On the Spot

A musician, two writers and five dancers team up to create a different kind of show

On Sunday evening, the five dancers, two writers and one musician of Movement Salon plan to stage a performance at the ZUZI's Theater.

But that's about all they have planned.

"We just sort of show up," dancer Katie Rutterer says. "Whatever happens, happens. There's no plan, no choreography."

Their improvisational performance, Making It Up As We Go Along, will last about an hour. It's the troupe's formal debut, but the members have been getting together every Sunday for the last 2 1/2 years to practice "compositional improvisation." And they've done short pieces in the quarterly showcases at Rhythm Industry Performance Factory, where they work out each week, and another at the former Tooley's Café.

Like those previous outings, the concert will consist of modern-dance movement, spoken word and music created on the spot.

"We pay attention to what's going on and watch each other," Rutterer explains. "You're in the moment."

More a collective than a troupe, the other members include "sound sculptress" Vicki Brown, a master violinist—and research psychologist—who makes acoustic and electronic soundscapes.

"She plays keyboard, violin, weird little balls and shakers," Rutterer says. "Or the other people play her instruments."

The two poets are Lisa Bowden, publisher of Kore Press, and TC Tolbert, assistant director at Tucson's Casa Libre en la Solana.

"I move or vocalize extemporaneously," Bowden says. "We have overhead projectors, and we introduce writing onto the wall. Sometimes, it becomes a dialogue or a call-and-response. We riff off each other."

For a writer, she adds, "It's exciting, edgy and nerve-wracking to come out from behind the desk."

Rutterer and two of the other dancers, Kimi Eisele and Amanda Morse, hail from NEW ARTiculations. Jennifer Hoefle dances with ZUZI, and Greg Colburn has danced with nearly every local modern troupe.

Movement Salon got its start in 2007, shortly after NEW ART brought in improvisational choreographer and dancer Jennifer Kayle to set a piece on the company. Kayle, a professor at University of Iowa and a member of the improvisational troupe The Architects, had the dancers do plenty of improv, Rutterer remembers.

"We came up with a lot of movement ourselves," she says.

The resulting dance, "Beauty Heads," was performed in the March 2007 NEW ART concert.

Impressed with Kayle's method, Eisele and Hoefle signed up for a summer workshop The Architects run in Lancaster, Pa. The Architects met at Middlebury College back in the 1980s, and while all have gone on to separate careers, they maintain their own troupe and make a point of teaching their principles to other artists.

When Eisele and Hoefle came back to Tucson, they founded Movement Salon. Morse later traveled east to attend the The Architects' movement intensive, and so did musician Brown.

The Architects teach four tenets, Morse says: "Show up; pay attention; tell the truth; and don't get attached to results."

The Movement Salon artists try to follow those principles in their weekly sessions, limited only by the parameters of time and space, Morse says. The artworks that emerge are ephemeral, and can go in any and all directions, from comical to tragic.

In November, the collective invited another member of The Architects, Katherine Ferrier, to come to Tucson to work with them.

"She did an intensive here with us at ZUZI," Morse says. "It was amazing. You get into such a different space. We spent multiple days and many hours. We were really able to push our boundaries. We were in a comfort zone (before), playing the same roles. She helped us break that."

Writer Bowden had already done her part to eliminate barriers between art forms when she collaborated with NEW ART in its Invisible Cities project downtown in fall 2008. Movement Salon does much the same, she says.

"We've been working toward integrating all the different genres in a way that's seamless," she says.

Making It Up As We Go Along will be a welcome break in a sparse modern-dance season, since most of the city's strapped small troupes are not staging shows this year. And there's more positive dance news ahead.

When Nanette Robinson of ZUZI learned of the other companies' difficult finances, she invited them to consider performing in the troupe's theater at the Historic YWCA at discounted rates. Rutterer, artistic director of NEW ART, says her company was happy to take her up on the offer—and the company has scheduled a formal concert at ZUZI on April 16 and 17.

NEW ART typically dances at Pima College West Center for the Arts.

"We can't afford Pima now," Rutterer says.

Last weekend, ZUZI hosted NEGYPT, a concert by a newish experimental troupe, quasi cum aluminum dance unit. Artistic director and principal dancer Brandon Kodama led a company of 11 through solemn, repetitive dance movements inspired by Japanese butoh. (Kodama calls it deletist choreography.)

The opening piece began with several dancers lying on the floor, their heads encased in boxes. It was an arresting image, and the other dancers gradually eased onto the stage to dance among them. Dressed all in black, the performers moved mostly in unison. Their gestures were somewhat reminiscent of the work of Eiko and Koma, the modern-dance duo who prize slowness and stillness.

A winner of a 2009 Arizona Commission on the Arts individual grant, Kodama enlisted composer Daniel Naiman to create a suitably spacey soundtrack, punctuated by plenty of percussion.

Unfortunately, someone made a poor decision to play the recorded music at an ear-shattering volume. Many audience members held their hands to their ears, and I was forced to flee the theater in pain just a quarter-hour into the performance. It was too bad, because both the music and the dance seemed original and interesting—at least what I saw and heard of them.

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