CHOREOGRAPHER NANCY McCaleb of San Diego swears by the notion of "synchronicity." You won't find the word in the dictionary but that doesn't stop it from happening to McCaleb all the time anyway. What is it? "Coincidences happen! And they happen when you need them."
It was synchronicity that got McCaleb together with Tenth Street Danceworks for this weekend's collaborative concert with The Tucson Symphony Orchestra String Quartet at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts. Charlotte Adams, Tenth Street's artistic director, had gone to San Diego for a dance conference a year ago and found herself captivated by a performance of McCaleb's company, the renowned Isaacs, McCaleb and Dancers.
"It turns out Charlotte and I both studied with a former José Limon dancer, Betty Jones. I studied with her in Hawaii. She's a really famous dance teacher. So Charlotte and I had an affinity for each other's movement."
That shared background developed into a happy collaboration that has both women singing the other's praises. McCaleb came to Tucson to choreograph a new piece on the Tenth Street dancers, whom she describes as a "real solid group. They understand my body language and vocabulary. I would hardly say anything and they would get what I meant." For her part, Adams says, "It was the best experience I've had working with another artist." Adams knows whereof she speaks. McCaleb and the TSO String Quartet are just the latest in a long line of collaborators with Tenth Street. Over the last several years, Adams has ushered the company through a series of "artistic collisions" with groups as wildly diverse as a gospel choir and the Tucson Police SWAT team.
The new McCaleb work, "Tango Matador," premieres Friday night in the Strings Attached concert. It's a "modern dance that's tango-esque," McCaleb says. The TSO quartet, with David Rise and Michael Russell on violins, Ilona Gay on viola and Mary Beth Tyndall on cello, will accompany the five dancers with a piece by Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla. Dancing will be Tenth Streeters Thom Lewis, Paulette Cauthorn, Chieko Imada, Caryl Clement and Adams herself.
A little bit of synchronicity was at play here, too. At the beginning of the project (which, by the way, was funded in part by the now-threatened Arizona Commission on the Arts), Adams sent McCaleb a tape of pieces that the TSO quartet was interested in playing at the concert. From the tape, McCaleb picked out a Torina work she liked called "Bullfighter's Prayer." When McCaleb got to Tucson, she says, she took one look at Lewis, tall, slim and dark-haired, and said, "My God! The matador."
So she was hard at work thinking matador moves, when violist Gay took her aside and told her the musicians had decided they'd rather play something a little more upbeat, such as the tango music by Piazzolla. "I had started the dance with the bullfighter in my mind and I had gotten quite far along," McCaleb remembers. "So I did a little research. I went to Hear's Music (in Tucson) and asked, 'Do you guys have any Spanish tango?' " They did. It turns out, she says, that tango was all the rage in Barcelona in the 1920s and the music was right there on an old record.
The upshot was that McCaleb mixed her metaphors, brewing in Argentine tango music with Spanish tango and bullfight moves. "It worked for me to do this funny tango/bullfight piece," she says. "I'm using this old 78 RPM tango from the '20s and I mixed it with the sounds of the bullfight and fanfare. Then at the right moment the quartet comes in with the Piazzolla tango."
Isaacs, McCaleb and dancers will also come to town to perform in the concert. They're doing another McCaleb piece, "Café Apasionado," a work for eight dancers also set to tango music, this time taped. Why the proliferation of tango-inspired dances? Just last weekend, A Ludwig Dancers of Tempe performed still another tango at the Arizona Contemporary Dance Festival. "The music just gives you so much," says McCaleb, who saw the festival. "But my piece is very different from Ann Ludwig's. Hers was a real period piece."
Tenth Street will also offer up some dances of their own. An Adams duet, the knockout "If Love Could Die," also seen in the festival, will be performed to taped choral music, but the string quartet will play for the other two. Kevin Schroder will contribute a new trio, as yet untitled, set to Borodin's "Nocturne," and danced by Cauthorn, Clement and Schroder himself. Adams premieres "My Love," a duet for Amada and Carolyn Minor, with music by Dvorak. The quartet will also offer up musical interludes between the Tenth Street pieces.
"It's very exciting to have live music," Adams says.
"There's something so great about live music," McCaleb echoes, in symmetry, if not in synchronicity. "It's just different. There are interactions between dancers and live musicians. And they might help to bring Tenth Street a new audience."
Strings Attached presented by Tenth Street Danceworks and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra String Quartet, will begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, February 17 and 18, at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Regular tickets are $10; students and seniors get a $2 discount. You can buy them at Dillard's, at the door or by calling 795-6980.
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