Filler Dance Card

Two Companies Bring Ballet To Tucson Stages.
By Margaret Regan

BALLET ARIZONA'S PRODUCTION of Romeo and Juliet this Saturday night at the Music Hall will have a conciliatory subtext: The two dancers taking the parts of the tragic lovers got married in real life last summer.

"I was the 'father' of the bride," proudly says company artistic director Michael Uthoff. The dancers, Qisheng Zhang (Romeo) and Yen-Li Chen-Zhang (Juliet), of China and Taiwan, respectively, are extraordinarily supple performers who have been seen before during forays to Tucson by the Phoenix-based company.

Uthoff, 53, also takes on a small dancing role as Juliet's father in the ballet. He first choreographed his streamlined version of the modern classic in 1980 for the Hartford Ballet, which is lending scenery and costumes to this production. His two-hour version, down from the usual three, danced to a Prokofiev score, "solely revolves around Romeo and Juliet, and the futility of hatred among families."

That lesson appears to have been lost on the warring factions of Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. Monday night at the Music Hall, Southwest Dance is bringing in a troupe that goes by the name of Stars of the Bolshoi Ballet Company of Fifty. The program for the show, mostly a series of short excerpts from Don Quixote, Swan Lake and various other pas de deux, gives credit to Yuri Grigorovich for "artistic direction."

The problem? The iron-fisted Grigorovich was forced out of his job as Bolshoi director a year ago, in March 1995. His resignation came at the end of a stormy 30-year reign during which he was accused of miring the company in conservative works of the past. And his successor, the former Bolshoi dancer Vladimir Vasilyev, in January told The New York Times that promoters should beware of touring companies using the Bolshoi name without authorization. The real Bolshoi, he said, will not return to the U.S. until 1998.

So just who is coming to Tucson?

Image "They are dancers who dance with the main ballet in Moscow," says Chuck Fischl of Southwest Dance. "The contracts for this tour were signed two years ago (when Grigorovich was still director). The tour was sanctioned by him two years ago."

Andrew Grossman, program manager for tour sponsor Columbia Artists in New York, dismisses the controversy. He throws out the unlikely possibility that there might have been a translation problem when the Russian-speaking Vasilyev was interviewed by the respected Times critic Anna Kisselgoff. In any case, he asserts, his sources within the Bolshoi tell him Vasilyev was criticizing still another Bolshoi touring company, not the one that will be in Tucson. And whatever Grossman says, it's well known in the dance world that Vasilyev and Grigorovich have been feuding for years.

"The Bolshoi is in a chaotic state," Grossman says. "But Yuri Grigorovich continues to be chief choreographer.... I engaged him to do the artistic direction for this tour because Vasilyev did not have the expertise. What the Tucson audience will see are Bolshoi dancers doing Yuri Grigorovich dances."

In any case, the brand-name cachet of the Bolshoi has definitely boosted ticket sales. Tucsonans snatched up all the top tickets, priced at an unseemly $75, leaving only several hundred $22.50 tickets available at press time.

As for Ballet Arizona, under Uthoff's direction it continues to make an honest effort to forge new forms of ballet. (Its last concert, a program of four modern ballet works called The Masters, staged in Tucson a month ago, was the best thing the company has yet performed here.) Though the troupe offered eight performances of Romeo and Juliet in Phoenix, it scaled down to just one in the Old Pueblo, where it's had trouble building an audience. Uthoff hopes to attract audiences by occasionally offering more contemporary versions of the older narrative ballets. But he refuses to crank out hoary chestnuts of the kind that led to the Bolshoi's diminished reputation.

"I'm sure they'll be good dancers," he says of the Stars of the Bolshoi troupe, "but what they're doing is detrimental to dance: a series of pas de deux. I rebel against that. They have no concern for the art form."

Ballet Arizona performs Romeo and Juliet at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 20, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $16, $21 and $26, with $3 off for senior citizens and for children 16 and under. Tickets are available at the door or over the phone, for a fee, at the box office at 791-4836.

Stars of the Bolshoi Company of Fifty performs at 8 p.m., Monday, April 22, at the TCC Music Hall. Remaining tickets are $22.50, available for a fee by calling 791-4836. TW

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