HOMER, Alaska (AP) — Homer junkyards can be notorious for the odd stuff one might find buried under blue tarps — vintage Subaru parts, wringer washing machines or a world’s collection of buoys. Dig around in an artist’s yard, though, and there’s no telling what you can find.
So when Jazzline director Jocelyn Shiro needed an egg for the 2014 Jazzline, performed Friday and Saturday, where better to go than to artist Leo Vait’s yard? Shiro is the local choreographic genius who not only creates the annual winter showcase of dance, but turns women, men, girls and boys who might never have danced before into living sculptures. Last year sadness and mourning inspired the theme of her show.
“This year, it’s all about new beginnings,” she said. “My whole theme has to do with eggs.”
Shiro put the word out that she needed an egg as a set piece for Jazzline, and not just any egg. She wanted a sculptural egg. Artist Judy Wynn said, “Call Leo Vait. I think he might have an egg in storage.” Shiro asked Vait, and he said, sure, he happened to have a 30-year-old fiberglass egg in his yard that he’d created for a Lynn Roff dance performance.
Covered in moss, blackened with mold, but with a little work, Vait’s egg cleaned up nice. The “before” egg is the one on the Jazzline poster, with Shiro tucked inside it like a chick ready to hatch. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,” Leo called himself.
“It’s so beautiful, it gives me chills,” Shiro said of the finished product.
The annual Jazzline comes out of an ensemble that could be called a mini-Nutcracker Ballet. It’s the same idea. Encourage young dancers to learn and help them keep up with dance. This year, Jazzline has a solid group of middle school students.
“They’re like athletes,” Shiro said. “They have stuck with it, not only because they enjoy it, but they feel like dance has made them comfortable in their bodies as they have gone through major growth spurts and helped them with other sports.”
At the other end is a core group of adult women — Lisa Nordstrom, Maura Jones, Miranda Weiss, Wynn Levitt and new member Anne Gittenger. Gittenger, alas, broke her foot recently and Shiro had to scramble to rearrange some choreography and teach Jones her role.
In between the young and mature are Jazzline’s teenage boys and girls, including three girls who have never done modern dance, but have done ballet. Max Mangue, an exchange student from Mozambique, is adding dance to his Alaska experience. In rehearsal, the boys acted like goofy guys, clowning around before the music started, but on stage they were all business — fluid, graceful and strong.
What Jazzline lacked, though, was adult male dancers. The women kept asking if there would be any men this year, so Jazzline put the challenge back to them: recruit. Check out guys at bars who seem coordinated. Shiro was working out at the Alaska Training Room and saw a young, tall 26-year-old, Wil Roedl, who looked like he could lift Shiro over his head.
“He lifted me like I weigh nothing,” Shiro said. “I knew he could lift heavy weights, but I didn’t know if he knew his left foot from his right foot.”
Roedl agreed to try out. Shiro, who also works as a physical therapist, said she has a good eye for body and kinesthetic awareness and thought Roedl had possibility,
“We just started working together,” she said. “There’s no limitation. No hesitation with him. He’s very open and confident.”
“It’s been more fulfilling than I thought it would be,” Roedl said. “I’ve been having a blast with it.”
At a rehearsal last week, a person couldn’t tell Roedl had been dancing less than a year or that this would be his first public performance. In a duet with Shiro, he moved confidently. Raise Shiro up over his head so she looked like she was flying, then twist and let her gracefully fall, catching her at the last minute? No problem.
“I felt trustful,” Shiro said. “He clicked. No matter what lift I wanted to try, I felt like I could go for it. Even if it failed, I knew he would not let me hit the floor.”
Shiro planned one duet with Roedl, but they had so much fun, she added another. Duets take dancing to another level in their intimacy, Shiro said. Before doing a duet, Shiro said she sat down and talked with Roedl about that.
“It has to be very tender and very sweet. We must connect on an emotional level. Otherwise it’s a string of steps,” Shiro said. “The thing that turns a string of steps into a piece of art is an emotional connection.”
That emotional connection is what keeps audiences coming back year after year for Jazzline. There’s the beauty of the human form, which can be seen in some dances that have posed moments, a brief stop in the motion where dance becomes sculpture. There’s the swirl of those bodies, like the energy of poi or fire dancing where the movement becomes art. Underlying it all is emotion: love, loss, longing, parting and rebirth.
“I’ve seen him grow in so many ways, not only dancing, growing in his ability to express,” Shiro said of Roedl.