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Dancers will leap from sidewalks of Tucson to Brazilian landscapes 

Friday, 20 November 1998 
By Gene Armstrong 

The two major works that comprise the new show by O-T-O Dance will take viewers from downtown Tucson to the beaches and jungles of Brazil. 
The first half of the program - seen during yesterday's matinee for schoolchildren - is a new version of artistic director Anne Bunker's ``Urban Gaits,'' last seen a year ago. It has been pared from an evening-length, two-act work to a 55-minute piece that features 10 sections and 14 child and adult dancers. 
This incarnation is shorter but now occurs during one sitting. This demands patience from the audience. But Bunker's vision of Tucson's urban landscape and lifestyles is worth the time. 

Much of Bunker's choreography follows the pattern of rhythmic tribal rituals, especially when business-suited dancers stride purposefully, armed with requisite briefcases. We are, after all, a unique tribe in the Old Pueblo. This is further emphasized by a scene in which poet Charles Alexander gathers both children and adults around him to carry on the oral tradition of storytelling with a prose poem about street life. While the dances unfold, singers Craig Oakes and Amy Chapman Smith sing endlessly intriguing lyrics written by Alexander to illustrate the various settings. They are accompanied by an electronic score by O-T-O executive director and technical guru Chuck Koesters. The sum effect recalls the art-song cycle of Philip Glass' ``Songs From Liquid Days.'' 

Large-screen projections of videography by Nancy Solomon and Koesters play across the back wall, depicting well-known cityscape landmarks and icons. These images are alternately obscured and framed by the four fixed-point trapezes on which the dancers often escape from the gravity of the floor choreography. ``Urban Gaits'' also incorporates moments of innocent play, poverty, spiritual reverence, terror and renewal. The result isn't quite as multifaceted as an entire city, but it makes for a remarkable and memorable dance work. 

The premiere of the 35-minute ``Bridging Worlds'' is a collaboration between O-T-O and the local group Capoeira Malandaraem. The Brazilian art of capoeira is an elegant, semi-improvisational combination of acrobatics, dancing and martial arts. Choreographed by leader Dondi Marble, the low-to-the-ground movements of the capoeristas alternate with Bunker's expressive, animalistic choreography. The capoeira movement vocabulary is unique: hands lightly patting the ground, dizzying kicks, leg sweeps, low crouches and lunges, splayed-legs back flips and one-armed somersaults. Just when a viewer might suspect that O-T-O' use of trapezes is becoming a repetitive crutch, Bunker places dancers on them like jungle animals perched in high branches. 

Later, dancers move the four trapezes to swing like pendulums to the percussive plink of the Brazilian bermibau, an instrument made from a gourd, a long, curved neck and one stretched wire that is tapped and muted by the player. Capoeristas Giovanni Dominice and Chris Berry at one point play live conga drums and berimbau, adding to a recorded score composed by Marble, Koesters and Guilherme Franco. Although the O-T-O dancers execute bewitching choreography - the cocked-head lizards are especially charming - they eventually begin to borrow from the  movements of the capoeristas. The cultural melding is not seamless, but it's satisfying. 

Featured prominently and deserving of praise are talented, expressive O-T-O dancers such as Bunker, Charles Thompson, Cora Kannel, Nicole Buffan and O-T-O associate director Beth Braun. 

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