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A whirlwind tour of the week's dance events, past and future.


Orts Theatre of Dance kicked off a week of round-the-world dance in Tucson last weekend with its Amazon-inspired "Mayatin," a multimedia piece that premiered at Pima College. The French avant-garde checked in Monday night, via Ballet Preljocaj at Centennial Hall. Next weekend, continuing the international theme, the Shanghai Ballet of China performs the European classic Coppélia, while Tucson's NEW ARTiculations stages a works-in-progress concert of dances workshopped with the help of a New York arts group.

"Mayatin," the native Achuar word for breath, came out of a trip Orts artistic director Anne Bunker and technical director Chuck Koesters took to the Ecuadoran Amazon last spring. Koesters' visceral videos of the rain forest, showcasing raindrops, multi-legged insects and dense vegetation, formed a vibrating backdrop for the work's shape-shifting dancers. Choreographed by Bunker, the dance had seven performers metamorphosing from butterflies to many-legged caterpillars to birds. The dancers gracefully took to the air, via their familiar trapezes, as often as they negotiated the ground. Many passages, particularly the lovely bird and butterfly sequences, evoked the creatures of the teeming jungle. On some occasions, though, the ever-present video, projected on a huge screen, served to obscure the movement.

The jungle piece followed up on "Neurosporatic," another large group work set by Bunker to Koesters' techno music. Overlong at one hour, this three-part work alternated between dancers gyrating on the floor and moving on giant airborne boxes that have evolved way beyond the simple trapeze. The eight dancers achieved elegant sculptural poses on these "flying boxes of death," but more interesting were their vigorous movements on the floor as they conjured up DNA and double helixes. The bravura dancing of the final section ended with a satisfying climb up the ladder of evolution. Worth watching in the future is new Orts apprentice Max Foster, a fine young dancer who's just started high school and had no trouble keeping up with his elders.

The next Orts concert is Improv in the Ortspace, at 8 p.m. Saturday, December 7, at the Ortspace studios, 121 E. Seventh St. For information call 624-3799 or visit

THIS FRIDAY EVENING, another leading local modern troupe, NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre, stages In the Works, a showcase for 10 new dances. Among the pieces are a days-of-the-week underwear work, "A Day Late," by new UA dance grads (and new NEW ART members) Laurie Berg and Amanda Stevenson, and an untitled trio danced by new mother Kelly Silliman, her baby, Rosalie, and choreographer April Greengaard.

The concert is a "spin-off" of an artist project called The Field, explained Tammy Rosen, co-artistic director of the company. A New York-based organization that extends a helping hand to choreographers around the country, The Field arranges for workshops to be conducted by local dance professionals. Rosen and Deborah Feldman, also of NEW ART, got Arizona Commission on the Arts backing to train as Field facilitators and give feedback to their dance peers on new work. The Friday concert is a "works-in-progress piece for The Field," Rosen said.

Dances on the playbill include the trio "Straight Up," a preview of "Southern Comfort," a longer work being developed by Leigh Ann Rangel for NEW ART's June concert. Also a NEW ART co-artistic director, Rangel recently won an award in the Arizona Choreographers' Competition. Seth Peress will perform his original music live for "Sankof, To Reach Back and Return," a trio by Heather Haeger that had its debut at last weekend's NEW ART Dance Gallery fundraiser. A second Berg and Stevenson piece, as yet untitled, "is a beautiful duet to Björk," Rosen said. "Laurie is tapping, and Amanda is doing modern. Laurie does full-on hoofer tapping, but the modern is just as compelling as the tap."

Curtain rises on In the Works, a modern-dance concert by NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre, at 8 p.m. Friday, November 8, in the Little Theatre in the Historic YWCA, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets cost $6 at the door. For information call the theater at 629-0237.

THE SHANGHAI BALLET brings Coppélia, one of the jewels of 19th-century French romantic ballet, to Centennial Hall for two performances, on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. The 1870 story ballet, originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon, tells the tale of a magical toymaker and a canny village maiden who pretends to be a doll brought to life. Coppélia has the same narrative pedigree as the ever-popular Nutcracker: both are based on stories written by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann.

"It's a romantic comedy ballet," said interpreter Xiuzhen Huang, speaking for company manager Muti Ha by telephone from Atlanta last week. "We think this story is not only for adults but for kids of all ages."

A full complement of 51 dancers from Shanghai will dance the three-act ballet, which includes comical scenes of dancing dolls in the toyshop and folk mazurkas danced in a village square. The leads, Xiofeng Fan, who plays the clever Swanilda, and Shenyi Sun, who dances Franz, her straying fiancé, both won gold medals at an international ballet competition in Bulgaria in 2000, Huang said. They perform among elaborate sets that conjure up a European forest, village and workshop. Unfortunately, a plan to have the Tucson Symphony Orchestra play the Léo Delibes score had to be scratched because of an injury to the tour conductor, and taped music will substitute.

The troupe, founded in 1979, is steeped in the classical repertory, though on this American tour they are alternating a Chinese work, The White-Haired Girl, with Coppélia. Through serial quirks of history, the company is also steeped in classical Russian technique. Russians fleeing the Revolution of 1917 first introduced Chinese to the European art of ballet, Huang says. After China had its own Communist revolution in 1949, Russian teachers of a different political stripe arrived to teach in official ballet schools set up in Beijing and Shanghai. Huang said young children begin studying at the highly selective schools at the age of 9 or 10.

"In the coastal cities ballet is very popular," Huang said, "and there are many amateur dance schools." But in many parts of the country, she added, traditional Chinese dance acrobatics still rule.

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