Bible Boppin'

Zenith Dance Collective Gets Religion.
By Margaret Regan

ON HOLY THURSDAY, on Good Friday and on Holy Saturday, a sextet of Tucson modern dancers will be dancing to three psalms from the Bible.

"I chose to do it because of Easter," explains choreographer Katharine Harts, one of six adventurous local choreographers who will be showcasing new works at the Zenith Dance Collective's choreographer's concert this week. She'll also perform in the piece, along with dancers Elizabeth Breck, Tzu-Hua Chen, Jennifer Grisham, Nanette Marie and Tricia VanderWoude.

The title of Harts' work, "Dia-Gnosis," has a double meaning: It's about spiritual knowledge (gnosis) as well as the diagnosis of illness.

"It's set to Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. Psalm 39, the first movement, is a lament to God. The person is very ill and God never listens. In Psalm 40, the second movement, God has 'inclined his ear.' "

In the third and final movement, Psalm 150, the psalmist joyously praises the Lord, intoning, "Praise him with the blast of the trumpet, praise him with lyre and harp."

Besides its seasonal message of spiritual and physical rebirth, Harts' piece also testifies to the good news that avant-garde choreography is alive and well in Tucson. The Zenith Dance Collective has been around since 1989, says one of its founders, Sheryl Oden, though with a changing roster of members and various levels of activity.

The loose coalition's only requirement for membership is that its choreographers must have already produced their own work. Many of the members also have relationships with local dance troupes, and Zenith is in part an outlet for their own work. The choreographers put on joint concerts, though infrequently, do improvisational performances occasionally and share a commitment to avant-garde work.

"We're more willing to challenge the audience, as opposed to placating them," says Oden, who by day teaches modern dance and choreography at Tucson Magnet High. "There's a good deal of entertainment value, but we tend to work experimentally."

Those experiments can mean trapezes, as in the case of Harts' piece and in "Night Weaving," a solo by former Orts member Nanette Marie. They can mean the addition of text to movement to equal a hybrid that's more appropriately labeled dance theater. Eva Tessler's duet, "Another Like Herself," makes liberal use of passages from the Samuel Beckett play Rockaby in its treatment of the mother-daughter relationship, danced by Oden and Marie. (Tessler is affiliated with Borderlands Theater and teaches ballet at Tucson High.)

The experiments can also mean rupturing the conventional space of the stage. Jon McNamara, one of the newest members, will show "Man at 37 Degrees," an all-male piece for four dancers that "uses breakage of the stage space," according to colleague Kevin Schroder. "They perform in different areas." The dancers are McNamara, Bob Stigert, Paul Weir and Brandon (apparently Brandon doesn't have a last name).

Schroder himself, associate artistic director of Tenth Street Danceworks, will be showing a work in progress he expects to stage in finished form at Tenth Street's May concert. As yet untitled, the trio for Schroder, Breck and Tenth Streeter Chieko Imada "is built around a stationary image. Chieko does a 10-minute stationary solo, on the floor, moving. It's choreography on a small scale."

Oden will contribute an older work, 1991's "3 Chopin Waltzes," a quartet for women (Oden, Tessler, Harts and Breck), along with a solo work in progress.

Sketches: A Choreographers' Showcase will be performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, March 27, Friday, March 28, and Saturday, March 29, at the Tucson Center for the Performing Arts, 408 S. Sixth Ave. Tickets are $10 at the door, with senior tickets going for $8, students' and children's for $6. General admission advance tickets are $8 at Bentley's. For more information call 322-9021. TW

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