Need a Lift?

ZUZI's spring dance performance takes to the air and delves into the self.

Five years ago, when Nancy Mellan and Nanette Robinson were thinking about starting a dance company, Mellan read a book that changed her life.

The book, Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life by former Tucsonan Greg Levoy, urges readers to listen for the "call" that will alert them to their true path in life, Mellan said. She realized that her calling was to form a dance troupe.

"It's special for me," she said last week. "ZUZI wouldn't be in existence if I hadn't read that book."

Now Mellan is returning the favor. In this weekend's concert, Lifted: Dances for Spring, the ZUZI! Move It Dance Company will perform her brand-new piece, "Callings," inspired by Levoy's book.

"It's an investigation of calls both profound and mundane," Mellan said. "In the early days, Nanette and I would be at Zenith (dance studios), and we'd get calls and dance with the phone. We'd laugh a lot. This piece is about the profound notion of a calling, and the mundane notion of calling--the ones we get on cell phones, pagers and Web browsers."

Divided into four parts, the modern-dance work for seven is set to the music of Meredith Monk. It opens with a spoken monologue, "A Still Small Voice."

"There's a narrative throughout," Mellan noted. "Thom Lewis of Funhouse (Movement Theater) and I talk about how to make modern dance accessible. Narrative helps. I just love language and I incorporate it into my work."

The second section, "Impulse," is a structured improvisation developed and danced by Robinson, ZUZI's co-artistic director, with a quartet of dancers in the background. Part III, "Seuketat," has four dancers--Robinson, Betsy Besenik, Nicole Buffan and Emily Willard--dancing to a Monk passage that evokes frogs calling across a pond.

"Seuketat is an Eskimo word for someone who has the ears of an animal, who can listen to the wind and tell you the length of a pine needle," Mellan said. "You need to listen in this way if you're seeking an authentic life."

For the work's finale, "Into the Silence," dancers Marisol Astiazaran, Yumi Shirai and UA grad student Kari Schroeder join the four others on stage.

The concert, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night at the Historic YWCA, also features a new work by co-artistic director Nanette Robinson. Her duet, "I Am Another Myself," features dancers Buffan and Willard. "It's very relational, about a strong bond between two women," Mellan said.

Two dances in the show explore cultural identity and traditions. Shirai solos in "Teahouse," a traditional Japanese dance by Masaya Fujima, arranged by Tucson teacher Mari Kaneta. Shirai, Mellan said, is "grace personified inside and out. We're so excited to have her traditions in our company."

Astiazaran, likewise, performs a solo that dissects her heritage. Choreographed to a bilingual Spanish/English narrative and the music of Dr. Didj, "Playz" asks, "Am I the person I think I am?" Mellan said. "It's very playful."

Beth Braun will present "The Struggle," an excerpt from her evening-length work, The Journey Continues. Braun's own company, Beth Braun Dance Partnership, has performed the work to live music each of the last three years as a benefit for the University Medical Center pediatric transplant fund. This year's performance, scheduled for April 5, was canceled because of a family illness, but the dancers had been rehearsing it, so a piece of it was moved to the ZUZI concert. Performed to tapes of the original music by Arthur Miscione and John Neighbors, the piece this time includes the choreographer as a dancer.

"It's going to be really different," Braun said. The work's usual 13 dancers have been pared down to seven, and people have found the leaner dance "more powerful. Every year I make changes. The structure is the same, but I added some new movement."

In the middle of "The Struggle" is a trapeze solo composed and danced by Nathan Dryden. Dryden also opens the evening, with a structured improvisation he and Gregory Colburn are doing with the whole company. The lighthearted work is a "fun way to greet the audience," Mellan said.

The show closes with a reprise of Robinson's "Falling Angels and Broken Wings," which premiered last year. An exploration of "aerial dance, flying and falling," it's danced by most of the company, on the floor and on suspended hoops. ZUZI is staging the work once more, Mellan said, because "It's a shame we develop this beautiful repertory and then don't do the pieces again. It's wonderful to have the opportunity to show the piece again and make it better. We saved the best for last."

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