Jess Berto rehearses

Andiamo Dance company founder and Artistic Director Jess Berto rehearses on Thursday at her downtown studio. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Andiamo Dance Company is preparing to share its annual performance with the community on Friday, sharing a multi-faceted interpretation of “Reflections” on the stage, featuring mirrors and performances exploring that theme.
Andiamo Executive Director Jess Berto spoke to the Daily News on Monday about the company’s journey and its newest stage production.
Berto said that she and Elizabeth Schultz created the choreography and setting pieces. 
Andiamo dancers who are set to perform in the production are Berto, Schultz, Lauren Gates, Christina Hughes, Grace Jackson, Devyn Sader and Shawna Seibel.
Also planning to join the company in Friday’s performance is guest artist Kathryn Alter, who is the associate program director for the Limón Professional Studies Program in New York City.
Berto said that five Ketchikan Theatre Ballet students also are part of the ensemble in Friday’s performance. Andiamo is a nonprofit entity that is separate from KTB, Berto noted.
There will be a video by Hughes that features Berto, Jackson and Gates filmed and performed with the central theme of “Reflections.” 
A projection by Jeannette Sweetman, who also is the dance company’s official photographer, is set to enhance the show as well, Berto said.
When asked what the central challenges were in creating the upcoming production, Berto said it mostly was designing the set.
“Figuring out how the mirrors are going to work in the space,” was the main challenge, Berto said. “It becomes challenging with the angle of the mirror as to whether or not the audience is going to see the dancers standing in front of it, see themselves, or just have light bouncing off of it.”
She said the set will feature many mirrors that will allow a three-dimensional view of the dancers. The mirrors also will serve as visual barriers where dancers can emerge from at strategic times. 
“Just trying to navigate all that,” Berto said, was one of the challenges in creating the production. “How do we keep the mystery and the magic alive of a theater production in general and keep our audience on their toes.”
The multi-faceted mirrored set also was the most enjoyable part of planning the show, Berto said.
“It’s been really fun to experiment with it and figure out what we can do,” she explained. “Having a prop brings in a whole different element, I would say, with your dancing. It’s no longer so one-sided to the audience.”
In addition to exploring the idea of literal reflections in the mirrors, Berto said the storylines in the dances dive into the concepts of reflection.
“It’s really fun to create a whole storyline within separate pieces,” she said.
Berto added that this will be an especially important performance, as former KTB Executive Director and Andiamo member Elizabeth Schultz will be dancing as a company member for the last time.
“She has left an incredible mark,” Berto said. “I’m so proud to be able to dance with her, and to be onstage with her for her final performance.”
Schultz plans to continue to work with the company as a choreographer, however.
The Andiamo dance company is in its fourth season now, Berto said. She also explained how and why she formed the group.
“As rich in arts as the city of Ketchikan is, there’s always been kind of this missing professional dance, I guess. There’s always been a lot of dance education,” but no professional dance organization.
She added, “I wanted to be able to keep performing, and we have a lot of amazingly talented and very well-educated dancers in this town who weren’t able to use their talents or continue education, so I really wanted to create a space for all of us adults to come together that have degrees in dance or professional dance training outside of Ketchikan to give us an opportunity to learn together and to perform.”
She chose the name “Andiamo,” as it means “let’s go” in Italian, which she said has a double meaning for her. She just jumped in and embraced a dream she’d had for years of creating a dance company, and also that meaning reflects on the idea of movement as a dancer.
When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived the year after Andiamo was formed, the company got creative, Berto said. They performed at a Ward Lake Theater Walk alongside First City Player performers, and later created a performance that was shared in a live virtual venue.
In 2021, the company was able to offer a live performance, with certain precautions related to the pandemic. 
When asked if her expectations for the dance company had been met, Berto said, “there’s nothing really like it for adults who are dancers. We all love it, and so every time that we’re together, we’re all just having the best time.”
She added that the relationships built within the company are powerful, because dance requires vulnerability as movements are learned and as dancers work to express certain concepts.
“I have to be pretty open about personal stuff to get them to understand and feel what I’m trying to get the audience to feel,” she explained.
“We have this shared sense of love and vulnerability and I think it creates something really special that you don’t get in a lot of other places in your life,” Berto said.
Looking ahead to the future, Berto said that she also created Andiamo for young dancers who leave Ketchikan to earn their dance degrees in college. When they possibly eventually return to Ketchikan, Andiamo is there for them to continue their profession.
Berto said, of what she hopes Andiamo performances can offer community members, that “I think my main goal with these big performances that we do every year is to create a space where we can step out of our everyday lives and be so involved with what’s going on onstage that they don’t have to think about everything else that they came in there with.
“And, leave feeling something from what we did up on that stage,” she added.
“I think it’s very much like every other form of art,” Berto said. “I think it just — there’s kind of this idea that people don’t understand dance because we’re doing crazy things with our bodies, but at the end of the day, I just want people to feel things and to see a story.”
She added: “That’s part of why people enjoy art so much; it relates to the world going on around you, but it also will pull you out of all the chaos of the world.”
The Andiamo summer performance of “Reflections” is set to start at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ketchikan High School auditorium. The performance is expected to last about one hour, Berto said. Tickets can be found at www.andiamodancecompan.com/tickets.