Typically, communities fail to take note of their artists until they go out and make it in the bigger world. Nonetheless, two who got started here in the Valley, Laurie Eisenhower and Billbob Brown, graciously come home to set dances on local troupes. This expands both the repertory and the reach of Phoenix dance companies, often giving them material to tour, as Desert Dance Theatre did last year when it performed in New York. The June 9 Orpheum program by DDT's co-artistic directors Lisa Chow and Marion Kirk Jones features Butterfly Effectby Brown and Mosaics by Eisenhower.Brown, who co-founded and was former artistic director of the company in 1979, will also perform two solos.
After growing up in Scottsdale and chalking up two degrees at ASU's dance department, (ranked fifth in the nation) Eisenhower went on to dance with both Pilobolus and David Parsons and left us for Detroit. Now, we've all got complaints about our town's shortcomings, but you gotta wonder: Detroit over Phoenix? Not. In this culture though, you go where the job takes you. Eisenhower teaches at Oakland University in Michigan. In early May, she came to work with DDT. "I love setting dances on Phoenix groups. They are well-trained dancers, and they perform my work beautifully," she says. "But I also get to visit my family in Scottsdale and, this time, my sister, who has one of those ecologically self-sufficient straw-bale houses down in the Chiricahua Mountains."
The choreographer won high praise from Jack Anderson of the New York Times when her virtuosic company, Eisenhower Dance Ensemble, debuted in New York two years ago. And they proved their crowd-pleasing prowess when they performed in Scottsdale last January. But Eisenhower's dances are not about virtuosity. They're really about a quotidian earthiness that pulls the audience into a comfort zone -- often filled with familiar imagery gone campy and quirky. Eisenhower put her Ceilidh on Semaphore Danceworks last January at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, and the dancers performed her Riverdance send-up subtly and deliciously.
Billbob Brown, also an ASU dance department alumnus, has now made a mark for himself on the Massachusetts dance scene with Chaos Theory, the group he directs at UMass in Amherst. He bases his high-energy Butterfly Effect on the scientific theory of chaos. In his first solo, ?Corporel, he journeys through body slaps to a score based on the Fibonacci series by percussionist Vinko Globokar. The other solo, a psychological study of speed, is They'll Make You Think You're Crazy.
The company reprises H.T. Chen's Warriors of Light and three works by DDT director Chow. In Kirk Jones' See Saw, Danielle Johnson and Daniel Hollingshead team up in a mischievous play on childhood daring. Peace of the Pie is Desert Dance Theatre's best closer. But its luscious tangos, salsas and Lorena Contreras' cumbia may cause people to think of them as Dessert Dance Theatre.