From 'Origins' to Acrobats

NEW ARTiculations' pregnant co-artistic director kicks off a busy week of dance performances

Tammy Rosen is pregnant--six months along, to be precise--and she's dancing in the NEW ARTiculations modern concert this weekend.

"I feel great," says the NEW ART co-artistic director. She does admit, though, it's getting harder to dance and to teach the NEW ART classes, especially to beginners who need every movement demonstrated. Nevertheless, she's taking on a solo in the Works of Art concert Friday and Saturday nights at Pima College West.

She's tackling "Origins," a piece about motherhood choreographed by company member April Greengaard. Ironically, it was danced a few years back by New Art dancer Kelly Silliman, then a new mother who sashayed around the stage with her baby in her arms.

Since Rosen has the belly but not the baby as of yet, the dance will be a bit different this go-round, "with more stroking of the belly," Rosen says. "The piece is not too strenuous. It's pretty tranquil."

Perhaps not since a pregnant Paulette Cauthorn dangled from the rafters at DeMeester Performance Center in a Tenth Street Danceworks concert a decade ago has such a visibly expecting dancer taken to a Tucson stage. But NEW ART likes undertaking the unexpected. The concert features works by a bracing octet of choreographers--including New Yorker Randy James--in a variety of genres, from a ghostly story dance about jilted brides in an early modern dance vocabulary to a trapeze duet. (Also on the dance calendar this week is a hip-hop concert by The Human Project at the Cabaret Theater, and traditional Chinese gymnastics by the Peking Acrobats at Centennial Hall. See below.)

Leigh Ann Rangel, Rosen's fellow artistic director, said the James piece figures into NEW ART's ongoing commitment to bring fresh choreography to town. A full-time professor of dance at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University, James has run the contemporary troupe Randy James Dance Works (RJDW) since 1992, winning various awards and touring internationally to good reviews. He also has a couple of Tucson connections. Beth Braun and Nicole Buffan of ZUZI both danced with him at SUNY Brockport, and Matt Henley, a UA dance grad and former O-T-O dancer, until recently danced with RJDW.

James traveled to Tucson last fall to stage his 1998 "Waves at My Back" on seven NEW ART dancers. Set to the lush Bach Concerto in D minor, a piece featuring three pianos and a string orchestra, the work is "interesting and complex ... filled with breezy entrances and exits," according to New York Times critic Jack Anderson.

James "calls it his 'Mark Morris piece' because it's really musical," Rangel said. "It's really beautiful, an audience-pleaser and fun to do." Rangel dances the work along with Amy Barr, Nathan Dryden, Max Foster, Jamie Jennette, Katie Rutterer and Alison Whitcomb.

Rangel's own choreography, the brand-new "Jilted," was inspired by a somber Katherine Anne Porter short story about a bride abandoned by her fiancé in the early 1900s.

"I also like ghost stories about brides jilted at the altar," Rangel said. "It's a little macabre."

The four dancers--Barr, Rutterer, Jennette and Heather Haeger--will dress in black veils, capes and skirts, costumes that veer between a wedding gown and mourning dress. The movement draws on "some of the modern dance vocabulary from the beginning of modern dance, from people like (choreographer) Doris Humphrey," Rangel said, and the music has a "turn-of-the-century folky feel."

Coincidentally, Jennette, Haeger and Rangel are all engaged. "Hopefully, the piece has nothing to do with the future," the choreographer joked.

Rosen also contributed a new work, "Caged," set to music by Steve Reich. Its eight dancers climb a round cargo net that looks like a spider web, Rosen said. "They're being attacked, and they're almost like wild animals fighting for self-preservation. It's high-energy, very athletic and aggressive."

Haeger and Jennette follow up with a comic piece about life in the office. "Workin' It" has dancers desperately tearing days off calendars, yawning and drinking coffee, when they're not careening across stage on office chairs. Dressed in stifling button-down shirts and pants, the piece's seven dancers include newcomer Sarah King.

Barr, another new company member who last danced with O-T-O, premieres another big group work, "Have You Seen It?" A choreographer who also composed pieces at O-T-O, Barr makes movement that is "almost post-modern," Rosen said. "It's fresh, gestural and athletic." Dryden reprises a piece of the trapeze duet "In My Dreams" he debuted at the NEW ART concert last June, and which he excerpted at the ZUZI winter solstice concert in December. For this show, he and Rutterer dance the lyrical ending of the piece in the air.

Jennette also brings back a dance from last summer, "Hustle and Bustle," a group work about political apathy, this time setting it on high school dancers in the troupe's youth ensemble.

Anton Smith, founder of The Human Project, which dances four hip-hop concerts this weekend to live music, first learned about dance on the streets of his native Philadelphia. Growing up in between the tough neighborhoods of North Philly and Germantown, "I discovered African dance in my teens," he said. He even danced some with Rennie Harris, the renowned Philly choreographer who's brought hip-hop to the stage and to critical acclaim.

But after high school, Smith took a turn in the Army and landed in Fort Huachuca. After discharge, he found his way to the UA, and to the formal study of dance. While Smith was a UA student, Harris brought his troupe to perform at Centennial Hall.

"I bumped into him in Tucson, and said to myself, 'Wow, this is a possibility.'"

That possibility became The Human Project, now beginning its third year.

"We're playing up the 'three' in the concert. It's called tri/R/archy: The Rule of Three. And we have three dancers at each age level: three adults, three teenagers and three kids under the age of 8. They're amazing."

Accompanied by live drums, techno music and "turntablism," the shows will premiere six new works, with each adult getting a 10-minute solo.

"We're mixing it up between the group works and the one-man," Smith said. "This is a family show. People will be entertained."

Now that the new management at UApresents has canceled the planned February concert of the Beijing Modern Dance Company, the Peking Acrobats will be the only Chinese troupe alighting in town this month.

The Tuesday evening family-oriented show will showcase the traditional Chinese art of acrobatics, an ancient discipline that even now makes Chinese teams so strong in diving and gymnastics at the Olympics. The troupe, modern-day descendants of the Great China Circus of the 1920s, features not only dazzling gymnasts, but tumblers, jugglers and cyclists, according to a press release. The acts will include a dozen performers riding a single bike, a Lion Dance, hoop diving and a pyramid of chairs.

Dance Insider magazine raved, "It's like watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon live, without camera tricks creating special effects."

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