Five Local Artists Get Together To Depict
Downtown In All Its Diversity.
By Margaret Regan
BY THEIR OWN tally, the five artists who created this weekend's Urban
Gaits multi-media dance performance have spent some 87 years working
in Tucson's downtown.
Choreographer Anne Bunker has had studios downtown since 1983.
Composer Chuck Koesters dropped his at times hapless heart in 1979,
video artist Nancy Solomon around 1982, writer Charles Alexander in
1984. Painter Cynthia Miller claims the longest history. An early
Dinnerware member who grew up in Tucson, Miller can declare, "I've
been coming downtown since 1963."
This weekend the artists' long years of eking out a sometimes
precarious living in the city's old warehouses and sharing its streets
with sundry lawyers and street people, with office workers, the elderly
and kids, will emerge in the collaboration they've dubbed Urban Gaits.
It's an hour-and-a-half-long work that Miller calls a "visual poem
to downtown." Alexander, the wordsmith, amplifies her definition,
countering that it's an "audiovisual poem."
The quintet of artists, who have collaborated in smaller groupings in
the past, gathered in the O-T-O Theatre of Dance studio one recent
noonday to describe the new piece. Their conversation, like the exchange
between Miller and her husband, Alexander, was like a series of dizzying
jazz riffs. Mirroring the give-and-take of their working method, each
artist spun off the previous one's statement. Asked why they made a work
about the city center, Koesters declared, "Downtown has a power, it
is something." To which his wife, Bunker, responded, "When I
think of a city I never think of malls. The advent of the malls killed
cities. Downtowns are coming back."
Solomon, leery of the idea that the piece carries a message,
cautioned: "This is about what is," and Alexander agreed,
saying the work is about the "richness of trying to see." Yes,
said Miller, "It's a description of what is."
And while the artists spoke, some of the images they've captured in
the work rolled on by outside, like art come to life: a white-bearded
homeless man pushing a cart full of stuff, a snorting train in luscious
maroons and rusts rattling by on the nearby tracks. The artists have
shaped a range of downtown staples--lawyers, lunchtime workers, Club
Congress dancers, homeless people, the elderly--into a work that
recounts a day in the life of the downtown, from sunrise on a Friday to
sunrise on a Saturday. Divided into 21 distinct segments, the tale is
told through dance, music, song, video, spoken word and light, with
Miller contributing a bevy of painted doorway props and a giant metal
"It's like a circus," Koesters said gleefully. "It's
the same kind of spectacle."
Solomon and Koesters' video images of downtown will be projected onto
three walls inside the theatre in the Tucson Center for the Performing
Arts. Alexander, proprietor of Chax Press, will play a storyteller,
reading his own poetry, while a pair of singers, Cantrell Maryott and
Craig Oakes, sing some of Alexander's words to new music created by
Koesters. Other evocative words chosen by Alexander flutter through the
videos on pieces of paper. Koesters wrote an original score for the
entire work, incorporating the rhythms of downtown's ubiquitous trains
and sirens into his synthesizer music, which will be played on tape
during the show.
A team of eight O-T-O dancers, fresh from their provocative
performance of Airborne: Meister Eckhart last month, will dance
choreography by Bunker, O-T-O' artistic director. At a rehearsal one day
last week, O-T-O regulars Stacey Haynes, Charles Thompson and Nathan
Dryden were dressed in business suits and burdened with briefcases.
Rehearsing "Daily Grind," a regimented dance about the
workaday world, the dancers turned their lithe bodies stiff, pushing
them up-down, up-down, and relentlessly marched again and again though
Miller's doorways. In a piece Bunker based on the troupe's "field
trip" to Club Congress, the dancers metamorphosed into sex-hungry
gyrators, dancing to a driving rock beat. For that piece, Bunker
explained, videos of the O-T-O dancers at Club Congress will play on the
But not every segment in the work will feature video along with
dance. The ominous "From Nowhere," based on Bunker's
experience of seeing a car full of people fire shots at the police
station late at night, has no accompanying video. Instead, Koesters'
lights will project large, scary shadows of the dancers onto the walls.
The show, Bunker said, "starts with dance and no video, and ends
with video and no dance, but with the singers' voices...Sometimes it's
just video, sometimes it's just singers, sometimes it's just
The title Urban Gaits is a double entendre that plays on the
multiple meanings of "gates" and "gaits."
"Gates," Miller said, is "a big buzzword in the
arts," while "gaits" stands for the distinctive movements
of assorted downtown denizens. Solomon said she got some of her best
gaits video shots at the Sixth Avenue Post Office down the street from
her studio, a place where nearly all downtowners go sooner or later.
"I was shooting people going in and out," she said,
"the elderly with canes, the young people striding in and
Once the piece was well underway, the artists realized they had left
out one significant group of downtown diehards: Themselves and their
colleagues. Said Solomon, "Artists were the hardest to
"We're in the video," Alexander pointed out.
Fittingly, Bunker, who directs the entire piece, had the final word.
"It's kind of downtown seen through the eyes of artists, and the
artists' senses and media," she said. "Artists are the
work: They are not really in the work."
Urban Gaits, a multimedia piece presented by O-T-O
Theatre of Dance, will be performed at the Tucson Center for the
Performing Arts, 408 S. Sixth Ave. There's a preview matinee at 10:30
a.m. Thursday, November 20. Regular showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday,
November 20; 10:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. Friday, November 21; 2 and 8 p.m.
Saturday, November 22; and 2 p.m. Sunday, November 23. Because of the
video, seating will be limited. Advance tickets are $8 general, $6 for
students and seniors. Tickets at the door are $10 general, $8 for
students and seniors. For information or reservations, call 744-2375.
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