Story last updated at 5:23 p.m. Thursday, June 13, 2002

Dancers explore modern myths
by Carey James
Staff Writer

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Dancers, like Kara Bakken Clemens, use modern dance to tell the story of Alice and the spirits.  
In a year when most of America is experiencing some degree of self-examination, Dance Theatre North presents "Alice in America," a theatrical dance production that aims to be both thought provoking and whimsical at the same time.

"The story is pretty simple, but if you are looking for more, hopefully you are going to find it," said director and choreographer Lynne Roff.

Roff's vision for "Alice in America", which opens Friday, included a critical look at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, three elements Americans apparently feel strongly about but may rarely contemplate.

To do so, she personified each element in the form of spirits, and injected unsuspecting Alice, played by Mary Ferguson Bell, into the scene.

In the dance production, Alice emerges from a movie theater to find the world has changed and is now filled with unknown elements the middle-class woman has never been exposed to before.

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Kara Bakken Clemens adds theatical moves her performance.  
The three spirits, played by Nancy Chastain, Kathy Pate and Patti Lightcap, swirl around Alice, teaching her new lessons while simultaneously discovering what it is like to be human. Though Alice is desperate to get home, she must first answer important questions about these three spirits such as why is Liberty frightening, what does Life have to do with it and when is Happiness found in its pursuit.

"It deals with symbols that are part of American life," Roff said. "I am fascinated by the concept of modern myths."

The trick, however, has been getting her vision out of her head and into the bodies of the eight company dancers.

"It's a highly dynamic, fluid process," she said. "It doesn't have a script, so I have to make sure everyone is headed in the same direction."

The dancers, three of whom are new to the company, have been working on this production for months. Dance Theatre North was founded in 1983 by Roff, who studied modern dance at the North Carolina School of the Arts. Dancers weave modern dance with ballet and theater, but dabble in jazz and even tap at times.

photo: entertainment
  Photo by Carey James, Homer News
Deborah Schmidt and the rest of the Dance Theatre North company practice their moves Saturday while rehearsing for the upcoming show, "Alice in America."  
While "Alice in America" certainly has a dramatic story thread, the plot doesn't deter from the dancers' focus on varied movement, ranging from delicate to heart-pumping action, accompanied by equally varied music.

Dancers include familiar faces in the Homer dance world as well as newcomers Debbie Schmidt, Kara Bakken Clemens and Anna Smith.

For Roff, the week before the performance is one of the most exciting times of the process.

"I always have a vision of what it will look like, and it always exceeds my vision. All the little bits come together. It's a very exciting process. Right now, I'm just like the little kid in the sandbox," she said.