This is coming a little late, but there is a reality facing the Anchorage arts community that needs to be acknowledged: we could really use more talent shows.
It was a fact brought to my attention last weekend at the second annual Big Feat Little Feet produced by Pulse Dance Company (full disclosure, I was a judge and was paid off handsomely—and in handfuls—with the Alpine mints that stocked the dressing room).
Pulse got 11 soloists and groups to develop pieces that included an umbrella, a phrase in a foreign language and a grapevine (the dance step, not the fruit-bearing plant). The winner was awarded $300. This challenge turned up a lot of dance performances—from hip hop to modern—a puppet show, a couple experimental films, even some performance art (one piece featured male dancers shimmying in gold Lycra while a buxom woman handed out cocktail umbrellas. The other, well… it defies simple explanation though it's worth noting that one performer drank about a gallon of inky black liquid out of an umbrella and spit it at a masked woman in a white dress). The winning entry was a tautly edited abstract film “Jai Besoin D’un Parapluie,” directed by Scott Heverling (Vicente Capala served as videographer).
So: why talent shows? Well let’s go back to last July, when Out North shut its doors. It wasn’t just a big deal for people with a predilection for New York performance artists covering themselves in honey or other fringe art feats. Out North was one of the few places in Anchorage where artists in different disciplines could run into each other—where there would be art and dance and live music and spoken word poetry in the same place at the same time.
Talent shows offer a sliver of that kind of opportunity for cross fertilization. Which is good for artists but not the most important thing. What really matters is that talent shows done right are riotous fun to watch—what they lack in uniform quality, they make up for variety and the element of surprise. Go to a symphony concert and you’ll probably see trained musicians play a famous piece of music. What you almost certainly won’t see is a kid using an umbrella to perform a samurai sword dance, a potentiality realized last Saturday. Every act is an unknown quantity.
“I love BFLF because it epitomizes the best parts of an arts community—a call to action for creators, the opportunity to perform to a packed house, and best of all, the chance to get paid for your work,” said event mastermind and Pulse founder/director Stephanie Wonchala, “the simple act of sharing different ideas in different ways in one place created a sense of support and community that makes me proud to be an Alaskan artist.”