Scorpius Dance Theatre Repertory Showcase Features Recent Works, Old Favorites in Peoria

Scorpius Dance Theatre is serving up a smorgasbord of dance this month with a 15-piece repertory showcase being performed April 18 and 19 at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts. The center is best known as the home of Theater Works, which operates the venue and often features productions by other performing artists.

It's a logical leap for Scorpius, a company founded in 1999 that's best known for Halloween season performances of artistic director Lisa Starry's A Vampire Tale. Several members of its board of directors are prominent members of the metro Phoenix theater scene, and those who have seen Scorpius perform know they have a flair for drama.

See also: 13 Must-See Dance Performances in Metro Phoenix This Spring

We're expecting an eclectic dance menu after talking with Starry about her plans for the show, which features two acts running about 45 minutes each. She chose the line-up after watching videos of previous performances, and asking the dancers what pieces they'd like to perform. The result is a mash-up of mostly contemporary dance with comedy, theatrics, sex appeal, and aerial art.

Most of the pieces were choreographed by Starry, but the audience will also see two works created by Nicole Olson and two works Starry co-created with Gavin Sisson. Both Olson and Sisson serve as assistant directors of the company.

The music line-up is delightfully diverse. Think Duran Duran, Nancy Sinatra, Bjork, Yo-Yo Ma, Radiohead, and more. There's even a little something from an opera called Lakmé, which is featured in Common Resonance, a work that imagines couples changing and growing old together. It's one of the first works Starry ever set on Scorpius Dance Theatre.

The showcase also includes an older piece called Outline, giving viewers a feel for the progression of Starry's choreography over time. "It was inspired by the abrasive sounds of Bjork in the early 2000s," Starry says. "It's a modern and contemporary piece with rough, hard-edged choreography."

Another work, titled Exit, was choreographed around 2007. Originally set on a female, it's now performed by a male soloist. "It's an intense piece," says Starry, "about someone who doesn't want to be around anymore."

The company is also performing Manifest, which Starry says she choreographed about seven years ago. It's danced by three women and three men, each of whom wear only a black skirt. They perform the entire piece with their backs to the audience. "You can't tell the difference between male and female bodies," according to Starry, who says the ambiguity creates a beautiful tension.

More recent works chosen for this production include River, an aerial silks duet co-created by Starry and Sisson that Sisson dances with Elisa Marie Cavallero. Starry's Fade, which premièred during Center Dance Ensemble's "The Bad and the Beautiful" program at Herberger Theater Center last October, is also on the program. Starry conceived Fade to reflect "a society too busy in our own lives to pay attention to what's going on around us until it all falls apart." It's all about the need to reconnect, she says.

There's a piece called Deep Web as well, which Starry developed last season primarily for conventions and promoting their touring repertory. Starry calls it her "hair piece," noting that it's filled with "a lot of thrashing around." She's got a nickname for Girls Night Out, too. Performed by 10 female dancers donning jester bottoms, Starry calls it "the butt dance." Also on the sexy side is Luminosity, which Starry says reminds her of a modern tango.

Those who've seen Starry's Catwalk productions melding dance with local fashions in a melee of mock runway struts will recognize the works Hearing Damage from Starry's original Catwalk and Man Who Stole a Leopard, an aerial work co-created with Sisson from a later iteration of Catwalk that had a Duran Duran theme. The latter looks "very nude," says Starry. "The women wear flesh unitards and the men wear flesh pants."

Other Catwalk pieces returning for the showcase include Verging and A Better Tomorrow, which Starry describes as "a very emotional duet about a couple who needs to say goodbye."

Nicole Olson's versatility as a choreographer will also be on display. The showcase includes both Reverence, a modern and ballet work featuring a trio of male dancers, and Merrily We Roll Along, complete with trio of female dancers performing on those jumbo balls used for yoga classes.

Scorpius Dance Theatre performs the "Scorpius Dance Theatre Repertory Showcase" at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 18, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 19. Tickets are $24. For information or tickets, visit Scorpius Dance Theatre online or call 623-815-7930.

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