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Watch an interview with Robert Davidson the choreographer.

Caged Crusaders

Orts Tackles The Trappings Of The Middle Ages With The 'Dance Of The Inclusae.'
By Margaret Regan

AT AN O-T-O Dance rehearsal last week, three dancers dressed like nuns in dark blue robes hung lifelessly from three separate trapezes.

Annie Bunker, the Orts artistic director and one of the dancers, let out a pathetic scream. Then she and the others jerked to life and flailed helplessly and hopelessly over the bars, enacting a desperate effort to free themselves. A fourth dancer, dressed as a priest, watched their struggles with sympathy. The haunting dance they were practicing, "Dance of the Inclusae and the Holy Mother," will be a centerpiece of the company's annual fall concert at the PCC Center for the Arts this weekend.

Choreographed by Robert Davidson of Seattle, a frequent Orts collaborator whom Bunker likes to call a "trapeze god," the work is based on a bizarre religious practice of the late Middle Ages. Bunker said that women, called "inclusae," were confined to tiny cells, either voluntarily or involuntarily on the orders of a husband or father. Left alone to founder in their own waste, they were supposed to somehow achieve closer union with God.

The piece, set to an original score by Chuck Koesters, marks an innovation in the company's long-term use of trapezes. Usually, the swinging bars inspire great soaring leaps into space and airy metaphors about life and change and infinity. This time, "the trapezes are like our cells, or cages," Bunker said. The work is a fragment of "Meister Eckhart," an evening-long dance by Davidson about a 14th- century mystical German theologian, which Orts expects to stage in its entirety a year from now.

No doubt about it, the "Inclusae" piece is dark and intense, but this weekend's concert, Twelve Years and Soaring, will hardly be monotone. Two works are premieres. "Windways," a collaboration between choreographer Bunker and composer R. Carlos Nakai, was performed as a work in progress last spring. It's a joyful trapeze piece based on the rhythms of nature. Nakai himself will play live at the Saturday evening concert.

" 'Windways' has been a really nice project," Bunker said. "It's our fourth major collaboration (with Nakai)."

The other premiere in the concert, "My Better Half," is a jazzy, dancey work for seven, choreographed by company dancer Beth Bauman, and performed to the music of Bobby McFerrin.

Mary Putterman will dance her solo work, "Mingus," a celebration of the '50s beats, set to a piece by Charles Mingus. Like "Inclusae," it's not a new work, but both are new for Tucsonans. The company will give two 1994 works by Bunker reprise performances. "Widows," co-choreographed by Putterman, danced to the music of Prokofiev, is a comic work for four dancers; and "Mercurial Origins" is a duet to music composed for the work by Steve Roach.

Orts represents just one of the dance options this weekend. Another local troupe, Zenith Dance Collective, presents one show only of Dialogues, by its Body Prints Theatre. More rarely seen than Orts, Zenith will do a performance of dance and music improvisation, curated by Eva Tessler. Five dancers, including Greg Colburn and Jon McNamara, and three musicians will perform.

Southwest Dance also brings in two big, splashy traveling shows by the Queensland Ballet of Australia, touring in the U.S. for the first time. Thursday night, Queensland will do a ballet version of Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan. Friday, the company will return with a ballet interpretation of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and the Arabian Nights tale of Scheherazade.

O-T-O Dance presents Twelve Years and Soaring at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the PCC Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Tickets are $8 in advance at Bentley's and Silverbell Trading. Tickets at the door are $10. Children 15 and under, accompanied by an adult, get in free. Call 624-3799 for reservations. Get a $2 discount by reserving through e-mail Zenith Dance Collective presents Dialogues at 8 p.m. Thursday, October 17, in the Cabaret Theatre of the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $6, available at the door only. The Queensland Ballet of Australia performs at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, October 17 and 18, at the TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets are $16, $20 and $24, with a $3 discount for seniors and half-price tickets for students and children. Call 791-4266 for reservations and information.

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