minutes, she’s active two afar south on Las Vegas Boulevard for a date achievement of a absolutely altered kind.
Coulibaly, 35, is branch to the Baobab Stage, the amphitheater at Boondocks Square that she not alone performs at but which she has taken over as landlord.
It is here, on a bashful board date congenital for a now-defunct annihilation abstruseness show, that the Senegal built-in is staging a ball that at aboriginal glance stands in aciculate abatement adjoin the burlesque-tinged anniversary of bender that is “Zumanity’s” baking hallmark.
Coulibaly’s play, “The Red Dress,” is an aboriginal assignment about the accretion of women affected into prostitution. It’s a adventure that apparently wouldn’t advertise to tourists on the Band because it puts austere agreeable advanced of spectacle. But accustomed the basic role that sex and its industries ball in the city, it’s a nonetheless adroit fit for the Las Vegas community.
Indeed, while Coulibaly earns her active dancing in the able “Zumanity,” it’s in this low-frills, 356-seat amphitheater amid a cineplex and arctic yogurt boutique that she added hones her aesthetic passions.
Twenty years ago, those passions becoming her corruption rather than applause.
As Coulibaly grew up in the conservative, affectionate Islam-based ability of Dakar, Senegal, her aesthetic band and ability for ball accustomed her as an outcast and ambition of disparagement.
“I consistently acquainted like a misfit with my parents. ‘Oh you’re gonna be a whore. You’re gonna be this or that. Look at your hair,’” Coulibaly says, gesturing to her ablaze red braids and a ablaze gold dress that she designed.
To her ancestors of white-collar professionals, dancing and art were decidedly taboo, ball to be performed for, but absolutely not by, families of their animated chic status.
“They’ve never apparent success appear from art. ... My appearance and way of cogent myself, I consistently had that warning,” she says. “So that was aloof a big, huge fear.”
Coulibaly faced that abhorrence aback she larboard for Hawaii in her backward teens, eloping with an American whose boom arena bent her ear in the streets of Dakar. The accord fell afar afterwards he manipulated her into alive as a stripper to acquire him money, aggressive her with displacement if she didn’t do what he demanded.
She able that accord and begin her way to Los Angeles, area she brash ball and amphitheater at Santa Monica College. A assistant accustomed her altered achievement appearance and brash her to audience for Cirque du Soleil; she was bound assassin as allotment of “Zumanity’s” aboriginal casting in 2003.
“In Hollywood, they told me I was ‘too African,’” she says. “I hadn’t heard of Cirque du Soleil, but the day I auditioned angry out to be the happiest of my life. They seek added than to see that you accept a absolute pirouette; they seek how blissful you can be, how sad you can be and aloof actuality yourself. They put on some music and aloof let me ball (how I wanted) and assassin me appropriate away.”
If dancing in “Zumanity” has accustomed Coulibaly the abandon to be herself, the semi-autobiographical “Red Dress” is ablution from her past.
“I sat bottomward one day and thought: What is the affliction a being can be in society?” she says. “From there, can we still see adorableness out of this character? And that’s what I made: beatitude and this able bulletin told from the eye of a baggage who is this low, looked-down-to person.
“In so abounding ways, there is this subtleness of corruption activity on in our world, and we don’t absolutely see it. I never was a prostitute, but yes, I concluded up in a band club and things agnate because some of that is naivete and innocence, and you don’t apperceive what you’re accepting into. My purpose (with “The Red Dress”) is to appearance that we are built-in innocent and we are still innocent and there is annihilation that can booty that away.”
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“The Red Dress” has not alone opened a aperture into Coulibaly’s claimed story. It additionally has plunged her into the average of Las Vegas’ apprentice association amphitheater movement.
For years, Band performers such as Coulibaly approved aesthetic outlets in accidental showcases and open-mic nights at baby clubs and theaters about town. But with bound space, desultory time slots and multimillion-dollar productions to attempt with, there accept been few opportunities for performers’ aboriginal projects to abound above their beginning stages.
“The Red Dress” began as allotment of those showcases, evolving from a 10-minute composition her aeon encouraged her to apprehend onstage to a abrupt but acclaimed run as an hourlong appearance (then alleged “The Art of Prostitution”) at the 95-seat Onyx amphitheater in 2009.
Inspired by the show’s success, Coulibaly spent the abutting year and a bisected afterlight and accretion it into a multi-act ball with 15 actors that would absolutely apprehend the adventure she was so athirst to share. However, aloft its completion, she begin herself after a area ill-fitted for its scale.
She advised the Smith Center but begin the costs to be prohibitive, and she says Band investors bound absolved the project.
“With (smaller scale) projects like this, you accept to do it yourself, abnormally if you appetite the aesthetic freedom,” Coulibaly says.
She was angled off about the abandoned amphitheater at Boondocks Square and apparent an befalling not alone for “The Red Dress” but additionally for projects by added Las Vegas entertainers acquisitive to aggrandize the bounded amphitheater scene.
“When I came and saw it, I jumped with joy. I admired it — the red walls, the stage, the atmosphere, everything,” she says of the Baobab Stage, which she called for a timberline in Dakar below which bodies accumulate for music and storytelling. “I wasn’t absolutely attainable to attainable a theater, but because it didn’t accept anything, no lights, no sound, they capital accession to booty over and run it. So I said, ‘Why not?I apperceive a agglomeration of bodies in amphitheater who will appetite to advice accomplish this happen.’”
Coulibaly bound accumulated a 20-person advance casting and aggregation from Band shows, including “Ka,” “O,” “Love” and “Criss Angel — Believe.” Some, such as prop and architecture adept Thom Rubino, were broke accurately for their marquee-caliber talents; others, such as adolescent headlining dancers and acrobats, were recruited for the befalling to footfall out from abaft the larger-than-life ball of their Band personas.
“These are bodies who accept article to accord (beyond their shows), and that’s why I casting them. Now the claiming is, how do we clear that?” Coulibaly says.
Though she and her aeon accomplish their active assuming feats extraordinary to best audiences, acquirements to allege carefully afore one, below a spotlight, has been a analysis of self-confidence.
“It’s attainable to accomplish aback you’re cutting a $150,000 dress beneath $20,000 lighting and you dance, and you apperceive how to dance. Of advance it will be beautiful,” says the play’s administrator and composer, J.P. Loppo Martinez. “(But) it’s not absolutely you. It’s a aerialist moving, dancing. Aback they are actuality and they say their lines, they put themselves onstage ... the light, the emotion, aggregate has to appear from your heart. It’s absolutely different.”
Reclining his angular anatomy on a couch in the theater’s foyer, Martinez discusses the activity with a alacrity that at times pushes the boundaries of his Parisian-accented English; aback built-in afore the date and acclamation the performers, however, he is accurate and precise: “Stop dancing with the words. Talk. Allocution like you allocution to me. Louder.”
Martinez’s advice and ability are amid the affidavit Coulibaly partnered with him for “The Red Dress” and as the theater’s accepted aesthetic director.
Martinez acid his eye for affection alive with productions including Cirque du Soleil, “Le Reve” at Wynn and Celine Dion’s appearance at Caesars Palace, but he is acquisitive to acknowledgment to the baby stage.
“I appetite to advice appearance the added ancillary of Vegas, that productions don’t accept to accept ball to accept value,” Martinez says. In big-budget projects, “you lose eyes and capacity because anybody is afraid about money, which is understandable. But I anticipate audiences are additionally attainable for belief that allege to them, that assignment with the heart. And that is the big backbone of Wassa’s ball and what we can do here.”
Since signing a abiding charter for the amphitheater in March, Coulibaly has spent added than 70 hours a anniversary alfresco of “Zumanity” and $60,000 to acclimate the amplitude and run rehearsals.
The amphitheater already has fatigued absorption from a cardinal of bounded artists, including applesauce societies, magicians, adolescent Cirque performers and writers, acquisitive to advertise their own work; Coulibaly and Martinez already accept planned a ball assembly to chase “The Red Dress,” which closes Dec. 23.
She’s additionally in the action of establishing the amplitude as a nonprofit to host cultural contest and accommodate amphitheater and arts apprenticeship classes for the community.
“We appetite to accept a lot of array because it’s mostly locals that appear here. It’s set to be accessible, hopefully added than the Smith Center is, for bodies to see and actualize article new,” she says.
“That’s why I absolutely appetite affection and amphitheater at its best,” she says. “I appetite to save it for bodies who absolutely accept article to say. The association wants this; they’re athirst for it.”
That’s not to say money to pay for it is calmly found. The assembly costs — in accession to charter payments on the amphitheater — accept appear out of Coulibaly’s savings.
“The better claiming has been the spending. But we consistently assume to acquisition a way,” Coulibaly says of the ever-growing account of expenses, which accommodate copyrighting music, renovations, fire-code apartment and accepting a liquor authorization for the amphitheater bar. “Maybe bottomward the alley we can accomplish some of it back. But for now, this is my affection and article that I accept in, and I’m advantageous that I can allow it appropriately far.”
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