It is hard not to be in awe of Artifact Dance Project.
The company constantly moves forward, stretching itself. Stretching us.
Take its latest, “Surrounding Dillinger.”
It’s contemporary dance. It’s theater. It’s a concert. And it is, simply, astounding.
Really. This company calls Tucson home. That’s kind of remarkable in a town that hasn’t always been kind to dance companies who have tried to settle down in the Old Pueblo.
But back to “Dillinger.”
This is a collaboration between Artifact and Ryanhood, the Tucson-based duo with a folksy sound. Collaboration is part of Artifact’s mission, and the result is most often one of grace and substance. In this production, half of Ryanhood, Cameron Hood, worked with choreographer Ashley Bowman over two years to create the story, which begins with the birth of Public Enemy No. 1, John Dillinger, and takes us through to his death.
Rather than a series of bank robberies and shoot ’em ups, we learn, through dance and music, of his schooldays, his introduction to crime, his loves, his wants.
Ryanhood’s music gives voice to the dance on stage, but Bowman created movements that are so expressive, so full, that the dance could be done in silence and we would still get the story.
But that would be a shame. Ryanhood’s music, played live and on stage with the dancers, allowed the tale to blossom and breathe.
A character is this production is the dramatic lighting by Don Fox. The stage is bare, but his lighting suggests scenes from a claustrophobic cell to an expansive movie theater.
Dancing Dillinger is Andrew Ranshaw, tall and lean and able to convey emotion with the movement of his head and the stretch of an arm. Claire Hancock, in the role of Billie Frechette, Dillinger’s love interest, is a marvel to watch. She leaps and twists with intention and fluidity.
But here’s the thing about Artifact: the company is packed with dancers with talent. Not just in movement, but in expressing character and emotion. The nine dancers on stage were essential to making this production the success that it is.
And here’s another thing: Artifact is not afraid. It’s willing to challenge itself, and us — an essential element to good, important art.
OK, here’s one more thing: Artifact is a treasure. It is a point of pride for our city. Our support is essential in order for it to keep Tucson its home, and to keep us in awe.