Double Pleasure

Ballet Tucson offers dance and dessert at its annual Valentine's fest.

If Shakespeare were in Tucson today, he might revise his famous love maxim to something along the lines of: "If chocolate be the food of love, dance on."

That's because this Valentine's weekend, the city's own Ballet Tucson serves up its annual Dance & Dessert concert. Dance lovers will first sample the show's 11 dance treats, then head across the courtyard at Pima College's Center for the Arts to feast on fancy desserts, donated by some 40 local restaurants.

"This is the sixth time we've done this," says artistic director Mary-Beth Cabana. "People really like it. We've got a lot of different things, classical ballet to performance art. It's a smorgasbord approach."

And after the dance smorgasbord, dessert.

Before the chocolate, a cast of 28--including numerous guest artists and the company's professional dancers and advanced students--will perform in the Proscenium Theatre. The program includes novelties, including company choreographer Mark Schneider's spaceship dance "Neptune," for 16 women. It also includes UA prof Sam Watson's "Wired," for two men so swathed in electrical cords that "they look like they stuck their fingers in the socket," according to Cabana. UA student César Rubio and Thom Gilliam dance the electrified piece.

Nevertheless, in honor of Valentine's Day, the concert tilts toward romantic pas de deux. Guest artist Gina Ribera, who took on the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy in the company's Nutcracker in December and Cinderella in May, has re-staged the classical pas de deux "Diana and Actaeon." Formerly with the Cleveland and Norwegian ballets, Ribera will dance the duet with her Nutcracker prince, guest artist Matthew Carter, formerly of the Ohio Ballet. A celebration of traditional ballet, the piece was originally choreographed by Agrippina Vagonova, who, Cabana says, "established Russian technique and codified the Russian system of ballet."

Cabana herself re-staged the pas de deux from Le Corsaire for Peter Lisanti, who has danced with the Oakland and Tulsa ballets, and UA student Christa Peterson. Not all the duets are about love's first blush. Take Chieko Imada's "Shall We Dance?" Imada--assistant Ballet Tucson artistic director and a former dancer with Tucson's late, lamented 10th Street Danceworks--choreographed this sweetly comic duet with a "couple in the bedroom in their pajamas." Cyndel Radcliff dances the wife to Lisanti's husband.

Nor is the concert all couples. Schneider's "Waltzes," set to Prokofiev, deploys a dozen women on stage. And in counterpoint is guest choreographer Jeffrey Graham Hughes' all-male "Take Five."

"We partnered together at Cleveland," Cabana says. "Jeff choreographed a number of pieces years ago for us. We've been trying to get him back here for a long time."

Now artistic director of the Ohio Ballet, Hughes danced with the Joffrey and the London Festival. Cabana notes that Hughes' generational piece for five men is set to the music of Dave Brubeck, a 1950s composition that's inspired "a 1950s beatnik-style piece. It's funny."

The "Take Five" dancers range from 12-year-old Russell Rodriguez, who was a Nutcracker Fritz, to adults Gilliam and Rubio.

Other works on the program include Ribera's comical ballet solo "Airhead," a debut piece of choreography by Rubio, and an excerpt from Imada's contemporary ballet "Carmen Suites."

After splitting up into couples and single-sex groups throughout the concert, the whole ensemble reunites for the finale, Mia Hansen's "Café Parisian." Formerly with Up With People, Hansen has undertaken numerous studies of folk and social dances, Cabana says. For "Café," Hansen researched "1920s Parisian café/cabaret style dancing. It's been brewing for a while. It includes the can-can, the java and the apache, which looks like a mock fight between a gangster and a girl, with an element of comedy." Look for Toulouse-Lautrec influences in the café.

Fittingly ending in an enclave of French food, the finale turns the audience's fancy to thoughts not of love, but chocolate.

Time for dessert.

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