Dancer and choreographer Annie Bunker won the arts triple crown in Tucson this spring. Her modern dance company, O-T-O Theatre of Dance, celebrated its 20th anniversary. She won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Tucson Pima Arts Council. And the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona gave her the Arizona Arts Award, a prize that comes with a $25,000 check. Bunker pioneered trapeze and aerial dance in town, along with multi-media performances combining video and movement. With her company, she's performed her own choreography around the United States and in Europe, Latin America and Russia. She's taught hundreds of local students and did a teaching residency in Northern Ireland. In recent years, she and her husband and collaborator, Chuck Koesters, rehabbed a big warehouse space at Seventh Street and Seventh Avenue, creating an Ortspace that's used by any number of arts groups. The couple are also caretakers of Sanctuary Cove in the desert northwest of Tucson. Born in Connecticut, Bunker trained at the Hartford Ballet under Michael Uthoff, worked with Pilobolus and ran dance companies in Milan and Denver before settling in the Old Pueblo. The Weekly caught up with Bunker in Carson City, Nev., where she was serving on a grants panel for the state arts commission.

How did it feel to win the Arizona Arts Award?

It was like hitting the jackpot! I feel so privileged. The artists never know who nominated them or who the judges were. It's all a secret. I'm extremely grateful to whoever nominated me.

The five nominees (including Suzette Battan of Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra, poet Luci Tapahonso, photographer Ed McCain and sculptor Dan Bates) all had to set up a stationary display for the judges to see. What did you do?

I had three weeks to put together a presentation showing my work as a dancer, a choreographer and visual artist. But how do you represent dance in two dimensions? I looked at the furniture in the room and started playing with the tables. I set them up like the letter U against the wall. I had a bolt of black fabric and built a proscenium out of PVC and draped it in black. I asked Ed Flores, a wonderful dance photographer, to do a photo shoot of me in the studio. I had five of the pictures blown up quite large and put them in sequence on the proscenium so they created movement. Chuck and I put together a nine-minute video with excerpts of my dancing and teaching. I had 20 years' worth of clippings and PR materials; I created three large black books with those and put them on the table.

This year, the Buffalo Exchange Arts Award for emerging artists also went to a dancer/choreographer, Beth Braun. What do you make of that?

It's great that these panels went with dance. In fact, two dancers were nominated for the Buffalo Exchange Award. Besides Beth, there was Mary Ann Brehm. It's interesting. Only two other dancers have won the Arizona Arts Award, Charlotte Adams and Hassan al-Falak.

How will you spend your prize money?

Artists don't have retirement, so I'm going to put part of it in a retirement fund. Part of the "Hawaii Suite" I'm working on will have underwater video--we'll film sea turtles, coral, fish. Part of it will go to pay for that. And part of it will go to the house we're working on in Hawaii. It comes at a good time.

Why does modern dance have to struggle for press and audiences in Tucson?

In the 1980s, Tenth Street Danceworks and Orts (the former name of O-T-O) used to have big audiences. We did a concert in 1986 and packed Centennial Hall. We used to get a lot of coverage and reviews. About 10 years ago, the reviews dropped off. I'm not sure why the papers stopped. Theater still gets a lot of reviews. The local dance community also took a hard hit when Ken Foster took over UApresents. He brought in a lot of dance, and it was hard for the local companies to find weekends when no other shows were going on. And now with four local companies, the audience gets split.

What's next for you?

We're doing our annual Sonoran Summer Dance/Aerial Arts Workshop in Tucson (through) June 25. Then from July 1 to July 10, we're doing a movement workshop in Hawaii. I'm calling it Be Moved, Get Physical and Fly! The teachers are Gina Buntz, Darryl Thomas, a former Pilobolus dancer, and Valerie Bergman. I'll teach aerial dance. We're starting to get interest from people within the islands.

You celebrated your 50th birthday right around the time you got the arts awards. How did that feel?

It was an incredible month! Turning 50 wasn't so bad at all.

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