Longest Night

This year, ZUZI! celebrates the solstice with some lullabies

Earlier this year, Nanette Robinson began to dream frequently.

"I was in upstate New York, and I was having a lot of dreams," says Robinson, artistic director of ZUZI! Dance Company. She also had a soundtrack to her slumbers. The troupe's managing director, Melinda Dorling, had given her a CD of lullabies, and Robinson slept soundly to the soothing baby tunes.

One Celtic lullaby, "Cradle Spell of Dunvegan," so intrigued her that she decided to choreograph a dance to it. Then she invited two company members to create dances to lullabies from their native lands.

"Yumi Shirai is from Japan, and Maria Villa is from Colombia. I asked them if they have special lullabies from their countries."

Soon, it dawned on Robinson that she had a theme for this year's 10th Annual Solstice Celebration. Next week, the concert Dreams and Lullabies marks the year's shortest day--and longest night--with an evening of modern and aerial dance, spoken word and live music. Many of the works are about the dreams that permeate sleep, and the melodies that help people get there.

Singer Sally Withers, who's danced in pieces in the past, this time contributes her vocals on three out of the 11 dances.

"She's a beautiful singer, and she's bilingual in English and Spanish," Robinson said. "I asked her to sing for one piece, and one led to three."

Villa's piece, "Working Away," takes the lullaby theme seriously. Two new moms dance in it with their new babies, and a new dad sings, along with Withers singing in Spanish.

"Maria is a doula," Robinson says. A doula is a woman who helps other women through labor, and Villa invited recent clients to participate. Villa dances along with mother-baby pairs Gretchen and Lily Larson-Wolbrink, and Stephanie and Kiera Hamilton. The songs are "Duerme Negritoa," a traditional lullaby of Afro-Antillean origin, and "Working Away," by the dad, Ben Larson-Wolbrink. Hoshin Gupta plays the music.

"Glacial Night," a community workshop piece put together by Robinson, moves from sweet baby slumbers to a young girl dreaming. It's danced by nine non-pro dancers, who helped shape the piece in multiple sessions in which they recorded their dreams. Ten-year-old Mikaela Fontana plays the dreamer.

"The dancers are characters in her dream. She's in her pajamas, sleeping at the beginning."

Gupta composed the music, and the lullabies are sung by Withers and played live by UA student Robert Hanshaw on electric bass, Beth Farber on clarinet, John Bormanis on synthesizer and Gupta himself on guitar.

"The musicians came in two weeks ago and started rehearsing with us," Robinson reports. "It's been such a pleasure."

Withers also sings for Robinson's "Ladder of Light," an aerial piece for six dancers, with Bormanis on guitar. Though the Celtic lullaby helped trigger the whole show, Robinson ended up not choreographing a dance to it. Instead, she used music and lyrics by Wendy Adams, a friend of Withers.

"'Ladder' was inspired by music, not a dream, but it's very solstice," Robinson says. "It's about climbing the ladder to the light. Wendy had a friend who was dying, and the song was about him. When I'm at that place in my life, I want that for myself, the ladder of light" into death.

Dancers are Alison Hart, Nicole Sanchez, Karyn Reim, Shirai, Scott Bird and Nathan Cottam, a new company member who's a grad student in dance at the UA.

"Dream Pillows" is another trapeze work danced to live music. Choreographed by Hart and Robinson, and members of the Many Limbs youth company, it's danced to music composed and performed by Dan Howarth. The kid pillow wielders are Molly Stack, Madeline Hudak-Barnes, Amelia Marsh, Galen Sumida-Ross, Hailey Sounart, Emelia Steigert and Alicia Tharp.

Shirai choreographed a trio to "Lullaby for the Sky" to a piece of Japanese music. Two young girls from the youth troupe, Marsh and Sumida Ross, dance it with Shirai.

"It's very sweet," Robinson said.

"Playful Warrior," by former company member Ojeya Cruz Banks, is danced by adults, but it's about the "wisdom, playfulness and friendship of childhood," Robinson says. On Saturday night only, Cruz Banks will dance Part One with Omar Jordan, followed by Hart, Robinson, Amber Eubanks, Sanchez and guest dancer Sukie Keita, from OTO, in Part Two. The Thursday and Friday concerts will feature only Part Two.

Other works on the program include Beth Braun Miscione's opener, danced by the entire cast, to a lullaby written by Billy Joel; "Night Sweats," by Hart, danced by Audrey Copeland and Jessie Stewart; and a trapeze work, "To Have," choreographed by Eubanks, and performed by Eubanks and Sanchez.

The grand finale will be Robinson's "Falling Angels and Broken Wings," an older work in which dancers sail above the stage in flying hoops.

Sanchez, Shirai, Eubanks, Villa, Cotton, Hart and Reim dance, along with guest artist Greg Colburn, who has performed with a variety of troupes around town.

"I call his part the manipulator angel," Robinson says. "He has a big role."

And bringing the concert back around to children, Colburn's 5-year-old daughter, Sophie, will dance. She's a wide-awake, full-throttle performer, Robinson says. "She's a little Greg."

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