Desert Fever 

Orts Theatre of Dance presents a cool compendium of arts performances to beat the heat.

Less than a month ago, Annie Bunker and Chuck Koesters were deep in the Amazon rainforest.

Bunker, the artistic director of Orts Theatre of Dance, and her husband, Koesters, the company videographer and composer, took a trip into the jungle with their young son Wrenn after the rigors of a month-long residency in Ecuador.

"It was incredible there," Bunker reported a week after returning to Tucson. It seems jungle fever doesn't even come close to desert heat. The rainforest foliage protected them from the sun, she said, and "it rained every day." Temps were mountain crisp up in 9,300-feet-high Quito, where they premiered Abandoned Boundaries with their Ecuadoran collaborators, choreographer Patricio Andrade, videographer Miguel Alvear and dancers from the troupes Propudanza and Sauro. And in the coastal city of Guayaquil, where they also danced and taught, river breezes cooled them down.

Back home, in 105-degree Tucson, "We're trying to get used to the heat," she said.

But the heat means it's time for an annual Orts summer tradition: Improv in the Baked Apple. The compendium of unstructured dance, poetry, video, art and theater, to be performed by assorted dancers and local artists, will unfurl in the cool environs of the Ortspace this Saturday night.

Tucsonans will have to wait 'til spring to see Abandoned Boundaries; in March the Ecuadoran dancers will come to Tucson to reprise the piece with Orts. In the meantime the troupe's fans can sample new improvisational work inspired by the Andes and the Amazon.

"Chuck and I are planning to put together a video collage of our recent trip," Bunker explained, and depending on how that turns out, Bunker will improvise solo movement to go with it in Baked Apple. (The peripatetic troupe expects to take the full piece back to Ecuador in October, right after their trip to China in September, and premiere it in Tucson in November.)

Among the other Baked dancers expected to perform this weekend are Jan Justis, a Denver choreographer who used to dance with Alwin Nikolai, a dance company famous for its improv, and Ortsers Amy Knoke, Charles Thompson, Teresa Sullivan, Tara Fech, Charles Bibilos and Kailey Johnson. Members of New ARTiculations and students from Orts' current summer workshop will be on hand, and Patti Lopez and dancers will come up from Arivaca. Poets will include Richard Tavenner and Charles Alexander.

Knoke and Lopez plan an aerial duet on Orts' trademark trapezes, but most of the program won't be set until the show begins.

"Because it's improv, I don't really have a lot of input ahead of time," Bunker said cheerfully. "These will be spontaneous, in-the-moment performances. They're like conversations, with spontaneous language."

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