With concerts offering everything from classical ballet to contemporary performance, Tucson dance fans this week get an encapsulated history of the last century and a quarter of dance.
The Moscow Festival Ballet, founded by Bolshoi Ballet star Sergei Radchenko, on Thursday stages one of the oldest of Russian classical story ballets, Petipa's 1869 Don Quixote. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra plays the music by Leon Minkus live at Centennial Hall.
Next, Annie Bunker, who trained in ballet as a teenager, brings her Orts Theatre of Dance to the Pima Center for the Arts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the concert Soaring Sensibilities. Inadvertently continuing with the historical theme, Orts turns in some numbers inspired by the modern classicism that grew out of ballet, while others trail-blaze the new modern-dance frontiers, mixing genres and even going to the air on the troupe's trademark trapezes.
Tucson's NEW ARTiculations presents a wholly contemporary evening of vignettes that deploy dance as just one element in a mix of theater, music, text and video. A master's degree concert choreographed by company co-founder Leigh Ann Rangel, Void Where Prohibited will be performed Friday and Saturday at the historic YWCA.
SERGEI RADCHENKO PHONED IN last week from a Los Angeles suburb, where his intrepid touring dancers had just danced one hour of Don Quixote for an auditorium full of schoolkids.
"It was very agreeable but they were very noisy," he said with a laugh, his English heavily accented.
The Russians are coming to Tucson in the second month of a grueling four-month tour, which will end in Alaska in June. Now numbering some 50 dancers, the Moscow Festival Ballet got its start in 1989 "after Perestroika," Radchenko said. "I wanted to realize my vision of the classical elements of both the Kirov and the Bolshoi ballets. I decided to organize a private company."
The political changes that ultimately led to the dismemberment of the Soviet Union allowed for the heretofore unheard-of creation of a troupe independent of the state. Nevertheless, all his dancers have trained in the strict Russian system, beginning at the age of 9; many danced previously with the Kirov and Bolshoi. Radchenko himself followed this program, leading to a 25-year career as a principal dancer with the Bolshoi.
For the American tour, his dancers are performing what the Russians still do best: 19th-century classics, showing off to the Yanks the ballet tradition that helped shape dance all across the western world.
"Don Quixote is a full-length ballet in two acts," Radchenko said. His troupe's version, though it follows Petipa's, is trimmed to "under two hours. Americans can't survive three or four hours."
Based on the Cervantes novel about the hapless would-be knight, the ballet was first staged by the renowned Marius Petipa in Moscow in 1869. Petipa revised the work for its St. Petersburg debut two years later, slimming down its broad comedy in favor of its now-famous virtuoso dancing. If they haven't seen the full ballet, most American fans have likely seen the popular excerpt, the "Don Quixote Pas de Deux," a firecracker duet danced by Kitri, an innkeeper's daughter whom the Don believes is his ideal Dulcinea, and her beloved Basilio.
The dramatic red costumes are Spanish-flavored, and so is the dance.
"I have a big love of Spanish dancing," Radchenko said. "I studied in Madrid. In the Bolshoi I performed Don Quixote many times. I know how to dance it and so do our dancers."
ANNIE BUNKER, ARTISTIC director of Orts Theatre of Dance, once upon a time trained with the Hartford Ballet under Michael Uthoff, who until recently led Ballet Arizona. But the training was fortuitously eclectic--"I did modern, ballet, jazz," and Bunker decided to specialize in modern. She worked with Cleo Robinson in Denver and ultimately started up what would become Tucson's premiere modern-dance company.
Still, her signature trapeze works are like "ballet in the air," she maintained.
Her popular trapeze dances make up almost half the pieces in this weekend's concerts, though the troupe has been tinkering with the flying gadgets to such an extent that they're moving beyond the trapeze label. "NeuroSporatic," an "aerial mobile" work for nine making its debut at the show, uses a complicated giant mobile and a fabric swing. The rig is so tricky it was cut at the last minute from last fall's Balanced Edge performance piece.
"The mobile represents one gene, and the fabric trapeze represents another gene," Bunker explained. "They mutate and come together. They merge." The music is by Chuck Koesters, the company's technical wizard, who guarantees that the contraption will actually make it to the stage this time.
Two other excerpts from Balanced Edge will also be danced as separate pieces. "Skywire," a work for five, feature traps and boxes, and a video backdrop by Koesters. In "Weight the Air," also set to Koesters' videography and music, dancers swing on sandbags.
A couple of company dancers are premiering their own new works. Charles Thompson's "Onadark," a group work for five, is a "combination of martial arts and modern dance, very fast-moving." Elizabeth Breck's "Dream Yoga," inspired by the meditative practices of Tibetan Buddhism, is danced by seven to an eclectic collage of music by Puccini, Patsy Cline and kodo drummers.
An old audience favorite, "... Do Us Part" is a marital satire by Denver choreographer Jan Justis. Last revived by Orts in November '99, the piece features Bunker and Thompson as a warring couple; it was inspired, Bunker said, by the moms and dads of Justis's 1950s childhood.
The company's newest dancer, Sarah Lybarger, joins Bunker and Mimi Chen in Bunker's trio "Speaking Places." Inspired by a trip Bunker and Koesters took with their family to Scotland several years ago, the piece is set among videotaped ruins of Scottish castles. Performed to the traditional Scottish music of Skydance, the piece evokes Bunker's "intense impression of feeling contact with the people (of the past) and the ghosts in the walls."
Local poet Richard Tavenner rounds out the program with a recitation of his work.
"I'VE BEEN EXPLORING VARIOUS mediums and integrating them into my choreography: video, theatre, songs, text," said Leigh Ann Rangel, who composed all the works for Void Where Prohibited. "It's one performance composed of eight vignettes. They focus on the roles and expectations imposed on us by society. The emphasis is on women, but it's more universal."
Rangel didn't want to give too much away in advance, but she revealed that a piece called "Millennium Bride" has a "bride in a wedding dress. She carries 12 yards of red tulle. It's humorous. She says all these different adjectives of expectations from everybody from feminists to traditionalists." The adjectives start out "demure," go on to "independent" and then "go into the ridiculous" with "omnivorous," said Rangel, who plays the bride. The piece won a prize last October at a student showcase at the UA, where Rangel will earn her MFA in dance this spring.
A couple of "pure dance" pieces include "Hysteria," whose movements mimic descriptions of 19th-century feminine "hysterics," whom doctors diagnosed as insufficiently adjusted to their womanly roles. "All about Lips," a "history of lipstick," is a video Rangel made in collaboration with Eric Powell.
Rangel will perform along with her NEW ART cohorts, whom she credits as her collaborators. A cofounder of the 4-year-old troupe, Rangel says the company is thriving. Once armed with her new MFA, she hopes to land a job teaching dance in the public schools while continuing to dance with NEW ART.
The Moscow Festival Ballet, accompanied by the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, dances Don Quixote at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 15 at the UA Centennial Hall. Melissa Lowe, a ballerina who teaches in the UA dance division, gives a free talk at 6:45 p.m. in Room 102 of the Center for English as a Second Language, 1100 E. North Campus Drive. Concert tickets are $48 to $60, with discounts offered to students, children and UA employees. For tickets and information call the box office at 621-3341 or buy online at tickets.com at http://uapresents.arizona.edu.
Orts Theatre of Dance presents Soaring Sensibilities at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, February 16 and 17, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, February 18 at the Pima Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Advance tickets are $10 for students and seniors, $12 general at Antigone Books, Silverbell Trading, Bentley's, the box office or online at email@example.com. Tickets are $2 more day of the show. For more information call 624-3799.
NEW ARTiculations performs Leigh Ann Rangel's Void Where Prohibited at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, February 16 and 17, at the Historic YWCA, 738 N. Fifth Ave. Tickets are $8 for students and seniors, $10 general. For more information call 882-0318.