Stages of Sin

A triple play of dance performances steam up the desert.

The work of the late choreographer Bob Fosse has always been drenched in sin. His Broadway and movie dances were never about good cheer, good girls or even good boys. No, his dancers in black fishnets naughtily danced vice and degradation, they shimmied prostitution, they sashayed murder. Think the Emcee in Cabaret, the murderess in Chicago, the dissipated Fosse himself in All That Jazz.

Think sin.

Fosse, the musical revue that encapsulates the man's work from the 1954 Pajama Game to the 1986 Big Deal, slinks into town Tuesday for a weeklong engagement at the UA's Centennial Hall. Fosse himself, of course, went to that big dance hall in the sky back in 1987, so this 1999 revue, a Tony Award winner for best musical, was put together with the advice and consent of Ann Reinking, a former Fosse dancer and girlfriend, and Gwen Verdon, a former Fosse dancer and wife. (Reinking co-directs; Verdon is artistic adviser, while Chet Walker gets credit for re-creating the dances.)

"Ann Reinking gave us direction," says singer/dancer Reva Rice in a telephone interview from Nashville, where the traveling company was performing last week. "But from both (Reinking) and Gwen Verdon we were able to get more of the history" and Fosse's thinking on each piece.

The show, with 29 musical numbers, promises all the sultry sensuality expected in such numbers as "Steam Heat," "Big Spender" and "Mein Herr."

Fosse worked as actor, dancer, choreographer and director on the stage, in movies and on television, and enjoys the distinction of being the only director ever to win the show biz Triple Crown in one year. In 1973, he won an Oscar for the movie Cabaret, a Tony for the musical Pippin and an Emmy for the television special Liza with a Z. The show travels on all three of those terrains, excerpting dances from 11 of Fosse's Broadway shows, eight of his movies and eight of his television shows.

Fosse, Rice says, shows off "different periods of Fosse's works. There's not a story line, but it does take you through his periods, where he was, what his attitudes and opinions were."

The show may not tell a story, but as Rice acknowledges, nearly all of Fosse's dances have a narrative edge. Performers "must incorporate their acting and their dancing skills."

Fosse's famously angular, famously sexual dance style is the opposite of ballet's elegance. The Fosse body turns in, rather than out; the shoulders twitch; the head bows; the spine curves and slouches.

"It's a pedestrian type of movement, with style, with panache," Rice says. "It goes against the rules of the classical dance world. It goes against the grain of ballet turnout. You walk with your toes turned in, your body not pulled up. You look cool, relaxed and comfortable."

A live orchestra of 29 pieces accompanies the singers and dancers. Singer Rice, who allows that she's "pretty much the soloist," says she bookends the show with "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," the song that was Fosse's favorite.

And with its smoke machines and its regimen of 88 cigarettes and eight cigars smoked weekly on stage, the production is designed to re-create the mentality of the man Time magazine once said had "so bleak a vision of human desire ... (and a) willingness to stare into the abyss."

BOB FOSSE DOESN'T have a monopoly on sin.

Tucson's own Orts Theatre of Dance, usually family-friendly and well-behaved, this weekend takes an adults-only walk on the wild side, in the performance piece The Nine Sins.

Orts has even multiplied the familiar Seven Deadly Sins into a greater number, adding Gloominess and Languid Indifference to the usual mix of vices.

The dance-performance-music-video event, says artistic director Annie Bunker, features frightening enactments of each of the sins. It was inspired by a series of sinful paintings by Bradley W. Pattison and accompanying poems by Paul Fisher, which the two artists paired into a book. Fisher said the work is so dark that every publisher they contacted turned it down as unsaleable. But Bunker was immediately sold on it after she happened to pick up the book when she was visiting Fisher, a frequent Orts collaborator.

"As soon as we saw it, we knew this had to be a performance piece," Bunker said last week in the Ortspace Warehouse, where the show will take place.

Pattison's paintings, dark, wrenching treatments of the worst human impulses, are now hanging in the studio. Besides serving as backdrops for the multi-media performance, they've also inspired costumes and settings. In Pattison's "Languid Indifference," a monster reclines, turning a lazily contemptuous eye on the world's sorrows. "Avarice" is a human-turned-beast, its red eyes, pointy ears and sharp teeth eager for all the world's goods. And "Unchastity," with bloodshot eyes, covets the world's spouse.

Bunker's dancers will dress as these unsavory sins--green masks and capes for Envy, a sexy push-up bra and black lace skirt for Unchastity--and lurk in the numerous rooms of the warehouse. In a parallel of Dante's descent into the Circles of Hell, "The audience will travel through the back rooms," Bunker said, to be successively greeted by each of the unseemly sins.

"The 'Gloominess' piece will take place on the stairs," she explained, leading the way into Orts' darkest recesses. "In the back room behind the stairs Charles Alexander will be reciting (Fisher's) 'Gloominess' poem."

Beyond "Gloominess," the audience will move onto "Vainglory," be tormented by "Envy" and seated with "Pride," the only piece to be danced on Orts' trademark trapezes.

The outdoor "Anger" work, to be performed in Ferro Alley, touches on a tragic artifact of real-life rage. Here, just outside the studio doors, the arms of the slain Brenda Vicari were found years ago. A painted memorial to the victim, whose body was never found, is still visible on a building wall ("We Love You Diane"). Audience members will be free to flee this painful scene and its angry dancers, and circle back around inside for the final performance piece.

"About 20 people are in the show," Orts said, including her dancing troupe of nine, assorted children and students, painter Pattison, poet Alexander and poet Fisher, who gets to play the King of Envy. Chuck Koesters made three separate video backdrops for the work and "created music for every single piece ... It's a whole collaborative thing."

And there's even a bit of redemption promised at the end. But like most heavenly mysteries, just how this grace will be dispensed is as yet, Bunker said, "a secret."

LUCKILY, IN THE FACE of all this sin, Zenith Dance Collective is presenting a Body Prints Theatre show in a church, St. Paul's Episcopal to be exact. But its church setting notwithstanding, the Zenith gang (which overlaps with Body Prints) is invariably edgy. Last season's Zenith performance entailed partial nudity (female) and earsplitting explosions (male).

This year's Body Prints Theatre: An Evening of Dance Improvisation and Music features choreography by Katharine Harts, a specialist in dance and spirituality; Jon J. McNamara, the wildest of local choreographers; and Eva Tessler, well known for her choreographic work with Zenith, Borderlands, Bloodhut and other local theatres, as well as for teaching ballet at Tucson High Magnet School. Dancers from Tucson High will join Body Prints members for the performance.

The live music comes courtesy of percussionist Todd Hammes, whose credits include Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Coyote Consort; double bass player and composer Patrick Neher, a UA music prof; and Semalulukut, a Native American drumming ensemble.

Fosse opens Tuesday, March 27, and continues through Sunday, April 1, at the UA's Centennial Hall. The show begins at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, 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 are $34 to $50, with discounts available except on Friday and Saturday evenings. For information or tickets call the box office at 621-3341.

Orts Theatre of Dance presents The Nine Sins, a multimedia dance and performance piece, at 8 p.m. Friday, March 23, at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, and two weekends from now at 8 p.m. Friday, April 6, and at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m., Saturday, April 7. All shows will be in the Ortspace, 121 E. Seventh St., at the corner of Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue. Tickets are $10; they're available at the door or in advance at Bentley's, Antigone Books and Silverbell Trading. Seating is limited to 50 for each show, recommended for adults only. To reserve tickets contact Orts by phone at 624-3799 or by e-mail at

The Zenith Dance Collective concert Body Prints Theatre: An Evening of Dance Improvisation and Music is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at Grace St. Paul Episcopal Church, 2331 E. Adams St. Tickets, $10 general, $5 for students, are available at the door. For information, e-mail

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