Graduates of Arizona's two major university dance programs will go head to head at a rare summer dance concert this weekend at ZUZI Theater.
Four, a modern dance concert, will showcase four separate groups—including MAC & Company, led by two Arizona State University dance grads, and a temporary pickup troupe of UA School of Dance students and grads, directed by brand-new UA MFA Danielle Lydia Sheather.
ZUZI Dance and ConDanza, both regulars on the Tucson dance scene, will also dance in the fast-paced show. Featuring 14 short works by no fewer than seven choreographers, Four allots 20 to 25 minutes to each of the troupes.
"I've been in school here for a while and it will be really nice to give back to the community," says Sheather, whom Tucson dance lovers might have seen in ZUZI's Cheap Thrills choreographers showcase last spring. "I'm different from the others in the show—I don't have a company. I'm just trying to get my work out there."
A dual Canadian-U.S. citizen who has studied in Europe and presented her work at the Baryshnikov Art Center in New York City, Sheather creates dances that are "modern and contemporary." She counts as influences pioneer choreographer Paul Taylor and contemporary Dutch choreographer Anouk Van Dijk, with whom she'll study this summer in Australia.
Sheather's three new works, all performed by UA dancers and grads, include "Rife with Division and Conflict we look," a dance for six that's inspired by the plight of refugees pouring into Europe.
"It's a moment to have a pause, to look at humanity, to go beyond race, religion, creed and gender," she says.
"If," a solo for Jennifer Martin, a new BFA grad, is based on Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name. Sheather herself will dance in a duet excerpted from a longer work, "The Art of Manipulation," triggered by a haunting piece of music from the TV show Hannibal.
Micaela Church, who got her master's in dance from ASU in 2010, will bring nine dancers from her troupe Mac & Company from the Valley of the Sun.
"We'll be there to have a good time and to connect with the audience and explore many different types of modern movement," Church says. Now a professor at Paradise Valley and Mesa community colleges, Church formed the company in 2014 with Li Pei, a high-school dance teacher who has an ASU bachelor's in dance.
"We wanted a different creative outlet," Church, who handles most of the choreography, says. "We did one big concert in 2014 and one in 2015, and we're doing two big concerts this year." That tally that doesn't include guest appearance gigs like the one this weekend in Tucson.
Inspired by modern masters like Mark Morris and Jií Kylián (a choreographer who worked for years with Nederlands Dans Theater), Church is presenting five dances in Tucson. In "Butterflies in a Whale Mouth," six dancers perform to a an original piece of music by company composer Jeff Ouper, an ASU Ph.D. in music.
Church herself dances in the tango "You See Me," a trio for one man and two women that explores sexuality. She routinely offers her dancers chances to choreograph their own work, and dancer Martha Patricia Hernandez tried her hand in the comical "Pourin' the Cup," a big group dance about coffee for nine dancers.
"It's really humorous," Church says.
The concert was the brainchild of Nanette Robinson, ZUZI artistic director and choreographer. Both guest artists got to know Robinson when they staged work in ZUZI's Cheap Thrills, Church twice in 2015 and Sheather this past spring.
"Both of them are young and they're savvy choreographers," Robinson says.
She'd been planning a double-bill concert this summer with ZUZI and César R' Degollado's ConDanza, a contemporary troupe now resident at ZUZI Theater, when she got a call from Church. MAC & Company couldn't make this year's spring showcase and asked if any other slots might be available.
"I'd been thinking of doing something with more seasoned choreographers," Robinson said. "I wanted to step up Cheap Thrills a little."
So she invited Church and her troupe to perform in the pro concert, and Sheather was brought in to round out the program.
Degollado, formerly known as César Rubio, founded ConDanza after many years of dancing with Ballet Tucson. The contemporary troupe splits its time between here and Los Angeles.
Cesar, who was immersed in student concerts in California last week, is "excited about the show," Robinson says. "He's bringing some dancers from California and he also has dancers here."
The four works he's staging in Tucson fluctuate from the solo "Normal" to "Vastaa," a work for 12. Degollado himself will dance in his "Duo For Three," and nine dancers will perform "Espolón" by ConDanza resident choreographer David Maurice.
The two ZUZI dances include Robinson's "Blossom and Decay," performed to original music performed live by Glenn Weyant. The inventive Weyant, who's been known to "play" the border wall and other unlikely objects, will capture the sounds that Robinson will make as she slithers through dirt scattered on the stage. When the rest of eight dancers arrive, he'll revert to playing the electric cello. The work also includes aerial dance choreographed and performed by Aja Squires.
A second ZUZI piece, "Castle," is a solo that will also have both dance in the air and dance on the floor. The choreographer and performer is Maddie Brown, who began studying and dancing at ZUZI around the age of 9.
"She's amazing," Robinson says.
And, at 16, Brown is the youngest choreographer in this choreographer-rich