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New local dance company to launch first performance
Artistic Director Jess Berto practices a dance called “4x6” with the rest of the Andiamo Dance Company on Tuesday at Ketchikan Theater Ballet. “The dance is based on the idea of traveling to each corner of the stage with six dancers‚“ said Berto. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Daily News Staff Writer

Ketchikan’s new Andiamo Dance Company will launch its inaugural performance, “Shift from Neutral” Friday evening, sharing the program with the California-based Fuse Dance Company.

During an interview Monday afternoon in the Ketchikan Theatre Ballet office, Andiamo’s Artistic Director Jess Berto said the program should be an exciting one for a broad variety of tastes.

“Most of the movement that we’re showing in this performance is modern and contemporary-based movement. We’re not doing classical ballet,” she said, adding with a chuckle that “we’re not going to be putting pointe shoes and tutus on.”

The Fuse Dance Company, which will intertwine performances with those of Andiamo’s on Friday, also will be holding a dance camp in Ketchikan on Monday through Thursday at KTB.

Six dancers comprise the Andiamo Dance Company: Elizabeth Avila, Berto, Shawna Hofmann, Meghann Vincie King, Britta Pihl and KTB Artistic Director Elizabeth Schultz.

Berto and Hofmann are the daughters of retired KTB Artistic Director Marguerite Auger. In Hofmann’s biography on the Andiamo website, www.andiamodancecompany.com, she asserts that she was part of KTB since “before she was even born.”

KTB also was where Avila and Pihl found their passion for dance.

Schultz began her dance career as a youth in Missouri at the Perlman-Stoy School of Ballet, and King, at the Staunton Academy of Ballet in Virginia.

Schultz choreographed one piece for Friday’s performance, titled “Influence.”

Sitting at her desk across from Berto on Monday, Schultz said she based the piece on the concept of social media’s role in society as a “panopticon.” A panopticon was a system to control inmates of an institution by creating a central watchtower where the inmates could not see whether a watchman was witnessing their behavior.

“Prisoners being watched by a central guard tower start to regulate their behavior because they never know when someone is watching them,” Schultz explained. “We always are feeling pressured to act a certain way because we do always feel watched with all these different social media outlets that we’re exposing ourselves to — so, it’s kind of the idea of how social media affects our lives and how it’s kind of insidious.”

Berto choreographed the remaining four pieces for Friday’s event.

In one piece featuring all six Andiamo dancers, titled “Four by Six,” Berto said the dancers will use all four corners of the stage, picking up more dancers from each corner as the performance unfolds. As the piece wraps up, all six dance together to “super upbeat, fun, African drumming.”

Another piece, titled, “Two but One,” was based on a performance previously created at KTB featuring twins. Berto will dance with her sister Hofmann in that piece.

“Take Control,” Berto said, is a piece she choreographed and is  “all about having terrible anxiety and finding ways to take control of that anxiety.”

She said the dancers use nervous, anxious movements in the dance’s opening, then “everyone kind of turns into a more powerful, strong version of themselves that has less of that anxiety.”

Another piece choreographed by Berto, “Shapes and Sounds,” is based on a piece of music she chose a while ago, by Olafer Arnalds.

Berto said the set will feature two pools of circular light and one square of light toward the back.

The dancers “play with being in the light and then creating shapes with five dancers in the pools of light,” she explained.

When asked if she always had loved choreographing pieces, Berto was clear.

“I despised choreographing when I was younger,” she said. “It feels way more vulnerable to me than dancing does. When you’re doing someone else’s movement, you’re kind of taking on what they created with their bodies and you’re just doing it your way, but when you’re a choreographer, you have to create the actual movement and the ideas behind it — and that, to me, feels very vulnerable and a little scary.”

Berto said that her move back to Ketchikan after earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance and working as a professional dancer and dance instructor in other states and in larger companies was a positive step for her.

“I think it was maybe Ketchikan felt safer to me than some of the other places I’d danced,” she said.

She added, “In Ketchikan, everyone’s so welcoming and warm and it doesn’t feel as intimidating, I think. When you have a supportive staff and boss, it creates a more conducive environment for putting your heart out there.”

Berto had been dreaming of starting the Andiamo Dance Company for awhile.

“I had written ‘Andiamo’ down on a piece of paper probably seven years ago,” Berto said. She gestured to the scrap of paper pinned to the corkboard above her desk with the word neatly penned on it.

“In Italian, it means, ‘Let’s go,’” she explained.

She said it felt like the perfect name, as a symbol for “just going after things in life,” and also, in dance, where the artists have to physically “go for it” to make performances come alive.

Her motivation to start a dance company in Ketchikan was “to kind of create that for the community of Ketchikan,” as she saw that a professional dance group was a niche that was missing.

KTB acts as the fiscal sponsor of Andiamo, Berto said, and through that agreement, KTB also provides practice and classroom space.

Andiamo’s dancers began holding classes in November, became an official organization in February, and started rehearsals for the “Shift from Neutral” performance in early March. They ramped up from one and a half hours of class time weekly to about four hours of classes and rehearsals more recently.

Berto described the dancers’ dedication as “amazing, because all of these people have other jobs or are moms — to carve out time to do that is really wonderful. I’m very thankful that people are willing to do that.

“Everyone’s here because they love it and really want to be here,” she added.

The “Shift from Neutral” performance is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Friday, at the Ketchikan High School auditorium. Tickets can be purchased through a link at the Andiamo Dance Company website or from the KTB website, www.ketchikan.dance.