Art beat: Choreographer does her thing in Anchorage

Mike Dunham

The April 12 debut of Amy Seiwert's latest piece "Monuments," as part of Alaska Dance Theatre's "Intersections" program, gave Anchorage dance fans the chance to see work by someone tagged as one of the most promising up-and-coming choreographers on the West Coast.

In the program notes, Seiwert suggested that the work was a "reflection" of the monumental landscapes of Alaska. She used lethargic, minimalist music by cellist Hildur Gudnadottir that she called, "the perfect manifestation of the north's tremendous terrain."

That's about as accurate as saying Seiwert's choreography was a commentary on the economic crisis in Cyprus. In fact it's abstract work, as she notes, where the forms and imagery imply no narrative.

But the slow-motion moves matched the music in a way that was almost hypnotic and was certainly graceful, with several moments of surprise and beauty. "Monuments" opened with the company of eight dancers in something of a mound, with one man standing above the rest, raising his arms. The initial impression was chaos, but they quickly split into couples and what followed was notably formal.

Among the vivid gestures that recurred were a move in which a male dancer lifted a female dancer from behind, her arms and legs stiff and at right angles from the body, as if she were sitting in a chair. At one point the women stood like rods while the men made hoops with their arms that they lowered vertically by bending their knees, feet apart. Yet another gesture involved performers holding their hands at mouth-height, spaced about a foot apart, as if playing pan pipes.

One felt something profound in the piece, but the most tenacious feeling may have been one of tedium engendered in no small part by the music. That "Monuments" was not entirely demolished by it is probably due to the choreographer's inventive talent and the fact that she stopped her piece before it went on too long.

Gillmer Duran's "Tyranny of the Senses" took the back half of the program. I found it "enduring" when first presented in 2011. A review in the Eugene, Ore. Register-Guard later that year said it needed editing. That reviewer was right, I was wrong. Here the dancing became tedious after a while. Seiwert's "Monuments," however, keeps rerunning in my mind.

The talent of the ADT corps is undeniable. Thomas Phelan's solo in "Tyranny" was certainly a high point. And when Alfredo Solivan lifted Elizel Long over his head like a hundred and something pounds of weights and calmly walked the depth of the stage I could feel my shoulders ache. Though blended in with the rest of the cast more evenly than in ADT's "Cash & Cline" earlier this year, which she dominated, Long remains a sensational dancer to watch. That's not just my view; the applause at her bow was double that for anyone else.

The UAA Department of Theatre and Dance also debuted new work last weekend. The annual "New Dances" program featured 50 dancers in 10 pieces. Offerings ranged from the abstract to colorful, pop-themed fun pieces.

Two of the new works struck me as particularly engrossing: "Cubed Perception" by Maisie Stewart featured four dancers in four square spotlights. Eventually one "escaped" from the square and slowly lured the others out, tentatively at first, then with greater verve, sometimes returning to revisit the squares. It brought to mind Plato's Cave Allegory.

A crowd favorite was Nicholas Young's "Robert Boyle," a "Stomp"-like composition in which the dancers own stamping, slapping and finger-snapping supplied edgy accompaniment. The most perplexing offering was "Apoptosis (PCD) by Ruby S. Kennell. With microscopic video of microbes projected on the back of the space, a cluster of dancers wearing lights moved clockwise around a single dancer in a white gown. Then the video switched to a locomotive and the dancers redressed as amoebas encircled and swallowed the woman in white. The set was left so dark throughout that one was aware only of motion, not dancing.

At the end of the night I encountered several people leaving UAA's "When You Comin' Back Red Ryder?," which is being produced in the Jerry Harper Black Box theater. Their mouths were open. They were trembling. They spoke of stunning and intense theater experience. They got their money's worth.

"Red Ryder" has its final performance at 3 p.m. Sunday. "New Dances" will have its final performance at 6 p.m. Reviews for both ("Red Ryder," "New Dances") and for last night's Anchorage Symphony Orchestra performance are posted at

Take time for jazz

The Monterey Jazz Festival, a major American music happening since 1958, is sending a sextet of festival veterans on tour around the county. Singer Dee Dee Bridgewater fronts the band of saxophonist Chris Potter, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, pianist Benny Green, bass man Christian McBride and drummer Lewis Nash.

We hear the group is playing to sold-out crowds; Atwood Concert Hall will be one of the larger venues when they play there next Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16-$44 at

Speaking of jazz, local jazz heavyweights Rick Zelinsky, Ron Bargelski, Dirk Westfall and Brandon Cockburn will present the next program in the Anchorage Lutheran Concert Series at 4 p.m. Sunday. The concert is free, though donations are accepted to defray costs and keep the programs coming. The concert is at Anchorage Lutheeran Church at 1420 N St. Zelinsky and crew will continue their "Jazz Masters" series with a tribute to John Coltrane at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Tap Root. There's a full moon that night, so be prepared to howl.

Indian items auctioned despite protests

We followed with interest the auction of Hopi artifacts deemed sacred by tribal members in Paris on April 12. The tribe had protested, insisting that the items were sacred or living, could only be possessed by Hopis as communal property and had been illegally transferred.

American officials and celebrities added their support to an effort to repatriate the objects.

A French judge disagreed. The auction went forward as protesters surrounded the building and some managed to get inside. Nonetheless, it generated $1.2 million in sales.

The New York Times reported, "One featured item, a headdress known as the Crow Mother, drew intense interest. Bidding on this 1880s artifact, which had a high estimate of $80,000, soared to $210,000, drawing applause from a crowd of some 200 people in the sales room and protest from a woman who stood up and shouted: 'Don't purchase that. It is a sacred being.'

"Earlier, a woman who stood and began to cry out against the sale had been escorted rapidly from the room, which had tight security."

The judge ruled that the "masklike objects, despite their divine status among Hopis, could not be likened to dead or alive beings. ... The Hopis say the artifacts, known as Katsinam, or 'friends,' were stolen. Many are more than a century old. The auction house has said a French collector obtained them legally decades ago," the Times said.

Bo Lomahquahu, a Hopi tribe member present outside the auction, was quoted by the Times as saying, "They are truly sacred to us; we feed and care for them. And to see people walking out with them in bags, like some object, I felt really helpless and hurt."

Reach Mike Dunham at or 257-4332.