Dancing in the last frontier

Today, I'm going to offer a little glimpse into my life. Back in June, when I first left my "big company" life, a colleague I had been dancing with mentioned that her close friends had been appointed to lead Alaska Dance Theatre in Anchorage. They asked her if she knew of any male dancers that would be available to dance in what was to be the company's first residential production. This was a big step for the organization, which is restricted by its isolated location. I was excited by this news, as this was the first time anybody had shown interest in having me freelance.

In June, ADT and I had an initial conversation where we expressed our mutual desire to work together. After months of discussion, I was offered to dance in the company's world premiere production of Othello. I spent much of my career praying that the big company I danced with would show me the world on tour. The funny thing is that it took me leaving for that to finally happen.

As quickly as I became excited for this opportunity is as quickly as my excitement turned into fear. What had I done? I just committed to 5 weeks in Alaska...in the winter! Not only was it going to be freezing cold, but it was going to be dark. And there was going to be a lot of snow. And isn't Alaska a really conservative place for a liberal dancer that lives a more alternative lifestyle. Also, what about my partner? We've been together for 6 years and we have never spent more than 2 weeks apart from each other. How could I have not taken all of these things into consideration?

As the days got closer, I became more and more nervous. I was stepping way out of my comfort zone. I was going to stay with a host family. I would be dancing in a company with a brand new artistic director in a style that I wasn't familiar with. But, being the person that I am, I always calm my fears by being very open and honest about my concerns. This can sometimes be uncomfortable, but there are some things that you must ask if they are important to you. Luckily, ADT's ballet mistress, Dubraskha Arrivillaga, was very helpful in addressing my concerns.

On January 30th, I embarked on my 15ish hour trip to the "Last Frontier." I arrived late in the evening. This was the first time that I had ever been greeted at an airport with my name on a sign. As we drove to my host family's house, I watched smoke and steam rising out of houses at a glacial pace through the bitterly cold air. It was -15 degrees. All of the roads were snow covered and the city felt a bit more suburb than city.

Welcome to Alaska Dance Theatre
I moved in with my host family and had a day to acclimate myself to the time and culture change. Living with a host family can be a great experience. I grew to feel at home with them. After a day off to adjust, a brand new group of dancers converged at the ADT studios to create art and to offer dance to a community that has never had a high-quality, fully professional residential dance company. It was a risk for all involved, but sometimes in the greatest risks come the grandest rewards.

We spent the next 5 weeks with Artistic Director, Gillmer Duran, creating his new production of Othello. We took class every day at 9:30 am and rehearsed until about 4 pm, when the school began classes for the day. One aspect of rehearsals that I really enjoyed was that the choreographic process tended to be equal part choreography being set and equal part collaboration. This production felt like it belonged to both the choreographer and dancers. After rehearsal ended for the day, company dancers were also given the opportunity to share their knowledge by teaching in the school.

Matanuska Glacier
When our work days ended, if we weren't too exhausted, we would hang out with one another. The atmosphere was quite familial and very supportive. I was even able to convince my partner to visit for a week to experience Alaska with me and to make sure that we didn't go 5 weeks without seeing each other. During the weekends, we had time to explore the wondrous beauty that Alaska has to offer. We were lucky enough to have associate artistic director, company dancer, and school coordinator, Sarah Grundwalt, to show us the ways of the biggest state in the U.S. Sarah is a native Anchoragite and she was a tour guide for her brother's Alaskan sightseeing bus company as a young adult. On any given weekend, Sarah would call me up and say, "What do you want to see today." Whether she could partake in the activity or not, she made sure that it happened. Mountains, glaciers, lakes, restaurants, snowshoeing, culture...you think of it, Sarah helped coordinate it.

All in all, the performances went very well. The local audience, which tends to have the attitude of "if it's home-grown, it's not high-quality," was pleasantly surprised. Both shows were extremely well received and very well attended. As a dancer in the production, I was very proud to have the opportunity to share my passion for dance with a maturing arts community. I would not have had this experience had I been tied down to a full-time company. One of the joys of freelancing is that you get to share your art with multiple audiences. Sometimes the audiences are small and uneducated, while at other time they can be large and experienced. In Anchorage, we were teaching a young audience that great dance can happen anywhere in the world, even in the "Last Frontier." This was the most rewarding part of the experience.

Moose in the ADT parking lot
Upon leaving, I was able to reflect on the amazing experience that freelancing brought me. I was pulled out of my comfort zone and Alaska proved me wrong. There were cold days, but there were also warmer days. It snowed a lot and it was dark at times, but Anchorage gained 5 minutes of sunlight everyday that we were there. Even in a state that can be more conservative, people can be liberal, open-minded, and appreciate the arts. I can go to work and there can be a moose in the parking lot. I watched 10 reindeer chase hundreds of people down a city street. I can go downtown and share a cocktail with a political figure, a counselor, a dogsled musher, and a woman with a half dozen roses and baby's breath woven into her hair. And I can be the artist that I am meant to be. My experience with Alaska Dance Theatre really caught me off guard and in the most positive way. I hope that one day I will have the opportunity to return.

Beluga Point, AK (photo credit: Shalem Photography)

   For more information about Alaska Dance Theatre click here


  1. Mooooooose!!! Oh wait, that's a dumpster...

  2. This was a very interesting post. You really give the feel of what it was like--I liked it! Great blog!

  3. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it! Alaska was definitely an interesting and eye opening experience