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Returning Home

ZUZI celebrates the solstice in hopes of lighting up the darkness


Ashland, Oregon, is the new Tucson, at least from the point of view of dance inspirations.

The dance migration from the Southwest to the Northwest started with Peggy Paver, a former ZUZI! Dance Company member and modern-dance teacher at University/Rincon High School. Several years ago, Paver moved with her family to Oregon's cool high desert, but she called upon her old colleagues in the hot low desert to help her rev up a new Tucson-style dance troupe.

"We went up there to help establish her there," says ZUZI artistic director Nanette Robinson. Last summer, Robinson and ZUZI member Beth Braun, who also has taken over Paver's old job at the high school, traveled to Ashland to help Paver put together her first show. Live vocals were provided by another Tucson refugee, singer Cantrell Maryott, a new Ashland resident who for years was a familiar voice on Tucson's alternative performance and dance scene.

"I also taught Peggy how to teach aerial," Robinson says, alluding to the form of modern dance that's performed on trapezes and ropes.

But some of that familiar movement comes back home to Tucson in ZUZI's eighth annual solstice concert, Finding Refuge, this week. A Braun-Robinson duet, danced by the two women, serves as the prelude to a show of a dozen dances by almost as many ZUZI choreographers.

"Beth and I generated all this movement," Robinson says. "It brought us together in rehearsal, and we worked really great together."

If the unnamed piece is having a homecoming back in its ancestral city, the concert itself is geared toward the theme of "returning home to oneself in a busy time," Robinson says.

The solstice concert annually evokes a far older tradition than the modern Christmas of the ubiquitous Nutcrackers on local stages. Performed over five evenings on the days leading up to the winter solstice, the concert is meant to shed light on the darkest, shortest day of the year. At solstice, on Dec. 22, the Earth's Northern Hemisphere tilts the farthest from the sun, cutting the sun's rays short by late afternoon. The ZUZI-ites gather for an evening of dance, storytelling and song, renewing ancient rituals intended to light up the darkness.

The evening will have the typical ZUZI components, including dances on the floor and in the air; a performance by the youth group Many Limbs; a "community piece" workshopped by non-dancers; an art auction to benefit Pakistani earthquake refuges organized by high school dancer Lia Griesser and art student Ariel Hahn; and some live music.

Tucson violinist Lindianne Sarno, who's been doing readings around town of her new novel Greensleeves: An Historical Novel of the First Irish Diaspora, will play live for Robinson's large group piece, "Refuge." Soprano Maile Nadlehoffer, who also teaches flamenco for ZUZI, will sing works by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Robinson's big work draws on not only her own movement, but on gestures developed by its 11 dancers, including new ZUZI dancer Amanda Hamp. The choreographer asked them, "How do they recharge, renew?" Robinson said. "They focused on spending time in stillness. Each of them choreographed her own section. The piece becomes the voice of every dancer and echoes the theme of the show itself."

Braun produced a second large group piece, as yet unnamed, for 10 dancers, set to recorded cello music performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

Other works focus on elements of nature. Nathan Dryden and Carie Schneider put together a trapeze duet danced to the music of Brian Eno that conjures up the seasonal forms of "frost and ice crystals," Robinson said.

Bridget Gunning's "Fluidform," a dance for six set to music by Postal Service, evokes "flow forms of water." Ojeya Cruz Banks, who's studied dance in Africa, performs with Amber Eubanks, Gunning and Braun in her quartet "Mama Miti," a Swahili title that translates as "mother of trees."

Wendy Joy dances her solo "Renewal," to music by Mendelssohn. Nicole Buffan's quartet "One Soul" is a trapeze work set to a soundtrack excerpt from the movie The Constant Gardener. Yumi Shirai, Jennifer Hoefle and Braun join Buffan in the work.

Dancer Zan Savage and Robinson helped choreograph the community piece, which features women from their teens to their 60s. Jack Richards, a 13-year-old who's studied at ZUZI for years, created a trapeze duet, which he'll perform with dancer Scott Bird. The larger youth piece is another trapeze dance, for nine, called "Harmonic Chaos," put together by Hoefle and Robinson.

"It's aerial but with a lot of dances on the floor," Robinson says. "They're getting more savvy. There's lots of tossing in space." And, appropriately for this solstice show, "there's lots of shadow and light."

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