Modern Narratives

FUNHOUSE offers up stories through dance at 'Tales to Be Told'

Question: Who would think of putting literary works by Dr. Seuss, Jean Genet and Lee Anne Hartley on a single bill?

Answer: Lee Anne Hartley herself, the intrepid artistic director of Tucson's FUNHOUSE movement theater.

At this weekend's Tales to Be Told modern-dance concert at ZUZI's Theater, the three works on the program "are all different stories," Hartley says. "They're versions of narrative dance." (See below for ballet this weekend, courtesy of Ballet Tucson.)

The mood shifts dramatically over the course of the FUNHOUSE concert, segueing from Seuss' philosophical hilarity to Genet's dark subversions to Hartley's heartfelt reminiscences. Departing from the troupe's usual format of a variety of short dances, all of the pieces are a little bit longer, Hartley says, allowing the stories time to develop.

Guest choreographer Nanette Robinson of ZUZI! Dance opens the evening with her comical adaptation of Seuss' 1990 Oh, the Places You'll Go! The last book published before the author's death in 1991, its optimistic catch phrase, "Will you succeed? Yes, you will indeed (98 3/4 percent guaranteed)," is reflected in Robinson's joyous movements.

The 18-minute piece "takes the audience on a journey through life's many challenges," Hartley says. Its 12 young dancers, all hailing from Ballet Rincon studio on the eastside, "dress in cargo pants and colorful T-shirts" to re-create Seuss' eccentric characters.

FUNHOUSE has a tradition of casting the school's students in its annual spring concert, Hartley notes, and "Ballet Rincon keeps cranking out great dancers."

Her own work, "The Maids," a reprise from 1990, was inspired by Genet's difficult play of the same name, about two household workers who regularly act out a ritual of murder. The French playwright--and notorious bad boy--based his 1947 drama on a real-life crime in which two maids killed their boss and her daughter. Tucson's Rogue Theatre staged the drama two years ago.

"We think that everything is good in life," and then we find that it's not, Hartley says of the play's theme.

Longtime FUNHOUSE dancers Sherry Mulholland and Andrea Murray take the parts of the maids in Hartley's version.

"They're just tearing it up," she says. "They're sinking their teeth into it."

Annie Whitish dances Madame, and Max Whitish is Monsieur, her gentleman caller.

"The Maids" was Hartley's master's thesis at the University of Utah, where she studied under John Wilson, who taught at the UA most of his career. In Utah, Hartley tapped two music students, pianist Bob Cox and singer Lisa Hoffmaster, to improvise around her movement. Their original music was recorded, and Hartley has had it re-mastered for this re-staging.

The concert's finale, "For Bimby," is another Hartley piece. First performed in 1992 in Seattle, where Hartley lived for many years, it's about her paternal grandmother.

The daughter of Irish immigrants, Bimby--Muriel O'Donald Hartley--was "the funniest person I ever met," Hartley remembers. "She was very joyful."

Bimby's son--Hartley's father--was killed in a plane crash when Hartley was not yet 9, and the woman also suffered other tragic losses. Yet it was she who guided her granddaughter through her grief.

"She really helped me," Hartley says. "I probably would have healed eventually, but she made it a slam dunk."

Four dancers perform the five-part work: Tavia Womack, another longtime FUNHOUSER; newcomer Hanna Herrington, 13; and Mulholland and Murray.

"The movement is gestural and athletic," Hartley says.

The opening segment is a "hilarious story" about her father learning to walk. Part two, "Trust," has the dancers "flying each other around." The third section, "Healing From Grief," features alternating solos and trios in slo-mo. Part four, "Endurance" has "lots of running. My grandmother forged ahead walking. I ran around in circles, a pesky kid."

The grand finale, "The Joy of Aging," catalogues "all those gestures I learned from her."

Over at the UA's Stevie Eller Theatre, Ballet Tucson stages its 12th annual Dance and Dessert concert. The menu of dance is followed by sweet treats concocted by local restaurants.

The pièce de résistance is Antony Tudor's "Fandango." Coming at the tail end of the Tudor centenary, the chamber ballet for five women gets its first airing at Ballet Tucson. The late Tudor, one of the 20th century's dance greats, choreographed "Fandango" in 1963 for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. Set to music by 18th-century Spanish composer Padre Antonio Soler, it's set in a village plaza, where five señoritas engage in a furious dance competition.

The troupe steps into jazz in Sam Watson's "Hi Jinx," originally composed by the UA dance prof for Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. Kim Robards, whose eponymous troupe Kim Robards Dance is based in Denver, pushes the dancers into modern in her "Full Moon Rising," a lyrical contemporary piece.

Both Robards and Watson are returning guests--they each presented a piece in last year's Dance and Dessert. Mary Beth Cabana, Ballet Tucson's artistic director, invites them to give her dancers a chance to stretch into other genres.

Cabana takes the performers back to ballet in "A Modo Nostro (In Our Own Manner)." Danced to Vivaldi, her work pairs neoclassical ballet with Renaissance court dance.

Finally, assistant artistic director Chieko Imada turns the dancers in still another direction, east to Asia. Her premiere, a ballet inspired by Japanese dance, dresses the dancers in colorful kimonos. They manipulate parasols and fans as they move through elegant Japanese gestures, choreographed to the John Williams soundtrack for Memoirs of a Geisha.

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