University of New Mexico Professor of Dance Donna Jewell is rehearsing with her class of contemporary dancers – repertory. Rehearsals are for choreography from the glacier theater work Hannibal, which will be performed in the Oetztal Alps, Friday, April 17. Since 2009, the dance program at UNM has collaborated with Lawine Torrèn to send students of dance from the desert to the Alps.

A studio is a studio, the dance floor a dance floor. But a glacier?
Jewell has performed since 2001 as the embedded journalist and anchorwoman for the fictitious news show Karthago TV, live from the glacier stage. She is also the choreographer for several scenes in the show, such as the Senate and the Foot of the Alps. Dancing on the frosty floor and against a wall of ice, all in the snow. Precise musical phrasing coordinated to the sound track by composer Peter Valentin and text narrated by the voice of Harald Krassnitzers are important elements of each scene.

A Chorus Line in Albuquerque
Only students with talent for performance and dedication to their studies get the chance, nearing the end of their studies, to travel to Austria, to the Tyrolean Alps, to Soelden, to become a part of the Hannibal group in the deep snow and early days of spring on the Rettenbach glacier. Yet before this much training is done. The conditions one finds on a glacier in the Alps are hard to come by in the deserts surrounding Albuquerque. The circumstances are dry in New Mexico, and although there are mountains in the high desert, the temperatures are rarely what they are in the heights of Tyrol in April.

“Transferring from sand, cactus and canyons to snow, ice and avalanches cannot be more pronounced. The dancers from New Mexico have never been exposed to deep snow, let alone dancing in it. To make the 24 hour trip from the high desert landscape of Albuquerque to the massive Alps of Tyrol is a delightful shock to the system. And rehearsing, dancing and performing amidst the glacier is an ethereal experience in an exceptional natural wonder. You simply never dance the same again; how can you? Standing there just before the show begins, at twilight, the enormity of the landscape seeps into your body and you feel that enormity from within. You expand from the inside out and you never dance the same again,” Jewell said, reflecting on her many years of performing in Hannibal. 

Hannibal is performed in the deep snows of early spring high in the Rettenbach Glacier.

Precision over Walkie Talkie
Hannibal was conceived in 2001 by director Hubert Lepka as a site specific theater performance in the highest area of the Rettenbach glacier region. Coordinated movement of machines and humans in a stage space of more than six cubic kilometers exhibits an approach to contemporary choreography in a massive extreme. From this perspective all elements of the show – BASE jumpers, military helicopters, the ballet of the snow cats, dog fights of the planes above the audience, the avalanche, the ski lifts, hundreds of ski instructors and the group of 12 dancers - must perform with each other in exact precision. In such a large performance space this can only be accomplished through the use of walkie talkies, because all 500 performers cannot be reached through normal acoustic and visual signals.

“When the group from New Mexico arrives on the glacier they meet the entire company of experienced dancers that have been with the project from the beginning. They share their knowledge of the running joke, for example, that the motorcycle riders – completely covered in protective gear – will complain to Jewell that they feel threatened by the dancers when they encircle them with their roaring bikes, since the dance movement is so assertive and what if one of the dancers run into a motor cross bike and hurt the rider? The company members help the New Mexico dancers into their many-layered costumes and lead them safely over the cliffs of the snow pyramid,” Lepka said.

For more information and a live webcam of the event, visit: Hannibal.