Choreographer Liz Young made a field trip to Tucson's coolest territories to ask the burning question: What is a hipster?
Penetrating deep into the hip precincts of Fourth Avenue, Congress Street and even Speedway Boulevard, Young and videographer Brandon Brim stopped likely candidates on the street to quiz them.
"Some people said they thought they were hipsters, and some people said they don't like to be labeled," Young reported. "It's comical on the video. It turns out it's not hip to say you're hip."
The video, which catches cool cats lounging at the Epic Café, pawing through music bins at Zia Records and cooling off at Hotel Congress, appears as a backdrop in Young's dance quintet "I'm Not a Hipster." The modern-dance work is a highlight of the NEW ARTiculations Crescendo show this weekend at Pima College's Proscenium Theatre.
"The dance is quirky and light," Young said. "The beginning is mysterious--you don't know who these people are. The last section has a lot of movement, filled with gestures I've come up with, taken from the secret (movement) language of hipsters. I give the dancers the freedom to be themselves, but they go over the top, acting too cool for school."
Picturing some of Tucson's favorite places--and some of the town's trendiest 20-somethings--the video rolls in the middle and again briefly at the end of the 10-minute work. Naturally, Young has paired the mixed-media work with totally cool music, by indie band Yo La Tengo. Five NEW ART dancers perform, dressed in "hipster wear," according to Tammy Rosen, NEW ART co-artistic director, which means everything from red jeans to knee-length skirts and tight T's.
"We cop an attitude," said Rosen, who will dance the piece along with fellow artistic director Leigh Ann Rangel and dancers Heather Haeger, April Greengaard and Alison Whitcomb. "We jut our shoulders forward and sink into one hip. It's very tongue-in-cheek."
Tucson native Young now lives in Phoenix, where she's working toward her master's in dance at ASU after dancing in Seattle for several years. But she danced with NEW ART for one season a few years back, and said she's delighted to return to her home place as a guest choreographer. The hipster piece was originally set on three ASU students, but for this show, it's ramped up with five dancers and the new videotape.
"It's been exciting re-setting it here," Young said. "Tucson is a neat community for dance. It seems more tight-knit than in Phoenix. It's very supportive."
NEW ART makes a point of importing guest choreographers, the better to bring an eclectic aesthetic to its audiences.
"We try to do some emerging artists (like Young)," Rosen said, along with more established choreographers of the likes of Charlotte Adams. Adams reprises "The Poetry of Physics" in the summer show, following a successful outing in the NEW ART January concert. Riffing on French bedroom comedies, the comical work has 10 dancers, dressed in red in assorted boxer shorts and slips, cavorting around a set adorned with bedroom doors. Adams, now a dance professor at the University of Iowa, is another former Tucsonan; once upon a time, she was co-artistic director of 10th Street Danceworks, late of this city.
Keeping with the light themes of the Crescendo show, NEW ART's Greengaard put together a dance, "Circus," which Rosen said is a "high-energy contemporary ballet" filled with oddball circus characters. Dancing to the music of Cirque de Soleil, Katie Rutterer and Whitcomb take the part of Gemini twins; Tara Fech and Nate Dryden portray a Spanish dancer and her lover; Rangel is a forest muse; Haeger a rolling ocean queen and Jamie Jennette a snow bird.
Running the show is ringmaster Max Foster, the talented 16-year-old whose new maturity as a dancer amazed audiences at Funhouse Movement Theater's April concert. Foster danced a stunning solo as a doomed soldier in a Vietnam piece by Thom Lewis. Now in demand by all the local modern companies, Foster is off to the Joffrey Ballet summer program on full scholarship as soon as Crescendo comes to a close. But first, Rosen promises, he'll deliver a "nice solo as the ringmaster."
Turning more serious, NEW ART dancer Jennette debuts "Hustle and Bustle," her first choreography for the company. The work for five skewers the political apathy Jennette finds among her fellow students at the UA, Rosen said, where too many people "are worked up about their nails and their SUVs." Dancer Alison Whitcomb also premieres a quintet, "Creative Dissonance," which Rosen described as a "classical piece done in a techno way. It's fast and energetic." Joining the NEW ART team for this one is guest dancer Polly Deason.
The company's six-member youth ensemble performs in "Where We Are," which Rangel put together from dance phrases that the high schoolers developed themselves. ZUZI Dance Company lends a group of its dancers to NEW ART for "In My Dreams," a trapeze work by Nate Dryden. The piece opens with the solo Dryden performed at May's ZUZI concert, and then moves into a series of partnerings. Among the ZUZI guests are Beth Braun, Greg Colburn and Kim Kiefer.
"It's a good mix," Rosen opined of the show. "It has a lot of variety."
But more crucially, does it rank high on the hip-o-meter?
"I think it does," she rejoined. "I don't think any of us are hipsters in our own right. But we're definitely the hipster dance company."