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Back to 'Bolero'

Ballet Tucson mixes demanding, eclectic works with tasty, varied desserts

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It's been a full 14 years since Ballet Tucson danced Jeffrey Graham Hughes's "Bolero."

"'Bolero' is really cool," says artistic director Mary-Beth Cabana. "Jeff choreographed it for us in '89," back when the company was called Ballet Arts Ensemble. "We did it again in '91 at the Temple. All these years later, we're doing it again."

"Bolero," a big, neoclassical ballet set to the lively strains of Ravel, will be the finale of Ballet Tucson's Dance and Dessert concert this weekend at the UA's Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. The annual production pairs gourmet desserts donated by local restaurants with a smorgasbord of dance, in every style from classical ballet to modern to jazz to theater dance.

"It's an eclectic program," Cabana notes.

The choreography is by visiting artists like Hughes, artistic director of Ohio Ballet, and by the company's own resident choreographers and teachers. The other outsider works include an excerpt from the 1975 ballet classic "The Leaves Are Fading" by the late, great Antony Tudor; the show will mark the first time this piece has been performed in Tucson, Cabana says. Also on the bill is the premiere of a contemporary ballet by Lawrence Pech, current director of the eponymous Lawrence Pech Dancers of San Francisco.

Ballet Tucson is ready to undertake such demanding works again, because the company went pro last fall, Cabana says. The troupe hired some 11 professional dancers, most of them from out of town, and put them on contract. Four or five other Tucson dancers step in as pick-ups for specific concerts.

Back in the '80s and early '90s, Ballet Arts Ensemble had a lot of professional dancers, Cabana says. Jory Hancock and Melissa Lowe, who had come from Pacific Northwest Ballet to teach at the UA, worked with the ensemble, and danced the earlier versions of "Bolero." But the dance climate soon changed, and Ballet Arts switched its focus from a pro company to its school and children's ensemble, Cabana says. But she always wanted the troupe to go pro again, and her new troupe debuted last fall with a lively "Dracula."

Cabana still had a video of the '91 "Bolero," so she was able to teach the piece to the dancers, but Hughes came back to Tucson last week to put his own stamp on it. A big, extravagant work for 16 women and seven men, the "piece shows the whole scope of what we can do," Cabana says. "You really need a lot of men, and good dancers with maturity. We have that now."

Guest stars Amanda McKerrow of American Ballet Theatre and John Gardner, a former dancer with ABT and White Oak Dance Project, will dance the duet from Tudor's "The Leaves Are Fading." McKerrow and Gardner worked with the British-born Tudor during his years as resident choreographer at ABT. The itinerant dancers most recently performed the same piece at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

"They're very involved in re-staging Tudor ballets," Cabana explains. "They recently did a full-length version of 'The Leaves Are Fading' for Ballet West. Last summer, Amanda did a lecture in Tucson on working with Tudor. She's one of the keepers of his flame."

Lawrence Pech, now resident choreographer of San Francisco Opera as well as artistic director of his own company, also danced with ABT, and San Francisco Ballet. His contemporary work "The More Things Change" is set to an unusual mix of music--by Tibetan Buddhist monks and by the Brazilian pop group Suba.

"It's a crazy piece," Cabana says. "The choreography is really fresh and humorous."

Divided into three movements, the dance for five men and one woman on pointe is "interesting movement-wise. Larry has his own distinctive style."

The remainder of the program is a mix of dances by Ballet Tucson's own company choreographers. Cabana teamed up with Mia Hansen for a revival of the three-part work "Ritmos de La Noche," which the company last did three or four years ago, Cabana reports.

The first section's traditional flamenco "evolves into other things" in the subsequent sequences. Part two, by Cabana, is "Spanish-inspired pointe work" and Hansen's finale is "Spanish-inspired jazz fusion."

The concert has been put together with an eye toward showing off the new company members in featured parts. Troupers Peter Greene and Meredith Dulaney take the leads in Hansen's "The Cowboy," a big theater-dance piece filled with rodeo princesses, queens and cowboys, set to music by John William. Daniel Precup and Jenna Johnson, memorable as Dracula and his victim last fall, team up for a ballet classic, the Black Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake.

Peter Lisante, a former dancer with the Oakland Ballet, is the only man in "Hibiki" (Echo), a modern piece by assistant artistic director Chieko Imada. Set to the music of Japanese kodo drums, the work also features nine women. Imada's duet "Shall We Dance?" aka "The Door Piece" is a light-hearted comedy performed by Melanie Hawkes and Ahiram Belleau.

Mark Schneider offers up "Stompin'," a jazz work for 16, and "The Seduction of Debussy," a contemporary ballet for a dozen dancers. Each of these big works is divided into three sections. "Stompin'" uses a disco version of Benny Goodman's "Sing Sing Sing." "Debussy," naturally enough, is set to the music of the classical composer, but it's been reworked by the Art of Noise. Deanna Doncsecz dances a solo.

"Most of the dancers have featured parts, so the audience can see them as individuals," Cabana says, "but they're also gelling together as a group. All is going well."


UA grad student Christina Patsalidou stages her master's concert, Dance: Here There and Everywhere, Friday night at the Historic YWCA Theater. Her multimedia works explore the confluence of dance, music and film. Collaborators include filmmaker Diana Riffe, musician Jon Robertson and mime artist Rick Wamer.

The concert also includes three duets choreographed by UA dance professor and artist in residence James Clouser; "Saturday Morning Cartoons" by student choreographer Hilary Peterson; and a work by student Philip Edgecombe. Phoenix artists Keria Hart and Laura Atwood will present "dance for the camera" works at a 7:30 p.m. reception.

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