SMILING AT THE CRUCIFICTION: You'd expect Jill Ann Smith to be at least a little negative about the Tucson arts scene, considering that last month she and partner Louisa Groom had to close down a gallery they'd run for three years. And you might further expect a gloomy outlook on life, considering the Crucifixion motif of her outdoor dance piece and visual art show this Saturday night.
But she's anything but lugubrious. In fact, she's positively joyful about art life in the Old Pueblo.
Smith and Groom's gallery, New Doors of the Arts, was a vast converted industrial space in the so-called Lost Barrio Warehouse district on South Park. It started life as a sweatshop sewing factory--"There were needles all over the floor when we got it"--and the building's size helped run the gallery aground.
Smith's not given to mulling over her losses--"It's time to move on," she says cheerfully--and she adds she might look into opening another, smaller gallery at a later date. And with gleeful generosity, she makes sure to let me know that photographer Sharon Holnback-Katz's new Apparatus gallery across the street from Smith's old one is a well-run operation in a beautiful space.
The kind of collegiality so manifestly abundant in Smith is what delights her about other artists in town. It's also what gives her the most pleasure in the new Phantom Players group that's helping her put on her Procession Saturday night. The loose-knit collective, which includes Smith, Lenny Redhouse of the Redhouse Dancers, Quinn Simpson, Michael Leckrone and Susan Cullen, was conceived over many cups of coffee.
Phantom Players burst unannounced into public view at a Downtown Saturday Night in June with Fencepost Piece, a work-in-progress combining glass pieces by Cullen and performance art. Similarly, Smith's Procession is an amalgam of visual art and dance. It begins around 8 or 8:30 p.m. this Saturday at Cafe Sweetwater, 340 E. Sixth St., where Smith will be exhibiting for one night only the 10 pieces of her Crucifixion series. These semi-abstracted works, of found metal, plaster, glass and other media, are metaphorical takes on the "crucifixions everyone's been through." In one work, for instance "Warrior Woman," Smith twists scrap metal into the torso of a woman who's fought a lot of battles. The Procession "finalizes the series and culminates in the third dimension."
The troupe will undulate south on Fourth Avenue, wearing robes and masks, and playing drums, bells, rainsticks and Tibeten bowls. The procession, Smith says, represents not only the old Mission Trail that brought Catholicism from Mexico into what is now the U.S., but also the idea that people can be united with Christ without the mediation of the Church. The performers will arrive at the Ronstadt Transit Center at Sixth Avenue and Congress Street around 9 p.m. and dance a 15- to 20-minute work choreographed by Smith and Cullen.
Tucsonans can expect to see more of the Phantom Players as time goes on. As the ebullient Smith says, "They're the most exciting thing in my life right now."
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