Nikiski dancers put on eclectic, theatrical show

Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2003

The Nikiski High School Dance Troupe will be riding high this weekend, when their high kicks, high-class sets and costumes and highly creative dances combine to create a performance that conforms to a high standard of excellence.

For this troupe, giving their best for a performance is all in a year's work.

"We aren't professional, but the standards are of a professional standard," said director Phil Morin. "We may not achieve their excellence, but we will strive for it. The (audience) deserves our best."

The show will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Nikiski Middle-Senior High School auditorium and April 4 and 5 at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. The Nikiski dancers, which include students from grades seven through 12, will perform 11 dances, three of which have multiple movements. Rounding out the show will be dances by four guest performer troupes -- Kenai Central High School dancers, the Chaparrals from Chugiak High School, Peninsula Artists in Motion and dancers from Master Dance Studio.

For Nikiski's portion of the show, the performers will present an eclectic selection of dances, including lyrical, precision (similar to hip-hop), Celtic folk, African-inspired, theatrical and a Broadway number with Nikiski teacher Joe Rizzo providing the accompanying singing to "New York, New York." The troupe is able to present such a variety of styles because Morin often uses guest choreographers to create different dances.


Nikiski dancers perform an African dance in a rehearsal Tuesday.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

"I like my students to be exposed to many different kinds (of dance)," Morin said. "My philosophy is about exposing the kids to as many different kinds of styles and teachers and approaches as possible."

Morin's preferred style of dance is theatrical, which incorporates props, sets, characters and even plots. Watching one of these dances is like watching a play, just with no dialogue to have to follow and with more action. One of Morin's theatrical dances is "Muppet Treasure Island," which opens the show. Morin created the dance after watching the movie "Muppet Treasure Island" with his youngest son. The music was catchy and his son enjoyed watching it so much that Morin choreographed a dance based on it.

In it, there are islanders and a combat between pirates and soldiers over a chest of treasures. The combatants fight around a ship, palm trees and island shoreline set pieces that are as elaborate as any found in a play.

Morin's other dance ends the show. It is in a Celtic folk style with lyrical elements. At the beginning of the piece, villagers are celebrating a wedding. In subsequent movements, an elderly villager falls asleep during the festivities and awakens to a dream-like scene in a forest populated by all sorts of spirits and sprites. For the set, Morin created a gigantic tree and tree stump that helps set the enchanted mood of the piece.

"(The show) is not just for adults, it's for every age group," said dance troupe member Rainy Reilly. "There's a variety of styles. If you've never seen one of (the theatrical dances before), there are so many sets it's like watching a movie."

While the elaborate sets in the theatrical pieces add an engaging visual element to the show and give the dancers physical elements to interact with onstage, the downside is they create some pauses in between dances while the pieces are moved on- or offstage. Morin said he has been working with his technical crew to get the set changes down to a science so they will be as quick as possible, and hopes what down time there is just serves to get the audience more excited to see what's next.

"The pieces are entertaining enough (for the pauses) to be tolerated by the audience," he said. "I think the audience will be forgiving and will find it worth it. I think there will even be an anticipation (for the next dance)."

The theatrical style of dance and the Celtic piece in particular are the favorites of dance troupe member Megan Mazurek.

"It definitely has a lot more challenging sets and props," she said. "There's a lot of variety, so you have to switch to different modes, style-wise. You have to be a character, not just dance and smile."

For Tracie Nightingale, the African-inspired dance is the best. This is another piece which includes several movements. The music for it comes from live drummers onstage.

"The African one gets us pumped up, you get into the whooping and the drums," she said.

The Nikiski group has been working toward this performance all year. Unlike organized sports, they don't have a schedule of tournaments to participate in or titles to work toward.


Nikiski dancers hold a pose in a lyrical dance.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

"It's a lot of work, and a lot of dedication for just a few moments (of performance)," Morin said. "I tell them there's nothing that is as hard as dance. You work the hardest, it's the longest season and there's the least reward (as far as trophies and titles go)."

But that doesn't mean the program isn't worth the effort.

"It's not just about the dancing in the public schools system," Morin said. "It's about all the other things you learn in extracurricular activities. ... You learn all the things you learn in sports but you don't lose."

The show serves a dual purpose for the troupe. It is a chance for the dancers to show off their hard work and the skills they've developed over the year, as well as a way to sustain the program. Fancy sets and costumes make the show more enjoyable to watch, but costumes alone for a show like this can run about $5,500, Morin said. The program is primarily paid for through fund-raisers, donations and the revenue generated from their performances.

"We can only do it if people support it," Morin said.

"It's more than just an average high school dance where the kids jump around. It's a musical, visual experience as well. Come to support the kids' hard work and to see some fun dances."

Tickets for the show are $10 general admission at the door. Advance tickets are $7 and are available at Alaska Gift and Gallery in Kenai, Bear Paw Coffee and Deli in Nikiski and River City Books in Soldotna.

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