Moving Movements

Sensuous dance abounds in Tucson before and after Valentine's Day

The sinewy dancers of Pilobolus don't mind being nude on stage.

"We do occasionally get naked," says Robby Barnett, one of four founding choreographers of the distinctive modern dance troupe. The tights won't come off entirely in the Pilobolus performance at Centennial Hall Tuesday night, but, Barnett adds naughtily, "We may be scantily clad."

And those barely dressed muscular bodies will twist and turn themselves through singular choreographic conjugations of the kind that the Connecticut-based troupe's been inventing for nearly 35 years. Famously founded in an all-men's dance class at Dartmouth College in 1971, Pilobolus specializes in fantastical partnering, with the dancers twined together in ways previously unimaginable. A man might walk around with a woman draped over his head, for instance, or two men will wind themselves up into a single rolling sphere.

"The original choreography was making up movement that looked cool," remembers Barnett, speaking by telephone from snowbound rural New England. "We had a desire to invent original vocabulary for each piece. There's a lot of physical contact.

"It's like two mirrored worlds. The physical contact is tension, release, weight, balance. The parallel is the psychological connection--when I touch someone, I show how I feel about them."

Originally an all-male collective of four dancer/choreographers, the quartet added two women after several years, including Alison Chase, their college teacher, who left Dartmouth and "ran away and joined the circus," Barnett says. The circus metaphor is apt: The troupe named for a fungus always aims to entertain. Acclaimed in the dance world for its innovative choreography, Pilobolus also wins over non-dance audiences with its joyful physicality.

The UApresents Centennial Hall show, one of just several dance concerts this week keyed in to Valentine's Day (see below), will be divided into two parts, to be danced by five of the six current dancers. (The originals no longer perform; Barnett says, "I was last on stage 10 years ago.") The first act offers up a pair of narrative dances about love and coupling; the second provides "purely kinetic" work.

Chase's "Night of the Park Moon" opens the concert. "Our version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth"--the story of a broken-hearted husband who journeys to the underworld in search of his dead wife--is a "good example of our narrative style," Barnett says. "It's beautiful visually."

Jonathan Walken, another founding member, follows up with his "Wedlock," a series of "six or seven interlocking duets about relationships."

In the second half, choreographer Michael Tracy pairs two dancers in "Symbiosis," a "purely kinetic work that's a Pilobolus classic," Barnett says. "It's a male-female duet, a great example of partnering. It's a concentrated, slow, physical, beautiful duet between a man and a woman."

The finale, "Megawatt," also by Walken, is a brand-new, explosive dance for the whole company set to wild electronic music by Radiohead, Squarepusher and Primus.

"It's a good example of what we do without 300 pounds of weight on our backs," Barnett says. "It's very lively, very fast, very physical."

Up the UA Mall at the Stevie Eller Dancer Theatre, the university's own dancers will dance all weekend in Dances From the Heart: A Valentine's Day Special.

The seasonal concert provides a catholic definition of love, rolling out dances on romance, marriage, the mother-daughter bond and even the old-fashioned love of show biz.

"It's not just romance," says dance division head Jory Hancock. "It's all forms of love."

Hancock and UA dance professor Melissa Love, themselves a married couple, bring back a piece they choreographed back in 1992. "Liza's Afternoon" was originally an homage to an older couple they knew. The husband, a member of the dance division board, was a "cute little guy, up there in age, a former tapper. His wife was an elegant singer and ballroom dancer. We created the piece imagining what they were like when they were young."

Set to Gershwin piano music, played live by Mark Shafer, the dance captures the two future lovebirds in a chance meeting at the park. "It's about the journey they go on," Hancock says. Students Keri Poff and Cory Graham alternate the roles with Elizabeth George and César Rubio.

Gershwin also provides the song for a solo about the downside of romantic love. His "Someone to Watch Over Me," in a recording by Linda Ronstadt, is the soundtrack for a melancholy work by the late David Berkey, a UA dance professor who died last fall. UA grad Claire Hancock, who learned the piece from Berkey himself, came back to town from her new job with Oberlin Dance Collective in San Francisco to teach it to student Andrea Day.

Jazz dance professor Susan Quinn's "Momma Please Don't Cry" was inspired by her own mother's death. Quinn herself takes the part of the deceased mother, while students Rebecca Blaney and Addie Hoobler take turns dancing the bereaved daughter.

"It's terribly sad," says dance professor Michael Williams, who's married to Quinn, "but it's lovely and moving."

The ups-and-downs of erotic pursuits also get an airing. Lori Heald, a UA dance grad now co-directing Tucson's Theatrical Mime Theatre, choreographed a comical look at would-be lovers on the prowl. Heald, co-director Rick Wamer and Rebekah Forrest all mime through Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night." Patsy Cline's "Crazy" is the backdrop for UA professor James Clouser's piece about the goings-on in a parking lot behind a country-and-Western bar. Undergrad Amber Duke's "When Love Speaks," a modern-dance trio, takes a high-minded look at love, to a soundtrack of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Williams' "Hollywood" closes the show. A "big tap-dance extravaganza," the work is like "a backstage musical where the girl hopes to get the part, doesn't get the part, then does," Williams says. "It's very musical theater." Tunes include "Lullaby of Broadway" and "There's No Business Like Show Business." Underneath a classic Hollywood sign, 17 dancers in period 1930s costumes tap their way through 19 minutes of unadulterated show-biz hoopla.

"It's very fluff," Williams says. "The Valentine connection is that it's about the love of show business."

Finally, a consortium of local modern dancers and performance artists join forces for you gotta have heART, a Valentine's weekend "no-frills dance happenin'."

Dancers from NEW ARTiculations and ZUZI! Dance Company, the Bad Girls Storytelling Brigade and other performance artists offer up edgy and comical works, on the ground and in the air via trapeze. The Tucson Weekly's own Jon Hobson, a rock-music reviewer and frequent dance concert patron, makes the leap to the stage for his dance debut. Lovestruck attendees can even win a date with Hobson, in an auction benefiting ZUZI!