Dancing in the North

Spring Gala White on White

Tomorrow night, the North Star Ballet dancers will perform in their annual Spring Gala—a little early this year.  They will be performing Snow White—a ballet set to a composite of music, retelling the story in a way that allows the Senior Company dancers to take on more roles.  There’s a cat, complete with tail, who leaps about, bossing the dwarves around.  And there’s Snow White, herself, and the wicked stepmother Queen.  I’ll go Sunday to see the final performance—tomorrow is the John Haines memorial—but I’ll really be waiting for the second half of the show.

It’s not a bait and switch, exactly, but it has always seemed to me that Norman does the choreography that really engages and stretches him and the dancers in the second half of the Spring Gala.  While the story ballet in the first half lures in the parents with kids who want to dance, the second half demonstrates just how technically developed and with how much range the North Star dancers are.

This year, the company is doing John Luther Adams’ “Dream of White on White”—a ballet in unitards to Adams’ geography-inspired music, spare, luminous, with chime-like tones inspired by the Aeolian harp which make tones as the wind blows through it.  As the dancers move, the lighting changes—the ballet provides a chance for Kade Mandelowitz to use washes of colored light as integral to the play of sound and motion.

I have seen this piece several times before, but when I heard the first notes through the thin studio walls one night as I was doing plies in Adult Ballet, I felt happy with anticipation.  The next week, as I was changing and the girls were in the dressing room preparing for rehearsal, I asked them how they liked it.

“It’s interesting,” they said.  One even said it was cool.  These are ballet girls, used to dance that imitates flight, that defies gravity, poised and tall on the small square-inch toe of a pointe shoe.  Often, ballet trained dancers don’t adjust to the earth-hugging Modern style, but these kids do.  They go at it with all the precision of a ballet dancer—and the dance reflects their ability and their connection with the place they live.  They are all Alaskan kids, after all.

There are other pieces in the second half, including the technical, fast-moving Tarantella.  At the end of Sunday’s performance, the kids will gather behind the curtain and hug each other and cry.  Their parents and friends will take photos of them, clustered together, mascara streaking below their eyes, clutching roses and carnations.

There are a few seniors graduating and moving on, but coming along behind them are a larger group of younger dancers, mid training, with lots of North Star performances ahead of them.  They may get teary-eyed, too, not knowing why, but I do.  They have the chance to dance to the work of a living composer, moving to choreography set just for them.  It’s an opportunity so rare that they won’t fully understand it till years later.

But those of us watching will.

Come watch these dancers and hear John’s music tomorrow, March 26 at 2 or 8pm or Sunday, March 27 at 2pm.

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