Heavy Subjects, Light Feet

Phoenix choreographer Frances Cohen was first to helm a resident modern dance company, Centre Dance Ensemble, at the Herberger Theater Center in 1988. First dancer to win a Governor's Arts Award in 1994. And first to make a dance (in 1984) based on artist and Holocaust victim Charlotte Salomon, called Inside the Silence. She reprises this work, along with "La Llarona," in this week's last-of-the-season run at the Herberger.

From 1940 to 1942, Salomon painted more than a thousand pictures, accompanied by text and musical cues -- Cohen uses one of the cues, Mahler's Kinder Leider, for her dance. Salomon titled her oeuvre Life? or Theater? A Play With Music and spoke of it as "a three-color opera." She left her works with a friend in France where she had fled to escape the Nazis. But in 1943, four months pregnant, she and her husband were freighted off to Auschwitz where she was murdered. Hundreds of the paintings are on view at the Jewish Museum in New York, and this week, a musical, Charlotte: Life? or Theater?, opens in Philadelphia. So Cohen is au courant.

Rounding out the triple bill is a dance by Mothers of Invention fan Donald Dadey, Yellow Shark -- to Frank Zappa's album of that name. Zappa originally wrote one movement of this piece for a Cousteau Society documentary about the wreck of the Exxon Valdez.

In the final movement, "G-Spot Tornado," Dadey whips the dancers into a frenzy. "I really love that piece," he says. "Seeing the dancers gasp for breath at the end takes me back to the old days when I was in their place."

Centre Dance Ensemble hosts Valley dance companies in the lobby where they sell and autograph this month's Dance Spirit magazine, featuring a "CityFocus on Phoenix" dance by yours truly. Proceeds will go to a special fund for area dance.