Once upon a time the space occupied by Etherton Gallery was a ballroom.
On Friday night, dancers will return to the space to dance with paintings. Two dancers and a musician with LA's Sunland Dancers will perform against a backdrop of the luminous abstracted landscapes works of the late, great Nancy Tokar Miller.
Musician/composer Tara Jane O'Neil will perform her own composition for "Gateway," a dance choreographed by company founder Jmy James Kidd. The second dancer is Perin Hailey McNelis, a native Tucsonan who trained at Ballet Arts School.
For years, McNelis dazzled local audiences with her graceful dancing and she went on to win a coveted place in the dance program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. Now living in Los Angeles, she also choreographs, and has had work performed at venues in both LA and New York.
"I saw her dance at the Hammer Museum as part of the `Made in LA' show last summer," says Etherton director Hannah Glasston, who has known McNelis since childhood. "The dance was very good, high quality, and she really stood out for her classical training."
When McNelis later contacted Glasston asking for ideas on where Sunland might perform in Tucson, the gallery director replied, "Why not here?"
Etherton's goal, is "to do events during the run of each show that are cross-disciplinary," Glasston says. During last winter's exhibition of Jamey Stillings' photos of a massive solar plant, the gallery staged a panel discussion about solar energy. This summer, during the run of "The Artists of Citizens Warehouse," a show opening June 16, experts on historic preservation will speak.
James Kidd's dance "Gateway" fits right in with the program. The current exhibition is a retrospective of the work of Tokar Miller, who died last April.
"Gateway," a work-in-progress, is about "my own acceptance of death," choreographer James Kidd wrote in an artist's statement. She had presented an early version of the piece at LA's New Museum in February, and then began setting it on the Sunland dancers. In March she learned that her father was ill with a rapidly spreading cancer. During the month that remained of his life, "between being with and caring for him, I only wanted to sleep and rehearse," she said. Her father died on April 20.
"Gateway," she said, "is about the acceptance of death, as well as transitions, passing and shifting."
Sunland Dancers gives a free performance of "Gateway" at 7 p.m. Friday, May 15, at Etherton Gallery, 135 S. Sixth Ave., 624-7370, www.ethertongallery.com. The concert is paired with the exhibition "Nancy Tokar Miller: A Celebration," which remains up at the gallery through June 6.