Junkyard Dogs

The Second Hand dancers look like new.

So what, exactly, did the three men of The Second Hand do on the David Letterman Show?

"Velcro" is what. The piece, half comedy, half dance, had the three performers loping around the stage in Velcro hats, bouncing Velcro balls from brim to brim, no hands. And they weren't on the Stupid Human Tricks segment, either.

"We were the featured entertainers," insists Andy Horowitz, a co-artistic director, founder and performer of Second Hand, speaking by phone from his home in Binghamton, N.Y. "We had six minutes."

The tiny troupe, whose members, Horowitz says, are "as much physical humorists as dancers," brings its brand of diverting modern dance to Tucson this Saturday night, in a concert at Pima Community College West. (Second Hand is just one of the dance performances in town this weekend; the others are detailed below.) "We're dancers but we're acrobats and we're comedians. The Tucson show will be funny, stark, tender and close to madness."

The 15-year-old company has traveled around the world, to every country in Europe except Portugal, and to Israel, Korea and all over the U.S. Between their stints on Letterman, the Jerry Lewis Telethon and "idiotic variety shows around the world," they estimate their TV audience at one billion. Artists in residence at SUNY Binghamton, they've taught workshops the world round; in Tucson they'll spend Saturday morning giving a master class to Amphi and University/Rincon High dance students.

It all got started, Horowitz says, in the late '80s, when he was working for the Touchstone Theater in Arlington, Va. A theatre grad of Binghamton, Horowitz had a rep for building cheap sets out of landfill finds. He hit on the idea of basing a whole show around a "magnificent set made out of garbage." The theater's director gave him an OK, but when he had it ready four months later, "she reneged."

So instead, Horowitz gathered together some Binghamton buddies--Greg O'Brien and Paul Gordon--his bass-playing brother and a Nigerian opera singer, and The Second Hand came to life, giving its first performance at the Ithaca (N.Y.) Festival in June 1987. They took their name from the sets made of recyclables.

From its serendipitous beginning, the troupe has always been all male. (Gordon retired in February this year, and Marlon Torres, a former child soap-opera star from Venezuela, replaced him.)

"We weren't going to be all men," Horowitz says. "We're not philosophically male. But there was such a magic and a chemistry, that it just started to fly. So we kept it."

Second Hand is often compared to Pilobolus, which also started out as a college-centered collective of late-blooming male dancers. But while Pilobolus has become "much more a mainstream modern dance company, we just keep getting fringier and fringier," Horowitz says proudly. Like the Pilobolus members, the Second Handers had done related movement before settling on dance. O'Brien, an all-state high school athlete in Connecticut, had come to Binghamton as a soccer player. Horowitz himself studied acrobatics and martial arts at a Chinese Opera School in Taiwan for two years; Torres got exposed to dance via the character he played on his soap opera, a child dancer.

Leigh Ann Rangel, who runs the Pima performing arts series, knows The Second Hand from her hometown of Binghamton. A dancer who's co-artistic director of NEW ARTiculations, Rangel thinks the comparison to Pilobolus is apt.

"Second Hand does a lot of balancing and sculptural work, a lot of comedy and acrobatics," Rangel says. "They're very fun and accessible."

Horowitz agrees that what makes Second Hand distinct is "our precarious, unusual balancing. It's hard to tell who's holding who up."

And the Second Handers still like second-hand stuff. Horowitz doesn't want to give away which gimcracks Tucsonans will see on stage with the dancers but offered a hint.

"We're tentatively planning to have a human being flown out" from the stage, he confides. "We're waiting to hear from the technical director."

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