I have been a fan of yuraq -- Yup'ik style "Eskimo dance" -- since 1957, taking in performances at Cama-i, Quyana Night, the Fairbanks Native Arts Festival, Yupiit Yuraryarait events in smaller settlements, anywhere I thought there would be a number of good drummers, singers and dancers.
But I never saw anything like the danced mask at the Alaska Native Heritage Center on June 12.
The occasion was the announcement that the center was going to receive a $295,000 grant, a good reason to celebrate. As center president Annette Evans Smith put it, "Three hundred thousand dollars means a lot to the Alaska Native Heritage Center."
For the event, center dancers performed "Pulling from Within" with a large mask made by Phillip Charette. I described the 4-foot-tall carving in perhaps overly enthusiastic terms in an article reporting the grants published Wednesday. It was so heavy that two members of the center staff had to hold it up using a long pole while Dan Willie danced behind it.
The use of giant masks during dances in qasgit (communal men's houses) is attested by historical observers. In the shadowy sod qasgi, we're told, the enormous faces appeared to float. I find no photos of such performances under way, but some of the masks have survived. The practice seems to have ceased more than 100 years ago, even before the rest of the dance form was suppressed and generally went underground.
The brightly lit stage at the Heritage Center didn't quite re-create the mystical mood of old times, and Willie, behind the wood and on his knees, had his vision obscured; he fell out of sync with the women dancers on either side of him more than once, though everyone ended together.
Nonetheless, it was memorably dramatic. Here's hoping we don't have to wait another 100 years to see something like it again.
On Wednesday, the Daily News carried the obituary for Brian Davies, who died June 8 at the age of 71. The notice covered his career as a geologist and petroleum engineer, his enthusiasm for the great outdoors and (what we're interested in here) his herculean support for the arts.
Davies was a major contributor to arts groups large and small. He volunteered on the boards of the Anchorage Symphony, Cook Inlet Historical Society and Anchorage Museum Association, to name a few. His efforts on behalf of the recent museum expansion project were sufficient that the uppermost gallery, with its panoramic view of the Chugach Mountains -- where I sometimes encountered him and his wife, Sharon, on glorious summer days -- is named in his honor. That's where a memorial for him was held Friday evening.
But he was also a powerful contributor in his participation, even in art events in which he had no involvement. It was hard to go to any art opening in Anchorage, any concert, lecture, play or opera performance, and not run into the Davies, especially after his retirement in 1995. Often as not, he was tapping others for their opinions and offering his own analysis of what the artist was trying to do and how well he or she was doing it.
Nor were his interests limited to the Anchorage arts scene. He attended the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez and seemed to relish how that festival broke down the barriers between playwright and audience.
Not everyone will have the money to make cash donations to art groups; fewer still will have the free time or the negotiating skills to serve on a board of directors. But most of us can imitate Brian Davies' love and support of the arts in at least one way by simply being there at as many times and places as possible.
Arts council meets
The Alaska State Council on the Arts will hold its annual meeting on Friday and Saturday at the council's offices, 161 Klevin Street, Suite 102. The meeting is open to the public. In addition to other business, the council will award annual grants to Alaska's arts and cultural institutions for the fiscal year 2012-2013. Meeting times are noon to 5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Poetry readers needed
William De Witt Snodgrass (1926-2009), whose "interior, emotional" poetry earned him a Pulitzer Prize, will be the next writer featured at the Poetry Parley.
Local (and living) poets Ethan Korpi Love and Jacob Holly-Kline will present their own works and members of the public are invited to read something by Snodgrass; he wrote some pretty interesting prose as well as poetry. The event takes place at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Out North.
If you have a favorite Snodgrass piece you'd like to read to the assembled, email email@example.com. If you've never heard of him, check out these lines written for his daughter, from his first collection, "Heart's Needle:"
Winter again and it is snowing;
Although you are still three,
You are already growing
Strange to me.
Blue Rose returns
The Blue Rose Trio -- pianist Rose Chen, cellist Lars Joefs and clarinetist Karl Pasch -- will present a program of Beethoven, Villa-Lobos and Astor Piazzolla at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Anchorage Lutheran Church, 1420 N St. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
'Boheme' planned for Fairbanks
Opera Fairbanks' fifth annual "Run of the Valkyries" 8-K race, held Saturday, reminds us that the company will produce Puccini's "La Boheme" next month.
Gregory Buchalter will lead the staged production at 7:30 p.m. July 12 and 14 in Hering Auditorium. The ambitious company has been producing the only summer opera in Alaska for a few years now.
Reach Mike Dunham at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4332.