Joshua Blake Carter says he has been "very lucky" since graduating from the UA School of Dance with a BFA in 2009.
Luck might be one way to describe it. Talent—and hard work—would be another. While still an undergrad, Carter won a choreography competition and had one of his dances performed by Ballet Nouveau Colorado. He also created Dance in the RED, an AIDS benefit concert that raised money for Tucson's Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation. And right after graduation he got hired as a dancer by Giordano Dance Chicago.
"I got to join the second company right out of school," Carter says modestly during a phone interview last week from Chicago. Within a year, he'd moved on up to the main company, a 51-year-old troupe that Carter calls the "original American jazz dance company."
Now seven years into his tenure with Giordano, Carter dances all over the world, most recently in Israel. He directs the young dancers in Giordano Dance Chicago II. And he regularly choreographs new works for companies from Visceral Dance Chicago to Wonderbound (formerly Ballet Nouveau Colorado) to Missouri Continental Ballet.
This weekend, Tucson dance lovers can see Carter's latest piece in 4 X 4, a showcase concert at Artifact Dance Project's downtown studio. Still untitled as of press time, Carter's work, for 20 dancers, is set to Mozart's familiar "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."
"Twenty dancers make for a nice challenge," he says. "How do you move 20 bodies across the space?"
Though he's steeped in jazz dance as a performer, Carter says the new work comes out of a "ballet aesthetic, but there's a lot of jazz and modern dance in it. Plus it has athletic runs and gestural movements."
And "it's a little silly," he says. When he set the piece on them, "the dancers were laughing."
The concert came out of the company's Summer Intensive workshop in Tucson, where Carter was a guest instructor. Twenty dancers, including several ADP pros as well as advanced students, have been spending the last three weeks in daylong classes of ballet, jazz and modern dance.
At the concerts this Friday and Saturday night, the ad hoc pickup troupe will perform in the round in the studio.
Carter's dance is one of four new works on the one-hour program, each composed by one of the workshop teachers – and each danced by all 20 dancers.
Ashley Bowman and Claire Hancock, co-artistic directors of Artifact, have each choreographed a piece, and so has a second guest artist, José de la Cruz, a New York dancer and teacher known for his hip-hop and street style classes at the Broadway Dance Center.
All four of their dances reflect, to a degree, the Artifact aesthetic.
"The way we're defining dance," Hancock says, "is that it's a fusion of three forms: ballet, modern and jazz. That's our movement language. That's what contemporary dance is: a hybrid of forms."
Each of the choreographers was assigned a classical composer, and the concert will be a "fun sampler of their music," Hancock says, set to recorded music, a rarity for a company that nearly always dances to live music.
Hancock's is Scarlatti, an 18th century Italian composer who worked in Spain. Her piece "is a Spanish dance, gypsy-like, with grounded, ferocious movement and a lot of rhythm," she says. "It's maybe a little more balletic, but with the rhythms of jazz and the groundedness of modern."
Bowman, who got Shostakovich, made a "darker piece," Hancock says. "It's a little more personal."
De la Cruz's dance, set to Bach's "Air (on the Six String"), also takes on a serious subject.
"It's inspired by ideas about slavery, about being confined and bound in this body."
Like the dancers, Hancock finds Carter's piece funny.
"It's inspired by courtly dance. The dancers put on airs and the women give sidelong glances to the men."
Carter has worked with Artifact before and the company already has two of his pieces in its repertory. He was an undergrad at UA Dance when Bowman and Hancock were in the master's program, and the trio worked together then on several projects, including Carter's RED concert and Bowman and Hancock's master's concert, which evolved into the Artifact company.
"Josh has a great way of working with dancers," Hancock says. "And he's got a great career. He's getting a name for himself as a choreographer."
Logan Moon Penisten, one of the dancers, may also be presenting a new work of his own choreography. An Artifact dancer who shone in the troupe's Grand Parlor concert this spring, Penisten also performed this summer in Tales of the Jazz Age, a collaboration between The Rogue Theatre and Artifact. Two other company dancers performing in the showcase concert, Bo Brinton and Daniel Diaz, also danced in that mélange of dance and theater.
The other showcase performers include a dancer in the joint Alvin-Ailey/Fordham University program in New York, three students from Europe, a dancer in the joint Alvin-Ailey/Fordham University program in New York, some UA Dance majors and other locals, including five dancers from the respected Ballet Continental in Green Valley.
Hancock said she and Bowman were so pleased with the abilities of the students that they have invited them to join a new secondary company, ADP II, which will launch this fall.
"We can't believe in only 15 or 16 days they learned so much," Hancock says.
With the concert to be performed at a fast pace, these dancers will wear basic black dance togs throughout, leotards and tights for the women, shirts and pants for the men.
"It will be a short and sweet show," Hancock says. "Listening to classical music is a point of departure for fun stuff."