The late-night world of Prohibition-era gin joints is conjured up in this weekend’s “Speak Easy,” a dance-music extravaganza staged by Tucson’s Artifact Dance Project.
A reprise of a concert that premiered last year, “Speak Easy” is easily the best of Artifact’s evening-length narrative dances. The ambitious company has tackled stories from “Alice in Wonderland” to Grimm’s Fairy Tales to the Paris Opera Ballet, but “Speak Easy” stands out for its energetic dancing, live original music and spectacular costumes. The women dress in gorgeous beaded flapper dresses that shine as the dancers shimmy their way through Jazz Age dances. Artifact co-artistic director Ashley Bowman choreographed 26 dances for the piece, after watching 50 videos that captured dances from the 1920s. Bowman didn’t directly re-create the historic dances step for step; her pieces evoke the era, but she’s injected them with shots of athletic, contemporary movement. Among the dozen dancers is co-artistic director Claire Hancock.
The storyline, elaborated in a voiceover, is slight. It centers on a real-life reporter, Lois Lane, a well-bred Vassar grad, who covered the wee-hours bootleg beat for the New Yorker during the Roaring Twenties. The dances loosely follow her adventures in the illicit clubs and her (fictional) romance with Harold Ross, legendary founder of the magazine. Company dancer Shelly Hawkins dances Long, and Jeff Bacigalupo is Ross. Artifact is committed to having live music in every concert, and no fewer than eight musicians play on stage in “Speak Easy.” They include the troupe’s music director Ben Nisbet, a violinist with Tucson Symphony. Chris Black of ChamberLab collaborated with Bowman, drawing on period music from Cab Calloway and Bertolt Brecht to create an original score. Musician-composer Naïm Amor also contributed several pieces.