Each year, in the darkest days of December, ZUZI! Dance Company stages a Solstice concert.
Solstice, this Sunday, is the first day of winter, the shortest day and longest night of the year. But Solstice also signals that the days will soon begin to grow longer. The concert celebrates that shift, with the troupe's modern dancers performing works about light and using candles to brighten the way to the theater at night.
"We return to the sun, to the coming back of the light," says artistic director Nanette Robinson.
This year's concert, fittingly titled "Return," not only celebrates the longer days to come. It also welcomes the return of four ZUZI dancers who have moved on to dance elsewhere in the wide world.
"This is the first time we've had so many dancers return," Robinson says.
The former company members, Nathan Dryden, Alison Hart, Bridget Gunning and Mechelle Tunstall, are coming back to town to perform their own choreography at this weekend's concerts.
The 70-minute show will feature eight works, alternating between modern dance on the floor and trapeze dances in the air, performed by the guests as well as current troupe members, apprentices, youth dancers and community dancers. At the final show on Sunday night, Allison Akmajian will sing live.
Guest artist Dryden, an acclaimed modern dancer who performed in nearly all the troupes that once graced Tucson—including O-T-O Dance, NEW ARTiculations, Funhouse and Beth Braun Dancers—was "in our first batch of dancers," Robinson says.
Since leaving the Old Pueblo, he has performed and taught around the U.S. and abroad. Now working toward an MFA at the University of Utah, he's known for his skill on the trapeze. But for the ZUZI show, he'll perform a solo dance on the floor, "The Rather Long Goodbye."
Hart created "incredible choreography" during her ZUZI years from 2005 to 2011, Robinson said, besides dancing and directing the youth company. Now armed with an MFA from Cal State Long Beach, Hart teaches and performs in and around L.A. Hart will dance her "Naked Spotlight Silver." She writes that in the solo work she "uses light-emitting apparatus"—fitting for the dark season.
In 2006, Gunning left ZUZI and Tucson for Seattle, where she's now the "resident aerialist in a performance art bar," Robinson says. Gunning gives Tucson a taste of her current work, dancing in "A Delicate Thread." She describes it in a program note as a "solo fabric cloud swing piece."
Tunstall invited three company members, Amanda Boyd, Elizabeth Breck and Robinson, to join her on her quartet "Rose Ashes." The work uses the myth of the phoenix as a metaphor for Tunstall's "return to self and rebirth of my dancer self." Before her recent move to California, Tunstall danced with ZUZI and directed the apprentice company.
Current ZUZI-ites also choreographed works on the theme of return. "Coming/Going/Returning" reprises works by Robinson and Breck that were performed in "The Migrant Project" last month. The play, by Eugenia Woods, was based on the challenging real-life stories of migrants to Tucson.
These dances are "about a sense of place and home," Robinson says, "about returning to wholeness and a sense of self."