A Sweet Show

Two Tudor works star in Ballet Tucson's annual 'Dance and Dessert'

If you thought a dance called "Katie Feels Guilty About Library Fines" didn't sound much like a ballet, you'd be right.

The dance about the conflicted "Katie" is a modern piece, one of many non-ballet offerings that Ballet Tucson is serving up—along with chocolates and other sweets—in its eclectic Dance and Dessert concert this weekend.

With works by eight choreographers in a wide range of styles, from modern to contemporary to jazz to—naturally—ballet, "This a great show for the audience," says the troupe's artistic director, Mary Beth Cabana. "And it's great for the dancers."

The dances are short and mostly fast-paced, making for a small-plate menu that gives the regular corps dancers more chances to dance, Cabana says, while the variety of dance styles pushes all of the performers to ramp up their skills.

In the favored medium of ballet, a double- portion of Antony Tudor makes for a hefty entrée. An excerpt from "The Leaves Are Falling" by the legendary choreographer gets its first Ballet Tucson outing, reconstructed by Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner, dancers who worked with the late Tudor at American Ballet Theatre. The two lead the company through another Tudor gem, "Continuo," for the second time.

Then there are the literal gourmet desserts donated by local restaurants, served up free under the stars, after the show. "What's not to like?" Cabana asks.

"Katie Feels Guilty About Library Fines" has been danced in Iowa, the Dominican Republic and Los Angeles, but its roots are in Tucson. Choreographed by Charlotte Adams, who co-founded Tucson's now-defunct 10th Street Danceworks in 1984, "Katie" debuted in a NEW ARTiculations concert in Tucson in 2009.

"I had the dancers write sentences," says Adams, now a dance professor at the University of Iowa. The NEW ARTers filled in the blanks of a statement that began, "I feel guilty when ..."

Katie Rutterer, NEW ART co-artistic director, came up with the library line, and Adams liked it so much that she created the duet around it.

The humorous dance features two women burdened with three layers of petticoats, representing "three layers of guilt," as Adams puts it. Dancing to carnivalesque music, the women gradually free themselves by shedding the garments.

This semester, the choreographer is in Tucson on sabbatical. When Ballet Tucson invited her to contribute a short piece, she was intrigued by the idea of putting ballerinas in the ultra-modern "Katie."

"It's a real modern vocabulary," Adams says, "but I have two great dancers dancing it (Deanna Doncsecz and Michelle Sigl) and two great understudies. They have gorgeous lines, and they jump like gazelles."

Another guest choreographer from the world of modern dance, Kim Robards, who runs Kim Robards Dance in Colorado, contributes the athletic "Cascades." Ballet Tucson last danced the piece four years ago, so Robards arrived in January to teach it to the current batch of dancers. After a post-Nutcracker hiatus, the dancers used it to get back in shape.

"It's a very aerobic piece, really hard," Cabana says.

Inspired by a spring hike Robards took in the Rockies when the ice was melting, "Cascades" mimics the movement of rushing water. The 16 dancers are dressed in silvery costumes, evoking ice and snowmelt.

The concert's Asian course comes courtesy of Chieko Imada, Ballet Tucson's artistic associate, who draws on her Japanese heritage in "Faith and Sorrow." Last performed by the company a dozen years ago, the dance tells of a "warrior whose life is torn between his duty in war and his devotion to his love," Cabana says.

In the jazz division, Sam Watson, an artist in residence at the UA School of Dance and a former dancer with Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, delivers two humorous works. "Pitter Patter Pulse (The Rhythm of the Rain)" has four dancers dressed in classic '50s duds dancing to Duke Ellington. "Sleazeball Duet," set in the '70s, features a "greasy guy in a leisure suit," danced by Daniel Precup, and a "repressed schoolmarm," played by the company's prima ballerina, Jenna Johnson.

"It's so opposite of what we usually see Jenna in," Cabana says with delight. "This will get her out of the tutu."

Johnson gets back into that tutu in "The Dying Swan," a 1905 ballet classic choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. The melancholy solo, depicting a swan's last moments, has "very artistic, difficult movements."

Precup, now the company ballet master, debuts his "Bolero," a neoclassical ballet set to the familiar music of Ravel. Danced by the full company of 26 dancers, with Johnson in the featured role, it opens the show.

The closer is "Masquerade," a reprise of a Cabana-Chieko ballet. Danced by the whole troupe to music by Shostakovich, it begins with the dancers in heavy headdresses and costumes, and in elaborate masks designed by June Mullin. As the dance goes on, the costumes "deconstruct" and release the dancers within, Cabana says. "It's about baring the soul."

But the concert's pièces de résistance are unquestionably the Tudor ballets. McKerrow and Gardner, now artistic associates of Ballet Tucson, travel the nation—and sometimes the world—setting Tudor's pieces on ballet troupes. They've been in New Zealand for the last six weeks, working with their old colleague Ethan Stiefel, the ABT star who's now director of the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

In November, they began training the Ballet Tucson dancers in the two Tudor works to be danced this weekend. They've staged the fourth pas de deux from the 1975 work, "The Leaves Are Falling." A premiere for Ballet Tucson, the excerpt will be danced by two alternating casts, Stuart Lauer and Megan Terry, and Benjamin Tucker and Michelle Sigl. Set to music by Dvoák, the duet is "about young, swelling love," Cabana says, "about young couples moving into their future together."

"Continuo," which the company has performed before, has six dancers paired off into three couples. They dance the 1971 work to the familiar Pachelbel's Canon in D.

"It has gentle, wafting movement that goes into lifts in the Tudor style," Cabana says. "They don't look difficult, but they're just killer."

The dance is double-cast, with the two sets of dancers alternating over the five weekend concerts. Between the two pieces, at least 14 Ballet Tucson dancers are performing Tudor, and many more are learning the Tudor vocabulary. That's by design.

"Everyone has a chance to do it," Cabana says. "That's to prepare for a larger Tudor piece" the company hopes to tackle one day.

And when that day comes, Tucson can expect a ballet banquet.

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