Right now the most visible sign of the University of Arizona's dance program is the construction site at the east end of campus, along Campbell Avenue.
By next school year, though, the steel girders and piles of dirt will have metamorphosed into a powerhouse center for dance in Tucson. A new 300-seat dance theater will host concerts, while upstairs a state-of-the-art dance studio with glass walls will give the university--and the community--a window onto the program.
"It will be a dance gift to the university," says jazz dance professor Michael Williams.
The UA Dance Division's students, who enter the competitive program by audition (Williams says there's a 10-percent acceptance rate), will rehearse in the windowed studio in full view of onlookers on the Mall. And local dance fans, instead of sitting on bleachers in the uncomfortable Ina Gittings studio, or craning their necks against the poor sight lines in Crowder Hall, will sit in splendor when the students perform in the new theater, "designed to be a specifically dance space," Williams says.
The $9 million cost of the complex has already been raised, with $3 million in seed money kicked in by a single donor, Williams says, $3 million coming from the university, and $3 million from additional fundraising. While the budget prohibited the larger theater that the dance folks wanted, the 30,000-square-foot building will also house scene and costume shops, dressing rooms, a movement therapy room and the open-to-view studio. The intimate performing space, which will be shared with UA Opera Theater, will be the only full-fly theater on campus besides Centennial Hall.
"We'll be able to put on all types of performance productions," Williams enthuses.
Meantime, the October 10 Jazz in Az concert kicks off the dance division's final season as dance refugees without a performance home of their own. (It also opens a weekend chockablock with dance; see below for additional concerts.) This show, at Crowder Hall, is the only public component of a weekend-long jazz dance festival and student workshop. The concert program offers up a visiting dance troupe from Switzerland, several premieres and a lineup of other jazz and ballet pieces performed by the UA Dance Ensemble.
Richard Havey of the Zurich Dance Theater School leads a team of a half-dozen Swiss dancers in the world premiere of his jazz piece "Rock the Mike," set to music by the European band Bran Van 3000. (Havey will also teach in the closed weekend jazz workshops, which will be attended by some 300 young dancers from around the country and abroad.) The Swiss choreographer will also present his re-staging of Jacqueline Beck's "LUV, Light Ultra Violet."
The UA's Susan Quinn deploys 12 UA dancers in her "Texas Canyon," inspired by the strange boulder piles east of Tucson. A "cross between modern and jazz," according to Williams, the prizewinning piece "uses the rock formations and how they majestically balance." With music by Tucsonan Chuck Koesters, composer for Orts Theatre of Dance, and Richard Southern, the 1997 work won a best choreography award at the first U.S. Regional Ballet Association Festival. Two dancers will also perform Quinn's duet "Commitment," to the music of Caroline Lavelle.
While the UA Dance Division has a tripartite mission of ballet, modern and jazz, Williams helped shore up its jazz strand when he arrived on campus in 1992. His work "The Dreaming" is the longest piece of the evening, he says. Its cast of six women and three men includes "two female leads, one dancing the dreamer, one the guide. It's a contemporary meld of modern, jazz and ballet."
Ballet gets a full-bore outing in "Nine Lives," by UA ballet prof Melissa Lowe. The "lighthearted piece about cats has a set with four stairs, and nine dancers," Williams says.
The evening's finale is by the always entertaining UA dance prof Sam Watson. Updating his jazzy "Badum Boom," Watson expanded a smaller version into a work for 10 dancers for this concert. The comical work, with Watson's trademark "unusual costuming," gyrates to a lightning-quick drum score by Richard Campbell and Harry Coon.