Inside, the theater's black walls and black floors gave the dancers a refuge from the shimmering light. Six of them, clad in black and sweaty, were moving through the graceful turns of "Just Because," a lovely amalgam of modern and ballet set to "Switched on Bach."
"Thank you, thank you!" choreographer Wendy Joy cried when they were finished. "I love it."
The dancers were pleased, but they had to keep their elation down to a whisper. They didn't want their whoops to be recorded by the TV equipment in the next room. The troupe's two artistic directors were behind closed doors, giving their first-ever television interview, to Soo Young Lee, arts reporter for KUAT-TV's Arizona Illustrated.
"We were really excited," a delighted Nancy Mellan explained later. The TV exposure "was a first. ... This is an opportunity to introduce ZUZI to the community."
Mellan and Nanette Robinson, who founded the troupe almost four years ago, were thrilled that the TV feature, scheduled for Thursday, April 18, would precede this weekend's concert, an eight-choreographer extravaganza that might be their biggest undertaking yet. But they haven't been sitting around pining for media attention.
"Our focus has been on the work," Mellan said. "There are many aspects to this company: creating artistically, teaching at our school, and a whole community relations aspect. We just dig in and go to work."
The company, for instance, each December undertakes a Winter Solstice concert that they hope will one day become a tradition along the lines of the city's annual outpouring of Nutcrackers. A project with older women and young girls from the community yielded last year's Cantadoras, a joint performance with the professional dancers. And ZUZI offers local choreographers periodic Cheap Thrills concerts where they can show off dancerly works that are still under construction.
With eight new dancers joining the company last fall, this spring's Group Motion concert will feature a mix of performers who range from seasoned pros to fresh newcomers. ZUZI prides itself as a safe haven for budding choreographers as well, and the show has plenty of new ones to show off. Nicole Buffan, a well-known local dancer who recently switched from Orts Theatre of Dance to ZUZI, will perform her new trapeze solo, "Save My Soul." ZUZI dancer-turned-choreographer Yumi Shirai drew on traditional Japanese movement for her piece, "The Way You Are." An ambitious work for eight dancers, it features new music by the peerless singer Cantrell Maryott Driver and David Driver, sung live by Cantrell. Other works run the gamut from Joy's ballet-inspired Bach to straight modern to a new hoops work by Robinson.
"A good metaphor for the concert is that it's like a bouquet of spring wildflowers," Mellan said. "All together, they're beautiful."
"Girl in the Window," a collaboration between Beth Braun and composer/musician Arthur Miscione, draws on The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Readings from the diary will mesh with the recorded music in a sound collage. Braun, a ZUZI member whose own troupe, beth braun dance partnership, will give a separate concert May 25, will dance the modern work with Joy and Shirai.
Another Braun piece was developed with Peggy Paver, a new ZUZI member who heads the modern-dance program at University/Rincon High School. The pair composed "Generational Musings" for their students when they job-shared at the high school last year, and now they've set the work on ZUZI's 16 dancers.
"This relates back to the idea that the process of teaching and learning relates to performing," Mellan said. "Nanette and I are proud that this piece had its beginning in a high school and now its evolution has brought it to ZUZI."
Nathan Dryden, who frequently wows audiences with his exploits on the trapeze, this time stays on the floor--more or less--in his solo "UM." "A very fun exploration of breath, sound, voice and movement," according to Mellan, the piece enlists musicians Miscione and John Neighbors, who will play live.
Dryden also dances with Shirai and Gregory Colburn in Colburn's "Trois Gymnopédies," a piece set to Satie that had its premiere in another form several years ago. Robinson said Colburn's piece will be a "sweet, wonderful intro to the whole thing."
Robinson's own work, "Falling Angels and Broken Wings," a dance for seven, closes the evening. It deploys large hoops, not trapezes, in the air.
"Part of it is an aerial piece, with hoops suspended from the ceiling," Robinson said. "The hoops are just turning on a swivel. The dancers have to stay connected--it's like a pendulum. ... The dancers are something like angels."
Added Mellan: "It's really lovely, mesmerizing visually."