Sky View

Things are looking up for NEW ARTiculations dancers.

As the mountain burned last week and the smoke turned Tucson's skies into a gray pall, the NEW ARTiculations dancers were inside a studio rehearsing a new dance piece for this weekend's concert.

Its title? Sky.

"I hate titling pieces," said guest choreographer Jane Hawley, a co-founder of Black Earth Collaborative Arts, a company based in Michigan and Iowa. "A title puts things in a box. But I picked Sky because it all happens under the sky. The dancers are almost metaphors for clouds. ... The piece falls away from you, but by the end we (the audience) feel in it. The cloud formation comes right with us. It's the resolution after the storm."

Hawley and her husband, composer and fellow co-founder Tom Bourcier, arrived in town for an intensive two weeks of setting their evening-length piece on the dancers in time for the concert. They had never been to Tucson before, but their NEW ART collaborators quickly filled them in on the natives' seasonal longing for the monsoons, particularly in this year of the flames. As it happens, "Fire is in the text," Hawley said. "Maybe we'll bring on the rain."

As Hawley spoke, her four-month old son Beau firmly anchored on her hip, she watched a sextet of Tucson dancers at work. If they weren't summoning up real-life rainclouds to come to the Catalinas' rescue, at least they were doing their best to conjure them up in the studio. Nathan Dryden lifted NEW ART co-artistic director Leigh Ann Rangel under the arms, and then she returned the favor, and the push-pull movement had the two billowing across the studio like a couple of cumuluses. Other dancers melted into each other, then split apart, just the way clouds do.

Rangel and co-artistic director Tammy Rosen, who routinely collaborate with other choreographers, invited the Black Earth artists to town after seeing a video of their work. Hawley, who trained with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre in New York, works as an assistant professor dance at Luther College. Bourcier, who used to teach at the University of Illinois, has composed some 17 works of music for theater and dance performances. The pair say they like to create site-specific pieces that deploy professional dancers as well as community elders and toddlers. But a family situation almost prevented the family-oriented event ever from taking place.

"We have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old already, then I got pregnant," Hawley said. "I said, 'We can't do this. The baby is due in January.' Then I found out I was having twins! But Tammy and Leigh Ann said 'No, we'll help you out.' They've been so great. So now the whole family is here."

That includes the two artists and their four children, as well as a set of grandparents, Hawley's mother and father. Her parents and her two older children will all be in the piece, along with an older non-professional woman from Tucson and three other kids.

"My work is about getting seniors back into the arena, getting toddlers back into the arena," Hawley said. "We tend to isolate those groups. I don't know if the piece will literally be about that--but they're all in the piece. I'm using art to show we can live more cohesively and holistically. I'm trying to incorporate my children into my professional activities."

So far Beau seemed to approve. His gaze followed the dancers' every move, and each time one of them leaped, he grinned broadly and wiggled his arms and legs. His twin, Willem, fast asleep in an infant seat just outside the studio, was missing out on the action for now. Dad Bourcier was keeping one eye on the baby and the other on the dancers, composing the soundtrack in his mind.

"It's a luxury for me to take part in the rehearsals, and I'm taking care of the kids too," he said. "I go to the rehearsals and gather as much information as I can. Some I gather from Jane. Some I pick up from the energy level of the dancers. What they do tells me a lot: This part should be slow and easy, this part should be fast and heavy."

He said he was planning a sound tapestry that would include a song he'd recorded live by Iowan Lor Miller, and possibly some of his own piano compositions. "I've recorded conversations with the elder participants, and I've recorded the toddlers playing. I'll make a collage of all those things."

Like his wife, he said the children have helped him blossom as an artist. "You expect your lifestyle as an artist to be cramped, but the opposite happens. You're fruitful and you multiply. And I compose more. Kids teach you how to focus."

As he spoke the winds were whipping up, and a plume of smoke billowed from Mount Lemmon. He scooped up the sleeping child, and scooted back into the studio, into the company of dancers.