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Vaudeville Variations 

Artifact performs old-timey dances and skits in a Tucson architectural treasure

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If clothes make the man—or woman—can a building make a dance?

In the case of the stately Scottish Rite Cathedral downtown, a building can and did.

The Grand Parlor, a theater inside the main hall inside the 100-year-old Mason cathedral, midwifed The Grand Parlor, a vaudeville-style dance revue that Artifact Dance Project will perform there this weekend.

"The space inspired the show," say Ashley Bowman, co-artistic director of the troupe. "It's incredible. The room is a pale baby blue with beautiful molding. It's right out of history. This is not a space where we felt comfortable doing something contemporary."

Instead, Artifact's company of 14 dancers will perform a "mélange of historical styles" in the venerable 1915 building, designed by noted Tucson architect Henry C. Trost. Part Roman Revival, part Greek, part Renaissance, the eclectic structure will host a program of equally eclectic dances, ranging from ballet to tap and from jazz to folk, along with old-timey theatrical dances straight out of vaudeville.

The playful concert will by no means be limited to pure dance, says Bowman, who collaborated on the choreography with fellow co-artistic director Claire Hancock. Juggling, magic tricks, weight lifting, acrobatic contortions and clowning will blend in with comic skits and movement.

"It's a show of short acts that reveal individuals' talents," Bowman says. "If someone is a clown or an actor or a contortionist, we take those elements and re-interpret them through dance."

Company dancer Cindy Cantos will serve as mistress of ceremonies, guiding the audience through a show that begins with a vision of Hell. Poring through the Scottish Rite's large collection of antique theatrical backdrops, the artistic directors retrieved a specimen with "scenes of demons in the depths of hell," Bowman says.

Dancers Max Foster and Julian Johnson play Satan in alternate Hell performances and Michael Holland and Logan Moon Penisten dance Faust.

In other bits, The Isadorables will tackle historic Isadora Duncan dances reconstructed by Hancock, and Hancock herself dances the dying swan from the "Carnival of the Animals" ballet. All the dancers dress up as animals for a Noah's art skit, performed in front a jungle backdrop.

Ellie Hausman reincarnates famous vaudeville dancer Loie Fuller, and Brendan Kellam dances tap.

"Brendan's an incredible tap dancer," Bowman says. "He brings it in big-time."

As always with Artifact, the music will be live throughout. Music director Ben Nisbet selected classic works, including Rossini's overture to "The Barber of Seville" and Saint-Saens' "Danse Macabre," and orchestrated them for a five-piece band. Reed specialist Derek Granger, bassist Ken Marrs, percussionist Paul Gibson, all veterans of previous Artifact shows, join up with newcomers Mary Turcotte, a pianist, and violinist Samantha Bounkeua

Now in its seventh season, the troupe established a studio on Toole Avenue in 2014, contributing to the downtown Renaissance.

"We're thrilled to be performing in downtown," Bowman says. "This building is really amazing.".

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