Cole Porter gets sandwiched in between vampires and Greco-Roman mythology to begin Ballet Tucson’s 10th anniversary season with the company’s Opening Night Gala and concert performances this weekend.
“Under My Skin,” receiving its world premiere, is choreographed by Chieko Imada in collaboration with Mary Beth Cabana, set to six classic Porter favorites.
Another premiere is company ballet master Daniel Precup‘s “Gemini,” inspired by the story of Castor and Pollux, for whom the constellation Gemini is named.
Ballet Tucson’s old friend and perennial audience favorite “Dracula” will open the concert program with Precup, who is from Transylvania, appearing as the caped immortal.
“I’ve known Cole Porter’s music all my life, but this time I wanted to hear the songs done by different artists — like U2 and Annie Lennox,” said Imada.
For a special treat only at the gala, guest artist Margaret Mullin with the Pacific Northwest Ballet will dance to an additional Porter number, “Night and Day.” Mullin is a Tucson native who grew up in Ballet Tucson’s parent company Ballet Arts.
“Since this is our 10th professional year, we wanted to highlight our company’s talent all season,” said Cabana, the company’s founding artistic director. “And we wanted something that was a bit unexpected.”
“It took me several weeks just to pick out the pieces,” Imada continued. “I wanted a variety of feelings to explore, with different arrangements and different interpretations.”
Songs making the cut, along with the title track, include “Every Time We Say Goodbye,” “Too Darn Hot” and “It’s De-Lovely.” Other recording artists are Charlie Parker, Mel Tormé and Ella Fitzgerald.
Precup wrapped his own story around the mythic brothers Castor and Pollux to create his choreography for “Gemini.”
“The actual story doesn’t fit our times,” Precup said. “So I made up my own,” which begins with a war between the Amazons and the Warriors, who have captured the Queen of the Amazons.
Even though Castor was one of the Warriors, he falls in love with the Queen, providing the reason for a pas de deux.
But this romantic liaison upsets the king of the Warriors, who vows to kill the brothers. Distraught over this, the Queen commits suicide.
“I don’t joke,” says Precup with a straight face. “This is a serious, dramatic work of dance.”
And there is still more story. The revenge-minded Amazons kill Castor, then come to kill Pollux. Giving away the ending wouldn’t be polite, but we do know the brothers ended up together forever in the night sky.
“There are four or five battle scenes, using shields, swords and bows,” says Precup. The choreography is “acrobatic gymnastics, with ballet” — and acting. The dancers are urged to project anger, revenge and other violent feelings.
“Hollywood does this with special effects, we will actually do it onstage,” Precup emphasized. “I pray for all the dancers to stay healthy. Then every performance will be powerful.”
In his role as principle dancer, Precup makes his fourth appearance with Ballet Tucson as Dracula, a feature-length piece choreographed by Mark Schneider. Precup takes as his model the properly dressed vampire created by Bela Lugosi.
“For me, it is always a pleasure to dance the role of Dracula. It is a beautiful, romantic love story,” Precup said, noting slyly that though today’s vampires dress more casually “they have upgraded their powers.”