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Though musical collaboration of all kinds is common in Juneau, two long-standing artistic groups, the Juneau Student Symphony and Juneau Dance Unlimited, have never brought their talents together - until now. The JSS, formed in the 1980s, and JDU, founded in 1975, will join their musical interpretations for the first time this weekend in a Winter Ballet Concert, to be presented in three shows.
JSS conductor Rick Trostel said the collaboration has allowed both musicians and dancers to expand their perceptions of the music. For the audience, he hopes the joint show will bring the stories and ideas conveyed in the pieces more vividly to life.
"Dancers are the visual interpretation of the idea and the orchestra is the aural interpretation of the idea," Trostel said.
Trostel said that though some musical genres, such as opera or musicals, place orchestral musicians in the background, ballet gives them a chance to be on more equal footing with the dancers.
"The truth is it's more like a duet," Trostel said. "We enhance each other's performance."
The concerts also will feature young artists in central roles: Kiana Ford, 14, choreographed one of the pieces; an 11-year old violinist, Finn Sinclair, will perform a solo, and Alaska's Kit (Peterson), a freshman in high school, will present a vocal solo.
Though the JSS is a student symphony, the group is made up of musicians of all ages, and has about 45 players. For the concert, eight JDU dancers, mostly middle-schoolers, will join them.
Trostel has been thinking about the partnership with JDU ever since he took charge of the JSS ten years ago. He approached them last year about the possibility of accompanying them during their biggest show of the year, the annual "Nutcracker" production, a plan that was dismissed as too difficult.
"It would take too much focus and too much time for us to learn the entire ballet," he said.
Instead, Trostel and JDU director Janice Hurley formulated a different plan, the Winter Ballet.
The concert will open with Tchaikovsky's "Garland Waltz" from Sleeping Beauty, and will be choreographed by one of the JDU dancers, Kiana Ford, an eighth grader at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School. A dancer since she was three, Ford has already had quite a bit of experience with visualizing music through physical movement, but had never tackled the difficult job of choreography before. She said the experience has changed the way she listens to music.
"Now when I hear a piece of music I think, 'What can I do with that?'"
While working on the project she traveled to Seattle to see the Pacific Northwest Ballet perform the ballet. She also watched DVDs and You Tube videos of other professional performances, and took a class on "Sleeping Beauty." She knew she wanted to stick with traditional waltz choreography, but, unlike most dance companies, she had only female dancers to work with, so there could be no partner lifts or turns such as the ones she had seen. So she improvised.
Her dance includes steps from the professional dances she watched, as well as steps she had learned at JDU, and her own ideas about what might work.
"I would ask (the dancers) to humor me for awhile and if it looked good I would incorporate it," she said.
She considered transcribing the whole dance onto paper, or videotaping herself dancing, but, realizing it would take too much time, memorized the moves.
"Basically I did it all in my head and tried to remember it."
She also dances in the piece herself. Other dancers are Misha Culver, Gabrielle Duvernay, Anouk Otsea, Darian Perov, Madison Truitt, Marissa Truitt and Sierra Baker.
The second piece, Violin Concerto No. 23 in G, by Allegro Giovanni Battista Viotti, features soloist Finn Sinclair, who won the opportunity to play with the JSS in a competition held last June. Sinclair, 11, is among the youngest members of the JSS, and has played with the Juneau String Ensembles for five years. The violin concerto will not feature JDU dancers.
The third part of the program features selections from Bizet's "Carmen." The "Carmen" suite dances were choreographed by JDU's Joseph Schnell. Though ultimately a tragedy, much of the "Carmen" music is upbeat and energetic, Trostel said.
For their final piece, the JSS will present "Hope," subtitled "Lest the Land be Desolate, A Symphonic Response to Anti Yéili's Song." "Hope" is from a piece commissioned by the JSS that premiered last March with the Alaska Youth Choir. The lyrics were written by local writers Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer
"We wanted a musical icon that would represent the JSS," Trostel said. "I wanted to connect that song not only with us and an orchestra, but our place in terms of geography and the cultures that are here."
The lyrics tell of a man who left his home in Southeast, and returned many years later to find his family and many of his people had died. Distraught, he turned to the land for solace.
"He found his inspiration from the land itself, that was his inspiration of continue on."
"Hope" will be performed by the young soprano, Alaska's Kit, the performer who debuted the piece with the JSS last year.