Even at an early rehearsal, with the dancers just learning their steps, you can sense the power in Douglas Nielsen's new work "Show Me The Place."
That title is also the name of a Leonard Cohen song, the one that first inspired Nielsen "five or six years ago" when he saw Cohen on stage in Toronto.
"That's when I realized this man is a major poet of the 20th century," said Nielsen. "The idea for doing this dance has been brewing in my mind ever since."
This weekend "Show Me The Place," set on 18 dancers from the school of dance at the University of Arizona, receives its world premier performance in the Spring Collection of the School of Dance faculty's choreography.
"I've always been moved by the way Cohen and Randy Newman can approach subjects and themes like love, death, religion and sex," Nielsen said, framing his content.
The inspiration for this dance began with Cohen's evocative lines: "Show me the place, where you want your slave to go/ Show me the place, I've forgotten I don't know."
Placing those lyrics in the climactic final section of his dance, Neilsen was able to build up the first three-fourths using three other songs. He began with another by Cohen, "Everybody Knows." Then Newman's "Harps and Angels'' and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" were sandwiched in the middle. Once the sounds were set, Nielsen's choreography began to grow.
"It's like a painter who starts out sketching an idea, then fills in the rest of the canvas," the choreographer explained.
Further variation comes by using Rufus Wainwright's rendition of "Everybody Knows" and Joe Cocker's version of "You Can Leave Your Hat On."
"I've always listened to Randy Newman, Rufus Wainwright and Joe Cocker," Nielsen continued. "So even though the whole piece began with Leonard Cohen, I felt all the songs hint at the same place."
Other faculty works premiering in the Spring Collection include Elizabeth George's "Heart Gone Astray," combining the guitar work of Tucsonan Hans Hutchison and George's personal insight to yoga and Buddhist concepts of active silence.
"It is about finding your pulse, and to me personally it is about finding our relationships with silence," said George.
Also offering a new piece is Michael Williams with a tap dance workout for nine women and five men called "5-10-15 Times I Love You." The music is retro swing from the newest CD of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
Ballet is represented in the Spring Collection with a restaging by guest choreographer Michael Tevlin of his 1978 work in three parts "And Ye Shall Be As Gods…"
The annual student showcase, Rainbow Bound - Student Spotlight, featuring student choreography and performances, runs in tandem with Spring Collection.
IF YOU GO
• What: University of Arizona School of Dance's Spring Collection of faculty choreography, running in tandem with Rainbow Bound - Student Spotlight of dancing and choreography
• When: Spring Collection, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 p.m. April 26-27, 1:30 p.m. April 28. Rainbow Bound, 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday,7:30 p.m. April 25 and 1:30 p.m. April 27.
• Where: all performances in the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre on campus, 1713 E. University Blvd.
• Tickets: Spring Collection, $26 adults, with discounts available; Rainbow Bound, $25 adults, with discounts available.
• Details, reservations: 621-1162 or dance.arizona.edu
Chuck Graham is a Tucson-based freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org