Art Beat: Live country music and modern dance meet in 'Cash & Cline'

A country music fan and a modern dance aficionado sit down next to each other in the same concert hall.

What one says to the other may or may not be a punch line, but the set-up is no joke.

Next weekend in the Discovery Theatre, Nashville stalwart Jamie Hartford and band will perform several of Johnny Cash's mega-sellers and Anchorage songstress Melissa Mitchell will join in on songs made famous by Patsy Cline.

While the singers croon country classics, eight professional dancers from Alaska Dance Theatre will perform to the music with contemporary choreography by ADT artistic director Gillmer Duran.

"At first, I was like: What's the connection?" said Mitchell. "But now, I feel like the vibe that I'm getting from the company is this strength that comes out of this music. I usually write and sing my own stuff. I don't do covers, so this is a really great challenge. But I'm getting super excited. The whole thing is going to be powerful."

"Cash & Cline" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Discovery Theatre. Tickets, $9-$25, are available at The public is invited to join in line dancing in the lobby at 6:30 p.m. both nights.

The very phrase "country music" presents an aesthetic speed bump to many, including some of the dancers. When Duran approached Denver dancer Thomas Phelan about the concept, Phelan was intrigued, but said, "I have this issue: I can't stand country music."

That attitude was shared by most or all of the other dancers. "We're not fans," said Beth Ann Maslinoff of Florida.

But as they began to work on the numbers that began to shift. "I didn't expect to enjoy it this much," said Maslinoff.

"It grows on you quite a lot," said Elizel Long, a South African who was most recently performing in London.

"You develop a different relationship with the music," said Barry Kerollis, who created the role of Cassio in ADT's production of Duran's "Othello" last year. "Country music is very much its own genre. There are expectations that you have to dance it a certain way. But sometimes the dancer has to ignore the music. Dancing to it is a lot different than listening to it in your car."

Alfredo Solivan of New Jersey said he was enthusiastic about two items that dancers rarely enjoy when performing with smaller companies.

"We have all new costumes made just for us," he said. "And performing with live music is exciting."

The others agreed with that. "When you perform with live musicians, you can play off each other," said Kerollis. "With recorded music you have to do the same thing every time. With live music you might turn out an extra three pirouettes. There's more potential for sparks."

The musicians are liabel to make sparks all on their own. Mitchell's warm, strong voice is well known to Alaskans in the big city, where she's opened for national acts, including Michael Franti just this month, as well as in the distant parts like Talkeetna, where she performed at the Fairview Inn last night.

Hartford literally grew up in the business. His father wrote the Grammy-winning hit "Gentle on My Mind" and was a guest on "Hee-Haw." He and his electric guitar were featured throughout the soundtrack of the 2005 Johnny Cash bio-flick "Walk the Line." He's a frequent visitor to Alaska; his mother, Betty, lives here. He plans to return later in the year "for some fishing" and to play shows with his friend, Ken Peltier.

Arriving in Anchorage to start rehearsals on Friday, Hartford said he'd never heard of a concert combining country music and modern dance. "But both things are all about creativity," he said, "only limited by the imagination of the people doing it. I'd expect it to be different, but real creative. I'm fixin' to find out."

Duran stressed that "Cash & Cline" is a made-in-Alaska product. He pointed to Mitchell, the design team and the fact that the show has been conceived and worked up at ADT for a premiere at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.

"This is not coming from New York," he said. "It's all being cooked right here."


Alaska artist featured on Canadian book

A new publication from British Columbia's multifaceted Harbour Publishing celebrates the comic side of Northwest Native life. "Carrying On 'Irregardless': Humour in Contemporary Northwest Coast Art" is drawn from the exhibit at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art and includes such Canadian First Nations items as a traditional prehistoric stone bowl carved to show a smiling face and a contemporary pair of high heels in cedar titled "Too Haida," plus essays by Canadian comedians and art experts.

What caught my attention was the cover: "Things are Looking Native, Native's Looking Whiter," a giclee photo image by Nicholas Galanin of Sitka. Galanin has been a guest college instructor in Victoria, B.C. The photo is among recent acquisitions by the Anchorage Museum.


Reindeer for hire

Speaking of photos at the Anchorage Museum, we ran a correction earlier this week regarding a photo that ran last Sunday purporting to show reindeer in a Wien Airlines plane. The photo (and caption) were connected to museum's "Arctic Flight" exhibit. A giant version is used on the elevator doors at taking patrons to the show on the museum's third floor.

The picture of the reindeer in the airplane was not in a "Wien Alaska Airlines airplane" as captioned.

Raymond "Sonny" Petersen, son of bush pilot turned pioneer Alaska airline executive Raymond I. Peterson, drew our attention to the error. "The aircraft was in fact a Northern Consolidated Airlines Fairchild F-27," he said. The senior Peterson was president of the company -- which for some reason we called "NCL," forgetting the "air" in "airlines," perhaps because it made for a slightly blasphemous rhyme in an oft-recited little jingle that praised the speed of the Fairchilds compared to a competitor's DC-3s.

"The Reindeer were being transported from Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island to Anchorage," Sonny wrote. "They were consigned to John H. Carrothers who owned Reindeer Enterprises Inc. His business consisted of training them for department store Santa Clauses and such for use during the Christmas season."

NCL and Wien merged in 1967, Sonny noted, eight years after the photo was taken and 17 years before the oldest airline in Alaska, and second oldest in the U.S., sadly shut down.


On the blog

The Alaska Airlines Winter Classics chamber music series wraps up today at Alaska Pacific University. My thoughts on opening night are posted at The program will include music by Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Brahms' Piano Trio in C.

Also worth noting, the final performance of "A Shayna Maidel" takes place at 3 p.m. today at Anchorage Community Theatre, 1133 E. 70th Ave. Several people have told me this is the best play of the season thus far.


Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.