Ashley Bowman and Joanne Jaglowski are mapping out a new piece to the thundering chorus of Mozart's Requiem. But Bowman is giving instructions to Jaglowski ("Here's a huge big arabesque. Hold it in a fondue stretch. Yeah!"), and Jaglowski is mirroring Bowman's every move.
A former dancer with Ohio Ballet, Bowman has turned choreographer, at least for the time being.
"I've been working on this mentally for six months," she says excitedly, before jumping back into the dance with a toss of her ponytail. "But this is our third rehearsal."
One studio over, and light years removed from Mozart's majesty, the dissonant Radiohead hit "Idioteque" is serving as the soundtrack for three young dancers in motion. Aurora Frey, Samantha Chang and Nadia Ali are moving through a jazzy trio. They spread out across the studio in a diagonal line, leap and twist separately, then together, and jump up and down, hugging their arms across their chests.
"It's a very rough work in progress," Frey cautions politely. She's the choreographer of record, but she protests that it's a group work. "We're all working together on it."
All five dancers are preparing for next week's Ballet Tucson ROCS! (Roots of Choreography Showcase), the brainchild of new company executive director Jeffrey Graham Hughes. Eight company dancers, guest artist Bowman and two UA guest dancers have been given a shot at creating their own dances for the concert, scheduled for Wednesday, April 4, at the UA Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. Their fellow dancers will perform the new works.
"It will be really fun," Hughes says. "The dancers enjoy it, and it's good for them to work with their peers."
Dancers at all levels were invited to contribute. Daniel Precup, the troupe's leading danseur, and frequent soloist Deanna Doncsecz are choreographing pieces, and so are apprentices Margaret Mullin and Isaac Sharratt.
Chang and Jaglowski will switch sides during the concert, going from choreographee to choreographer. Eighteen-year-old Chang, who just started with Ballet Tucson this season after a stint with the short-lived Ballet Pacifica, is creating a "big-band ballet" for six dancers.
"I always choreographed in high school," she says, "but it's fabulous working with such great dancers."
Frey, 21, studied choreography with company artistic director Mary-Beth Cabana during her six years at the troupe's Ballet Arts school, but this is her first chance to show her work in a formal concert. She just came back to town as a member of the corps after two years apprenticing at Alabama Ballet and before that studying with Leslie Browne at Steps studio in New York.
The time away opened her eyes to the value of her hometown training, she says--"Mary-Beth did such a great job preparing us. Her standards are above everyone else's"--and she's delighted to be back dancing as a paid pro.
"It's such a blessing," she says. John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow, former American Ballet Theatre stars now on staff at Ballet Tucson, are "great, very supportive."
The ROCS concert has an educational mission, with the aim of teaching concertgoers how dances are made. Hughes will emcee a Q&A session after the show and do a "choreographic exercise on the stage," he says. "The audience will get caught up in the process of choreography."
Hughes dreamed up the concept--and the ROCS acronym--when he was artistic director with Ohio Ballet. He found that upending the choreographer-dancer dynamic was instructive all around.
"At Ohio Ballet, we had one young lady who used to get impatient with the choreographers," he remembers. But after she got a chance to choreograph herself for the showcase, she had a new perspective. "She said, 'I'm not going to be impatient anymore. Now I know what it's like to stand there trying to work something out, and dancers standing around waiting for you.'"
No such diva attitudes are on display during the Bowman-Jaglowski rehearsal. Jaglowski, a member of Ballet Tucson for all three of its pro seasons, is quiet and intent during Bowman's session. She listens carefully, asks the occasional question and then does exactly what's asked.
She dances with precision and grace, embodying the solemnity of Mozart's work, the last piece he composed before he died. The effervescent Bowen nods approvingly.
"With just one person on stage, you can't do justice to all of the Requiem," she advises, "but you can do it your own justice."