'Cash & Cline' celebrates country giants with dance

Mike Dunham

Alaska Dance Theatre's "Cash & Cline" was a hit. Contemporary choreography by Gillmer Duran juxtaposed with live renditions of country music classics expanded on the story and lent dignity to the singer's art. I was reminded that Johnny Cash really is one of the greatest American composers of the last 100 years, achieving the unalloyed aesthetic that lesser composers fall short of. Jamie Hartford and band and Melissa Mitchell nicely supplied the covers.

Among the eight professional dancers in the show, I was struck by Elizel Long, an animated, articulated pipe cleaner of a dancer who dominated the stage whenever she was on it, which was most of the time. The unison of action was much better than what we usually see locally and the athleticism of the performers was something that should be applauded -- and was on opening night, Feb. 22 at the Discovery Theatre.

Barry Kerollis' spins and heel-over-head kicks in his solo, "I Walk the Line" and "Ring of Fire," a duet with Long, made some in the crowd holler with enthusiasm. The big company piece, "Folsom Prison Blues," was especially rousing.

Duran left a classical feel in the choreography, like the symmetry of four women performing to "Strange" followed by four men in "Cry, Cry, Cry." In general Cash and Cline songs alternated. Between songs, historic recordings of the stars or other stars talking about them filled space, which may not have been the best idea. The evening would have felt more compact without them and the balance was so lopsidedly Cash -- who outlived Cline by nearly 50 years and left a proportionately larger legacy -- that one began to feel the female hit maker was being slighted.

There was a long standing ovation. It seems reasonable that "Cash & Cline," presented with light, easy-to-travel forces and set to music and themes that are universal in America, could travel outside Alaska and get an equally positive reception.