Beautiful Movement

FUNHOUSE gets some choreographing and taiko help for its free modern-dance concerts in the park

Lee Anne Hartley had to learn to dance with a stick for her free Dance in the Park concert this weekend.

The stick in question is a "jo stick" used in martial arts. In her new piece, "Stick Together," a collaboration with the Odaiko Sonora drummers, Hartley solos with the wood in one of the dance's four sections.

"It's actually a duet," jokes Hartley, artistic director of FUNHOUSE movement theater. "The jo stick is 6 feet tall, taller than the baton that I'm used to."

And it can be dangerous. Hartley is making sure that the four Japanese taiko drummers will be well out of range when she and the stick step out on stage.

"I hit myself in the nose when I was rehearsing," she says with a laugh.

Luckily, the stick won't be in evidence when four other dancers--Amanda Morse, Andrea Murray, Sherry Mulholland and Annie Whitish--leap onto the stage. Still, the movements Hartley has developed for all of them are a cross between the troupe's usual modern dance and martial arts.

"I haven't done martial arts before. It's a new thing for me."

Hartley has made a point of trying out new things since she went out on her own with FUNHOUSE. She's now in her second season as sole artistic director of the troupe, which she co-founded in 2000 with Thom Lewis. Since the two parted ways, and Lewis formed his own company, Thom Lewis Dance, Hartley has rounded out her concerts with works by guest artists like Odaiko and a series of guest choreographers.

Last spring, she managed to bring the respected John Wilson, a former UA dance prof, out of retirement to stage a piece. For this weekend's annual free concert in Reid Park, she's enlisted choreographers Sheryl Oden, Beth Braun and Karyn Reim, along with the popular drumming group. (Because of a scheduling conflict, Odaiko Sonora appears live only on Friday and Saturday nights; dancers will perform to their taped music on Sunday night.)

"The guest-choreographer series is a benefit to me I didn't expect," Hartley says, explaining that she learns something from each visiting artist. "Everybody who gets to be part of it loves it. It gives a larger sense of community."

And Hartley's just as amenable to using dancers from different troupes. For this concert, longtime FUNHOUSE dancers are joined by hoofers from ZUZI! Dance Company and an out-of-town guest.

Oden, chair of visual and performing arts at Tucson High Magnet School and a founding member of the Zenith Dance Collective, offers up "2 1/2 Chopin Waltzes." Danced to the music of the 19th-century composer, the dance is an enigmatic portrait of four Victorian sisters, Hartley says.

"It suspends time. Every time I watch, I'm riveted. You see little bits and pieces of the relationship. You can tell there's a whole lot more to the story than you know. There's beautiful movement."

Dancing the parts of the sisters, dressed in diaphanous white dresses and bloomers, are Sabina Burke, Veronica Lavery, FUNHOUSE regular Mulholland and guest artist Katheryn Reed of Seattle.

"It's been very wonderful having Sheryl around," Hartley says.

Guest artist Braun, head of the dance program at University/Rincon High School and associate artistic director of ZUZI!, reprises her Sept. 11 piece, "Skyscraper." An octet of dancers move through a set of black boxes suggesting the fallen towers. The percussion score was written by Michael Vercelli and arranged by Braun's late husband, Arthur Miscione. Braun dances it, along with seven fellow ZUZI-ites: Sara Anderson, Audrey Copeland, Alison Hart, Mirela Roza, Sarah Small, Jessie Stewart and Monica Weinheimer.

Braun and Hartley had already connected last season, Hartley says, when Braun staged a piece on the teens in Ballet Rincon for FUNHOUSE. Then "I was at the 10th-anniversary concert at ZUZI ... and saw 'Skyscraper.' It's a great piece."

Reim, a ZUZI dancer who's also performed with FUNHOUSE, solos in her own work, "Living by a Flower." Instead of using the trapeze familiar to ZUZI-goers, Reim "does interesting things with a hammock," Hartley says. It's set to collage of New Age music, by Pru Renfro, Rick Williams and Ben Garrison.

Hartley reprises two of her own earlier works in the concert. The duet "Commence to Dancin'" is a humorous "tribute to Laurel and Hardy," she says. "I haven't danced it in six or seven years. I used to dance it with Thom."

This time, she's paired with Tavia Womack, a college dancer and longtime FUNHOUSER. Womack wears a fat belly to portray Oliver Hardy, while Hartley dances the skinny Stan Laurel. They wear tuxedo jackets and baggy beige pants, stepping out to music from the 1937 Laurel and Hardy movie, Way Out West.

Hartley's other piece, "How Deadly Are Your Sins?" is a comic romp that features a team of sins cheerleading in favor of their own vices. Reed, the out-of-town guest artist, is a hoot as Sloth, Hartley says. The daughter of Gary Reed, who danced with Hartley many years ago in Seattle, Katheryn Reed is a recent grad of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles. She puts her musical-comedy training to work, sometimes singing her cheer to Sloth in a German accent, sometimes in a Southern drawl.

Whitish does Vanity as Marilyn Monroe. Michelle Norush portrays Greed as a "fat rich guy in a suit with a piggy nose." Mulholland is Gluttony in a fat suit. Murray is Rage; Reim is Envy, and Hartley herself is a very pregnant Lust.

Danced to a roster of popular tunes, from the Beatles' "Piggies" to Bette Midler's "I'm Beautiful," the venal piece is "new and improved, really fun."

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