Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 4:57 PM on Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Annual dance show sticks to basics: bodies and movement

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Jazzline dancers warm up during rehearsals at the Mariner Theatre on Monday.

Forget the props. Lose the flashy sets. Pared down to its simplest, dance comes down to two things.

"It's celebrating bodies and the dance," said Jocelyn Shiro-Westphal, director of Jazzline, Homer's modern dance studio. "There's something beautiful to me about an open stage and movement."

Jazzline, also the name of Shiro-Westphal's annual dance performance, returns for its 11th show this weekend, with performances at 7 p.m. Friday and 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday at the Mariner Theatre. Unlike previous Jazzlines, Shiro-Westphal sticks to the basics for this production. It's just costumes, a little lighting and energetic dance.

Take Madalyn Barelle's solo piece, danced to "Ain't No Sunshine." At rehearsal Monday night, Barelle started the number perfectly poised, back to the audience, her auburn hair in a bun exposing her long neck and toned shoulders. A single-strap, loose black dress that shimmered with rhinestones caught the light. With fluid, graceful movements, Barelle seemed to flow through the music. The dance showed the sadness of the song, of a person mourning the loss of a lover.


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Jocelyn Shiro-Westphal leads the Jazzline dancers in warm-ups for rehearsals at the Mariner Theatre on Monday.

Although this Jazzline doesn't have a single theme that creates a story arch to the performance, with the performance close to Valentine's Day on Feb. 14, Shiro-Westphal said there's an underlying theme: love. For her, one aspect of love is that of a community. Shiro-Westphal had seen that love before when people helped other neighbors in crisis, but last year she experienced that directly herself after she had gone through some personal challenges.

"I felt for the first time what it was like to have people in the community reach out to me who I wouldn't call close, but because I was going through a hardship showed support," she said. "I know that's what makes Homer special."

One montage based on love and support for another shows that feeling, she said.

The Jazzline studio has about 60 students ranging in age from to adult, "as old as they want to come," Shiro-Westphal said. The Jazzline performance has 35 dancers, including a special guest artist from Anchorage that Shiro-Westphal wanted to keep a surprise.

Several dancers are foreign exchange students, including a German boy staying with the Shiro-Westphals, Lennart VonSchlichting of Berlin. He has taught Shiro-Westphal a new European dance style, Jump, that incorporates Irish step dancing. The show includes a Jump piece.

That's one aspect recent Jazzlines have brought, the presence of male dancers. The Jump piece has four boys and four girls. Boys new to Jazzline bring skills learned in street dancing, but not necessarily in class.


Photo by Michael Armstrong

Madalyn Barelle rehearses a dance number at the Mariner Theatre on Monday.

"What's common with all of them is they have a passion for it," Shiro-Westphal said. "They love to do it. As long as they love to do it, they're open to learn, to do a choreography."

Jazzline has always had a strong core of adult women dancers. This year, Maura Gibson and Wynn Levitt return. Maya Rourke, who danced as a teenager, is now dancing with the adult women.

Rounding out the group are Barelle and Kathy Brennan. Sarah Andrews, a junior in high school, also dances with the older women.

Shiro-Westphal said she's particularly proud of her dancers ages 12 to 14.

"They have gotten so good," she said. "They have just improved incredibly this last year."

What's also gratifying to see is how younger dancers who idolized older dancers several years ago have now grown up and become mentors for the younger girls.

"The older ones learn so much on how to learn and teach," Shiro-Westphal said. "The little ones love working with the older ones."

Back to that theme of love, Shiro-Westphal said Jazzline would make an awesome date for Valentine's Day.

"What this show is all about is pure dance," she said. "I'm just showcasing these students, these bodies and emotion and the different ways we can dance."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.