Never mind those lovely ballets about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the others. We’re talking the dark side of the Brothers Grimm here and their story of a princess with her hands cut off, living in a land where demons are dancing to the blues music of Tom Waits and the aggressive rock of Korn.
We’re talking the world premiere of Sam Watson’s feature-length “Tales and Rhymes,” this weekend and next in the “Spring Collection” concert by the University of Arizona School of Dance.
Those sinister stories set in Germany’s Black Forest several centuries ago have been percolating in Watson’s subconscious for years.
“I had so much more to tell, I always wanted to flesh it out,” said the veteran UA dance professor, explaining that in 2005 the Moving People Dance Theatre of Santa Fe commissioned his “Grimm Tales” for the Santa Fe Dance Festival.
But the demands of festival scheduling limited that piece to 20 minutes. The Brothers Grimm by contrast have published more than 260 tales, Watson added. Those folklore classics contain lots more inspiration just waiting to be expressed.
“Tales and Rhymes” has evolved from 20 minutes into 12 scenes set on a cast of 22 dancers, with a total running time of 43 minutes, said Watson.
“It isn’t 12 separate stories,” the choreographer said. “I’m not just re-telling tales.”
The cultural archetypes are what interest him most — such as the perennial presence of a pure young maiden going up against a variety of conniving witches, wicked stepmothers and jealous queens. Adversity makes its demands and will not be ignored.
There is always a handsome prince. But there isn’t always a happy ending.
“Sometimes bad things just happen to good people,” Watson said.
Then there is the handsome prince who gets turned into a tree. His fate is firmly rooted until one of those pure young maidens seeks the safety of his strong branches.
“Around the same time the Grimm brothers were collecting folk tales in Germany, the poems of Mother Goose were popular in England, so I wanted to include some of those, too. “But I had to twist them a little more,” Watson added.
He mentions the poem “What are little girls made of … (and) What are little boys made of?” He sets it on a pierced, tattooed and tattered punk rock couple dancing a rough-and-tumble duet.
“They are very abusive to each other,” he explained. “But they like it. That’s their connection.”
Watson trained, danced and taught with Gus Giordano’s Jazz Dance Chicago in the 1980s, developing his own international reputation performing in Europe, Australia and Japan. He joined the UA dance faculty in 1999.
“My choreography uses all the dance language — pulling from jazz, modern and classical. I’ve always done it that way,” he said.
Watson’s career signature piece is “Wired,” a comic dance that shaped his reputation for dancing with a sense of humor. “Tales and Rhymes” will not be one of those.
“This new work is definitely up there as one of my largest and most complicated. It is both visceral and visual,” said Watson. “There is humor in it, but it’s really dark humor.”
Also on the concert program is new work by guest choreographer Bonnie Mathis and UA dance faculty Michael Williams, Tamara Dyke-Compton, James Clouser, Barbea Williams and Amy Ernst.