ONE NIGHT, ANNIE Bunker had a dream. "I dreamed I was dancing and flying in a box made out of sticks," said the artistic director of Orts Theatre of Dance last week. "The next day in the studio I took out all the bars and sticks I could find and made a rough construction of a box."
Soon the Orts dancers were batting the box around and experimentally moving around in it. Chuck Koesters, Bunker's husband, the company manager and handyman extraordinaire, figured out how to make the thing safe and stable.
"Now," Bunker said in satisfaction, "we have two big boxes."
Those two big boxes will be just a few of the contraptions that Orts dancers will be riding through the air in this weekend's Balanced Edge concert, a multimedia extravaganza that will also feature live readings by Tucson poet Charles Alexander and improvisational acting by Paul Fisher. The performance is set against a video backdrop by Koesters and a tapestry of his original music, played on tape.
Long adept at dancing on the trapeze, the Orts modern dancers have now progressed not only to the flying boxes of Bunker's dream, but to swinging sandbags, dipping discs and soaring mobiles. They even spin on a giant Lazy Susan. Audiences have already gotten a peek at a few of the new gizmos, which the company calls "dancing mobile sculptures." In concerts last November and February, the performers gyrated on the flying mobiles in a Balanced Edge excerpt, and at the Reid Park concert in April they shimmied in the air with 50-pound sandbags.
"We swing on them and fly them and catch them and get away from them," Bunker said of the potentially formidable sandbags. Doing the flying honors will be company regulars Charles Thompson, Nicole Buffan, Matt Henley, Elizabeth Breck and Bunker, along with newcomers Sara Kay Lybarger, Amy Knoke and apprentice Erin Evangelist.
The final 13-part piece, incorporating the previously performed segments with all new work, is not rigidly set: Movements and readings might evolve as the evening goes on. The new equipment takes some of its inspiration from the mobiles of Alexander Calder, Bunker said, but they're also metaphors for the notion of achieving balance.
"The entire piece is about the aerial view of balancing," Bunker said, "whether it be social, physical or mental balance."
Bunker drew on more sources than her dream for developing the piece. She and Koesters live with their family at the northern edge of the Tucson Mountains, where the frenzied housing boom of recent years has seriously compromised the balance between nature and civilization.
"On the west side of the mountains there's Saguaro National Park," Bunker said. "It's totally bladed on the east side. I'm voting for Proposition 202. People will have more say (in development)."
Poet Alexander said he has worked with Bunker and Koesters on at least four other projects, including Urban Gaits of a few years back. When the Orts folks approached him about collaborating on a new work, coincidentally he was already writing on similar themes.
"Chuck told me he was doing things with edge and balance," recalled Alexander, who's also director of Chax Press. Some of the writing he'll read at the performance "even uses balancing on a trapeze as a metaphor, and the edge of the city against the desert."
Bunker said the video, projected behind the dancers, will balance images of nature--light, rocks, sand and water--against the manmade--bridges, roads, houses. Balanced Edge contains some "serious commentary about the delicacy of the balance in the desert," Alexander noted, a seriousness that will be balanced out by children's projects captured on video. His daughter, Nora, 7, for the past year has been building a fantasy city out of wood scraps in the downtown studio shared by her father and her mother, the painter Cynthia Miller. Now the size of a dining room table, Nora's metropolis is decorated in glitter and beads. Koesters videotaped images of this goodhearted creation and juxtaposed them against shots of the real-life pink stucco monstrosities now crushing Tucson's deserts.
Koesters' and Bunker's son, Wrenn, also turns up in the video, playing in the sand with toy trucks and bulldozers. The video offers the kid's play as a counterpoint to images of the all-too-real bulldozers now leveling the Sonoran desert. (In this family affair, Miller also appears in the video, caught by Koester's camera in the act of creating a painting.)
Alexander said that Fisher, known for his off-beat performance art, will be like "the Fool in Shakespeare, who's given the most insightful lines."
As of last week, Alexander had yet to come into the studio with the dancers. The balance of the show's multiple parts won't be entirely clear until it's performed Friday night.
"That's what I like about working with Annie and Chuck. They really trust people they're working with. We don't really know what it will be until it premieres. They both really invite artists' participation and give them enough room to improvise."
Balanced Edge, a multimedia collaboration by Orts Theatre of Dance, poet Charles Alexander and actor Paul Fisher, will be performed at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 27 and 28, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, October 29, at the Pima Community College Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Advance tickets are available for $8 at Bentley's, Antigone Books, Silverbell Trading and the box office, and via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets are $10 day of show. For information or reservations call Orts at 624-3799 or the box office at 206-6987.