One of the fantastic things about dance is that it doesn't require translation. The emotions expressed in a successful dance performance come through clearly, regardless of where the work is created or performed. Though a few of us Pacific Northwesterners might argue the accuracy of the reference, the Alaska of Argentinean choreographer Diana Szeinblum's imagining is indeed "that place we all know, but where no one has ever been." The Alaska in this instance is a cold, inhospitable tundra that traps memories and feelings, presenting only a bleak landscape as far as the eye can see.
In Alaska, the body harbors all the spaces left vacant, thoughts never uttered, and emotions left unexpressed. There isn't a linear story here so much as an interconnected series of memories and events that bring the characters together, only to wrench them apart. Pushing, pulling, mimicking, and defying, the dancers strive to be understood—though not necessarily to understand each other. Their movements convey desperation, rejection, love, and joy, but leave behind trails of alienation, as if each are completely alone, even in a roomful of people.
Szeinblum is an accomplished and award-winning director, having studied under Oscar Araiz and Pina Bausch. Portland Institute for Contemporary Art audiences might remember Szeinblum's Secreto y Malibu, which stopped in Portland during its 2003 international tour. Her choreography is coarse, athletic, and aggressive, ringed with a constant, seemingly desperate tension. Ulises Conti's original live score is an excellent companion for the piece, narrating the peaks and valleys of the performance with a wide range of sounds and silences that pack an emotional punch of their own.
Alaska is an interesting piece, but it's also demanding. It's so bare as to be almost artless, and Szeinblum is more concerned with the bodily expression of thoughts and feelings than with creating pretty, vibrant scenes with the dancers' strong and graceful bodies. Alaska is quite different from what most Portland dance companies are doing, and Szeinblum's work will likely be a bit of an acquired taste for Portlanders. But, like many complex flavors, the more it's savored, the more rewarding and revealing it proves to be.