Toe Jam

Ballet Tucson serves up its annual dance and dessert confection

Eighteen years ago, long before Sam Watson alighted as a professor in the UA School of Dance, he choreographed an electrifying piece for the troupe now known as Ballet Tucson.

Electrifying, almost literally. "Wired," the duet for two men, puts two men in old-fashioned swimsuits, bathing caps--and electrical cords.

"They're all wired, like they're being electrocuted," says Mary Beth Cabana, artistic director of Ballet Tucson, which will revive "Wired" in this weekend's Dance & Dessert concert at Stevie Elle. César Rubio and Ahiram Belleau dance the parts of the nearly fried.

"It's a very silly piece," she adds cheerfully. "Sam's really talented. He does everything, jazz, modern, performance art, theatrical pieces."

In honor of his history with the company, Cabana also invited Watson to create a new work for its 20th-anniversary season. His contemporary solo "In Mercury" debuts at this weekend's shows. Deanna Doncsecz and Joanne Jaglowski alternate the part, which calls for them to dress in a silver unitard and "move like mercury."

The eclectic program of nine dances offers more than mercury moves and wired-up wiggles. It also serves up traditional ballet on point, a Charleston number, a contemporary ballet about Dust Bowl migrants and plenty of luscious desserts. After they've sated themselves with the dance offerings on stage, audience members will repair to the lobby to sample sweets donated by assorted local restaurants, including Pastiche, Delectables, Vivace and Janos.

But dance is the main course.

"We're doing four premieres, and some signature works that link to our past," Cabana says. The company was founded 20 years ago, but went pro in the fall of 2004. For this ninth annual Dance & Dessert concert, the troupe's nine paid dancers will be rounded out with the advanced "professional division" students in the Ballet Arts school.

Besides Watson, several other guest choreographers with ties to the troupe have whipped up new pieces. Lawrence Pech, resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera and former American Ballet Theatre dancer, debuted a dance at last year's Dance & Dessert. This time around he premieres "Snake Oil." A contemporary ballet for six men, it tells the tale of five Dust Bowl migrants mesmerized by a powerful preacher.

"It has a score with a didgeridoo and an overdub of Gospel preaching," Cabana says. The black-suited preacher, danced by Daniel Precup, "indoctrinates the men and they become possessed. It's an interesting piece."

Jeffrey Graham Hughes was once Cabana's dance partner at the Cleveland Ballet. Now the artistic director of the Ohio Ballet in Akron, Watson also danced with the Joffrey Ballet and London Festival Ballet. He mixes up a wild assortment of dance styles in "Trois Entrechats." The first section moves a large group of dancers through neoclassical ballet steps and "court dancing," set to Baroque music. The second movement is a fairly traditional ballet pas de deux to Chopin, but the third and final segment, Cabana says, devolves into "freestyle disco crazy." Contemporary band Bond provides the frenzied music.

The late Ian Horvath, who directed the Cleveland Ballet when Cabana danced there, will be honored with a reprise of his 1975 "Laura's Woman." A "dark, compelling" series of three solos, it's danced to the music of Laura Nyro. Melanie Hawkes enacts a young girl's awakening. Doncsecz performs a descent into drugs and prostitution, and Jenna Johnson and Jaglowski alternate the final solo, "Lonely Woman."

More cheerfully, company choreographer Mark Schneider restages his lively "Joplin," a Charleston ballet danced by almost the whole company. Assistant artistic director Chieko Imada debuts "What She Felt," a new contemporary quartet for women to the music of Da Lata Mix.

But this being Ballet Tucson, Cabana and Imada don't neglect ballet; together they've restaged a couple of traditional pas de deux.

"Our tutu offering," Cabana says, has Precup and Johnson dancing the pas de deux from the 1869 classic Don Quixote, originally choreographed by Petipa. Meredith Dulaney and Mark Krieger do the duet honors in "Spring Waters," a fast ballet pas de deux by the late Bolshoi Ballet choreography Asaf Messerer. The dancers trade in tights and tutu for free-form togas. Set to Rachmaninov, it's "very bravura, fast-paced and energetic. It's a youthful frolic that celebrates springtime and love."

For the finale, Cabana turns nostalgic with a ballet work she composed early in her career, "Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto #1," set to the music of the same name. The big piece assembles 20 dancers on stage. They're not in tutus--the women wear dance dresses--but they are on point. The work has sentimental value, she notes. "It was my first choreography ever."

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