Of Water and Air

Dance troupes Riverdance and Aeros pour into Centennial Hall this week.

The dance troupes that will descend upon Tucson in the next week cross a dizzying array of borders.

Aeros not only hops the fence between art and athletics; the entertainment spectacle is the handiwork of several sovereign nations. A gymnastics team from Romania performs the dance moves of three leading choreographers from America in an extravaganza conceived in Italy. The show will go on Friday and Saturday at Centennial Hall to the live music of TTG Music Lab.

Riverdance, the acclaimed Irish troupe making its second Tucson visit in as many seasons, likewise blurs boundaries. Its dancers elide traditional folk dance with Broadway glitz, and its choreographers go beyond Emerald Isle step-dancing. Their concert puts the stiff-bodied, foot-stomping Irish step dance in context by showing off such international variants as African-American tap, Russian trepak and Spanish flamenco. Singers and musicians also perform live for the eight shows that begin Tuesday in Centennial Hall.

Edel Ryan, dance captain for the Riverdancers touring the U.S. (another troupe is on Broadway and still another is touring abroad), hails from Galway in the west of Ireland. She herself dances in the shows and "keep(s) a good eye on the lineup," she reported last week by telephone from Los Angeles, where the company has a three-week gig. "Every three weeks we get together and polish up." Michael Flatley, who has left Riverdance to found Lord of the Dance, gets credit as choreographer, along with Moya Doherty and Bill Whelan.

Like most of the troupe's dazzling dancers, Ryan came up the old-fashioned Irish way, training with dance masters and step-dancing in national competitions. In Ireland, competitions in traditional arts from stepping to fiddling command the kind of attention Final Four tournaments get in the U.S.

"I started dancing at 4," she said. "I danced all my life in competitions ... . You have to have done competition dance and have that experience to succeed in Riverdance." But performing for appreciative audiences instead of hard-nosed judges "is much more enjoyable, much more relaxed. We work with the audience. We just love it."

If Riverdance strikes some Irish purists as a commercial corruption of folk tradition, its international success has created new career opportunities for legions of Irish folk dancers. Ryan herself, now age 25, said that by this time, without Riverdance, she would likely have gone into teaching, opening up her own dance studio back home.

"So many Irish dancers had not much of an outlet," she explained. "Now you can make money doing what you love. More young dancers look toward Riverdance as a place to dance."

Now moving into her fourth year with the company, Ryan danced in Tucson with the company last season as well. She's got a flock of aunts and uncles in Boston to keep her from getting homesick, she said, and she gets home to Galway in the summers and at Christmas. This December she was delighted to find that, as Joyce once wrote, "snow was general all over Ireland." But she has no plans to go home permanently to Ireland anytime soon.

"I still really enjoy Riverdance," she said. "I'll be here a little while. We're young and doing what we love." And then in her Irish lilt she added: "We'll be in Tucson soon enough."

GYMNASTS MAY REGULARLY leap and twirl and cartwheel, but they don't precisely dance. Choreographers have dancers moving their bodies in all sorts of ways, from graceful to athletic, but they don't precisely have them doing sports. Aeros, an aerial celebration of choreography unbound, aims to change all that.

This unusual show brings together the world-class Romanian Gymnastic Team with three powerhouse choreographers of American modern dance: David Parsons, founder of the eponymous Parsons Dance Company and a former dancer with Paul Taylor; Moses Pendleton, a co-founder of Pilobolus, which wowed audiences in Tucson last weekend; and Daniel Ezralow, a Hollywood choreographer and director who once danced with Lar Lubovitch and Paul Taylor. He also co-created Momix and ISO Dance.

Added into this choreographic triple threat are the founders of Stomp, who lent directing expertise to Aeros.

The dance team came together at the invitation of an Italian producer who imagined pairing world-class gymnasts with top-notch dance choreographers. On a scouting expedition to Bucharest, the choreographers auditioned Romanian gymnasts and came up with a troupe of 15 athletes, none of them older than 26.

The gymnasts, who have not abandoned their usual athletic tourneys while touring with Aeros, won raves in Italy. One critic rhapsodized over the show's "challenge to the law of gravity and to physical dance." The American version of the show was developed in Florida, and it comes to Tucson only weeks after its American debut at UCLA in early January.

Aeros plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 1 at Centennial Hall and at 8 p.m. Friday, February 2. Tickets are $22 to $34, with discounts available for students, children and UA employees. Tickets are available at the box office at 621-3341 or at tickets.com.

Riverdance performs eight shows at Centennial Hall, from Tuesday, February 6 through Sunday, February 11. The concerts open at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, and continue at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, at 8 p.m. Friday, at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $40 to $56; no discounts are offered. Tickets are available at the box office at 621-3341 and at tickets.com.

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