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Seeing the Light 

ZUZI! celebrates the solstice as Zeffirelli calls for an end to the war

Last summer, before the monsoons hit, Nanette Robinson was longing for rain, like everybody else in parched Tucson.

"It was really dry, and I was feeling the urge to be by water," says Robinson, artistic director of ZUZI! Dance Company. "So I went up to the Gila River in New Mexico." By the river's flowing stream, she began to think about how the movement of water "relates to dance."

Weeks later, back in Tucson, "It started raining and raining. Everybody rushed to the Rillito to see the water." And Robinson knew she had the theme for her troupe's ninth annual Solstice Concert: Deep River.

A celebration of light in the darkest days of winter, the concert brings together dancers, singers and musicians this weekend and next to the ZUZI! Theater in the Historic YWCA. (This weekend, Zeffirelli 8 Dance Company provides a counterpoint, an anti-war dance/theater performance. See below.) The ZUZI show takes a line from Langston Hughes--"My soul has grown deep like the river"--as its leitmotif. And poetry, by Hughes, Gary Snyder and Margaret Atwood, is woven into the dances, Robinson says.

The hour-long concert opens with a live rendition of the traditional gospel hymn "Wade in the Water," sung to flute played by Elena Martin and keyboards by Alison Torba. Torba also sings, and she'll be joined by Maile Nadelhoffer and Alison Akmajian, a dancer in the troupe's youth company, in belting out the rousing hymn, made familiar to modern-dance lovers by its place in Alvin Ailey's Revelations. Dancer Alison Hart will perform a solo during the piece, while the rest of the troupe moves onto the stage.

"Water is a life force," Robinson says, "but it's also about renewal, loss and continuity." ZUZI was hit hard by the death earlier this year of Arthur Miscione, the husband of member Beth Braun and a musician who often collaborated with the troupe. After Miscione's death, Robinson says, the question for the company became, "How do you renew?"

Art offers one answer: The concert showcases three pieces of choreography by Braun. After an absence from the stage, Braun returns to dance a tribute to her late husband and art partner. Her solo, "The Space Between Us," is an excerpt from the evening-length work Journey, a modern dance and music work the couple composed and performed with numerous artists several times in the early 2000s.

Six other company members will join Braun in "Instantaneity of Light," an earlier group work that she recently restaged. Set to recorded cello music played by Yo-Yo Ma, the piece will be danced by Braun, Hart, Jennifer Hoefle, Yumi Shirai, Wendy Joy, Lia Greisser and the recently wed Nicole Sanchez, formerly Nicole Buffan.

The mood shifts with "Abrupt Falls, Whirling Stretches." It's a "fun piece with fast tumbling, like a whirlpool," Robinson says, danced to music by Bobby McFerrin. She and Braun co-choreographed the work for the company's four new apprentices, drawn from Braun's dance students at University High School. Jessie Stewart, Ariel Meyers and Katie Giallardo are now at the UA, while Audrey Copeland is still in high school.

Ten even younger dancers from Many Limbs Youth Aerial Company, ages 10 to 14, will dance with trapezes and long stretches of fabric in "Truth in Passing." It's meant to evoke a "rope bridge across the Amazon," says Robinson, who co-choreographed with Hoefle. This year's community work, "Watershed," uses a trapeze for the first time. Workshopped during the fall by 10 volunteer nondancers, it's inspired by a line from the poet Snyder, about "familial branching" forming "a definition of place," Robinson says. "And this year, we have three mothers and three daughters in the piece."

The Atwood poem "Variations on the Word Sleep" inspired "Another Yourself," a trapeze work choreographed by Robinson. Danced by Hoefle and Sanchez, the duet is a "chart of a relationship." The pair meet, then connect, and then fly solo, with Hoefle soaring blindfolded on the trapeze, before the dancers overlap once more.

The grand finale, Robinson's "Spirit Boat," reunites the whole company on stage. Divided into four sections, it has a soundscape of river and storm sounds recorded by Robinson and tech engineer Mark Miceli at the Gila River. Martin returns with her flute, and Torba will sing a Native American chant.

"A lot of shamanic journeys re-enact the image of a boat for healing," Robinson notes. "That's exactly what we're doing."

Lucia Zeffirelli weaves live and recorded readings in between the six dances she's choreographed for Get Out Your Handkerchief, her anti-war show at Stevie Eller. In the opening number, a mix of dialogue and music, Condoleezza Rice's voice turns up, as do Dick Cheney's and President Bush's.

"It is not Bush-bashing, but it is intended to raise consciousness regarding the consequences of war," Zeffirelli says by e-mail.

The Rice-Cheney-Bush recordings are mixed in with excerpts from John Lennon's "Give Me Some Truth." They're followed by six dances set to music ranging from Philip Glass to Mozart to Nine Inch Nails. The movement pieces depict scenarios now all too familiar in the long-running war in Iraq.

In one duet, a woman bids farewell to a husband called back to battle. Another depicts the death of an Iraqi child, while a third is set in the future, as an old woman remembers a son killed in the war. But the final work offers up a flicker of hope: three women representing Christianity, Islam and Judaism "dancing together in peace."

A dancer some years ago with Orts (now O-T-O Dance), Zeffirelli assembled a pickup troupe of a dozen dancers, a number of whom have worked with FUNHOUSE movement theater, ZUZI, NEW ART and Flor de Liz. They include Jack Wiley, Sherry Mulholland and Sabina Burke.

"They have congregated for this performance," Zeffirelli writes, "because they would ... like to see an end to this war."

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