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Flying Around

O-T-O Dance's new show again combines live and filmed performance

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Annie Bunker trains a sharp eye on three dancers spinning across a wooden floor.

The women are dressed in ordinary rehearsal clothes, not a lightbulb to be seen, but the choreographer is imagining lights flashing all over their bodies.

"I'm thinking of how the light is moving through space," she calls out to the dancers. "I'm looking at your bodies but imagining where you are with the lights. It's like a star falling from the sky," she adds as they lunge and turn. "Now you're like stars colliding."

The three dancers, Sukie Keita, Casonti McClure and Aja Knaub, are working out in O-T-O Dance's new rehearsal space at the Historic YWCA, putting the finishing touches on Bunker's "Points of Origin."

In this weekend's Flying, Dance and Films II concert, they'll be practically invisible. Dressed in black but swathed in lights, they'll dance with the normal stage lights turned off. The audience will be able to see only their lights, dancing in the dark.

"I did a short duet with lights in our December concert," Bunker says when the dancers finish their run-through. "That was an experiment. Now I have a trio, and each dancer will have different parts of her body lit up. And they'll have switches so they can turn the lights on and off."

The dancing lights won't be the only electrical sparks on stage at the UA's Stevie Eller Dance Theatre Friday and Saturday nights. For the second year in a row, the concert alternates live dance with filmed dance. Five dances by three choreographers--Bunker, Keita and Charlotte Adams--are interspersed with three experimental films.

Jodi Kaplan, a New York filmmaker who also participated in last year's Flying and Films at the Fox, comes back with her new flick In the Blood, an exploration of the "dance" of boxing. Gina Buntz, director of dance at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, screens an actual filmed dance. "Let Go" is a duet, performed by Philadanco's Afua Hall and Demetrius Klein of Klein Dance, West Palm Beach, Fla.

The third film, Life Under by Chuck Koesters, is an "underwater Hawaiian suite," says Bunker, who with husband Koesters now lives in Hawaii part of the year. "There's footage of manta rays, schools of fish, turtles."

Last year's Flying and Films at the Fox marked the first time the refurbished theater had presented dance in 50 years, but the Fox has gotten too expensive for small arts groups to rent, Bunker says.

"It's aggravating," she says. "We wrote letters seven years ago in support of the Fox. It's sad."

Herb Stratford, executive director of the Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation, is sorry O-T-O won't be back at the Fox this year, he says, but asserts that rents are driven by the theater's costs.

"We have bills to pay," he says. "We have to have rents that help us pay back the city" for the loans that got the theater finished. But he and the Fox managers are working to create a pool of grant money to help subsidize performances by smaller arts groups, Stratford says. That program may get underway by the fall.

Still, Bunker says, she doesn't mind the switch to the UA. "I love the Eller. It's the best theater for dance in Tucson."

And the concert offers plenty of dance in addition to the films. Bunker, who's now teaching dance at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and at Hawaii Community College, will perform her trapeze solo "Pele's Breath."

A collaboration with Koesters, "It's performed to a backdrop of lava flowing into the ocean," she says, and set to recorded music by R. Carlos Nakai and Keola Beamer. It draws on Hawaiian myth. According to one legend, the goddess Pele was the fire at the center of the earth. She fell in love with Ocean, and their child is lava, fire that moves like water.

"Contact" is a Bunker trio, danced on the floor and on trapezes by Bunker, Knaub and Keita. "It's fairly abstract, about making contact," Bunker notes. "It's a pure movement piece" danced to the fusion music of Afro Celt.

Keita, dance teacher at Amphi Middle School, turns choreographer in "Enough." An accomplished performer of African and Haitian dance, Keita wove African, Haitian, Dunham and modern movement into her work.

"This is not something local audiences have seen from a local choreographer," Bunker says. "It's a beautiful piece."

Joining Keita in the piece will be Kimi Eisele, Jennifer Eldred, Cavetta Green and Yarrow King. Frederick Malter delivers live percussion music, while Keita, Mamani Keita and Mark Minelli sing.

Guest choreographer Charlotte Adams' "She Should Know Better" is not exactly a premiere. Adams developed the piece in three different cities, with three different sets of dancers, but this weekend marks its Tucson debut.

A former director of Tenth Street Danceworks who's now an associate professor of dance at the University of Utah, Adams still keeps a home in Tucson. She started the piece last year with a quartet of Tucson dancers, but when she returned to Iowa for the fall semester, she switched to Iowans. When she got a slot at New York's Dance Theater Workshop, she finished the piece there with hired local dancers.

Then the peripatetic piece made its New York debut, followed by a performance in Iowa. Coming now full circle, it will be unveiled in Tucson, danced by Eisele, Nicole Stansbury and former O-T-O dancers Amy Barr-Holm and Katie Rutterer.

Lately, O-T-O has been flying around as much as this piece. A year ago, the company lost its longtime Ortspace studios in the Warehouse District, and alighted temporarily at ArtFare downtown. The new digs, a former YWCA gym, also housed an early incarnation of the Tucson Children's Museum.

Refurbished with a blond wood floor, the bright room is big enough and tall enough to accommodate the rigs needed for O-T-O's trademark trapezes. The brick walls have been freshly painted a cheerful pale yellow.

"I love this space," Bunker says. "It reminds me of the back studio in the Ortspace; only it's three times bigger. It's so calm."

O-T-O is a subtenant in the building, which suits Bunker fine. Now that the company's board has ratified a plan to make O-T-O a two-state enterprise--with a Hawaiian fall season and a Tucson spring season--it's easier for the troupe to rent space as needed, instead of managing a studio. O-T-O will continue its year-round classes here, Bunker says, but will eventually develop two rosters of dancers in the two states. That format could help foster exchanges between island and desert.

"I would want to bring some of my Hawaiian dancers here," she says. "And the flip side is I would bring dancers from Arizona to Hawaii."

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