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Growing strong: bright times for Alaska Dance Theatre.

From its humble beginnings in 1981--a Quonset hut with a handful of students--Alaska Dance Theatre has thrived in recent years. Part company, part school, the Anchorage-based organization now serves almost 700 students in its multimillion-dollar facility, which opened its doors in 2005. Here, classes, rehearsals, and performances move between five state-of-the-art studios and a black-box theater, supported by a staff of 30 and approximately 90 volunteers. (The fact that Alaska is an outpost for the oil industry has not hurt funding prospects.)

Artistic director and native Alaskan Alice Bassler Sullivan, who had helped to build preprofessional dance programs at the University of Minnesota and at the School of the Minnesota Ballet, returned to her home state in 1983 to lead ADT. She was determined to build a professional company from a solid student base.

Now in the midst of its 2008-09 season, the ADT company, with its 16 members (a mix of professional dancers and advanced students, including seven high school students), has an active schedule ahead: a winter repertory concert in February at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, where they're the only dance company to have resident status; an appearance in March in Juneau, to take part in the 50th-anniversary celebrations of Alaska's statehood; and in April, a shared concert at ACPA with James Sewell Ballet of Minneapolis.

Company dancers work with a wide array of resident choreographers, such as Joan Woodbury, Robert Barnett, Toni Pimble, and KT Nelson. The company has hosted choreographers or regisseurs affiliated with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Eugene Ballet Company, Ballett Theater Augsburg, and Ballet West.

The ADT school comprises three divisions: the School Division, for students committed to year-round training; the Open Division, offering nearly 100 classes weekly from creative movement to hip hop; and the Pre-Professional Division, aimed at grooming dancers for the company, with classes in ballet, pointe, variations, pas de deux, and modern. Former students include John Heginbotham of the Mark Morris Dance Group, Leyland Simmons, formerly of Complexions, and Blair Chenoweth, who toured with Movin' Out.

"I feel like this excitement with the new studio and growth of the school has been stirring since I started 25 years ago," says teacher and company member Sarah Grunwaldt, who started her ballet training in ADT's original studio. "It's a joy to teach here, and I still take Alice's classes. The only good excuse for missing class is a snowfall up to the roof!"

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Title Annotation:ACROSS THE FLOOR
Author:Berardi, Gigi
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1U9AK
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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