Artifact Dance Project has built its reputation on narrative dance: in the last six years, it's staged story concerts based on everything from "Grimm's Fairy Tales" to real-life tales of the Roaring Twenties.
As it enters its seventh season next week, though, the contemporary Tucson troupe will put on a concert of pure dance—and pure music.
"I wanted to present contemporary dance with no story or narrative," says Ashley Bowman, co-artistic director of the company. "It's just about music, and whatever the choreographer wants to do with it."
"Impetus," Artifact's concert this weekend at the UA's Stevie Eller Dance Theatre, will be performed entirely to live music composed by Ben Nisbet, a violinist with Tucson Symphony Orchestra, and Ryan Alfred, a bassist with Calexico.
“It’s the first time Ben will be premiering lots of his own music,” says Bowman of Nisbet, who is also music director of Artifact.
Four different choreographers created the eight short dances—none longer than six minutes.
"It's mixed repertory," Bowman says, "mostly group works."
Her two pieces are contemporary, while her fellow Artifact artistic director, Claire Hancock, went for classic modern dance.
For the four remaining dances, the troupe enlisted two guest choreographers: Tammy Dyke-Compton and Christopher Compton. The pair--a married couple--both teach at the UA School of Dance; Tammy as a professor and Christopher as an adjunct. Previously, they danced professionally with Twyla Tharp.
"They've had serious dance careers," Bowman says. "They're wonderful people, really talented."
The couple first worked with Artifact on last year's "Four Seasons," each choreographing one dance. For "Impetus," Dyke-Compton created contemporary pieces and Compton choreographed two short ballets.
But don't expect traditional ballet.
"It's not on point," Bowman says emphatically. Nor will the dancers be dressed in leotards. They'll wear "pedestrian" day-to-day clothing throughout the show, giving it a modern, urban look.
Bowman midwifed the whole concert, first asking Nisbet and Alfred to come up with eight pieces of music.
"I had strong ideas," she says. She was thinking of "cinematic compositions"—like those of Philip Glass—but such works are far too expensive for a small company.
"So I sent music samples to Ben and Ryan, and they came up with original music that's the equal of—if not better—than what I sent."
"There's solo piano that's peaceful and quiet, and guitar music that's Tarantino-like"—with a spaghetti-western vibe, she says. And the electronic music, delivered via computer, is "percussive, with a rolling sound."
Nisbet and Alfred, who play together in Alfred's band Sweet Ghost, will both perform live in the show, along with pianist Russell Ronnebaum.
Six of the Artifact professional dancers will perform the new works, including long-timers Ellie Hausman and Julian Johnson. This corps will be rounded out by 25 young-adult dancers who've just emerged from Artifact's intensive summer workshop.
"They trained for three weeks with us, learning what it's like to dance in our company," Bowman says, "dancing to original music, dancing to new choreography."
Artifact opened a teaching studio in a Toole Avenue warehouse last year, and now has some 200 students registered for classes. The studio has occasionally doubled as a theater for small concerts, as it will again in the upcoming season.
And despite the expense, Artifact has never shied away from its longtime commitment to performing exclusively with live music. In its packed upcoming season, Artifact pairs with the band Tesoro for "Immortally Departed," an October show inspired by Day of the Dead, and in November dances a 45-minute opera, Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas," with True Concord Voices & Orchestra, formerly known as Tucson Chamber Artists. "The Grand Parlor" in March will have more music by Nisbet; and in the May concert "Surrounding Dillinger," Artifact will partner with the acoustic duo Ryanhood.
A celebration of the new season, and of the company's one-year tenure in its studio, will take place on Aug. 29, a week after "Impetus." The public is invited to join the party.
"We're working hard," Bowman says. "Every day is a long day, but we love what we do! Our building is amazing. Everything's going really well."