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Sweet Mix

Ballet Tucson combines dance, gallery art and dessert to create a Valentine's Day experience.

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The stage at Pima Community College's Proscenium Theatre may be the best place to see visual art this Valentine's weekend--along with dance performed by local Ballet Tucson dancers, visiting Russian ballet stars and Cleveland modern dancers.

Lush neoclassical oils by Tucson's Diane Meyer, complete with frolicking cherubs, will form the set for "The Seduction of Debussy." Composed by resident choreographer Mark Schneider for a dozen dancers, the brand-new ballet will be a highlight of Ballet Tucson's Dance/Art/Dessert concert.

But Meyer's is not the only art starring on stage. In a ballet set to Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony, choreographed by company artistic director Mary Beth Cabana, two dozen dancers will pirouette around a large glass sculpture by Kathleen Wallace. Brazilian artist Ana Bezombe lends a large Cubist-style painting to "La Nuit," a 1909 ballet solo originally choreographed by Nikolai Legat and reconstructed by Cabana. Young dancer Maili Alvarado, an elegant Snow Queen in December's Nutcracker, dances the piece, once a vehicle for the legendary dancer Anna Pavlova.

And Luon St. Pierre's sculpted chairs, complete with seated ladies painted by Liz Vaughn, vie with a quintet of dancers in a café in Chieko Imada's "Bossa Novaville."

"We thought it was an interesting way to use the art," Cabana said last week. "In 'Bossa Novaville,' the art gives the impression that other people are in the lounge besides the dancers. And then sometimes, the dancers sit on them."

There's even art at intermission. Susan Kay Johnson's life-sized sculpture of a piano player will sit onstage at a piano, while "we play taped honky-tonk music," Cabana said.

The arty switch from gallery to stage is not the only innovation in this year's Valentine's concert. Ballet Tucson, a young company of adult dancers teamed with advanced students from the Ballet Arts school, has combined its annual Dance/Art and Dance/Dessert concerts. That means that after drinking in the visual arts of painting and dance during the show, patrons can retreat to a room across the patio to taste Valentine's desserts contributed by local restaurants.

"The art is in the first half," Cabana explained. "The second half features the guest artists. And the grand finale is the desserts."

Besides the paintings and sculpture, the guest stars include a pair of Russian-trained dancers, the married couple Sayat Asatryan and Olga Tchekachova. These two will show off the Old World classical tradition, while dancers from VERB Ballets of Cleveland, led by Paul Taylor alumnus Hernando Cortez, will offer up contemporary dance.

Tchekachova has danced with the Kirov Ballet, the St. Petersburg Classical Ballet and England's Bristol Ballet, while Asatryan has danced with the Moscow Kremlin. The pair will perform the pas de deux from Act 1 of the 1856 ballet Le Corsaire by Mazilier, a traditional story ballet based on a poem by Lord Byron.

Cabana, who met the couple when she was teaching last summer at Blue Lake fine arts camp in Michigan, said this pas de deux is not familiar to audiences.

"It's not seen as much in this country as the pas de deux from Act 2," she said. The dancers, she added, guest-starred at Blue Lake. "They're free-lancing in the United States, and they seem to be busy. I hope to get them for our summer workshop (in June)."

VERB Ballets, named by Dance Magazine as one of "25 to watch in 2004," typically performs repertory by Martha Graham, David Parsons and Taylor. For the Tucson show, a trio of women will dance "Laura's Women," a work by the late Ian Horvatz, a piece that Cabana herself once danced with the Cleveland Ballet.

"It's danced to the songs of Laura Nero," Cabana noted. "It's a very emotional piece. It's a contemporary ballet about three different phases of women's lives."

Elsewhere on the program, Rachel Maxwell, a talented local teen who also shone in The Nutcracker, dances the Russian dance solo from Swan Lake. UA dance professor Sam Watson contributed "Punctuations," a "light-hearted, funny, contemporary work" that has three Ballet Tucson dancers portraying "a period, a question mark and an exclamation point," Cabana said. Mia Hansen, formerly of Up With People, made a clogging, hoe-down dance for eight, "Tipping the Privy," a comic work danced to the taped bluegrass music of local band The Privy Tippers.

The concert concludes with the rollicking "Joplin," Schneider's "lively Charleston-style ballet" set to Scott Joplin music. After audience members leap to their feet to join in some flapper-style steps, they'll be all set to step on over to the table of desserts.

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