Bit by bit, the arts are opening up in Tucson. And the arts organizations are dreaming up clever new ways to keep their artists and fans safe from COVID-19.
In the coming weeks, Ballet Tucson will send its dancers to perform in the great outdoors, and the Yume Japanese Gardens will host Funhouse Movement, performing Japanese Butoh dance among the plants.
Untitled Gallery opened last week after months in lockdown, and the Rialto, which doesn't plan to stage concerts until the end of summer or later, has temporarily turned its space into a gallery of rock-and-roll photos.
At Gaslight Theatre, actors are staying outside, performing a comical play "Buccaneers of the Caribbean", on the theatre's spacious front porch. The Rogue Theatre company will soon bring Shakespeare's "As You Like It" onto the boards; patrons can either go to the theatre to see the actors live or stay home and watch the play on video. Arizona Theatre Company is not coming back in the flesh until the fall, but meantime it's staging robust virtual shows for free. This month's audio play stars the renowned actor John Larroquette.
Of course, things can change in a flash in COVID time, and a nasty variant of the virus has been threatening another surge. Art events can quickly be cancelled if there's an outbreak. Before you leave home, check to make sure that the players and dancers will in fact be strutting their hour upon the stage.
If the planned shows and exhibitions do go on, art goers must do social distancing and hand sanitizing. And of course they must "just put on the damn mask!" a phrase coined by Jim Kenney, the wise mayor of Philadelphia. Here are details on just a few of the planned events in Tucson's mini arts renaissance:
Last November, Ballet Tucson dancers, who had not performed since March 2020, did a brief but magical nighttime concert at the Tucson Botanical Garden. They went on to dance in other unconventional venues, including the Reid Park Zoo, the St. Philip's Farmers Market, and a Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) patio.
The shows were a hit, and this month the dancers will once again perform a series of short outdoor concerts. First up is a return to TMA, on Sunday, April 11, followed by a gig at Brandi Fenton Memorial Park on Sunday, April 18. The final show is at Rillito Regional Park, near the racetrack, on Saturday, April 24.
Two company choreographers, associate director Chieko Imada and Balletmaster Daniel Precup, have created five new dances to be performed in all three concerts. Each show will feature nine dancers.
Imada's "Shall We Dance?" is a comical duet about relationships, and her Trio is a contemporary jazz piece. Precup, formerly a full-time dancer in the troupe, will dance a romantic pas de deux with prima ballerina Jenna Johnson in his piece "Rhapsody." (The two are married in real life.) He also choreographed a classic ballet solo for Johnson, inspired by the Spanish ballet "Raymonda," as well as "Reverberation," a lively piece for five dancers.
Each of the concerts is just 20 minutes long, and each will be performed twice at each venue.
Ballet Tucson Spring Pop Up Performances: Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave. Shows at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday, April 11. Audience members must buy a ticket to the museum; buy early—some shows sold out last time around. Ticket holders are welcome to visit the museum's art galleries; two popular shows on view are The Wyeths-Three Generations and Native art in the new Indigenous gallery. tucsonmuseumofart.org.
Brandi Fenton Memorial Park along the Loop, 3482 E. River Road, west of Dodge Blvd. Shows at 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. at Sunday, April 18. Bring blanket or chairs. Free.
Rillito Regional Park, along the Loop, 4571 N. First Ave. Shows at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24. Bring chairs. Free.
Funhouse Movement Theater dance troupe has been around for years in various iterations, but this week's concerts are unique. Joan Laage, a visiting artist from the Pacific Northwest, will lead Poetry Stones, an evening of butoh at the Yume Japanese Gardens of Tucson. A Japanese art form that combines dance and theater, butoh is both contemporary and traditional. Audience members can expect to see dancers and musicians moving among the lush plants.
The concerts will run in the gardens Thursday, Friday and Saturday, April 8, 9, and 10. To limit the number of people in the garden, there will be two sessions each evening, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets, $25 for non-members, $18 for members, are available at yumegardens.org. The show will take place in the gardens at 2130 N. Alvernon Way; 303-3945.
Untitled Gallery had a rough winter, between the pandemic and the road work near its home in the Steinfeld Warehouse Community Art Center. But last Saturday the artist-run operation reopened and celebrated with a brand-new juried show, aptly named "Emergence." The exhibition, running through June 5, has 43 artworks. "Reid," a painting by Karol Honeycutt, is a deft portrait of a young man who looks like he's gone to hell and back, a suitable image for our times. Art lovers not yet comfortable going out can see the whole show virtually on the gallery website. Untitled is at 101 W. Sixth St, suite 121. Open Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m. June 5. Free. Untitledgallerytucson.com.
The Rialto Theatre has temporarily moved over into the visual art category. With live music forced into hiatus by the coronavirus, the Rialto is honoring past concerts with photos by C. Elliott and Mark A. Martinez as well as poster art by Ryan Trayte. Called The Gallery Project, the show will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and will stay up until the music returns.
Entry is by reservation only; all comers must take a temperature check. Free. Photos, posters, cocktails and popcorn will be for sale. For info and reservations, visit rialtotheatre.com/gallery-project.
In addition to staging pirate theatre on the porch, Gaslight Theatre is regularly hosting live music, with some shows outside and others in. Virtual plays are also available to watch at home. Why not try the "Beach Blanket Bee Bop!" virtual show? For info, visit the gaslighttheatre.com.
Rosalind is one of Shakespeare feistiest female characters; she delights in tricks and gender-bending. The Rogue Theatre brings her to the stage in "As You Like It," a hilarious play with more than 20 characters. Running April 22 to May 9, it's the troupe's last play in this tumultuous, masked and prerecorded season. To buy tickets—for the live production or for the video—see theroguetheatre.org.
Speaking of Shakespeare, King Lear plays a role in "The Heath," written by prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson and produced as an audio play by Arizona Theater Company. Gunderson turns to acting in this semi-autobiographical tale about her relationship with her grandfather. Emmy winner John Larroquette is both Lear and the granddad. The free production runs from 5 p.m. Wednesday, April 14, to 5 p.m. Sunday April 18. To hear the show on your own devices, visit arizonatheatre.org.