Artistic research, especially when it comes to dance, is a neglected topic. Yet, sometimes how the hours – days, weeks, months, or sometimes even years – are spent behind the scenes before a piece is even choreographed is equally as interesting as the work itself.
Alana O. Rogers’ latest work, Into Ice, premiering next Friday, November 11 at Velocity Dance Center, provides an excellent example of creativity fueled by rigorous inquiry into a subject. Rogers has been working in Seattle with her project-based company since 2013. Into Ice is her first evening-length piece and largest work to date with a cast of thirteen.
For two years following a fateful kayaking and camping trip to Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park with her partner, she researched the ecology of the Arctic through fiction and nonfiction books and feature and documentary films. Based on her research, Rogers created Into Ice, a three-part work for seven dancers and a six-member ensemble. The performance’s program will include a bibliography of the sources Rogers consulted in recognition of work by people like Gretel Ehrlich, who invested time in the field, and were instrumental to Rogers’ understanding.
She enlisted Nico Tower, a veteran composer for dance, to create an original score of a capella vocals, piano, and percussion. In the first part of the show, Tower uses the tinkling of recorded triangles to create an icy effect. At a different moment, her voice becomes the wind, which we can also see in a dancer’s turns. Tower will provide live accompaniment at each performance.
Into Ice “explores a frozen landscape and its snow-laden inhabitants,” both two- and four-legged. Actually, portrayals of animals and animal-like movement are abundant in the work. While observing a rehearsal this week I felt like I was witnessing a different world, not a land that is partially attached to the one we inhabit. Dancers moving like caribou and wolves are a major theme of the second part, called “Kingdom.” The show ends with a final section, called “Home.”
Regarding her five-day trip to Glacier Bay, Rogers tells me, “I’m a backpacker, but I don’t think I’ve been to a place that was so remote. For miles around, there were no people.” Seeing 100 sea otters together while kayaking through the Inside Passage and getting to remote areas that the cruise ships can’t? That was all in a day’s travel.
Later, she adds that she could hear the “crinkle, crumble, and hum” of glaciers. “We’d wake up and the beach would be covered with icebergs [because the tide had gone out]. Icebergs the size of a bus,” she says.
While Velocity’s space constraints make it impossible for Rogers to capture the magnitude of the icebergs she saw in the show’s scenic design, she has been able to reveal their translucence in the mini-icebergs she’s created for a pre-show installation. She jokes that in the process of creating the piece, she’s also become a visual artist. It seems so. As much as she can sculpt bodies, she’s revealing a talent for design too in her papier-mâché, light-infused sculptures.
Joking aside, there is a serious, if subliminal, message that Rogers wants to deliver with Into Ice. She is very interested in bringing greater awareness to the stark, cold, and severe beauty of the Arctic through dance.
She says, “I want people to take away the awe and the beauty. I hope this opens their eyes – we all have something we can do about this [protecting the environment]. Let’s keep working on it.” She mentions how we can question our use of non-recyclable items and turn out the lights to conserve power.
Isn’t it worth ensuring that glaciers continue to hum for future generations even if here in Seattle, we’re too far away to hear them? To convince and inspire you, the Alana O. Rogers Dance Company will transform some of the Arctic’s beauty Into Ice soon. -Leslie Holleran