ENTERTAINMENT

Renowned dancer calls Mt. Shasta home

Tony D'Souza
Krista Miller practices at the Sisson Museum stage for the H2O Manifesto, set to open Thursday evening

Some of us have the privilege of being born here, others are called by the mountain. Krista Miller, founder of the Mount Shasta City Dance Theater, is one of the latter, drawn to claim this land as home ever since rounding that familiar bend on I-5 north from Redding when the spires of Castle Crags first come into view.

“I had seen the mountain in the early ’90s on a drive from Eureka to Lassen, a road trip, we saw the mountain from Redding,” Miller said Sunday evening. “I remember thinking, ‘What the heck is that?’ Later, I came back. I rented a car to get up from the Bay. When I saw Castle Crags, I thought ‘Wow, oh my God.’ It was October, 2001, right after 9/11. It was a zoo in New York; it was a good time to ‘get out of Dodge.’ I was ready for a change, for nature, to get out of all that concrete. Mount Shasta is so beautiful in October. It was snowing when we pulled in at 5 a.m., the place we were renting had a hot tub. I thought, ‘This is so incredible. What have I done?’

Seven years later, Miller is consumed at the moment with last minute preparations for her H2O Manifesto, “…an original music, theater, and dance production about a Northern California farming family and their reliance on the life-sustaining power of water.” Three and a half years in the making, H2O Manifesto is Miller’s child in every way possible. Not only is she the writer, choreographer, and director, but she will also dance in the production.

That we are drawn to the mountain like moths to a flame, like filings to a magnet, is no secret to many of us. But there are those who believe that the mountain is selective in who it calls. Krista Miller is a dancer of the first order, a classically trained ballerina who has graced the stages of the world with some of the finest dancers of our time.

Miller is a humble, earnest, and dedicated practitioner of her art. Originally from Toms River, New Jersey, “down the shore” as she herself describes it, Miller began dancing at the age of three. Born to a family of musicians and artists – her great-grandfather was E.W. Deming, the famous painter of Native American scenes, including a portrait of Sitting Bull – Miller received encouragement to pursue her passion at every turn.

She recognized early that dancing was her raison d’être, and her first steps away from the ballet bar eventually led to such venues as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Joyce Theater, the Lincoln Center outdoors, and the Central Park Summer Stage. After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance from Montclair State University and expanding her repertoire from ballet to modern dance, Miller embarked on a 10 year career in New York City, performing under the tutelage of such luminaries as Nicholas Liechter, Ralph Lemon, David Gordon, and Eun Me Ahn, with whom she traveled to Seoul. But the culmination of her art, as she says it, came when she danced with the incomparable Lucinda Childs.

“I danced with Lucinda Childs one season,” Miller described of that time. “We went to Italy, Vienna, France. We went over to Europe three times, for six or seven weeks. The most exciting stage I danced on was in Palermo, Sicily. I just loved Palermo. Also, the Vienna Opera House. The Vienna Opera House has so much history, a lot of mythology around it. Plus, I had just come back from an injury, a calf tear. That was a big element in it, too.”

During her first visit to Mount Shasta, Miller happened to stay at the home of Joan Lucas, another accomplished eastern refugee to our area who also has made a life of dance. Though the stay was arranged by friends of friends, the strange workings of the mountain quickly announced themselves.

“Joan and I talked about our roots. We realized that we came from the same little place. It was crazy. I asked her, ‘Did you put ballet slippers on the floor so your students could learn how to leap over them?’ She said, ‘I’m the only one who did that!’ Joan was my first ballet teacher in the Princeton Ballet Society in 1975. She was my choreographer when I was Toto in the Wizard of Oz.”

A friendship was instantly kindled between the former teacher and student, so much so that Lucas ‘handed down’ her job teaching dance at College of the Siskiyous to Miller.

Miller quickly sought out and found the local arts scene, began to choreograph shows of her own. Her first, the same year that she arrived, showcased short dance and theater pieces titled “Art for Earth.” It was staged at the Sons of Italy Hall in Weed.

“What clinched it for me wanting to be here long-term was my involvement with Shadow Box Players,” Miller explained Sunday night at the Sisson Museum stage, following a dress rehearsal of the H2O Manifesto. After seeing the Shadow Box Players’ production of “Half-Hour Hamlet,” Miller realized that she had discovered “kindred professional relocated spirits,” and began an involvement with that company that continues to this day.

Indeed, Sandra Winslow and Jason Gigliotti, the founders of Shadow Box Players, have figured largely in Miller’s life since her relocation to Mount Shasta, and both have had a hand in the production of H2O Manifesto. Winslow plays the lead female role, and Gigliotti is Miller’s co-author and script advisor.

Having decided to name her blossoming company The Mount Shasta City Dance Theater in 2005, Miller has taken what was an inchoate dream, and turned it into something realized. Not only does she hope that the H2O Manifesto will reach local audiences, but she would like to take the show “on the road.” But there is an even bigger dream behind all of Miller’s hard, local work. What she would really like to see is the building of a Mount Shasta theater.

“We’d like to see a theater built… If money were no object, we’d like to see a new building. A 250 seat theater with a rehearsal space, a workshop to build sets, recording capabilities. One suggestion is that we have some storefronts and gallery space to generate revenue and support local artists. Preferably, it would be right in the center of town.”

As to the H20 Manifesto, set to open Thursday, Miller says, “Ultimately, I’d like to take it to New York, to Europe and South America. There are water issues everywhere. The H2O Manifesto is a great vehicle to facilitate that discussion.”

Though she would never admit it, Miller is one of our area’s preeminent artists. Active, imaginative, accomplished, and thoughtful, Miller is a mountain in her own right, dancing, always dancing, with the passion she has brought to us from the great stages of the world.