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Mad King Thomas Tests the Bounds of Collaboration

Post-modern performance trio Mad King Thomas is known for pushing boundaries and questioning limits. They skirt a thin line between dance and theater, dive into messy investigations of gender roles and power dynamics, and somehow manage to blend copious amounts of props, over-the-top costumes, and  irreverence into a result that’s utterly sincere and even profound. […]

Photo by Cameron Wittig

Photo by Cameron Wittig

Post-modern performance trio Mad King Thomas is known for pushing boundaries and questioning limits. They skirt a thin line between dance and theater, dive into messy investigations of gender roles and power dynamics, and somehow manage to blend copious amounts of props, over-the-top costumes, and  irreverence into a result that’s utterly sincere and even profound. This Saturday night the three bring their latest work, a collaboration with New Orleans-based playwright Justin Maxwell titled The Weather is Always Perfect, to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as part of Open Field. The piece marks the end of an era as the three performers get ready to push boundaries in yet another way: taking their nine-year collaboration long-distance.

Like many partnerships, Mad King Thomas admits to their share of squabbles and challenges, but Tara King, Theresa Madaus, and Monica Thomas are in total agreement that their collaboration is a life-long one. The three met as students at Macalester College in 2001, where they studied with notable Twin Cities choreographers that include HIJACK, Judith Howard, and Emily Johnson. In 2004 they made their first dance together, a just-for-fun endeavor that they soon realized held a lot of potential.  By April of 2005, over ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s Free Cone Day, they made a serious decision to mold their future around their collaboration. King changed her post-graduation plan to move to Japan for a job, and the three committed to staying in the  Twin Cities for a year, at which point they planned to move somewhere more desirable, together. Thomas admits they “were more committed than many romantic relationships are.”

Photo by Cameron Wittig

Photo by Cameron Wittig

Nine years later, Mad King Thomas has remained in the Twin Cities and built an impressive list of performances, grants and awards. Their work has been presented as part of Naked Stages (2007), Momentum: New Dance Works (2011), Choreographer’s Evening (2007, 2009, 2011), the Red Eye’s New Works: 4 Weeks Festival (2008, 2009), and the Southern Theater’s New Breed series (2010), and has included dance films, vignettes, and evening-length pieces. Regardless of the form, experimentation drives the work and, as Madaus explains, also creates a safety net from artistic paralysis: “At the beginning of every new project we often say ‘it’s an experiment’ because we feel daunted by whatever the last thing was, and wonder how we can ever do anything again. I think that this, along with permission for failure, have always been helpful tools for moving us forward.” And moving to a long-distance working relationship is one more extension of their experiments.

Photo by Mad King Thomas

Photo by Mad King Thomas

The trio recently announced that two of their three members have plans to leave the Twin Cities this fall. Thomas will move to Boston to pursue a degree in dance/movement therapy with a specialization in mental health counseling, and King to Los Angeles with her partner to experience new scenery. The three insist that they have no plans to break up: “We can’t; we have a death date,” Madaus says, referencing their joint agreement to die on stage at the age of 103, together.  “But yes, [the collaboration] will look different for sure.” The agreement to stick together is one they take seriously, and has led to making a temporary work plan where they will take turns serving in month-long Artistic Director positions for the group. As Artistic Director, each will be “responsible for taking us through an artistic process that is theoretically fulfilling to the individual, and unaccountable to the others’ tastes,” Thomas says. The logistics remain flexible, but might involve written assignments and Skyped rehearsals. And fans can rest assured that there will be future Twin Cities performances– plans are in-process for a 10-year birthday celebration show next summer.

For this Saturday night’s performance, Mad King Thomas plants themselves on Mark di Suvero’s Arikidea sculpture to tell the story of Violet Jessop, a woman who survived the sinkings of the Britannic and Titanic, as well as the collision of the Olympic with another ship: “Lady was unlucky,” says King. “We’re exploring ordinariness, class struggle, and folded bath towels. We’re enamored with mermaids, what it is to be above or below the sea, and life vests.” Expect the work to include more text than many of the trio’s past pieces, as influenced by Justin Maxwell’s contributions.  And, as usual, prepare to be surprised. Mad King Thomas gives you a few directions for the night: “Bring a flashlight; wear fancy, old-timey clothes; be ready to get a little wet (maybe) (no promises). Follow us as we follow the truly extraordinary true story of a fairly ordinary person, Violet Jessop.”