Inspiring Rhythms

A dance/spoken-word collaboration highlights a busy week of performances

The last two winners of the Arizona Arts Award are collaborating on a spoken work/dance piece that will make its debut this weekend.

Poet Charles Alexander, the first writer ever to get the prestigious prize from the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, is recording his poem "Pushing Water 23." Last spring's winner, O-T-O artistic director Annie Bunker, choreographed a duet to Alexander's spoken words. Bunker will dance the piece to the recording at the O-T-O warehouse show If Walls Could Speak. (For this week's many other dance performances, read further.)

When Bunker asked Alexander for a poem, "I gave her this piece right away, and she had an idea back right away," the poet reported from his city home during the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Bunker agreed.

"That's the way it is with us," she said from her country home. "Our work together is always at ease."

Alexander has published at least seven books of his poetry, and reads his work and teaches in workshops and colleges around the country. Locally, he has taught at Pima and the UA Poetry Center, and he runs Chax Press, a publisher of fine books and chapbooks. The $25,000 prize will allow him to take time in the next year to write a new book of poetry and to complete a book of essays, he said.

"It's a visionary prize," he noted. "The donor, Mary Bartol, wants to do something in a significant way to impact an artist's career and have that impact on the wider community."

He began his "Pushing Water 23" last December as a tribute to a friend who had recently died, the experimental poet Jackson Mac Lowe. (It's part of a larger sequence that also honors the late poet Robert Creeley.) Its images of light honor The Light Poems of Mac Lowe. Some sample Alexander lines:

designation of light
remembrance of light
creation of light
the movement of light through a prism

Bunker said the poem's recurring rhythms inspired her to choreograph a dance in spirals. "I spiral out from the center, and the other figure (Aurelia Cohen) spirals in."

The poet and choreographer have collaborated numerous times over the years. Bunker loves to dance to Alexander's poetry, she said, especially when he reads it himself. "Charles has a wonderful voice."

If the poem is a goodbye to a late poet, the dance is a farewell to the east studio in the hulking O-T-O warehouse at Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue. If Walls Could Speak is the last of the walkabout shows that had performers and audience members traveling from the larger west studio to the smaller east studio over the course of the evening. The landlord, Mark Berman, needs the east studio for storage for his plumbing-supply business, Bunker said.

"He's been a wonderful landlord," she added. "But we're sad to lose the space."

The loss of rehearsal space could also have an impact on the smaller arts groups that rent out the studio, some of whom will perform in the show, including Dondi Marble's Capoeira Malandragem. This lively troupe dances traditional Brazilian capoeira, a movement form begun by slaves centuries ago. This weekend, they'll perform "Makulele," a fragment of which was seen in an Orts concert a half-dozen years ago. Also on the program is The Human Project, a hip-hop troupe led by Anton Smith and featuring Charlie Luna and Adrian Ruiz.

The warehouse concerts always feature innovative genre-jumping and last-minute surprises. This weekend's scheduled mix includes a reading by poet Richard Tavenner, a sampling of O-T-O's trademark trapeze dances, and works by O-T-O'ers Nicole Stansbury, Nicole Sasala, Lena Lauer, Sukie Keita and Danielle Jones, among others.

Besides the alternative-movement arts at the Ortspace, Tucson will begin its round of traditional ballet Nutcrackers this weekend, with Tucson Regional Ballet at the Tucson Convention Center's Leo Rich Theater (see "December Tradition," Nov. 24). But plenty of other dance concerts will shimmy through a wide range of dance styles.

The dance majors of the UA Dance Ensemble will work their way through a dizzying number of pieces--17 dances by 20 choreographers in four concerts in as many days--at the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre. James Clouser, a ballet-oriented professor, presents his tongue-in-cheek "Suite Dimitri." Sam Watson, a jazz prof who also dips into modern, travels into a surreal world in "Grim Tales." Ballet professor Melissa Lowe offers up a whimsical homage to cats in "Nine Lives," a work for nine.

Some grad and ex-students mix their dances in with the professors' work. Former student Ashley Bowman deploys two violinists--Benjamin Nisbet and Rose Todaro--onstage with the dancers to play Bartók in her "Two Violins."

The rousing rhythms of East and West African dance will reverberate on the stage at Rincon/University High Thursday night (tonight, if you're picking this up on our official distribution day). Sponsored by The Dambe Project, the show, Yelema, or Transformation, is the culmination of a semester-long residency in African arts at the school. It's been led by Ojeya Banks, a dancer and choreographer with ZUZI Dance Company, and musician Martin Klabunde, both of whom studied in Africa.

The concert features dance, song and music, particularly percussion. The percussionists are members of the prize-winning Rincon/University High School Rangers Marching Band. The young dancers study at the high school with Beth Braun-Miscione, who, speaking of arts awards, last spring won the Buffalo Exchange award for emerging artists, also given by the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.

Dance students at Pima Community College undertake the ambitious "Phantom," a 30-minute dance drama choreographed by dance professor Kristin Eberhardt to Andrew Lloyd Webber's music. The students also try their hand at their own choreography, in dance styles from jazz to hip-hop. The five PCC shows begin Wednesday, Dec. 7, and continue through next weekend.

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