Students rehearse for an upcoming dance performance at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium earlier this week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Saturday afternoon in the Renee Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School whispers and giggles from behind the curtains at the side of the stage.
Suddenly, drum music comes over the speakers at the edge of the stage, and the back stage is silent. Students begin to run. They run in patterns across the stage, some wearing grass leggings, some wearing colorful swatches of fabric. They stop, jump, turn and run away again.
As the dance develops, there are two tribes. Two kings, two queens, and the royalty has scepters -- or are they feather dusters? There’s a chase scene and then a witch doctor enters with a long staff. It’s a limbo stick.
According to Phil Morin, this dance is called “Out on a Limbo,” one of the repertory pieces that will appear in Nikiski High School’s Dance Concert, which will take place at the Renee Henderson Auditorium on Friday and Saturday, and again the following weekend April 6 and 7.
Morin laughs when he tells how the dance came into being. The year he choreographed “Out on a Limbo,” he had several shorter kids and several taller kids in his troupe at Nikiski Middle-High School. He came up with a story about a tribe of pygmies and a tribe of giants, and the dance took off. He knew that with the mixed skill level in class, one thing they could all do was run. So they did. And jump. It was an opportunity for Morin to teach about pacing and patterns. When one of the students asked why he was running with his arm up, Morin told him it was because he was a king, and he would, of course, have a scepter -- Morin handed the student a feather duster that was in the room. It became the “Whoopee.”
Morin is known for choreographing story dances. Every piece has a tale to tell, and it allows the longtime head of Nikiski’s dance troupe to utilize every student. Not all students have had dance training, but they can all run, and they can all play a character.
“You can use all skill levels when you do these kinds of things. ... This year I have eight kids that have danced before,” said Morin.
Morin is also known for his high production values. There are three giant sets in use in this year’s concert, including a tree that flies from the theater’s loft and reaches from the top of the proscenium to the floor. Doing the concert at KCHS gives the troupe a little more room for the 41 dancers and the huge sets and costumes. The location is more central, and Morin has invited guests to perform with his students. Sohi Star Sensations, KCHS, Performing Artists in Motion and Encore Dance Academy are all performing.
Tara Slaughter is involved with three of the guest performers. She works with KCHS, P.A.M. and Encore Dance Academy. She can understand why Morin approaches dance in the schools in the way he does. She teaches dance at KCHS, and must cover a broad range of skill and experience levels.
“It is a huge challenge for me. And I think that’s where Phil has found his niche as far as getting so many kids involved at Nikiski, is because he uses that style and incorporates any level of dance,” Slaughter said. “It just has a storyline, it just makes sense to watch. It’s not just about showcase. ... It’s about the troupe creating a story and getting that across to the audience.”
This will be her last opportunity to guest in one of Nikiski’s concerts. After this year, Morin will no longer produce the big concert.
“I think it will be missed by the community. I think it’s something that people look forward to attending. ... He always uses repertoire, so you see something familiar with a new cast. I think people look forward to it and it will be missed for sure,” she said.
P.A.M. will debut a new piece of choreography by Rick Langley. Morin’s wife, Chris, who has long been involved with both Nikiski dance, and is also a member of P.A.M., described the new piece.
“Ladders, chairs, real bluesy, Michael Bublé ... it’s a very classy piece and he did that, which will be nice to see,” she said.
The piece is set to Bublé’s “Feeling Good.”
Chris Morin described what people can expect from the show: “One thing about this is, this will be a family show. There’s a variety of music, and there’s going to be some scary stuff, but there’s no innuendo, nothing in your face, nothing you couldn’t bring your Sunday school class to. And it’ll still be good entertainment. And that’s one thing that Morin has stuck on and stayed on.”
The Nikiski Dance Troupe performances start at 7:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for seniors and kids 18 and under, available at the Bear Paw Cafe in Nikiski, Charlotte’s in Kenai and River City Books in Soldotna. Tickets at the door will be $10 and $8.
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