Life on the road has been good to members of the Artifact Dance Project. It was last summer during its second China tour that the company's young founders, Ashley Bowman and Claire Hancock, sat down together on the train.
Iron wheels rumbled on endless rails beneath them, but inspiration was in the air. Tuning out the world, they said, "Let's talk about what we'll do next spring."
"The whole concept for 'I Wonder If My Name Is Alice' just fell on us; everything was all so spontaneous," Hancock said.
"It took about half an hour" added Bowman."We had the whole thing."
This weekend, the full multimedia production of "I Wonder If My Name Is Alice" springs to life, combining chamber music, dance, film, acting and a painter on stage in the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre at the University of Arizona.
"It all really started with that title," Bowman said.
"We took Alice in Wonderland and turned her around a little bit," Hancock said. "But it's still a story about a girl who wants to escape reality."
Only this time Alice is a young woman in today's world, working at her dull job as a waitress in a restaurant full of crazy characters.
"She's not happy, but she's OK enough," Bowman said. Alice's escape from her unwanted life is to imagine some of her favorite parts in Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland."
"Like her namesake, our Alice isn't sure where she is supposed to be in life," Bowman continued.
"In the first half, when Alice works in the restaurant, everything is in black and white," Hancock said. "But once they go down the rabbit hole, everything is colorful and bright."
And all those faces in the black-and-white restaurant from Act 1 pop up in Act 2. The chef becomes the White Rabbit, the maitre d' is the Mad Hatter, an annoying couple having dinner return after intermission as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. The smoke-puffing Caterpillar and the March Hare are in there, too.
In a cast of eight dancers, Hancock has taken the role of Alice, staying on stage the whole time. Bowman is serving as the show's director.
"For the first time we have split these two roles, because the dancing is so intense," Bowman explained.
Both contributed to the choreography. They will return to sharing the director duties, choreographer and dance roles in future productions.
As always, Tucson Symphony violinist Ben Nisbet continues as ADP's music director and as a member of the Kingfisher Quartet providing the musical accompaniment. Joining them is pianist Alexander Tentser. Their score will include selections from Shostakovich, Ravel, Debussy, Bach and Mozart.
Guest composer Robert McClure from Houston will debut his 33-minute work, "The Gate," to open the second act.
Always dedicated to combining new arts disciplines in Artifact productions, Hancock and Bowman have invited Tucson muralist and performance artist Joe Pagac onstage to paint scenes during the performance.
"For example," said Hancock, "he paints the rabbit hole scene, and the doors that change sizes."
Pagac painted the murals on the Rialto's outside east wall until construction made that impossible. He also does large outdoor murals at Bookman's Entertainment Exchange, 1930 E. Grant Road, and Sir Veza's Taco Garage, 4699 E. Speedway.
IF YOU GO
• What: Artifact Dance Project's "I Wonder If My Name Is Alice."
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: Stevie Eller Dance Theatre, 1713 E. University Blvd.
• Information: www.artifactdanceproject.com
Chuck Graham is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact him at email@example.com