Ask Michael Kessler and Melinda Jackson what it means to them to be mentors to the youth of the Las Vegas community and they won’t just give you a song and dance. This renowned singing and dancing husband-and-wife team, who are the founders of M&M American Dance Theatre (since 1988), will also tell you about their new nonprofit, M&M American Dance Theatre Works, dedicated to promoting educational and cultural enrichment through exposure, mentorship, artistic collaboration and involvement in musical dance theater.
On October 19, with their musical director and Las Vegas composer Keith Thompson and a group of talented pre-professional competition winners from Las Vegas’ Innovation Youth Dance Company, the donor-based M&M will present Broadway Love Songs, Dances & Backstage Stories. an original production by Kessler and Jackson, it reveals an intimate musical journey through a life lived in song and dance. The show will be presented at the Windmill Library Theater, located at 7060 W. Windmill Lane.
Affectionately called M&M, Michael and Melinda are both native New Yorkers who moved to Las Vegas in 2006 after previously opening and starring in The Great Radio City Music Hall Spectacular at the Flamingo, following an 82-city tour with the show. The duo, who met as youngsters in dance class, shares 30 years of producing, directing, writing, composing, choreographing and performing from Broadway, Radio City Music Hall and the Las Vegas Strip to theaters and opera houses worldwide.
“When I was 11, I joined the New York City Ballet and paid union dues,” says Melinda, who is the great-granddaughter of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt. “I got to sit on the floor and be mentored by George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. I was surrounded by professionals, which was invaluable. Michael and I are working with local kids ages 11 to 17 for the October 19 show. We are giving them the opportunity to be mentored and participate in a professional environment and production as opposed to a child’s or high school show. We are giving back by exposing talented pre-professionals to a professional discipline. We find these kids through our auditions for our various shows. We’ve had an extraordinary career, and we are sharing our expertise and love for the art form with the generation coming up. It’s wonderful to be able to pass it on.”
Michael adds, “When we put on our shows, our philosophy is an inclusive approach, welcoming and blending a rainbow of artists of many different backgrounds, disciplines, ages and sizes, all connected by the love of dance. While the main focus of the nonprofit is mentoring children, we do include all ages including seasoned professionals. The door is open to people from 7 to 75 with some training and background, who have the desire, willingness and love for the art. We also work with real professionals such as performers from Cirque du Soleil and other shows on the Strip, as well as those from around the world.”
In addition to nine international tours of their original productions, which they are constantly writing, the couple has performed in Tommy Tune’s Broadway show Grand Hotel, choreographed for the Winter Olympics and the U.S. Pro Gymnastics tour, and directed and choreographed the 30th anniversary tour of the hit rock musical Hair.