If early modern choreographer Ted Shawn had time-traveled from the 1930s to the present and worked with female dancers instead of men, he might have come up with "Field."
Shawn has remained safely in his grave since his death in 1972, as far as anyone knows, but Tucsonan Kevin Schroder made the dance with the early master in mind. The duet will be performed this weekend at the ZUZI Little Theater in the Historic YWCA, in a concert of all-Schroder choreography that marks his welcome return to the local dance scene.
"I was doing a lot of stuff related to early modern dance," Schroder said one evening last week after a rehearsal. "This piece ('Field') is if Ted Shawn had made a woman's dance. It's kind of a 1930s agricultural dance movement."
Shawn famously led an all-male company back in the '30s, after years of working with his wife, Ruth St. Denis, in the co-ed troupe Denishawn. But after Denishawn split up, along with the marriage, Shawn made work exclusively for men. Making the then-radical point that dancing could be masculine as well as feminine, he put his dancers in athletic works about war, sports and labor.
Schroder's similarly athletic farm dance has dancers Nicole Stansbury and Amanda Hamp dressed in blue jeans and circling around the stage doing multiple turns. The starkly lovely piece, seven minutes long, has no music at all.
"'Field' is from 1994," the soft-spoken Schroeder said, barely audible above the banging of a rock band in the studio next door. "I did it a couple of times in Tucson before, in '97, '98. It's nice keeping the piece alive."
During the rehearsal, in the downtown Ortspace, Schroder called out corrections and praise to his dancers, happily pronouncing it better after each run-through. He occasionally joined the women on the dance floor, demonstrating a rond de jambe here, an arm stretch there, showing off the dazzling technique that once had him dancing with the likes of Merce Cunningham, Lar Lubovitch and Tucson's Tenth Street Danceworks.
Schroder more or less gave up dance when Tenth Street dissolved in the late '90s.
"I started getting back into it when I turned 40," he said. "It's my present to myself."
A native of Palo Verde, west of Phoenix, Schroder came to the UA in the early 1980s to study dance with John Wilson and Isa Bergsohn, both now retired. After putting a couple of years into the program, he moved to San Francisco to dance with Aaron Osborne, a former Limón dancer. Osborne eventually arranged an audition with Lubovitch in New York, kicking off Schroder's successful stint in the capital of modern dance.
"I worked with Lar, Merce and a few others," Schroder said, including Stephen Petronio. "I was in New York from the '80s through the early '90s. I left New York in '93 and came back to Tucson to finish my degree. I always loved Tucson, and it was nice to come back."
Tenth Street Danceworks, led by Charlotte Adams and Thom Lewis, soon tapped Schroder, and he became a star, of sorts, in that lively modern troupe. The company ended after Adams left town to pursue an academic teaching career. Schroder taught a little in the succeeding years but performed only sporadically, often in open dance nights at ZUZI.
But just last year, when he was finding his way back to dance, he joined Adams at the University of Iowa to do a visiting dance professorship.
"It was great. It was wonderful to be a professor for a while."
Schroder began working on the pair of new pieces that will make their debut at this weekend's concert. "Petrichor," a duet for Nathan Dryden and Schroder, is "simply structured. There's a lot of work on the floor. We lie around or on each other for 20 minutes, performing five or six 'graphics' (movements). We have limited choices. It's a structured improvisation."
"Petrichor" is set to taped music by Chris Levesque. But on the evening's final piece, "Everyman Wears a Woman on His Head," Levesque performs his own compositions live, along with Davis Carl, Seth Mauzy, Roger Thomas II and Andy Zamarripa.
Joining the quintet of musicians will be a quartet of dancers. Schroder will be the lone male, dancing with Stansbury, Hamp and Caryl Clement, a former Tenth Streeter who's now a landscape architect with Wheat Scharf.
"Caryl has been taking class with me for two or three years," Schroder said.
The big cast of dancers and musicians is complemented by a complicated choreographic structure. It's in five sections, what Schroder called a "romantic musical structure," with the fifth section organized as a coda, repeating the motifs of the previous four.
Schroder dances a four-minute solo in the nude.
"I've used the male figure in different stages of undress before. I started out as a painter, and I'm dealing with painterly choreographic images. The nude is basic, and the light is beautiful on the skin."
The title, Schroder said, has a couple of sources, including a painting by Marc Chagall in which a woman is draped over a man's head, and a quote from Jean Cocteau.
"There's always a little of 'you can't tell'" how a dance will work out on the stage, in front of an audience, Schroder said, but "I'm very happy with it."