Cultural Collision

Combine a battle of the bands with fire performance, cinema and some other things, and you'll have this

The flourishing arpeggios of Spanish guitars will crash--and probably melt--into the headlong lurch of Eastern European folk music at Nimbus Brewing Company on Saturday night, April 2.

That's when Tucson bands Tesoro and Molehill Orkestrah will do "battle" by alternating song for song during a 90-minute extravaganza. The evening will include, for good measure, the percussive stomp of Tesoro's flamenco-dance auxiliary (choreographed by Sophie Everett) and the fantastical fire spectacle of Flam Chen.

A total of 28 local performing artists will participate, says the event's tireless organizer, Paul Weir, a member of the Flam Chen troupe.

"It's definitely got that 'battle of the bands' feeling, but this show is also meant to showcase the depth of Tucson's performing artists," Weir says. "And it is being presented in the spirit of the films of Emir Kusturica."

Kusturica is the Bosnian filmmaker whose films--such as the acclaimed The Time of the Gypsies and Black Cat, White Cat--are heavily steeped in absurd images and rich Balkan gypsy music. "I view (Kusturica's) films like harnessed chaos," Weir says. "That's part of what we hope to create with this event.

Among other things, the evening is being billed as "Tesoro vs. Molehill Orkestrah," calling to mind both a competition and the cut-and-paste musical collaborations of remix DJs. The subtitle "Lucha de las Familias Gitanes" weaves the imagery of Mexican professional wrestling with that of the rich gypsy culture.

While helping to produce some Tesoro performances last year, Weir had a vision of "a gypsy soap opera." He proposed the idea to all the groups involved, and they started working together about a month ago.

"This really seems like an unlikely fusion, but when it all comes together, it will make a lot of sense," he promises.

The performance will come with an air of drama, unfolding like a theater piece. "We've come up with two complete family scenarios for the bands," Weir says. "And when they meet, it'll be like a cross somewhere between Romeo and Juliet and Grease."

Emphasizing the spirit of cross-cultural influences, Molehill is planning to incorporate more Latin rhythms in its Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and klezmer sound, while Tesoro will focus on the Middle Eastern heritage behind its specialty of flamenco.

Each of the bands is in the process of recording new music projects, so Weir feels lucky to have lured them out of the studio.

The dancers and fire performers are crossing over, too, he says. "We've actually learned a little flamenco, and the dancers have learned a little bit how to handle fire."

Cultural collision is a hallmark of the shows that Weir often produces. A metal fabricator, designer, modern dancer and composer, Weir lately has been producing shows for Downtown Saturdays, the Tucson Arts Coalition and Flam Chen, including the hugely popular All Souls Day Procession each year just after Halloween.

"I tend to get involved in only stuff that I feel has heart and that people in Tucson really need to see," says Weir, who serves on the boards of four non-profit arts organizations.

With the 11-year-old fire-performance group Flam Chen, Weir expects to further promote the performing arts through the launching in 2006 of the Tucson International School of Circus and Performing Arts. "We hope to bring a lot of world-class teachers from all over the world to teach stilt walking, acrobatics, aerial arts, juggling and circus crafts, as well as yoga, martial arts and dance," he says.

Weir shares a goal with his fellow artists in the groups on Saturday night's bill: "to make Tucson known for amazing performing arts community ritual and celebration."

This weekend's show is not the first time some these groups will have collaborated, but it's definitely the most elaborate and far-reaching event in which all have been involved.

For instance, Flam Chen and Molehill Orkestrah toured through Canada last year performing the show The Monkey King. The two troupes performed to more than 200,000 people in three weeks, Weir says.

Proceeds from this Tesoro vs. Molehill event will benefit Radio Electra, a community radio station that broadcasts each year during Burning Man, the massive annual arts festival and temporary community that occurs in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Burning Man 2005 is scheduled for Aug. 29 through Sept. 5.

Although the doors at Nimbus open at 8 p.m., the "lucha" won't get underway until about 11, Weir says. In the meantime, there will be a fashion show and the screening of a movie about Burning Man.

Also, Flam Chen will operate a free shuttle to the event. It leaves the Epic Café, 745 N. Fourth Ave. and University Boulevard, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. The group BICAS (Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage) has organized a community bike ride to the event; it leaves 44 W. Sixth St. at 8 p.m.

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