Tucson's homegrown Theatrical Mime Theatre will perform its mute arts in Shanghai this month, using silent gesture to conjure up everything from marionettes cavorting to kelp undulating under the sea.
One of the works that will materialize on the other side of the Pacific is "Parasol Fantasy," a mini-drama of romantic heartbreak set on the beach. A chorus of mimes "portrays kelp, fish and birds," says Rick Wamer, co-artistic director of the troupe with Lorie Heald. "We go from the bottom of the ocean, to the beach, to the sky. Mime transforms time and space. It speeds up time; it compresses time and takes you to a new place."
The good news for Tucsonans is they won't have to go all the way to China to see this visual metamorphosis. A week before boarding a plane for the 14-hour flight to Shanghai, and its Eighth International Arts Festival, the mime troupe will give three free performances in Tucson, as guest artists at the annual FUNHOUSE movement theater fall concert in Reid Park.
"Thom and I have talked about this for a while," says Wamer of Thom Lewis, co-artistic director of the modern-dance company. "Thom always comes to our performances. He's a great man--he's really building up the community of dance in Tucson."
Lewis says that actually Lee Anne Hartley, his co-artistic director, came up with the idea of inviting the mimes to share the stage at DeMeester Outdoor Performance Center. "Lee Anne heard me talk about how much I liked their shows, and she connected the dots."
FUNHOUSE typically invites out-of-town guest artists to dance in the park show, but Hartley says she wanted to "have somebody who's similar to dance, but not dance. Rick will bring in his audience, and we'll bring our audience."
At the concerts, simply titled Dance in the Park, the FUNHOUSE regulars will dance the same three modern works on each of the three nights, but the mimes will vary their program. Friday and Saturday, Wamer and Heald will perform three duets; the large beach piece, "Parasol Fantasy," won't go on stage until Sunday night.
The schedule change accommodates Wamer's performers, UA dance students who will be in concerts Friday and Saturday at the UA's Stevie Eller Theatre. (See below for details of other concerts this week, including the Argentine troupe Tango Fire at Centennial Hall.)
A graduate student in the MFA dance program, Wamer says he doesn't teach a mime class per se at the UA, but each year, he trains a handful of dance students to perform his mime works.
"It's interesting to set the (mime) style on dancers," he says. "Dancers are accustomed to flow, and in mime, the flow gets stopped constantly. The immobility of gesture conveys the emotion."
He's given the romantic leads in "Parasol Fantasy" to UA students Rebekah Belanger and Kyle Marinshaw. He and Heald will be in the chorus that mutates from fish to birds, along with UA students Fabian Padilla, Logan Lipton and Janine Holton. The students also get to go to China.
Wamer and Heald, who founded Theatrical Mime Theatre three years ago, have performed twice before in China, as well as in Poland and Puerto Rico, and requests have come in from Italy and Ireland, Wamer says. Future plans include a Mimo Latino festival in Tucson next year, with guest artists from Puerto Rico, and an international festival here in 2008.
They run a summer mime school in Ohio, but they also teach classes regularly in Tucson, at ZUZI!, and stage their own performances.
"We really hope to make Tucson a location in North America where the audience has the opportunity to see the breadth of the art form," Wamer says.
Wamer and Heald, longtime partners in art and life, will show off their expertise in their three duets at the FUNHOUSE concerts. "Ties" is a "sweet little piece about what happens to the marionettes after the puppeteer leaves," Wamer says. "The Old West" is inspired by the book The Ox-Bow Incident, in which the action takes place entirely in the hero's own mind, in just a moment of time, as he's about to be hanged.
"It mixes comedy and tragedy--the story is comic, but the gallows is tragic."
"Ties" and "The Old West" will be performed all three nights, but "Tree of Life," a "poetic montage of compressed images," will be on stage only Friday and Saturday, dropping out on Sunday to make way for "Parasol Fantasy."
FUNHOUSE will dance "The Boys," a lyrical Lewis baseball piece that debuted in 2004. Danced to Pat Metheny fusion jazz, this time around, the athletic work will feature one man, Max Foster, and three women, Amy Barr-Holm, Jamie Coracides and Renee Blakeley. Barr-Holm replaces Nate Dryden, who two years ago danced the role formerly reserved for a man, transforming the work into "Max Foster on a women's softball team," Lewis jokes.
"Appearance and Apocrypha" is another Lewis reprise, a 2005 piece that combines professional dancers with a community chorus of "regular people who want to dance." Local actor Roberta Streicher will be the onstage narrator, and the community scenes will alternate with a solo by Foster, a duet by Julia Miller and Lewis, and a duet by Foster and Barr-Holm.
Hartley also restaged an earlier work, "The Wild West of Physics," which she debuted last spring. A wide-ranging comical look at string theory, this one is "a new and improved version," says Hartley. "I re-did the script, cutting it in half, and kept the dances intact."
Now 19 minutes long, it deploys a large team of dancers, including Kiona Brown, Amanda Moore, Sherry Mulholland, Andrea Murray, Barr-Holm and Hartley herself.