"Women have excelled, and they get written out of the history books," says choreographer Lee Anne Hartley, who first learned about Hypatia a few years ago by way of a few intriguing sentences about her in a book. After tracking down more information, she was able to reconstruct the mathematician's life in dance.
"Hypatia" is one of four new pieces of choreography that premieres this weekend in the debut concert of Hartley's modern-dance troupe FUNHOUSE movement theater. The show, appropriately enough, is called Welcome to the Funhouse.
Set to Arabic folk music and a narration, "Hypatia" is a 20-minute dance that evokes the city of Alexandria during its glory days in the early 400s A.D. At a rehearsal last week, belly dancers gyrated in the streets before a cohort of dancers in black monks' robes re-enacted the murder of Hypatia, danced by Hartley herself. Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, incited the killing by spreading tales of Hypatia's black magic, Hartley relates.
"Cyril," says Hartley, "was a man who wanted power and had to kill a woman to do it."
The large piece, divided into 5 segments, has a cast of 11 taking the parts of street women, Hypatia's companions and the murderous monks. The dancers are some of Tucson's best: Charles Thompson and Matthew Henley of Orts Theatre of Dance, Leigh Ann Rangel and Tammy Rosen of NEW ARTiculations, and Thom Lewis of 10th Street Danceworks. Performing in other works in the show are familiar faces Paulette Cauthorn of 10th Street; Mark English, who's danced at one time or another with nearly every local troupe; and Carolyn Minor, formerly with the nationally known Momix. Two newcomers from Canyon Movement in Flagstaff and several other locals have also joined the FUNHOUSE.
"We're cherry-picking the other companies for dancers," Hartley jokes.
Her new troupe likely will stage a concert just once a year, so she'll be stealing dancers from their home companies only occasionally. Lewis, however, is staying permanently: he's the co-artistic director of the new company. He's delighted, he says, that "I'll have a place to choreograph."
Long a mainstay of 10th Street, Lewis says he has missed the lively give-and-take he had with 10th Street artistic director Charlotte Adam when she was still in town. He both danced and choreographed for the company for many years.
"We used to have a wonderful time bouncing ideas off each other," Lewis said. Adam left town to accept a university teaching post, and though 10th Street has not been disbanded, Adam directs the company long distance. Lewis is re-creating the same fruitful synergy in the new collaboration with Hartley. They first met as undergrads at the UA back in the '70s. Hartley went off to Seattle to dance and choreograph, but returned to Tucson a few years ago eager to start up her own company. The pair worked together on Lewis' MFA concert when she first returned, and found they had a compatible aesthetic.
For all Seattle's reputation as an art center, Hartley says, she's found grant money for small art start-ups more forthcoming in the Old Pueblo. This show is underwritten by the Arizona Commission on the Arts, Tucson Pima Arts Council and several local businesses.
"Here, it's much different, more far-sighted," she notes.
The formation of the new company coincides with the end of Lewis' dancing career. He takes the part of the evil Cyril in "Hypatia"; he'll don kilt and leggings for his "Closet Irish -- gettin' jiggy with it"; and sashay on stilts in his "With Our Backs to the Ocean," but then he's hanging up his tights.
"This will be my final performance. I have a neck problem," says Lewis. "The doctor said no more performing, but I can still demonstrate, teach and choreograph. Now I'll have a place to choreograph."
Lewis' Irish work is a quartet featuring music by Black 47, the punk Irish band named in honor of the Irish famine of the late 1840s. A tribute to his Irish heritage, besides Lewis it features Hartley, English and Minor. A second Hartley work, "Hokusai Seascape," is a Japanese haiku come to life.
"With Our Backs to the Ocean" was inspired by Lewis' childhood forays to Radio City Music Hall, when the last of the vaudevillians performed between movies. Lewis is a ringmaster on stilts, surrounded by jugglers and clowns. With its circus atmosphere, the piece points to a playful artistic affinity with Hartley. She decided on the name FUNHOUSE for the company, because, she says, fun houses have "mirrors that distort, and show us how to look in a new way. And besides, the word itself is delightful."
FUNHOUSE movement theater performs the modern dance concert Welcome to the Funhouse at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 24 and 25, at TCC Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $8 in advance, $5 for high school students, available at Bentley's House of Coffee and Tea, Antigone Books, through high school teachers, and by phone at 749-1221. Tickets cost $10 at the door.