Ones to Watch

Desert Companion

Dakota Renteria: actor, musician

Singing His Heart Out or Pouring Himself into a Character, He’s Always Fearless

Recent Las Vegas Academy graduate Dakota Renteria (above) is literally one to watch as I write this. He’s in New York City competing in the Jimmys, a choir-camp-meets-Broadway affair officially called the National High School Theater Awards, and I’m compulsively checking Instagram to see if he wins. Ninety-two high school students from around the country have been selected by participating theaters in their region — ours is The Smith Center — to spend eight days being groomed and trained by Broadway professionals before vying for scholarships and, perhaps more importantly in their presumed line of work, recognition.

“Obviously, I would love to win,” Renteria says. “That would be amazing. But honestly, if I can just learn a bunch and make some great connections with people in this industry, no matter what the outcome is, the opportunity is the most amazing thing I could have ever asked for.”

To help prepare the 18-year-old tenor, The Smith Center arranged for him to get coaching from someone who knows a thing or two about musical theater: Clint Holmes.

“The thing that excites me the most about Dakota is his imagination and willingness to be fearless,” Holmes says. “When you take a young person going to New York to do something like this, as a casting director or as an adjudicator, what you’re looking for is someone who makes the material their own. And he can do that. And he will do that.”

Post-production update: Renteria was among the eight Jimmy Award finalists, but was not a winner. But in any case, he’s got a solid fallback. Starting in August, he’ll be attending Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio, majoring in a musical theater program that boasts 100 percent of its graduates over the last decade being signed by agents.

How did a born-and-bred Las Vegan land on a path to the Great White Way? It started when he was seven years old, he says, after seeing a cousin perform in a musical. Over the years, he tried sports and other extracurriculars, but nothing appealed to him as much as singing. And when did he know it was his calling?

“This might be a little funny,” he recalls, “but when I was younger, I played the role of Shrek in a production of Shrek The Musical.” With its over-the-top accent, makeup, and costuming, the role showed him just how fun theater can be. But his family’s awe and pride sealed the deal: “That was like, ‘All right. This is what I’m gonna do. This is what I have to do.’”

Since then, Renteria has been in many shows, the most recent of which was the musical version of Tim Burton’s 2003 film Big Fish at LVA, where he played a father who tells tall tales in a misplaced attempt to inspire his son. He says he used his vexed relationship with his own father as an entrée into the character. “I thought about what I wanted in a father and what it meant to be a father,” he says, “and put that into Edward Bloom to make my version of the dad I never had, I guess.”

If a show isn’t available to pour his heart into, Renteria can turn to his personal passion for writing and singing country music. And if that fails, there’s always his Rubik’s Cube. Obsessed with the tactile brain teaser since a young age, he can now solve it in 11 seconds. Let’s see how many Jimmy Award contenders can do that! Heidi Kyser

Photo by Anthony Mair

Hue: multimedia artist

Embracing Creativity as a Social Practice, They’re Blurring the Line Between Life and Art

Hue is sitting on a cooler with the top half of their body encased in medical-grade plaster, with only a small hole at the bottom of their nose open for air to pass through. After the cast dries, the four pieces — front and back legs, front and back torso — will be put together and filled with a colorful paint prepared by Hue’s project collaborator, Fractal Frank. This particular sculpture, funded by a grant from the Nevada Arts Council, is about human energy. “Energy isn’t something we can see with our eyes, but it’s what pulls and pushes us towards and away from certain places, people, objects, and relationships,” Hue says. “I wanted to propose, through sculpture, what the physical manifestation of energy can look like.”

Hue emerges from the plaster cocoon matted with Vaseline and plaster bits, and I can’t help feeling like this is the art, this moment I am witnessing. After all, Hue is constantly blurring the lines between life as art and art as life. Hue is a multidisciplinary artist who works with everything from video to textiles, but their most important medium might be people. Hue is a dedicated artist of social practice — a term rooted in 1960s activism that ties together community, situation, and place, and directly relates to the people viewing the art and the space it is in.

For Hue, that social practice is embodied in the Cloud House, a community-focused creative space that is the cornerstone of Hue’s art/life practice. It’s attached to the multigenerational home where Hue lives. “The Cloud House, in layman English, is a free art space and resource space in the middle of the suburbs in Las Vegas,” Hue says. It also functions as a commentary on Las Vegas’ fascination with imitation and impersonation. “I was looking at monumentality, specifically of Las Vegas. Las Vegas is like a plaster mold of every monument in the world, like Caesars Palace, or the Great Pyramid of Giza, and I wanted to make my own monument, which is to the sky.”

Today Hue is being encased in plaster — but tomorrow they might be designing garments or teaching dancers how to unlearn their habitual movements, which is part of Hue’s next project, “an exploration of murmuration and synchronicity and reincarnation through the human form.” Then the Cloud House’s open hours will begin, and Hue will roll up the garage door adorned with clouds painted against a soft blue sky. A neighbor may come by to paint, or borrow a book from the library, or learn how to sew. It’s all part of Hue’s generous, noble idea of what art can do. Oona Robertson

Photo of Elle Hope by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

Elle Hope: poet

She Turns Poetry Into Performance — and Uses Her Voice to Elevate the Literary Community

There’s something bracing about the poetry of Elle Hope. Her poems are earnest and direct. They feel spontaneously composed, and thus more tangible and immediate. As a spoken-word artist, she doesn’t so much perform her pieces as manifest them. During a reading, she’ll phase fluidly from speaking to singing to rhyming in sudden cascades — not for the sake of spectacle or novelty, though. The interludes of song, rhyme — and in some cases, dance — just seem to be what the poetry wants.

“I feel like music is a key component to my sense of flow,” Hope says. “I’m not a rapper by any means. However, when I’m writing these pieces, there’s this natural flow that comes to them, and that helps me create these waves while I perform.”

It’s no surprise to learn, then, that long before she discovered poetry and spoken word, Elle Hope was captivated by musicals. As a kid, she adored brassy Broadway classics and over-the-top Disney songfests. As a high-schooler in Tucson, Arizona, she sang in choir and was a proud theater nerd. But those were other people’s songs, other characters’ stories, other writers’ words. In her senior year, she discovered poetry slams — and her powers of creative expression felt ignited. She moved to Las Vegas in June 2016. Her calling as a poet was confirmed after one particular performance.

“I shared a piece one night, and someone said to me after, ‘Your words, they really connected to me on a deep level,’’’ Hope recalls. “It was at that moment I realized I could write my own stories. I was so used to telling other people’s stories through scripts and plays, but I felt like I wasn’t able to develop myself as a person.” Getting personal opened a channel of emotional connection with the audience.

Hope devoted herself to the craft and the community. She hit open mic events hard with her rhythmic spoken-word pieces about love, relationships, and body positivity; she trekked regularly to L.A. via Greyhound to network with other poets; and she launched her own literary collective, Spotlight Poetry, which organizes readings and publishes poets’ work. In the classic Vegas spirit of reinvention, Hope wrote her own story, minting herself as a magnetic, fast-rising star in the local slam scene who champions diversity, empowerment, and acceptance.

“She’s a powerhouse,” says fellow performer Monarch the Poet. “Her voice always carries a sense of urgency, but also there’s compassion in it, too. And with Spotlight Poetry, she’s cultivated a culture that’s very accepting. Whether it’s your first time on stage or your thousandth time, she’s gonna love you and support you.” Hope has taken the show on the road, too: In late June, as “poetry mom,” she led a team of Vegas poets who performed at the Utah Arts Festival.

“As long as you are speaking your truth, you will always be embraced by the poetry community,” Hope says. “Everyone’s cheering each other on. There’s no jealousy, there’s no envy. We’re united as a community, and that community is growing.” Andrew Kiraly


Photo courtesy the artist

Lone Plan: electronic music

This DJ Went Back to School — and Learned the Art of Mesmerizing Space Disco

Most  local DJs will tell you they want to make music as much as they want to spin it. Some find their way into remix work. Others manage to collaborate with bigger names, or go the do-it-yourself route with hardware such as Ableton Live. Still, when it comes to original material, Las Vegas DJs collectively don’t have much. And yet, Downtown house DJ JP Bueno — aka Lone Plan — managed to pound out seven of his own tunes for his debut collection, Departure, and it’s exceptional in its status as a rare local electronic house/techno album and in its craftsmanship.

It was almost 10 years into his DJ career before Bueno purchased so much as a synthesizer, curious if he could springboard from the sounds he was spinning. So he began by playing live keyboards for local bands like Kurumpaw. Then, he enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada, where he not only learned about musicology and production, but also how to properly play the piano. Soon after, original material began to emerge from those keys.

You’d never know from the subtle grooves on Departure that Bueno obsessively tinkered his with songs — so much so that he didn’t think he’d ever feel comfortable releasing them. “I felt like if I showed my music to people (who) are close to me, they’re just gonna be nice,” Bueno says. “(But) there was this guy that I met from France. He was staying at my place, and he saw my stuff and asked, ‘Oh, do you make music?’ I said yeah, so I showed it to him. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, you should put it out.’” Which he finally did — not with the help of anyone in the music or nightlife industries, but with the apps Fiverr and Amuse to secure, respectively, an engineer for mastering and a publisher to release and distribute the music.

Now what? Bueno wants streamers to find and embrace his music; Amuse is tasked with getting him playlist placement. And he really wants gigs. But Las Vegas’ musical landscape isn’t hospitable to acts like Lone Plan; neither clubs nor rock venues book live electronic dance music, certainly not the kind of atmospheric space disco Bueno composes. So he’ll have to stick to desert parties for now. Ultimately, Bueno will have to do something he’s never done before: promote himself. Fortunately, he’s already done the hard part: arming himself with a hypnotic work such as Departure — which, come to think of it, is mistitled. It sounds more like an arrival. Mike Prevatt

Photo by Zach Mendez

Sinai Basua: filmmaker

Their Own Inner Electricity Illuminates Every Powerful Subject

In Sinai Basua’s carriage, there’s an avid intensity, a crackling, live wire attentiveness, grounded by a gentle, reassuring smile and easy-going attitude. This internal voltage is what powers their art. Basua’s current work, This is How We Live, is a series of intimate video portraits created amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With a focus on the creative lives of queer people and artists of color, Basua produces bright sparks of cinema in a profoundly compelling manner. Each short film offers perspective on and comprehension of a unique individual by showing how their lives incorporate art. Done in collaboration with cinematographer Rudy Plaza, Basua’s work feels luxurious. Slow-motion pans through spaces, interwoven with focused interviews, frame the subject in soft pantomime. 

“QPOC are naturally creative,” Basua says. “It feels like home, like they are more passionate. I’m fascinated by the queer experience, and being a person of color, that’s a huge experience itself. It’s important to me to show their minds.”

The subjects themselves give the work strength. Multidisciplinary artist Adriana Chavez provides glimpses into her creative practice; photographer Julia Gray grapples with the subjects of gender and identity in their image-making; artistic entrepreneur Valerie Stunning draws the viewer to the intersection of sex work and ice cream. The series only includes eight total, yet it elegantly depicts the Las Vegas zeitgeist, so thoroughly peopled with unique and divergent dreamers. 

It takes a great deal of self-belief to make any kind of art, especially film about subjects that rarely receive the attention they deserve. When meeting Basua, each subject spoke at length about their relationship with addiction, their sense of place in the world, and their creative motivation. They strike me as self-constructed human beings imbued with the joy and certainty that engenders. 

​​“I’ve always been impressed by the curious way Sinai sees the world,” says artist, friend, and curator Quindo Miller. “Their video work is often surreal and absurd, but always has an innovative element of keeping it cool.” 

Looking beyond This is How We Live into Basuas’ earlier efforts, you find similar lavish qualities. What previous pieces like “Pancakes” lack in sophistication, they make up for in askew humor. Basua’s cinematic progression suggests they’re poised to become an earnest, original storyteller in whatever medium they work in. “I’d like to  collaborate with more filmmakers,” they say, pondering the future, “and continue This is How We Live. I also want to expand into sculpture and design.” Sounds simple enough, coming from an emergent artistic powerhouse. Brent Holmes

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