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Vanessa Voskuil “En Masse”

I enter the Southern Theater at 7:45pm and  the performance has already begun.  A group of performers, about 50 or so, are circling the stage walking, indifference on their faces.  Their direction is counterclockwise, perhaps suggesting a resistance to time, or even a timeless event- one that could take place at any 45 minutes in […]

I enter the Southern Theater at 7:45pm and  the performance has already begun.  A group of performers, about 50 or so, are circling the stage walking, indifference on their faces.  Their direction is counterclockwise, perhaps suggesting a resistance to time, or even a timeless event- one that could take place at any 45 minutes in history.

Photo by Cameron Wittig, courtesy Walker Art Center

Photo by Cameron Wittig, courtesy Walker Art Center

Smart, intelligent, and ambitious to have 68 performers joining a Director on stage.  68 performers who may or may not have experience, and I happen to know a handful of them who are students of mine at Zenon Dance School.  Isn’t that the woman I see at the Wedge each week? And that guy- he’s around Dinkytown, perhaps he’s a student at the University of Minnesota?  These performers are proud to be acknowledged as they revel in their stage time at the Southern Theater.  I am proud of them too.  Program notes indicate that the recruitment took place over 2 months via flyers, emails, and posts.  Bringing dance to the masses. Ambitious.

Obviously, the house is sold out.  If each performer were to invite 2 guests- there you have it. Smart.

The indifference is halted as a member of “En Masse” leaves the group to introduce themselves in the microphone,  “I am …., I’m from a small town named ………….., it’s that place not far from…………”  I am intrigued by the individuality and history behind the voice of each and every one of these members.  Some in suits, some in sweats, some decked out, others as if they just got off their bike.  There is a projection of the group against the walls of the Southern in a negative imposed image, circling in the same counter-clockwise direction in slow motion, a contrast between a gentle gait and a 90 degree bent angle jog.

The director moves to the center of the group and starts a trot and they join her.  Memories of Grand Central Station flood my mind as they run about, doing their daily business as an unforgettable face in a crowd.  I see a beautiful kaleidoscope of bodies- different sizes, shapes, colors, textures, aesthetics, and backgrounds.

Suddenly the group splits in half- like an atom and the projection is of atoms in space, dots on a map, as the Brian Eno-like soundscore turns way up, way up til I feel it in vibrating in my core.  Riot!!!!  Disease, infection, anger, violence, close proximity is no longer celebrated but becomes infectious.  I see b-boys striking inverted poses, Modern dance heiresses striking tender positions, and others running all over the aisles and house of the theater.  Light emits from 2 speaker-like light rigs that hang just behind the archway. I love it! Is it an alien invasion? Close encounters of the Third Kind? A rave? A concert? A celebration?  I dig those lights- I want more!

Lights out.  I’m afraid of the dark. I hear breathing, steps shuffling, and a frantic urgency to find the collective wholeness of the group.  There is safety in numbers, safety in numbers, safety in numbers…….

Lights up- they waltz.  I wonder what it would be like if in place of these very performers we had members of the diverse dance pools of the Twin Cities dance community pairing up and moving in harmony.

Vanessa emerges from the group- she is lost in the crowd- standing her significance- a duality of invisibility and conformity with individuality and ownership.

The collective evolves into a gesture- I am fascinated with the idea of the childhood game “telephone.” A word or gesture translated into a crowd of 68- the variations and slight imperfections are intriguing.   I find relief when they walk as pedestrians again, that familiar indifference feels satisfying. Stop! thump, thump, thump. A steady pulse that is reflected in beautiful projection against the proscenium, music that matches.   I want more, stop, wait, there it is again. Thump, thump, thump.  The group taps their fingers to their chest, their heart, in perfect synchronicity to the walls and the sound.  Home.

The stage is disassembled- those fabulous 2 speak-like light boards struck, the microphones dismantled. I hear celebration in their voices and steps and gestures.  A task has been accomplished with great efficiency and grace- the power of community effort.

  • The reviews are coming in! Camille LeFevre has her take on MinnPost.com.