A moribund 'Resurrection' and some lively dance

REVIEW: Anchorage Symphony and Alaska Dance Theatre

April 17, 2011 

An arm-swinging fiesta. Left to right: Elizabeth Belyea, Mark Tucker, Sarah Grunwaldt, Reed Souther and Niki Maple in Gillmer Duran's "Without the Cover," presented April 15 and 16 by Alaska Dance Theatre and Eugene Ballet.

MARC LESTER / ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS Buy Photo

Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony fell short of rapture on Saturday night. Though there were many elements to be admired, the enormous piece -- the only thing on the program for conductor Randall Craig Fleischer's Anchorage Symphony Orchestra season closer -- lacked focus and cohesion.

To note the admirable: the reeds and brass played very well for the most part, especially the first trumpet, Lynn Weeda, who didn't get much respite in the 80-some minute score. The guest vocalists, Soprano Barbara Shirvis and mezzo Christin-Marie Hill, were good. And the men of the Anchorage Concert Chorus and Alaska Chamber Singers sounded meatier than I can recall.

The numerous climaxes were, well, climactic. But that's a given when they're propelled by a couple of dozen horns, trombones, tubas etc., and two sets of timpani.

The trick is to connect those big moments in a way that keeps our attention like a excruciatingly well-timed zombie movie -- which is sort of what Mahler's "Resurrection" is, in musical form, except with a happy ending. The second and third movements, in particular, must have something of the heat, clarity, edginess and strung-bow tension of the opening and the close.

That didn't happen. Too often it felt as if we were filling time waiting for the next corpse to fall. In contrast with the ASO's stellar performance of the same piece in 1996 (that review is posted at adn.com/artsnob), one member of the Atwood Hall audience rightly characterized the Saturday night effort as "baggy."

Alaska Dance Theatre's "Intersections" concert, seen in the Discovery Theatre on Friday, presented the opposite experience. In a program of more than two hours, including two very long pieces, the progression of images and visceral reactions stayed tightly tied together over the course of four works never before presented here.

The collaboration between ADT and Oregon's Eugene Ballet paid nice dividends in this event, notably the choreography of Gillmer Duran that opened and closed the program.

His "Tyranny of the Senses," the first piece, explored the traditional five senses, with special attention to aspects of "Touch" like balance and pain, accompanied by a wide screen video projections. While many of the images seemed abstract, others -- like the lips and a giant red strawberry during "Taste" -- had an obvious connection to the subject.

It was the most challenging piece of the evening, but graceful and compelling and by no means baffling.

In a town where contemporary dance often struggles to attain amateur quality, "Intersections" showed us a full corps of professionals, both from Alaska and Oregon. The timing and physicality hit the mark over and over again.

Toni Pimble's "Faces of Eve" featured three local dancers, Sarah Grunwaldt, Niki Maple and Heather McEwen. Each portrayed a different female personality type. Following the concert Pimble described the characters as sisters and their mother. It progressed to an "empty nest" vignette, but ended with a lovely, reconciling group hug.

Jessica Lang's "A Solo in Nine Parts," featured traditional and classical ballet moves set to a Vivaldi Concerto, with solo dancers paired to the instrumental solos in the score. It followed the format of Paul Taylor's evergreen "Brandenburg" and was a delight to eye, ear and heart. The slow movement was a beautiful expanded pas de deux. It used alternating pairings of Duran, Grunwaldt, Jennifer Martin and Bryan Ketron -- whose rubbery agility caught the eye whenever he was on stage. This gentle but heartfelt bit drew cheers and whistles.

The opening music for Duran's new "Without the Cover" was a jazzy take on Bach's Toccata in D Minor. One almost suspected more "Brandenburg," but the moves and gestures turned out to be far less formal. As the piece developed, an increasing sense of whimsy and joy emerged. Midway through, in a crisp joropo (Afro-Venezuelan folk waltz) for five women, the Bach (his Two-Part Invention in A Minor in this case) had become so tweaked with a Latin flavor as to be unrecognizable. It was followed by a tango, fortifying the idea of social dance -- which was there all along in that the men wore white shirts and ties. (I'm not sure about the bubble wrap on the women dancers.)

The finale was an arm-swinging fiesta set to Manuel de Falla's rambunctious "La Vida Breve."

The theater was not full, but you would not have guessed that from the applause.


Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.

A moribund 'Resurrection' and some lively dance

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