When Boston-based dance company Weber Dance comes to town for their annual summer residency program at Juneau Dance Unlimited, as they have for the past five years, they offer two kinds of artistic opportunities for Juneauites. One, the chance for students to learn from professional dancer and choreographer Jody Weber and her six colleagues, and two, the chance for the public see a professional contemporary dance company perform in our city.
The first has been going on for the past few weeks out at Juneau Dance Unlimited, and the second happens tonight, at 7 p.m. at the Thunder Mountain High School auditorium.
The performance will include dancing by the 30 or so students of all ages and abilities that have been learning from the Boston dancers, as well as a larger piece by Weber Dancers called “Synchronicity and the Sacred Space,” a multimedia work that involves live storytelling, music and visual projections. Tonight will be Weber Dance’s only performance while they are in town.
“Synchronicity and the Sacred Space” seems particularly well suited to Juneau audiences, in part for its live storytelling aspect, an art form that has deep roots in this area through Alaska Native oral traditions, and in part for its themes, which center on storyteller and scientist Jon Turk’s experiences traveling by kayak from Japan to Alaska.
Turk’s two year trip around the North Pacific Rim was named one of the 10 greatest sea kayaking expeditions of all time by Paddler Magazine. The stories he will share as part of the dance piece describe how his views as a scientist and explorer were irrevocably altered after one of his expeditions, when he met an elderly Koryak healer in Siberia named Moolynaut who was able to cure his chronic physical pain, a change for which he could find no rational explanation. His book and the stories he’ll share describe his resulting awareness of the connections between the natural and spiritual world,
When Weber came across Turk’s book, she had been thinking about similar themes, working them out through dance. She eventually got in touch with him to see if they could collaborate.
“Essentially I was already working on the dance, and I came across his book and there was a moment in the book that really crystallized something I was working on,” she said. “So he and I met briefly and talked briefly,” eventually working out this joint project, something that was entirely new for both of them. The piece debuted last fall in Boston.
The stories presented in the dance, which are excerpts from Turk’s book, “The Raven’s Gift,” are supplemented during the performance by visual projections of Turk’s kayaking expeditions; the dancers, stories, and visuals all work together on stage.
This is the fifth year Weber dance has done the residency at JDU, and Weber said its great to see some of the older students have progressed over time.
“It’s been really exciting,” she said. “Some of the students that we started with in the younger group when they were just beginning are now in their teens, and we’re getting to see how they’ve advanced. It’s a really fun process.”
The company made the first trip from Boston after it was suggested by Weber Dance company member Rebecca Rozell, who grew up in Juneau. Though Rozell now lives in San Francisco, she still dances with Weber when they are town.
Weber said the company’s Juneau experiences have been very positive, citing the friendliness of our community and the professional training of the student dancers as two major reasons.
“The community here is just fantastic, so friendly and generous ... and we enjoy that so much more - getting to know the students and the community – than just walking in and doing a performance. We really like having that time.”
“And JDU, I feel personally, does really high-level work. So coming as an artist and working with students who really understand dance technique and etiquette and all of those things, because this organization is offering that to them, is also wonderful.”
Weber Dance teaches modern dance techniques and choreography and tailors the program to be as inclusive as possible.
Weber Dance and students will perform Thursday, at 7 p.m. at the Thunder Mountain auditorium. Tickets are available at the JACC, jahc.org, juneaudance.org, and Hearthside Books and are $12 for adults, $8 for students and seniors. For more, visit juneaudance.org and www.weberdance.com.