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IMAGINOCEAN fills void in Native-sparse performance arena

By Joe Senungetuk, Anchorage Daily News theater reviewer

In the 23 years I have lived in Anchorage, I have seen many strange things happen in the name of Native art and culture. Strange because our poor little ol' community often chooses to ignore the fact that Alaska is a state that does not know how to deal with its aboriginal citizens.

I went to review a performance by Jack Dalton of his work "IMAGINOCEAN" on Thursday night. The name Dalton has stymied those of us who are partially knowledgable of Alaska Native leaders and acheivers. My Tlingit writer/poet friend, Nora Dauenhauer, gave a handful of well-publicized and well-attended readings a couple of weeks ago in which she refered to one Jessie Dalton, a well-known Southeast Alaska tradition-bearer.

So my brain is going, "Dalton. Dalton? Haven't you heard of her or her relative before?"

Here's the scoop. Jack Dalton is indeed an Alaska Native, 26 years old, raised in Anchorage by adoptive ono-Native parents. He has well-known Native relatives in Hooper Bay, Alaska, and has flown out there to commune with Yup'ik brethren and aboriginal citizenry.

He is a very effective storyteller, dancer and appreciator of fine, new-age music. He owns his own Anchorage-based production company, Raven Feathers and the Wind. And he's still quite young, so expect some amount of youthful enthusiasm and small glitches with tying together loose production ends.

But, all in all, Jack is good. Jack is nimble. Jack jumped over the elusive Native Alaska talent barrier and succeeded in connecting all the necessary parts for a good evening of listening and learning. My wife and I came out of the theater feeling sort of full, at those inner parts which, when living in poor ol' Anchorage, are so starved for Nativeness as we speak of the things other than the usual, the expected ... Native art, street people, colorful, smiling and patient ... you know, the usual.

Movement to him is another form of storytelling that merged comfortably with the new-age music, earthly Tibetan chants and other selections that transported you from one story to another. He had unexpected problems with wires protruding from his microphone due to exuberant dance movements; a minor detail which I'm sure he will overcome since he seems so (almost to a fault) organized. My wife tells me I'm a little too disorganized and I too easily blame it on being Native. So here Jack could be telling us all that it's OK to be Native and to be organized.

The content of his stories is a smidgen off or apart from Native trends, which is OK, too, since he gravitates to Buddhist and Far East tenets about universal language and philosophy. Native American beliefs tend to have that "be one with the earth/universe" sort of anchor, religion-wise.

There was an abundance of Raven stories and mountain and ocean stories. However, I watched some of the audience members squirm when he told of a wrathful man-god who exercised too much godly powers and maimed and killed in the name of righteousness and, right before there could be an audience riot, he came back to earth and proclaimed that the most godly element of godliness is forgiveness. Whew!

Speaking of the audience, it was sparse. Here again, I'm used to attending good, bad, indifferent Native gatherings. Since this little ol' community does not like to be overly entertained or educated by things Native, many good educational and enlightening events go unnoticed due to apathy and ignorance. I wish he could fly down to Juneau and enlighten those folks.

All information, programs, titles, images and design are Copyright 1999 by Jack Dalton