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IMAGINOCEAN shimmers with potential despite debut's troubles

By Shannon Gramse, Anchorage Daily News theater reviewer

The premiere of Jack Dalton's "IMAGINOCEAN: A voyage of Storytelling, Motion & Music" was presented Thursday evening in Sydney Laurence Theatre, at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. This clever one-man performance sought to rejuvenate the ancient art of storytelling by infusing it with 21st-century production values.

Dalton who produced, wrote, directed and starred in the piece obviously has a flair for the stage and a gift for spinning a tale. Nonetheless, this evening's frequently interesting production was marred by missteps and poor pacing.

Dalton was at his best during the first half of the show, which presented a series of revamped Raven stories. Flapping slowly across the stage in a black karate suit, Dalton managed to combine narrative with modern dance elements, though at times his movements where more evocative of "Karate Kid" than Raven. Ambient movie soundtracks accompanied the extemporaneous stories, which Dalton impeccably synchronized with the music's shifts in mood and tone.

His retelling of "The Creation Legend of the Yup'ik People" was an early highlight. Extremely animated and engaging, Dalton brought multiple characters to life in this tale of Raven and his dealings with the first human beings. Modern production values merged with modern themes in the stories "How Raven Reacted to the Periodic Table of Elements" and "Raven Goes in Search of Himself." The latter placed Raven first in New York City, then at a mountain-top Buddhist monastery.

Unfortunately, Dalton felt compelled to step out of character whenever his production missed even a minor beat. Asides, such as wonder aloud whether Raven could manage a lotus position, only served to shatter the magic of the moment. Perhaps in subsequent performances he will become more comfortable with the piece's improvisational qualities.

The second half of the evening was much slower and not nearly as engaging as the first. The dark back drop and black karate suit of the creation-themed first half were replaced by whites. The first piece after the intermission, "The Mountain Who Wanted to Go to the Beach," was a predictable allegory about patience and erosion. The profundity of "The Two Teachers" was hobbled by Dalton's choice to read the piece rather than improvise. Consequently, his spirited presence was reduced to pacing across the stage.

The finale of "IMAGINOCEAN" strove too earnestly to reach the profound, and did so at the expense of the energy and levity that marked the show's first half.

No doubt the multitalented author/actor will polish and improve the production in future performances. Even in this mediocre debut, a great deal of shimmering potential could be seen swimming below the surface of "IMAGINOCEAN."

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