Dance Mix

Tucson hosts two diverse dance companies that offer a taste of Israel and Americana.

The news out of Israel is almost uniformly bad these days, caught in a repeating loop of death and retribution. But despite the seemingly endless war, the Middle Eastern nation has a taste for dance.

"For a small place, Israel has a big dance scene," said Israeli choreographer and dancer Yasmeen Godder, who will bring her five-person troupe to Pima Community College on Saturday, May 31. "I'm based in Tel Aviv, and I present regularly. It's interesting how dance has a big place in the arts in Israel. There are at least two dance performances in Tel Aviv every weekend. There's a ballet company and lots of contemporary dance companies."

This weekend, Tel Aviv has nothing on Tucson: The Old Pueblo is also hosting two dance companies. Besides Godder's troupe, the Wichita Contemporary Dance Theatre will dance Sunday afternoon at the UA. For details, see below.

Godder was speaking by telephone from New York, where she was in between performances at The Kitchen, a downtown alternative space, and an upcoming concert at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C. The piece she's traveling, Hall, is the same evening-length dance theater work Tucsonans will see. Raised partly in Israel and partly in New York, Godder trained at New York's High School of the Performing Arts and New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. Today, she lives in both places, regularly earning commissions in Israel for new work, and winning fellowships in New York, including the 2002 Bessie Award for choreography.

Her movement, she said, is "very contemporary and very theatrical. It's quirky but elongated, and kind of elegant. There's a lot of partnering." The frenzy of Israeli folk music and dance doesn't literally make its way into her current work, but she does remember that as a kid in Israel, she "used to go and dance on weekends, in huge open spaces with crowds of people." The memory of large groups of people dancing together still exerts an influence on her choreography, she said.

Hall, from 2001, is "dance theater in the sense that it has very specific scenes of characters, a narrative and a particular world." The stage set evokes a 1950s dance hall or community center, the kind of faux-elegant place with fake wood paneling, mirrors and chandeliers where bridal couples on a budget host their wedding receptions. The five characters/dancers, who include Godder, undertake a psychological search of their personal boundaries and relationships.

"The place is a metaphor for that subconscious search," she said. "Within the work, they acknowledge their acceptance of social behavior."

Godder is bilingual in Hebrew and English, and she said the Hebrew title of the piece--Ulam--nicely conveys the ambiguities embedded within the dance. Layered with multiple meanings, the word ulam translates on a literal level as "hall," the place, but it also means "despite" or "even though."

The piece has some spoken word and some singing by the dancers. ("It's nothing like a musical!") But in addition to the taped collage of electronic music, the score includes Israeli singer Dikla performing her trademark "pop songs influenced by Arabic music." Opera singer Reut Ben-Zeev concludes the work with a live rendering of a nostalgic '70s pop song, "Good Morning," which expresses "a desire for things to be simple."

THE WICHITA Contemporary Dance Theatre is an offshoot of the college dance program at Wichita State University in Kansas. Directed by C. Nicholas Johnson, head of the program and a 1994 MFA grad of the UA dance division, the troupe of 17 dancers includes faculty, guest artists and students.

The Wichita's stop in Tucson is part of an Arizona tour that will also take the Kansans to Sedona and Cave Creek. They'll perform a mixed program of 10 works, going from modern to ballet to jazz to mime. Anyone who remembers the Tucson dance scene back in the early '90s will recall Johnson's multimedia master's show at Leo Rich Theatre. It was an energetic mix of modern dance and mime, performed against a video backdrop that seemed to extend the movement into infinity.

Johnson's back with another piece he describes in press materials as "illusionary," "a comic, black-light fusion of mime and dance." He has four other works on the program. "The Great Ambini" is a "wacky hybrid film/stage cartoon creation," and "Angels Rising" takes a serious look at man's inhumanity to man from the origins of time to the nuclear holocaust. A solo, "Inside Out," is about unrequited love, and "Chaos Theory" is a jazz/modern combo.

Tucsonan Lorie Heald contributes "Strangers in the Night," an amusing look at three people sleeping in the same bed, tossing and turning to the strains of Mozart. Sabrina Vasquez, a former Tucson dancer who is now an associate director of the Wichita, and Johnson's spouse, has choreographed "Balaphuge," a contemporary trio danced to the marimba. Associate director Denise Celestin checks in with a contemporary ballet, "Enchantment." Remaining works celebrate the music of West Side Story and early Polynesian pop.