Review by Jon Minton
There is a moment at the top of “Call to Prayer,” a dance choreographed by Troy Powell as part of Alaska Dance Theatre’s recent Winter Repertory Concert: as the lights come up, a lone figure stands center stage, her back to the audience, while a line of bodies step forward from the shadows. The expressions on their faces and the haunting Gregorian-esque chanting of Karl Jenkins’ “Save Me from Bloody Men” are all that’s needed to convey to the audience the tone of forboding and angst. And you realize that you’re not just watching dancing, you’re watching acting.
To simply call ADT’s Repertory Concert a dance show would be an understatement, and disservice, to the program. What it really is is a series of vignettes, each piece a story about youth, all of them coming alive with vibrant exuberance, every piece different from the last. In “One Voice, One Drum”, choreographed by Alice Bassler Sullivan, the dancers, decked out in Native Alaskan coats and with looks of rapture on their faces, pulse to the beat of Pamyua and Jon Scoville’s drums. Alternately, Karen Burns’ “Don’t Go There & Other Stories” presents a series of seven chapters that play out as if David Lynch wrote a children’s cautionary tale and set it to dance- you’re not entirely clear what you’re seeing, but it’s mesmerizing and entertaining nonetheless.
The highlight of the evening, however, is the aforementioned “Call to Prayer.” A piece filled with themes of religion, it features some breathtaking work, notably a duet of youthful lust by Sam Franklin and Anna Veelman, that brings to mind Frank Wedekind’s story Spring Awakening, and a solo by Joyce Meyer; boxed in by light, Ms. Meyer dances in angular movements (which contrast from the younger dancers’ more fluid actions), becoming more and more burdened by the metaphorical weight on her shoulders. It’s a heartbreaking moment as she comes down to the floor, but is alleviated by the final installment of the piece, as the dancers return to join Ms. Meyer onstage, Karl Jenkins’ uplifting “Celestial Landscape” playing, and Ms. Meyer becomes rejuvenated- it’s a moment that brought this particular audience member close to tears.
Technically, the Repertory Conert is also a success. Fred Sager’s lighting is effective, enhancing every piece- his lighting in the final number, KT Nelson’s There’s So Much To Do, is dark, gritty and even a bit urban. Despite what appeared to be a couple of early light cue calls, not a moment was spoiled or ruined.
With a wide variety of style and stories, ADT’s Winter Repertory Concert is an astonishing feat in dance and performance. The dancers work seamlessly as an ensemble, moving as one, and covering every inch of the stage. It’s a cathartic experience seeing them perform, constantly seizing your attention in new and exciting ways: sometimes grim, sometimes provocative, sometime ridiculous and joyful, but always youthful and alive.