Contempory Dance Hits Tucson Full Force.
By Margaret Regan
THIS YEAR IT'S bigger. It's longer. And most of the participants say it's better. It's the second annual Arizona Contemporary Dance Festival, an extravaganza of modern dance performed both in Phoenix and in Tucson by professional companies from around the state. Last year only six troupes performed and, in Tucson anyway, it was a one-night stand. This year, the total number of troupes has been upped to seven and they'll perform here over three nights, just as they've done both years in Phoenix.
And the festival's reputation is building. This year's edition premiered in Phoenix a couple of weekends ago, and patrons actually were turned away from the sold-out Saturday night show. The same shows run in Tucson this weekend. Four companies take to the stage at PCC Center for the Arts on Thursday, three on Friday and all seven for Saturday's gala concert.
Frances Cohen, artistic director of Phoenix's Center Dance Ensemble and a former Tucsonan who helped found the UA dance program many years ago, said this year's concerts are better than last's.
"This year everyone kind of adjusted their work to make the program more interesting," she said by telephone. "They picked pieces they knew were high quality. Every company showed to best advantage. Sometimes in a repertory program you show works-in-progress. For the festival, the companies are giving us their absolutely best, finished products."
Anne Bunker, artistic director of Tucson's Orts Theatre of Dance, agreed.
"The quality is a cut above last year. We looked at what each other was doing and got a sense of how to raise our own standards."
That's one of the goals of the festival, organized by Charles Fischl of Southwest Dance, a presenting firm. Not only are the concerts meant to help increase the audience for modern dance, which Cohen calls the "least appreciated art form in the state," but to help the troupes get to know each others' work. Besides Cohen's Center Dance Ensemble and Bunker's Orts, the roster includes Desert Dance Theatre, A Ludwig Dance Theatre and Movement Source, all hailing from Phoenix or thereabouts, and Tucson's Tenth Street Danceworks. Those six will be joined this year by a fledgling Flagstaff troupe, Canyon Movement Company.
But while the artistic directors are all enthusiastic about the project, there are some rumblings about the criteria used to select troupes for the festival. Last year's one-night-only Tucson concert ended with a thud, with a dismal performance by Movement Source. A commercially oriented company that stresses entertainment, Movement Source gave an immature take on Warner Brothers cartoons. It was an embarrassing finale to an evening of otherwise high-quality, eclectic works. And a couple of artistic directors say that Canyon Movement doesn't measure up either.
"The Flagstaff company doesn't do professional-quality work by any stretch of the imagination," said one participant confidentially. "They're not very mature. As for Movement Source, you can't do much worse than that. It's a great idea to do this. It's an opportunity to work together and see what everyone is doing. But if you want to attract an audience, you need to have professional quality companies."
Fischl is well aware of the complaints. "It's something we're going to have to look at," he said. "Right now there are only two criteria: one, the company has to be nonprofit, and two, they have to pay their dancers."
The growing number of modern dance companies may end up providing Fischl with a solution to the dilemma. Recently, for instance, the Valley of the Sun spawned two more companies, both spinoffs from Arizona State University's strong modern-dance program. Both would qualify for the festival under current rules, and, as Fischl notes, nine companies in a single gala concert would stretch the endurance of even the most devoted modern dance fans. So sheer volume may eventually force a stricter screening, which Fischl imagines would be conducted by dance jurors from outside the state.
Though the Old Pueblo usually has trouble attracting full houses even to single modern dance concerts, everybody's hoping for the best with the three back-to-back shows. Fischl said the financial risk is lessened somewhat because Pima is a co-sponsor with Southwest Dance. And he hopes the $20 festival package price, which buys a seat at all three concerts, will help. Still, like the others, he's taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"I think it's a big risk," said Bunker, of Orts. "But it was a risk in Phoenix, too. We'll see how the audience goes."
Here's a quick rundown of the program:
Thursday, February 1. A Ludwig Dance Theatre performs "Order of Protection" with music by Bach, Crystal Gayle and Tracy Chapman. Canyon Movement Company, "Passageway," with music by Hildegard Van Bingen. Movement Source Dance Company, a piece set to a melange of music by Pachelbel, Miles Davis and Dead Can Dance. Tenth Street Danceworks, "My Love," a duet to music by Dvorak, first seen in the company's concert last winter, and "Fear of Falling," to music by Terry Riley, performed in last fall's concert in Reid Park.
Friday, February 2. Center Dance Ensemble, "To George, With Love," with 18 dancers dancing to Gershwin. Desert Dance Theatre, "Craps," a jazz piece seen in a shorter version in last year's festival. Orts Theatre of Dance, an untitled trapeze work for six dancers, set to music by von Bingen, Chuck Koesters and Jan Garbarek, and seen at The Temple Of Music And Art last year.
Saturday, February 3. All seven companies perform separately. Of special interest to Tucsonans is a duo of Orts dancers performing in the Tenth Street Danceworks piece, "Cat's Cradle," choreographed by Laura Rosenfeld. The UA Percussion Ensemble performs the music live.
Second Annual Arizona Contemporary Dance Festival. All shows begin at 8 p.m. in the PCC Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets are $12 Thursday and Friday nights; seniors get in for $9, children and students for $7. Saturday night tickets are $15, $12 for seniors, $9 for children/students. A festival pass is $20 for adults/seniors, $15 for children/students. Tickets are available at Dillard's and the PCC box office. Charge by phone by calling (800) 638-4253. Call 884-6456 for more information.
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