Following the move in June 2015 of Jazzline dance director Jocelyn Shiro from Alaska to Hawaii, Homer’s adult dance community became adrift. Shiro’s troupe of women, men and youth dancers for years had put on an annual dance production. Youth dance found a home at Harbor School of Music, but Shiro’s departure left a void.
“It was like a funeral dirge,” said dancer Susannah Webster. “They missed it. They missed that group dynamic. They missed Jocelyn.”
Enter the dance collective.
Homer Council on the Arts director Peggy Paver, a dancer and choreographer as well as cultural leader, arrived the day before Shiro left. She met Shiro for coffee.
“It was one of those weird coincidences,” Paver said. “There was this serendipitous shift in energy in the dance world.”
Former Jazzline dancers began meeting twice weekly at Harbor School of Music, first to just do a dance warm-up. Paver stepped in and started teaching dance classes, but then collective members began teaching classes, too.
“It’s been really fun to explore all these different genres of dance and have this underlying consistency of modern class with me,” Paver said.
Now back in action, although loosely affiliated and with no formal name, the dance collective has pumped new energy into the community and even allowed some dancers to develop their own choreographies. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mariner Theatre, Homer can see what the collective has created with New Dances Now! Tickets area $12 general admission and $10 HCOA members, on sale at HCOA and the Homer Bookstore.
The evening includes modern dance, folk, belly dance, aerial silk and rope, and trapeze. Visiting Anchorage dancer Ariel Schmidtke performs on the rope, and also does workshops on Sunday for ages 8 and older.
Webster has created a performance piece for the stage that uses video shot in surveillance cameras at local businesses and public buildings. While a student at the San Francisco Art Institute, Webster had done video performance art.
For her piece Saturday night, she approached local businesses and the city to see if a dozen dancers could do a flash-mob dance piece that would be recorded by surveillance cameras. The Grog Shop, Save-U-More, Ulmer’s, Spenard Builders Supply, Essential 1 gas station and the city all agreed. Webster had to file a public records request to get video from outside the Homer Public Library and the Homer Police Station, but the city gave her the footage.
“It was a fun thing to do. We met. We learned the choreography really fast. We hit a bunch of places that night,” Webster said.
At Essential 1, people inside paying for gas watched from the windows, afraid to disturb the routine. At the police station, an officer came out to ask what they were doing. The quality varied from jerky black-and-white footage to full-color sharp images. Webster spliced the footage together to make a short video. In New Dances Now!, that footage will be shown while the dancers expand on the routine on stage.
“There are elements that connect to the video,” Webster said. “It all becomes one work.”
Paver said other dancers have stepped up to design dances, too. Shiro liked to do man and woman partner dances, but the dance collective has embraced a modern dance technique of women partners. Kara Clemens has created one such piece.
“There’s another choreographer who has pushed some of the boundaries and emerged out of our collective and run with it,” Paver said of Clemens.
For Webster, the dance collective didn’t just energize local dance, but brought her back to the art. She hadn’t danced for about 20 years and on a whim went to class one night.
“After that I had to sit in my car and cry for 20 minutes. … ‘Why have I not been doing this? What am I thinking?’” Webster said she asked herself. “I dove right into it and haven’t missed a class.”
That energy has brought the local adult dance community together.
“It really was this group of women who are carrying the torch,” Webster said. “It’s evolving into something so much bigger than they imagined.”