Family Realities

A Cutting-Edge Choreographer Takes On Issues Close To Home.
By Margaret Regan

DAVID ROUSSEVE NOWADAYS is a celebrated choreographer, dancer and writer, an artist whose avant-garde dance theatre works have won him all manner of acclaim and awards.

Time was, though, he was a poor boy growing up in Louisiana, raised mostly by his grandmother. The family was black and Rousseve eventually realized he was gay. Those characteristics, says UA Presents director Ken Foster, have indelibly stamped Rousseve's art.

"His work is so much driven by personal experience," Foster says. "He doesn't separate his life from his work."

That's one reason Foster went after Rousseve and his six-member company REALITY for the first installment of this season's Millenium Project. Next week, on Thursday, November 21, at UA Centennial Hall, the company stages an evening of excerpts from Rousseve's full-length works, including "Colored Children Flyin' By" and "The Whispers of Angels."

Now in its second year, the Millenium Project lines up cutting-edge artists whose work undertakes an in-depth exploration of a difficult contemporary topic. Last season, for instance, Foster brought in Eiko & Koma, Marie Chouimard and Contraband for an artistic dissection of humanity's relation to the environment. This year the theme is "Familyworks--Families Working," and Foster says Rousseve's pieces fit right in. "I work closely with each of the artists, explaining what we're doing, what our community is like. He's selected pieces embodying our family theme."

Not that Rousseve's work is ever a straightforward, real-life narrative. "The family relationship underlines his work...(but) it's definitely dance, with elements of theatre, chant, the spoken word and singing," says Foster, who last saw the company perform its groundbreaking Urban Scenes/Creole Dreams at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. "For instance, the performers might dance to a monologue that's a story about Rousseve's grandmother. The spoken word becomes the score."

Interestingly, one of the Rousseve works that will be seen at Centennial Hall is based on the stories of someone else's family, the one belonging to choreographer Cleo Parker Robinson. Robinson grew up in Denver, the daughter of a white mother and a black father, and she commissioned Rousseve to create a work for her company drawn from her father's life. The piece, "Dry Each Other's Tears in the Stillness of the Night," premiered in 1993.

Foster acknowledges that even the simple word "family" has become politically charged in these rancorous days of the culture wars. He selected the theme almost two years ago in the wake of the Republican congressional victories and after what he calls the Republicans' "cultural family values convention" in 1992. The national debate "narrowly focuses the idea of what it means to be a family," Foster says. "I have picked artists that will make us think about it." Besides Rousseve, this season's Millenium Project artists are Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, performing February 1, and David Dorfman Dance, April 5. Each of the groups will also participate in a series of free community events. (See below.)

"I am not proselytizing," Foster says. "I am out to provoke dialogue. Maybe (the performances) will confirm what you believe or challenge what you believe...I want to put the platform out so other points of view can be heard."

David Rousseve/REALITY performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 21, at Centennial Hall, University Boulevard east of Park Avenue. Tickets are $9, $17 and $23. For more information and reservations, call 621-3341. As part of his residency, Rousseve will give a free video talk at 7 p.m. Tuesday, November 19, in Centennial Hall. The public is welcome to attend a free open rehearsal at 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 20, also in Centennial Hall. After the Thursday performance, the audience will have the chance to meet some of the artists. Other Millenium Project events: Wingspan stages a photography exhibition called 100 Families/One Family weekdays from noon to 5 p.m., from November 12 through December 6, in the Centennial Hall lobby. The following free activities all take place in the lobby: Parent Talks offers a free panel discussion on Parenting in the New Millenium at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 14. Tucson Association for Child Care sponsors a parent-child workshop from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, November 16. Ron Lancaster of Tellers of Tales will hold a program on sharing family stories from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, November 17. For more information call Benita Silvyn at 626-4421. TW

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