Dance companies in Southcentral Alaska are a tight-knit mix of performers and choreographers. From classical ballet to modern dance, companies work together to cultivate culture throughout the area.
“Our number one marketing strategy is really just to keep close relationships with other dance companies, so we can grow and nurture together,” Cara Parker, choreographer and marketing director for Peninsula Artists in Motion, said.
PAM is hosting their sixth annual dance concert Friday and Saturday at the Kenai Central High School Renee C. Henderson Auditorium. The concert will also include guests from Homer and Anchorage.
The dance concert marks the finale of PAM’s season, combining dances worked on and performed throughout the year. Its choreographers prepare a culmination of pieces, and the community sees how the dance company has grown.
A majority of the dances are archived following the concert, allowing PAM to begin fresh with the new season, Parker said.
“We like to say that it’s our best show yet, and it usually is our best show to date, because we’ve all grown as dancers and choreographers working together as a company,” she said.
Guests at this year’s concert include Encore Dance Academy from Kenai, Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy, Momentum Dance Collective and Pulse Dance Company from Anchorage, as well as a performer from Cosmic Hoops in Homer.
As a non-profit modern and contemporary dance company, PAM’s performers prefer to stay within that genre for the concert. Guests will perform different styles of dance.
The ballet academy will perform a more traditional piece, and the guest from Homer will hoop dance, which usually involves a flaming hula-hoop, but is unsafe in an indoor theater.
“There’s not so much of a real consistency other than they’re all dance,” Katrina Carpenter, PAM co-founder and performer, said. “The audience will get to see many different styles.”
Preparing contemporary dance pieces is spontaneous and natural. Inspiration for a dance piece comes from life experiences, a single song or admiration of professional artists’ styles.
Parker has prepared a piece called “Reconcile” for the concert. As a choreographer, she centered the piece around life circumstances, leaving it open to interpretation, she said.
“It’s left open for people to plug their own stories into,” she said. “So, the inspiration may come from me, but the point is to be open enough to relive personal stories through it.”
The concert marks PAM’s 10th anniversary. Carpenter and Tara Slaughter, the owner of Encore Dance Academy and its studio, started the original dance company for a single high school concert.
It started with a call from Phil Morin, Nikiski High School’s dance instructor. He was working with a choreographer on two pieces for an annual concert. Carpenter gathered Nikiski alumni to dance at the concert.
The choreographer was Slaughter.
“(Slaughter) and I had both danced through high school and graduated at the same time, but I was at Nikiski and she was at Kenai,” Carpenter said. “She and I got together. She originally auditioned all the dancers and set the two pieces on the performers. After the concert we just kept it going.”
PAM is an all-female dance company. It started with seven dancers but now has 16 dancers, she said.
Auditions are held yearly, and the company continues to grow. Out-of-state dancers have found the company online and joined upon moving to the area.
PAM scouted Pulse Dance Company at a spring concert in Anchorage last year. Pulse, also a non-profit contemporary dance company, is sending three performers to the show.
The trio will give attendees a taste of what the company is about and hopefully pique interest in an upcoming January concert, Company and Artistic Director Stephanie Pia Wonchala said.
“This is Pulse’s first road trip out of Anchorage, and we have a sponsor providing lodging and gas,” she said. “It’s pretty exciting that we’ve got people who people believe in us and what we’re doing.”
Wonchala and Associate Artistic Director Walter Barillas decided the piece “Ecrem III” would fit best for the trio, as it highlights the strengths of the dancers.
The piece is based on the work of Merce Cunningham, an American choreographer who was at the forefront of experimental dance for more than 50 years. In Cunningham’s work, the different components of a dance were created separately. He often rolled dice to dictate the number of dancers, the section of music, where the dancers entered the stage and how the dance space was used.
Barillas is currently fascinated by Cunningham’s methods, and he designed “Ecrem III” in a similar fashion.
“I’m allowing the dice to tell me what comes before and after any particular section for each of the dancers,” he said. “The three of us will have our own separate scores composed of 16 smaller phrases.”
PAM holds workshops in local schools to teach dance. The group has been doing so since before the annual concert began. Both the concert and the workshops help cultivate culture in the area, Carpenter said.
Carpenter said that reaching more people throughout the state helps the non-profit, and the annual event will expose more of the Peninsula’s population to dance.
“We want to hit the adult and high school age areas since there’s not a lot for adults to do around (the Central Peninsula),” she said. “It’d be nice to get them into the theater a little bit more and show them that it’s for everybody.”