Do you prefer them on the page?
Or would you like them on the stage?
Sam-I-Am, the Dr. Seuss character, does not like green eggs and ham, not here or there or anywhere. He no doubt would be averse to seeing the loathed victuals on stage. But the modern dancers of ZUZI! Dance Company do like green eggs and ham--and their creator--so much they're putting on a whole show of SEUSS!
"We've been inspired by Dr. Seuss' stories," says artistic director Nanette Robinson.
And the troupe is betting that the local audience will also like the theatrical dish. With Dr. Seuss' famously wild backdrops and stretchy characters readily lending themselves to ZUZI's flying ladders and acrobatic modern dance, the show will run the next three weekends in ZUZI's Theater at the Historic YWCA.
Green Eggs and Ham comes to life in a mime piece, complete with a 4-foot-wide plate loaded with the dreaded food. If I Ran the Circus, Oh the Places You'll Go!, The Sneetches and The King's Stilts turn up in dances, and so do a cavalcade of renegade characters escaped from the pages of Seuss' other popular children's books.
The fish from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish mysteriously joins the fun in "Green Eggs," and so does the Lorax. Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson makes a vocal appearance, reading aloud the text of Green Eggs and Ham.
"This has been a really fun show to do," Robinson says.
The idea came from Kevin Johnson, director of Arizona Onstage Productions and arts teacher at Basis School. The producer of numerous musicals, Johnson has run the music and drama programs at ZUZI's summer camps the last six years. Last summer, he told the ZUZI! crew that he's always wanted to see Seuss done to dance.
"We loved the idea," Robinson says. It fit in with the troupe's plan to "do something more thematic" than usual for the annual spring show.
Johnson's schedule constrained him from actually contributing theatrical sketches to the show, but he's served as a consultant. But ZUZI! did snare Rick Wamer and Lorie Heald of Theatrical Mime Theatre to choreograph a mime piece. Switching from the easy flow of modern dance to the more controlled movements of mime has been a challenge for the ZUZI! members, Robinson says.
"We're pushing the envelope to explore mime," she adds with a laugh. But the task has been made easier by Wamer, who she says is "so brilliant in his thinking and so professional."
Wamer sets "Green Eggs" in a church, with the assorted Seuss characters trying to hide the giant plate of breakfast from a preacher. (Basis student Artie Holtman constructed the fake food.) All 11 company members try on a character for size, Jennifer Hoefle portraying the Lorax, for instance, and Robinson playing the blind bellman.
"We each found the essence of our character in a workshop with Rick," she says.
Likewise, the soundscape is a wild mix, overlaid with the reading by Jackson, tunes from the failed Broadway musical Seussical, and rap and Weird Al Yankovic "Green Eggs" music.
The tale If I Ran the Circus inspired the raucous dance "Zoom a Zoupe Troupe," choreographed by Nathan Dryden and Robinson. The Seuss story takes place entirely in the imagination of a young boy, who fantasizes a circus materializing on a dusty lot in his neighborhood. Set to tango and accordion music, the dance for 10 is full of "flying apparatuses and quirky, playful costumes," with dancers dancing in the air and on the stage.
Carie Schneider is the ringmaster who conjures up a lion tamer (Alison Chafin), a Japanese fan dancer (Yumi Shirai) and a tightrope walker (Lia Griesser, a Tucson High dancer recently promoted to full company member).
Dryden, along with Hoefle, also choreographed a series of three interlude duets that riff on Seuss characters. Called "Thing, Thing, What's That Thing?" the dances feature Bridget Gunning and Schneider on roller skates, Dryden and Hoefle in a stretchy costume that connects them at the head, and Nicole Buffan and Shirai in a "hand and foot duet."
Wendy Joy's "When He Worked, He Really Worked; When He Played, He Really PLAYED" is a dance for four based on the Seuss tale The King's Stilts. The Art of Noise provides the music.
The king works hard by day, but loves to play on his stilts at night, Robinson says, and is distraught when someone steals his favorite plaything. Robinson and Joy represent an older generation of workers, while Chafin and Amber Eubanks dance the playful young. The lesson is that "it's important to play," Robinson says.
The 12 members of the ZUZI! youth troupe Many Limbs dance the story of The Sneetches, choreographed by Robinson and Hoefle. The Seuss tale has a flock of birds troubled by the fact that half of them have stars on their bellies, and half don't. An enterprising villain runs a machine that will add stars to the have-nots, and erase stars from the haves, giving the troupe the opportunity for some high flying.
"We're using a triple ladder as the machine," Robinson says, "so we'll have dancing on the floor as well as on the ladder."
Oh the Places You'll Go!, written the year before Seuss's death in 1991, inspired a seven-section work by Robinson. The philosophical--but still playful--book is about the journey through life, "about finding choice and balance," she says.
Allison Akmajian narrates the story, and seven dancers move through a series of solos, duets and group works. The music ranges from classical by the Kronos Quartet to traditional Ghanaian by the Pearl of Africa.
The tale's gentle wisdom may help sustain the troupe as they deal with the death from cancer last Friday of musician Arthur Miscione, a frequent ZUZI! collaborator and husband of ZUZI! member Beth Braun Miscione. The performance is dedicated to the Miscione family, Robinson says; contributions in his memory are being accepted by the UMC Heart Transplant Fund, which the Misciones championed in their collaborative work The Journey, performed several times in the early 2000s. (Donations may be sent to 1501 N. Campbell Ave., P.O. Box 245082, Tucson, AZ 85724-5082.)
A few lines from the Seuss story seem apt:
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
Somehow you'll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You'll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.
With banner flip-flapping,
once more you'll ride high!
Ready for anything under the sky.