Blogs The Green Room

Kaitlin Frick on Tunde Adebimpe’s A Warm Weather Ghost

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Kaitlin Frick shares her perspective on Tunde Adebimpe’s A Warm Weather Ghost. Agree […]

Tunde Adebimpe, A Warm Weather Ghost. Photo: Gene Pittman

Tunde Adebimpe, A Warm Weather Ghost. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Kaitlin Frick shares her perspective on Tunde Adebimpe’s A Warm Weather Ghost. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

In this weekend’s premiere of A Warm Weather Ghost, Tunde Adebimpe shed light on mortality, grief, and afterlife on the McGuire Theater’s stage. In a stylistically-ranging, 50-minute-long set of music paired with a cinematic series of his own animations, Adebimpe and his ensemble offered a stirring portrayal of the cosmic journey a human takes as they pass from their earthly life into a place of light beyond themselves.

Adebimpe, who provided his signature exuberant lead vocals, was supported by backup singers Morgan Sorne and Mia Doi Todd, whose falsettos, whistles, and harmonies soared throughout. Expectedly, he was more restrained performing this new work than he tends to be with his rock band, although by the third performance on Saturday evening, he appeared relaxed and expressive, gesturing with his hands as he does with TV On The Radio. Adebimpe and his ensemble, a septet of versatile, multi-disciplinary artists, who, clad in black and seated onstage in near darkness, almost resembled a pit orchestra, supported the project’s cinematic component, which was projected on screen above the stage.

When the film opened to the sounds of traffic, and a young 20-something in a Hendrix t-shirt stepped off a Los Angeles curb, we understood their fate even before the bus suddenly appeared. And with a clamor of metal and a snarling saxophone and trumpet, the Warm Weather Ghost journey began, launching the darkest, most mysterious song of the night, while kaleidoscopic patterns of chaos spun through the cosmos: Systems of families/ systems of galaxies/ we are a change in the weather/ time against time, forever.

The second song was an immediate standout, sounding familiar and comforting in its gentle reassurances: And the air is sweet and even/ And there’s nowhere left to be/ And there’s nothing to believe in/ All are free. As the marimba-like synth arpeggios ascended and descended like bubbling water, a gesturally-drawn woman danced serenely across the screen in a celebration of new-found freedom.

Entering with a rollicking, static-laced synth, the next song was the most jubilantly electric of the evening, moving the journey exultantly forward, past embodiment and towards liberation. Adebimpe’s vocals soared triumphantly, as the visuals became more colorful and abstract: I know that I must go/ Drop my body and these worries on the spot. An enthusiastic burst of applause from the audience transitioned the band into the fourth number: a slow, steamy, tropical paradise dotted with silhouettes of palm trees and seductive minor seconds sung by vocalist Mia Doi Todd (the only song on which she soloed).

The late-set standout was the eighth number: its warm, ascending vocal harmonies combined with a jig-like saxophone and trumpet melody to make this accelerating song among the most heavy hitting of the evening. Todd’s vocals were exquisite, bending upwards as they might in a Tropicália melody, while the animations at this point were dominated by dogs racing by, carefree in their green, red, and yellow outlines.

The apex of the show arrived with the band’s penultimate song. With an accelerating, expanding drum beat, the band delivered its wall of sound and all the visuals that came before to a place beyond —a pulsating, technicolor static, breathing in its celebration of energy and freedom: I know the end is not the end. I’m out.

And with that, the band launched into an unexpectedly wry epilogue, an ode to death, matched on screen by projections of skulls, marigolds, and mandalas. The lights on stage came up slightly as “Money” Mark picked up an acoustic guitar, illuminating what felt almost like a campfire sing-along meant for Underworld communing: O Death O Death O Death/ Extraordinary Death / Comes rushing through your Space/ Once More with Feeling.

A Warm Weather Ghost was a cathartic opportunity for Adebimpe to process several personal losses he’d recently experienced. Moreover, it was a courageous exploration of the deepest anxieties we share about death: from the moment it occurs, to what happens to our bodies, convictions, relationships, memories, and the love we embody. Adebimpe’s A Warm Weather Ghost fostered an aesthetically stunning space for audiences to understand their own experiences of loss, inspiring intensely personal and unique interpretations, and promising only change, transformation, and a whole lot of beauty along the way.

A co-presentation of Liquid Music, Walker Art Center, and The Current, Tunde Adebimpe’s A Warm Weather Ghost was performed Thursday–Saturday, May 18-20 at the William and Nadine McGuire Theater. While no immediate plans to tour the project have been announced, Adebimpe plans to release recordings of the project alongside a book featuring artwork from the film some time later this year.

Tunde Adebimpe: Avoiding the Cosmic Side-Eye from Prince

In a July 2015 encore at First Avenue, TV on the Radio commemorated the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain by covering the album’s title song. Less than a year later, Prince passed away—too young, at age 57. Returning to the Walker this month, the band’s front man, Tunde Adebimpe, offers a new multimedia experience that touches […]

Adebimpe_Tunde_2016-17_01_W

In a July 2015 encore at First Avenue, TV on the Radio commemorated the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain by covering the album’s title song. Less than a year later, Prince passed away—too young, at age 57. Returning to the Walker this month, the band’s front man, Tunde Adebimpe, offers a new multimedia experience that touches on similar themes: mortality, grief, and the afterlife. Commissioned by, 89.3 The Current, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series and the Walker, A Warm Weather Ghost combines lives music and vocals, narration, and projected drawings and animations by Adebimpe to follow a hero’s journey through a psychedelic fever dream. Here, on the eve of its May 18–20 world premiere, Adebimpe discusses A Warm Weather Ghost, his art, and his return to Prince’s hometown.

Chris Cloud: A Warm Weather Ghost is a multidisciplinary endeavor. What are your thoughts on 21st-century artists like yourself heading towards being more than just a musician, animator, or filmmaker? Why do you think this is?

Tunde Adebimpe: For me, it’s just what I’ve always done. When I’m writing a song, I’m seeing images, and, if I have the chance and the time to, I’d much rather make the video or album art for that song myself and just get it done. I think if you can wear those different hats and it makes sense to time and effort wise, you should. It’s all part of the same expression, and it’s a more dimensional presentation of the idea or feeling you’re trying to put forward.

Cloud: This has been a very collaborative project, as you’ve worked with seven musicians: Money Mark, the producer best known for his collaborations the Beastie Boys; vocalist Mia Doi Todd; and others, including Aaron Steele, Sean Okaguchi, Morgan Sorne, and Tracy Wannomae. What does the phrase “Do-It-Together” mean to you?

Adebimpe: Always get people who you admire and are better than you at what you do to help make your projects way better than you could have imagined.

Cloud: What advice do you have to artists who working on creative projects like yours?

Adebimpe: Plan, make lists, and do the things on the lists. We don’t have all the time in the world!

Cloud: Given the work’s themes, has your awareness of mortality grown as you’ve progressed in life?

Adebimpe: Yes. It’s all downhill from here, which is fine.

Cloud: During the time you’ve been working on this project, Minnesotans and the whole world experienced a huge loss with the death of Prince, a multidisciplinary artist in his own right. The last time TV on the Radio was in Minneapolis—at First Avenue in July 2015—you sang “Purple Rain” in honor of the song’s 30th anniversary. Did you reflect back on his passing and that moment during the development of this work?

Adebimpe: Well, now he’s everywhere, right? I think “What would Prince think of what I’m doing/thinking/feeling right now?” is a good barometer for how wisely you’re spending your time on the planet. I bet a lot of people are getting the cosmic side-eye from Prince right now. I will try my best, in all my actions and endeavors, to evade that side eye. Especially while performing. Especially in Minneapolis.

“Extending the Energy”: Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Sam Segal shares his perspective on last Friday’s performance of Steve Coleman’s […]

Photo: Dimitri Louis

Photo: Dimitri Louis

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Sam Segal shares his perspective on last Friday’s performance of Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

“Since the beginning of time, critics have by and large been unable to deal with any creative expression,” saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman writes on his website, in an article that explains the basics of “M-Base,” a conceptual framework that has guided his creative process since the 1980s. So, Coleman may have been relieved in January, when following the departure of Nate Chinen and Ben Ratliff, the New York Times found itself without any full-time jazz critics. Yet, even before the Times lost Chinen and Ratliff, the paper had significantly scaled back the number of live jazz reviews it published. According to Ratliff, in an effort to grow readership, editors at the Times had begun to take data analytics more seriously and they discovered that show reviews were performing poorly in comparison to articles that were wider in scope.

Despite his cynical view of critics and criticism, Steve Coleman’s performance in the McGuire Theater on Friday night with his band Natal Eclipse was an argument for why trying to write about live jazz still matters. “In my opinion,” Coleman states in the program notes, “any spontaneous act draws on the energy imbuing the moment when it occurs.” He regards the live performance as a singular moment of spontaneous creativity. A thinkpiece on, for example, how the multiculturalism of Coleman’s work acts as a counter-argument to the xenophobia of our current political climate might get a lot of hits. However, that piece would not likely capture the dynamic and slippery beauty Coleman and his band are capable of channeling from the energy of a moment.

The vast majority of Natal Eclipse’s performance was taken up by one constantly morphing piece. In their first two minutes on stage, the drummerless octet moved quickly and almost undetectably from ominous melancholy to jaunty playfulness. Without a drummer, the composition felt unshackled from the bounds of time signature. This allowed a freedom of movement, as the band worked itself over the course of an hour through dreamlike spaces, suspenseful cinematic thrills, and above all else, herky-jerky grooves that reminded the listener that jazz at its core is still dance music, or perhaps more importantly that music is still dance music.

Natal Eclipse’s performance blurred the line between composition and improvisation, a line that can sometimes constrict the free movement of music that’s created in the jazz idiom. Noticeably, the audience did not clap in between solos. This was because it was largely impossible to tell when one musician’s solo ended and another’s began. Yet, the band wasn’t engaging in group free improvisation. Fragments of composed melodic unity jutted into solos with little warning, leaving quickly without a trace. Individual band members frequently changed the tone of a soloist’s expression with a brief entrance. At one point, in a particularly smoking solo by pianist Matt Mitchell, Kristin Lee’s violin laced his soulfulness with a sense of baroque dread. The piece suggested a kind of freedom that defines itself not through dissonance, but rather through the opportunity to add one’s own energy to a collective vision. This was spontaneous group creation without selfishness from an ensemble of remarkable listeners.

The music performed on Friday night was non-linear by design. The composition was cyclical. Jovial weightlessness slyly transformed itself into chaotic uneasiness over and over. Natal Eclipse disregarded the dominant narrative arc of building from tension to climax to release. All three dynamics were constantly at play all at once. Coleman’s compositional strategy argued that familiar narrative structure is, in fact, too familiar.

At the end of the performance, Coleman hinted at a possible Walker residency in the works. Encouraging the audience to advocate for a lengthier engagement with the Walker, he jokingly suggested we write to our congressional representatives. With or without congressional backing, here’s hoping Steve Coleman returns to Minnesota soon to pick up where he left off—in the moment.

Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater on May 12, 2017.

Theresa Madaus on Beth Gill’s Brand New Sidewalk

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer and dance artist Theresa Madaus shares her perspective on the world premiere […]

Beth Gill_rehearsal_051

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer and dance artist Theresa Madaus shares her perspective on the world premiere of Beth Gill’s Brand New Sidewalk last Friday night in the McGuire Theater. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Beth Gill’s premiere of Brand New Sidewalk was a slowly unfolding dancework in three parts, each set in a starkly different atmosphere and each with its own minimal cast. Opening and closing with a solo, a duet sandwiched in between, the dance appeared as a triptych—each part discrete but offering a larger story together, like polished stones strung together to create a spare and asymmetrical necklace.  

Situated as part of the Merce Cunningham:Common Time exhibition, I was tempted to consider how this work related to my limited experience of Cunningham. Something about the way the dancers carried their spines in the duet—an uprightness and funneling of gravity down a flexible but solid column—reminded me of Cunningham dancers. The precision of the movement. And something about the relationship of the elements of the work—the primacy of the costumes, the impact of the lights, the draw of the music, each imperative to the power of the whole—that made me think about Cunningham’s collaborators. But ultimately I have no desire to compare and contrast to Cunningham or to abstract or analyze. I want to stay in the dreamy unfurling state that I experienced while watching: an ascending (or descending) series of images (sonic and visual, of body/matter and light), the slow unfurling of a flower, the strange reveal of a moonscape as it rotates into light, the metamorphosis of the grave, decay and birth.

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill. Photo: Gene Pittman

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill. Photo: Gene Pittman

We begin in the arctic, a sole figure (Danielle Goldman) bundled in an icy gray quilted one-piece jumpsuit, bulked with layers, the white marley of the floor and the bright lighting adding to the frigid atmosphere. With low bound movements, always in service of the fabric, she starts a slow and steady shedding of her layers, unzipping her jumpsuit and peeling off sweaters with the prosaic pace of a beetle—no urgency, but the attention of something that must happen, the emotionless striptease of an insect. Set to the drone of a mechanical screech/hum, it feels both urban and remote, solitary and full, like quiet nights on the farm with a more-than generator.

This metamorphosis reveals unnaturally bright colors (crimson sweater, vivid purple leggings), moving into green and then earthier tones (tan leggings and brown shirt), and finally, the shiny black obsidian at the core of the earth, a foreshadowing of where the piece will take us. Each layer is simultaneously a dead exoskeleton and a birthing, shifting contexts as the clothing remains attached to her limbs, a growing morphing animal. The slow build of melodic horns increases my appetite for the transformation. And then, finally clad in her shimmering ore pants and at last on her feet, she and the horns disappear, leaving us with the continuing hum and expectant closed curtains.

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill. Photo: Gene Pittman

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill. Photo: Gene Pittman

When they open again, we have flown to another world. If we were in the tundra, now we are on the moon, pale green and cast in soft glow. Perhaps a space station in an orbiting colony. (I am struck, later, by the relationship of colony to both outer space and insects, and why would I fixate on this word when the piece felt so solitary?) Even in this duet I felt the loneliness (or is it simply aloneness?) The two dancers (Kevin Boateng and Joyce Edwards) are clad in genderless hooded sleeveless tunics and pants, giving me the sense of futuristic scrubs, perhaps sanitation workers or priests. Their perfect unison adds to the uncanny sense of that are not quite human, and the movement—measured, fluid, exact, gliding—suggests a ritual, a meditation, a familiarity of routine that is both worker-drone and holy. They contain themselves entrancingly, moving in precision without sharpness or edges. Here is where I notice the spines—their bodies held in a different relation to gravity—weighted centers never contracting while their arms float heavily, sinuously, as if they are moving through thick viscous liquid-atmosphere. Not effortless but not effortful. This is clockwork if clockwork were made of snakes.

When the hoods come down and hair is revealed, the dancers become human, and when they lie down, the abrupt end of the horns (which have been building again with a calm ascendance) calls to mind both death and a mistake. But death is a purposeful mistake and their arms rise from their chests in lieu of spirits; I think they are ready to be levitated, raptured, taken by the mothership. And when they stand and move towards the back, I think they might step through an invisible-but-about-to-appear portal. And when this section ends we are again left in quiet darkness to wonder what comes next. What comes after death/transcendence?

Beth Gill_rehearsal_175

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill. Photo: Gene Pittman

Oh, of course, the subterranean grave. The stage has expanded, consumed with velvety blackness, the floor slicked with three streaks of oil-like shine. A single figure again (Maggie Cloud), wrapped in layers of white shroud-like gauze. Less methodical, the movement of this solo seems dependent on shedding the fabric, but this time with less directed attention, more incidentally and with more stuttered movement, standing bent over, rolling on the floor, without the dexterity or focus of hands. I think of a corpse struggling out of her wrappings, moments of Poe, dead/undead, the white sunless bodies of larvae, still underdeveloped, pre-birth. When these layers are strewn about the floor and the dancer is at last upright, she still appears wrapped in a thin translucent skin, nylon skull cap on her head and wrinkles of innards showing beneath the pale tightly drawn fabric.    
The motif repeats; when she pulls off her head wrapping and releases her hair, she becomes human to me. In the dim atmosphere, beams of light strike her, sometimes shimmery and watery from the front, other times stark and painful from the side. As she gestures and almost mimes against the sidelight, an invisible wall, I wonder if this is Persephone, searching for a way out? Death is apparently literary. And when she stands in another watery beam at the end, I am ready for her to bite her skin off.

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill, was commissioned by the Walker Art Center and performed in the McGuire Theater May 5 and 6, 2017.

Dancing on the Brink: An Interview with Beth Gill

“The worst thing about making choreography is that you get one chance to experience the novelty of something new, and then you get a million chances to practice recapturing that experience… The biggest criticism I have of my own work is that it’s always on the brink of dying.” Bessie Award–winner Beth Gill makes choreography that […]

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife (2011), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island city, New York, June 2011.

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife (2011), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, June 2011

“The worst thing about making choreography is that you get one chance to experience the novelty of something new, and then you get a million chances to practice recapturing that experience… The biggest criticism I have of my own work is that it’s always on the brink of dying.” Bessie Award–winner Beth Gill makes choreography that is spare yet playful, stark yet beautiful. In the Walker-commissioned work Brand New Sidewalk—performed May 5–6 in the McGuire Theater—Gill teams up with composer Jon Moniaci and lighting designer Thomas Dunn as she questions the value of formalism in dance. This evocative piece for four dancers explores themes of alienation, erasure, and power, illuminating the compositional pleasure of the Merce Cunningham legacy. In an interview with performance scholar Danielle Goldman, first published in the Walker-designed catalogue Merce Cunningham: Common Time, Gill discusses audience-performer intimacy, choreographic density and complexity, and releasing control of the creative process in search of “liveness.”

Danielle Goldman: When I reflect on your creative practice over the past ten years, I don’t often think of Merce Cunningham as being an explicit reference for you. But since you were commissioned to make a new piece for the exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time, perhaps we could begin by talking about Cunningham’s investment in “pure dance” and formalist abstraction. I often think that discussions about these aspects of his work fail to reckon with the ways in which he recognized the idiosyncrasies of his dancers. When discussing his Suite by Chance (1953) some years after its premiere, Cunningham said: “It was almost impossible to see a movement in the modern dance during that period not stiffened by literary or personal connection, and the simple, direct, and unconnected look of [Suite by Chance] (which some thought abstract and dehumanized) disturbed. My own experience while working with the dancers was how strongly it let the individual quality of each of them appear, naked, powerful, and unashamed.”1 How do you think about the encounter between dancers and form?

Beth Gill: Some of my love of Merce’s work—and, really, much of postmodern dance—has to do with the way he uses form as a foundation, as a structure, as a canvas, as a kind of supportive system in which one can perceive the individual contributions of the dancers, or—as I understand the quote—to perceive the individual dancer in a kind of naked, authentic state. I have that experience with Trisha’s [Brown] work as well. There’s some kind of relationship or contractual agreement that the dance coexists with that also makes possible the viewing of the individual dancers.

The closest I’ve come to that experience in my own work, though with more murky results, is in Electric Midwife (2011), in which three pairs of dancers, divided by two lines of tape on the floor, mirror each other’s movements. The overarching structure of symmetry creates a kind of feedback loop with the perception of the dancers. Watching the work, I’m pushed to consider how the form is affecting my understanding of who I’m seeing. So the notion that I can witness an authentic self becomes questionable, and for me that uncertainty is a powerful layer in the piece.

Goldman: Were there any particular works in which you were investigating the mechanism for questioning who or what it is that one is seeing?

Gill: When I was making New Work for the Desert (2014), I started to tailor roles to a specific dancer. Not just aesthetically but conceptually—thinking about what that role’s particular relationship to form should be in terms of style, history, and representation. I was using certain dancers symbolically or metaphorically only through the manipulation of their physical material, as opposed to costuming or visual design. I think my understanding of what form encompasses is expanding—it has more plasticity to it now. But it’s hard to talk specifically about this. When you talk about form, what are you talking about?

Goldman: The various ways in which the dance is structured: line, gesture, the compositional elements of a work, timing, the ways in which embodiment is structured and designed by your choreographic eye. For example, the New York Times described Electric Midwife—which I danced in at the Chocolate Factory—as “highly formal,” and there was certainly a very clear interest in geometry as one form that we as dancers were negotiating.2

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife (2011), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island city, New York, June 2011.

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife (2011), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, June 2011

Gill: Right, there are many layers of form, and it’s challenging for me to extract and examine any one of them in isolation from the whole. Similarly, the discussion of the dancer as separate from the form is equally difficult, because it implies that the form can somehow stand on its own. What maybe makes it possible to have that discussion about Electric Midwife is how the symmetry forces the viewer to hold an understanding of both the ideal and the real experience. So we can separate out the ideal as the form itself and the dancers as being in negotiation with it.

Some of my earlier, more minimal works, like wounded giant (2005), have a clearer relationship to the Cunningham quote because the viewer’s primary encounter is with the performer. In the work I’m making now, Catacomb [premiered May 2016 at the Chocolate Factory, New York City], the complexity and density of the form can have a smothering effect on the dancers. There’s a lot for them to sift through.

Goldman: I was intrigued by your comment that there is a kind of contractual agreement at the outset of a process. Were you talking about an agreement between the dancer and the choreographer?

Gill: I think there are always contracts or agreements that get set up, of course between the choreographer and performer but also between the performer and the viewer, whether consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes a performer is asking to be seen in a particular way, or to not be seen at all. That’s something I’m really curious about as a director. From a psychological standpoint—what is the expectation they’re setting up and what is my role in shaping this? What I’m trying to address now is all of the work that’s happening inside the dancer’s mind beyond the management of body mechanics—what they’re thinking and imagining in addition to the moves.

Goldman: I was thinking recently about dancer Eleanor Hullihan in your work Eleanor & Eleanor (2007). I remember watching from the wings, mesmerized, as Eleanor, over the course of several minutes, gradually shifted from a full and engaged presence to a seemingly drained-out form, all while standing in a stationary spot onstage. There is tremendous complexity in the meeting of her interior space and that rather minimal formal proposition. It was seemingly so simple, yet very alive and shifting over time.

Gill: Catacomb is also an interesting workspace with regard to the dancer’s interior landscape, mainly because I’m trying to visibly render different modes of representation for each of the four roles, and I’m doing so by setting up different formal but also behavioral conditions with the dancers. This means building customized—I’ll just continue to use this word “contractual”—ideas for each person. How visible the differences are depends a lot on the viewer. For me, it would be most successful if it were clear to most viewers that there are distinctions, that these roles are not the same, and that the differences reveal a level of intentionality about how I constructed the form of the work.

Getting back to Cunningham, there are many differences between what he made and what I make, but certainly our individual relationship to control is radically different. For me, his willingness to let go of some of his control in the creative process is inspiring and something to strive toward.

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife (2011), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island city, New York, June 2011.

Beth Gill, Electric Midwife (2011), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, June 2011

Goldman: Maybe another way to think about control is in terms of care. You’ve taken remarkable care to control or structure the viewer’s encounter with your work. In Electric Midwife, for example, you decided to limit the audience to twelve people, and you became a kind of host for the work. I remember your attempt to personally escort everyone into the theater. You’ve talked about that as a gendered kind of care, in some ways similar to the paid work you’ve done at the Williamsburg restaurant Diner. Can you talk about that?

Gill: At the time I was making Electric Midwife, I had another identity as a waitress who would sit down at a table with customers and hand-write the menu for them while simultaneously describing each dish. I was using language—I would even go so far as to say performance—to give them a sense of how the ingredients were coming together. I always felt these encounters to be very intimate exchanges. I was also hosting at Diner, and that role in particular made me think a lot about care and responsibility. I learned a lot about how a guest’s initial experience could set the stage for their ability to enjoy the Diner culture I described earlier. People were often more open to the experience if I could find a way early on to make them feel cared for, seen, and special.

So I brought all that experience to Electric Midwife. I wanted guests at the theater to feel my care for them, to feel welcomed, and for the work to reaffirm in every aspect that I wanted them to be there. The seating in particular was the clearest example of this. We worked to build platform heights that would ensure that each person had a clear sight line. We arranged the seats in a triangle with the point closest to the dance to maximize people’s sense that they were the center of this symmetrical work.

Goldman: I wanted to ask you about some remarks you made in fall 2015 during a panel on Trisha Brown. You were sketching your development as a choreographer and the way your interests have changed over time. You mentioned that, early in your career, timing was where you first felt a sense of your own voice. Can you say more about that?

Gill: I often think that timing has a direct effect on the act of seeing. Slowness and stillness instigate expectation or waiting, and waiting has a pressurizing force on a viewer. As a result, the viewer is leaning in—not literally, but leaning in a little bit more attentively to the work, because the work isn’t overdelivering to them.

Goldman: Your notion of a spectatorial “leaning in” seems apt when I think about my experience of watching your work. It suggests an active viewer but also a kind of intimacy, a spatial experience of vision.

Gill: Intimacy is really about connection, merging, closing the gap.

Beth Gill, Catacomb (2016), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, May 2016.

Beth Gill, Catacomb (2016), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, May 2016

Goldman: In one of our earlier conversations, when you were beginning work on Electric Midwife, I remember you talking about a desire for more density within a single figure, which I understood to mean more complex choreography for each dancer. I don’t know whether that happened to the extent you initially imagined, but there certainly has been an increase in compositional density in your work. It’s funny to be citing Cunningham on this subject, but I flagged this: “The eye tries to recognize what it already knows. It is like security. Everybody does that. It takes anybody a long time to really see something new.”3

Gill: I think that’s a powerful part of Cunningham’s legacy. He had some capacity to wrestle with his own attachment to what a thing is, and potentially to let go of that attachment and let the thing change. That’s another area where I hold him in very high regard. It’s very difficult to perceive change. It takes an investment of time and labor to see something differently.

For me, the experience of seeing things differently is happening in my relationships with the people I work with. I’m getting to work with the same dancers over a series of projects, and it’s a total blessing when you’ve known someone in a particular way and then you get to encounter them differently. I feel like we are deepening our relationships to each other. The worst thing about making choreography is that you get one chance to experience the novelty of something new, and then you get a million chances to practice recapturing that experience or getting something different out of it.

Goldman: If you don’t, it’s dead.

Gill: Exactly. The biggest criticism I have of my own work is that it’s always on the brink of dying.

Goldman: Can you say more about that?

Gill: Sure. As I have gone deeper into the issues we’ve talked about—density, complexity, or care for all the levels that constitute a work—that means that I am digging my hand into all those different places, making choices, and then asking the dancers to be held accountable to those choices.

Goldman: Earlier you used the word “smothering.” Is that what you mean?

Gill: Yes. The performers have to deal with the kinetic, imaginative, and sensorial obligations of the piece, as well as this notion of presence and how to relate to the audience—not to mention the structure of the dance and of course how to be in space and time with the rest of the dancers in the “correct” way. Being held accountable for all of that can be smothering. When the dance starts to lose its liveness, I understand that to be directly related to this overload of expectations.

There are a few different ways to think about liveness. Do we, as an audience, expect to see a kind of liveness that might not actually relate to the experience of being alive, or are we just hoping to experience the euphoria of novelty? And do we feel this liveness in our encounter with the work or with the dancers themselves? I don’t know! But it can feel very depressing or deadening to watch somebody just tackle the thing they did yesterday. I don’t know how much I can create a kind of trickery to take that away. That’s one of the things I’m thinking about right now.

Beth Gill, Catacomb (2016), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, May 2016.

Beth Gill, Catacomb (2016), performance at the Chocolate Factory, Long Island City, New York, May 2016

Goldman: As you know, Cunningham invited many composers and sound artists to create new music for his dances, and he set no parameters on their work. I’m curious about how your collaborations with sound artists compare to his. A way in to this topic might be to talk about your work with Jon Moniaci.

Gill: Jon and I have a really incredible collaborative relationship, but our collaboration is not the same as Cage and Cunningham’s. Cage’s sound was independent of Cunningham’s choreography, whereas Jon’s compositions are very responsive to the dances I make. I often bring him into the process after I have been working for a period of time. We talk a little bit, but mostly just to share what we’re thinking. I never step into his process of choice-making. We let the dance and the score develop alongside each other.

Goldman: It’s striking to me that the company structure Cunningham was working with doesn’t exist anymore. Yet long-term relationships seem to be important to you—with Jon, with individual dancers—and maybe it takes that kind of time to develop the particular virtuosities that interest you and also to allow you to release control. It’s a magical thing when something has been built or gathered between people. And held across bodies.

Gill: It’s so powerful for me to see myself reflected back when I watch any of the people I’ve worked with perform. Because I know there are times when I articulate my ideas clearly, and times when I don’t. They are the real detectives, putting the pieces together.

 

Notes

1 Merce Cunningham, Changes: Notes on Choreography, ed. Frances Starr (New York: Something Else Press: 1968), quoted in David Vaughan, Merce Cunningham: Fifty Years, ed. Melissa Harris (New York: Aperture, 1997), 69.

Roslyn Sulcas, “Symmetry and Geometry, in Mirror Image,” New York Times, June 21, 2011.

3 Merce Cunningham and Jacqueline Lesschaeve, The Dancer and the Dance (New York: M. Boyars, 1985), 131.

A Quiet Kind of Boldness: Beth Gill’s Abstract Storytelling

Choreographer Beth Gill practices a subtle form of risk-taking. Her work certainly doesn’t elicit the kind of responses that have sometimes characterized the proposal of radical new ideas: there’s no booing from the crowd, storming out of the theater, or scathing reviews. Yet, she demonstrates a quiet kind of boldness, with each new work supported by […]

Beth Gill, New Work From the Desert (2014).

Beth Gill, New Work From the Desert (2014). Photo: Alex Escalante

Choreographer Beth Gill practices a subtle form of risk-taking. Her work certainly doesn’t elicit the kind of responses that have sometimes characterized the proposal of radical new ideas: there’s no booing from the crowd, storming out of the theater, or scathing reviews. Yet, she demonstrates a quiet kind of boldness, with each new work supported by its own distinct thread of critical inquiry. When the Walker began putting together the artists who would produce commissioned work for Merce Cunningham: Common Time, instead of Cunningham look-alikes they sought choreographers who honor Cunningham’s courageous trailblazing in their own unique way. While the tone of Gill’s work inhabits a very different world than Cunningham’s, her distinct creations nonetheless meaningfully contribute to the continuation of dance, albeit in a more understated way.

Her current body of work is part of a new era of abstraction in post-modern dance. Cunningham, in a daring departure from the emotionally-charged narratives of Martha Graham, set out to prove how dance could still be relevant, compelling, poignant, and exquisite without dependence on “meaning.” He brought the tremendous value of pure abstraction—which at the time was well-established in visual arts—to dance. The impact of his assertion was strengthened by the rigor of his abstraction; in some cases he sought to remove nearly all traces of his personal taste and motives by leaving even the most basic decisions about what a gesture should look like up to chance. Since Cunningham’s ideas first changed the way people thought about dance, countless artists have continued the discussion of what place meaning and abstraction have in contemporary performance. Gill is among choreographers who question the dichotomy of meaning versus abstraction by reclaiming the pursuit of meaning within abstraction. Her work has an undoubtedly abstract inclination with its compelling formal choreographic structures and ineffable visual environments. Yet, as with her last work Catacomb, she offers a tantalizing liminal space full of character and drama.

Beth Gill, Catacomb (2016). Photo: Brian Rogers

Beth Gill, Catacomb (2016). Photo: Brian Rogers

What Gill refers to as “abstract storytelling” allows the audience to experience all the depth and connective potential of meaningful storytelling in a space free from literal description. She maintains the multiplicity that abstraction allows, inviting the audience to explore their individual interpretation of the work, but without losing the possibility of experiencing something shared. In practice, this means using imagery and symbolism to foster association, creating spaces where there’s plenty of room to roam, but with concrete ideas to anchor you along the way. Gill is explicit about privileging the audience in her creation process, always attentive to ensuring they feel cared for and considered. She develops a special kind of direct communication with the viewer by meticulously considering the visual component of what she’s making and noting how the imagery can trigger personal associations. The results are rich and mysterious visual and temporal worlds, often described as immersive and disorienting. As New York Times critic Siobhan Burke, in naming Catacomb one of the best in dance of 2016, describes, “I remember less about the details of the work itself than I do about the moment it ended—a startling return to reality. What had just happened? Where had I gone?”

Beth Gill, Eleanor & Eleanor (201?). Photo: Paula Court

Beth Gill, Eleanor & Eleanor (2007). Photo: Paula Court

For her newest piece Brand New Sidewalk, premiering at the Walker next week, Gill is taking her visual prowess in a new direction. Instead of employing a slow-burning single structure she is seeking a coherence defined by juxtaposition. Starting with the question “what do I have?” she embarks on an in-depth inquiry of her cast members, honing in on particular vocabularies for each of them. With the creative contributions of her collaborators Jon Moniaci (sound) and Thomas Dunn (lights), Brand New Sidewalk presents a triptych of meticulously crafted domains that transform the McGuire Theater stage to the dancers’ individual logics. The format is one that she says has tested her skill set under very different circumstances, challenging her to define her sense-making through contrast. This kind of challenge in her creative process is part of how Gill confronts the idea of risk in a continual practice of personal growth and change. She aims to re-imagine herself with each project, taking inspiration from the likes of Robert Irwin, author of Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees. She stresses the importance of maintaining a shifting and evolving perspective, of allowing the work to change as she does.

The ethos of attentiveness and responsiveness in Gill’s work sheds new light on the formal abstraction that Cunningham originally presented. She offers a vision of post-modern dance which challenges the idea that meaning and emotion can’t coexist with formalism and abstraction. In the fertile, mysterious environments she creates we’re challenged to wonder: How can meaning be heightened when you can’t describe it with words? How can we connect deeply to abstraction when it is carefully and receptively constructed? Whereas Cunningham was in the vanguard in his purist commitment to abstraction, her own pioneering vision comes from nuance, subtlety, and the depth of opportunity available when we consider the question of how we find meaning in contemporary dance.

Brand New Sidewalk by Beth Gill will premiere Friday and Saturday, May 5 & 6, 2017 in the McGuire Theater as part of the Walker’s exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time

Returning to the Garden: The 2017 Rock the Garden Lineup

On Monday, April 24, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock The Garden 2017. After last year’s staging at Boom Island Park, a full renovation and reopening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is bringing the party home to the hillside. Eight bands occupy two stages for an unforgettable day of music […]

C-LSFNbXcAAosVT

On Monday, April 24, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock The Garden 2017. After last year’s staging at Boom Island Park, a full renovation and reopening of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is bringing the party home to the hillside. Eight bands occupy two stages for an unforgettable day of music as RTG veterans and new performers alike share their art, dedicated to a particular friend we’ve lost and all the ones we’ve yet to make. See you in the Garden.

Get your tickets before they’re gone! Walker and MPR members’ pre-sale begins Wednesday, April 26, at 10 am. Ticket sales open to the public on Friday, April 28, at 10 am.

Update: Rock the Garden 2017 is sold out.

For the latest updates and a day-of event guide, check out the festival website. Follow the action on Twitter at @walkerartcenter@RockTheGarden, and @TheCurrent, and make sure to RSVP on Facebook.


Bon Iver, Fall Creek, Wisconsin

Bon Iver. Photo: Cameron Wittig and Crystal Quinn

Bon Iver. Photo: Cameron Wittig and Crystal Quinn

In one of the band’s first festival gigs, Bon Iver took the  Rock the Garden stage in 2008, along with Cloud Cult, The New Pornographers, and Andrew Bird, and they haven’t played in Minnesota since 2011. We’re excited to have them back—this time as our headliner!

  • The insanely intricate, heavily allusionistic index of symbols that composes the album art of 22, A Million—Bon Iver’s third, critically-acclaimed, Grammy-nominated, mind-bending feast of an album—was designed by MCAD-educated designer Eric Timothy Carlson. In a recent Walker interview, Carlson commented on the project:

    Between the numerology, the metaphysical/humanist nature of the questions in 22, a Million, and the accumulation of physical material and symbolism around the music—it became apparent that the final artwork was to be something of a tome. A book of lore. Jung’s Red Book. A lost religion. The Rosetta Stone. Sagan’s Golden Record. Something to invest some serious time and mind in. Something that presented a lot of unanswered questions and wrong ways. A distant past and future. An inner journey somehow very contemporary.

  • Imagine an adult version of camp with round-the-clock musical experimentation, collaboration, recording, and lots of booze. Actually, you don’t need to imagine it because Vernon gathered 85 of his best friends for exactly that at the Funkhouse studio complex in Berlin last fall.
  • Vernon created a new instrument and named it after a sound engineer buddy. The “Messina” layers harmonies, transforming vocals and mellifluous sax tones into halting, gospel-sounding chords like a “futuristic pump organ.”

 

The Revolution, Minneapolis

The Revolution. Photo: Kii Arens

The Revolution. Photo: Kii Arens

  • The Revolution is turning Rock the Garden purple this year, and even though it would be cosmically just, we’re hoping it won’t rain. Be ready for a legacy performance that features original band members, special friends, seminal hits, and essential b-sides. Dance party, anyone?
  • The Revolution’s best-selling album: Purple Rain, of course, with the virtuosic wonder of its title track and that neo-psychedelic opus, “When Doves Cry.” It peaked at number 1 on the Billboard 200, displacing Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.
  • Flashback to the band’s 1980s heyday as Prince and The Revolution filmed Purple Rain at First Avenue, creating arguably the most fantastic music movie ever. The producers scheduled four weeks for the shoot but the band was so tight it only took one.

 

Benjamin Booker, New Orleans, Louisiana

Benjamin Booker. Photo: Neil Krug

Benjamin Booker. Photo: Neil Krug

  • Drawing on a passion for eccentric soul, R&B, and blues—from William Onyeabor’s 70s African psych-rock to Freddie Gibbs and Pusha T—Benjamin Booker integrates disparate influences with his characteristic garage-punk intensity. While he didn’t play a live show until 2012, his star rose quickly as an opener for Jack White and after playing Letterman and Lollapalooza.
  • Booker’s sophomore album, Witness, arrives on June 2. In an essay describing the inspiration behind the title track, the artist shares his thoughts on race relations in contemporary American society.
  • Rolling Stone once described Booker as “Howlin’ Wolf’s scrawny, bipolar little cousin [who] discovered a fuzzbox. A Pop-Rocks-and-soda cocktail for anyone who’s ever wished for a younger, edgier version of Tedeschi Trucks Band.”

 

Car Seat Headrest, Leesburg, Virginia

Carseat Head Rest. Photo: Anna Webber

Car Seat Headrest. Photo: Anna Webber

  • Led by Will Toledo (of Bandcamp fame), Car Seat Headrest released its first proper studio album, Teens of Denial, in May 2016. However, the album is actually the band’s thirteenth, and there is still over twelve hours of Toledo’s self-recorded music on Bandcamp available for streaming.
  • Car Seat Headrest was The Current’s number-one New Artist of 2016, with the song “Drunk Drivers” reaching number 5 in the Top 89 tracks of the year.
  • The New Yorker described Toledo’s emergence onto the indie-rock scene via the internet a “modern, indoorsy version of what it means to be young, testing your limits and pursuing ambitions in public, leaving the rough-draft version of yourself available for all to see. At its core is a sense of discovery.”

 

Dead Man Winter, Duluth, MN

Dead Man Winter. Photo: David McClister

Dead Man Winter. Photo: David McClister

  • Dead Man Winter is the solo project of Dave Simonett, frontman of Trampled by Turtles, who played Rock The Garden in 2012. His debut album, Furnacewas recorded at the legendary Pachyderm studio in Cannon Falls, Minn., host to the likes of Kurt Cobain, Soul Asylum, PJ Harvey, Superchunk, and Mudvayne.
  • Simonett enlisted a number of Minnesota music luminaries to help film the video for his single “Destroyer,” including Haley Bonar, Chastity Brown, Jeremy Messersmith, and Doomtree’s Lazerbeak and Sims.
  • Dave Simonett’s Instagram is the most Minnesota thing ever. We’re all him listening to the Twins’ spring training games on the radio, scarfing down Glam Doll doughnuts, ice fishing, cracking jokes about “craft” beer, and hitting the slopes at Lutsen.

 

Margaret Glaspy, Red Bluff, CA

Margaret Glaspy. Photo: Ebru Yildiz

Margaret Glaspy. Photo: Ebru Yildiz

  • Margaret Glaspy made one of last year’s strongest debuts. Rough, catchy guitar, personal lyrics, and beguiling vocals combine the “self-scrutinizing intimacy of Elliot Smith and the imaginative melodic intonations of Joni Mitchell” (Pitchfork).
  • After getting her musical start in second grade playing the fiddle, a teenage Glaspy branched out into other instruments: guitar and trombone.
  • Though fearless in taking on her musical career, she admits she does fear some things, namely “heights, avocados, and small spaces.”

 

Bruise Violet, Minneapolis, MN

Bruise Violet. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky

Bruise Violet. Photo: Aaron Lavinsky

  • Named after a Babes in Toyland song—and following in the tradition of Babes, who played a blazin’ reunion show at Rock the Garden 2015—Bruise Violet is an up-and-coming grunge/punk female powerhouse, self-billed as “sugar, spice, and a kick in the teeth,” and “Broadway meets Bikini Kill.”
  • Last summer the trio made an appearance at the Walker for Summer Music & Movies, thrashing out a cover of Beyoncé’s Don’t Hurt Yourself.
  • We’d like to congratulate band members Bella Dawson and Emily Schoonover on their imminent high school graduation! That’s right, Bella and Emily are 17 years old, and drummer Danielle is 20.

 

Dwynell Roland, Minneapolis, MN

Dwynell Roland. Photo: Samantha LeeAnn

Dwynell Roland. Photo: Samantha LeeAnn

  • Dwynelle Roland’s name is ubiquitous in the Twin Cities hip hop scene, as he was born in North Minneapolis and began rapping at the age of 13. His work is produced by Travis Gorman, who was just named best hip-hop producer in City Pages’ Best of 2017.
  • Making the rounds as an opener for P.O.S.—who lit up Rock the Garden 2012 with collective Doomtree—Roland has been sharing his latest EP release, The Popular Nobody.
  • Roland is a humble rapper, more interested in making relatable music than lofty “alpha claims of skill, wealth, and toughness.” He works as an HVAC technician in his off hours.

 

Tesseract : A Parallel Universe Through the Fourth Dimension

Curatorial Assistant Mary Coyne considers the politics and beauty of exploring the fourth dimension in Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener’s Tesseract, a co-commission by the Walker Art Center and EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Art Center) that premiered at the Walker March 16–18, 2017 as part of Merce Cunningham: Common Time. Can formalism be […]

Eleanor Hullihan and Ryan Jenkins in Tesseract in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Photo: Gene Pittman

Curatorial Assistant Mary Coyne considers the politics and beauty of exploring the fourth dimension in Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener’s Tesseract, a co-commission by the Walker Art Center and EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Art Center) that premiered at the Walker March 16–18, 2017 as part of Merce Cunningham: Common Time.

Can formalism be a type of politic? I returned to this question while witnessing three performances of Tesseract, a collaboration between film artist Charles Atlas and choreographers Silas Riener and Rashaun Mitchell. Through an edited 3D film and live performance/live video component, Tesseract expands the limits of its media by adding additional dimensions: a film, typically two dimensions, becomes three, the live performance, usually three dimensions, becomes four. Tesseract is about geometry, or rather using geometry as a method for establishing an alternative futurism that exists in parallel to our current reality.

In geometry, the tesseract is the four-dimensional analogue of the cube; the tesseract is to the cube as the cube is to the square. Just as the surface of the cube consists of six square faces, the hypersurface of the tesseract consists of eight cubical cells. In other words, the tesseract requires an assumption of four dimensions. I viewed Tesseract after conversing, as many of us have lately, about what type of work “should” be made, shown, and viewed right now and how art can be political simply by existing. Tesseract is political in the ways in which the best theories are, by creating and applying a methodology that offers an alternative to lived experience.

During a visit to EMPAC in the fall of 2015, I witnessed a brief glimpse into one of these other worlds: a green screen, on which an immense set constructed of brightly painted triangular prisms that formed a type of façade, against which Silas and Rashaun constructed one section of choreography for the 3D film, Tesseract ▢.  A small snippet into what would become the cohesive filmscape of Tesseract, the experience remained with me, much like the feeling of reading a page midway through a book before starting from the beginning: enticing but without scaffold. Nevertheless, that production still from memory—the work hatching in the tesseract-like structure of the Grimshaw-designed building in mist-covered Troy, New York—offered a key to the logic of the completed work.

From left to right: Rashaun Mitchell, Cori Kresge, Melissa Toogood, Silas Riener, Kristen Foote, and David Rafael Botana. Photo: © Mick Bello / EMPAC

From left to right: Rashaun Mitchell, Cori Kresge, Melissa Toogood, Silas Riener, Kristen Foote, and David Rafael Botana. Photo: © Mick Bello/EMPAC

In Tesseract ▢ we are invited through a peep hole. The changing framing of the screen heightens this perception. We haven’t fallen through the looking glass, the viewers don’t ever quite enter the surrealistic words in which the dancers inhabit, but rather we have a sense that we are getting a sneak preview at the future—one that is at once dystopian and utopian, cold and austere even as it is bright and glimmers with a lack of pain or loss. Following the logic of the tesseract, it’s a world that also exists in tandem, a parallel universe to the world we currently inhabit. And it is this simultaneity that offers a sense of comfort. In the film, as in the live dance component, Atlas, Mitchell and Riener are able to expound upon the balance of the body and technology, without sacrificing the humanness of dance.

Tesseract ▢ opens with the body, and more importantly, with human touch. The camera pans out on the face of Melissa Toogood, a stunning mover (who had also danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company with Mitchell and Riener). Toogood’s eyes are set within black squares of makeup, similar to those juxtaposed on her and the other five dancers’ costumes. Hands appear, stroking her face, caressing. There is a care here, even though a context, or a relationship, isn’t offered. The connection between the dancers through this sequence (as the choreography builds in energy, the camera framing and re-framing groups or solos between and black and white painted panels) creates a somehow comfortingly human world—can the future be that scary when painting is still involved?

The flattened rectangle takes form in another scene, which may be the key sequence of Tesseract ▢. The six dancers recline against a mirage-like desert or moonscape in which a futuristic city shines in the distance. Each dancer is paired with an orange three-dimensional object—a cube, a cone, a sphere—to which he or she is uniquely wedded. Geometric protrusions on the dancer’s unitards almost suggest objects and bodies to be one of the same species. Despite the oddity, there’s a sense of care here too, a pervading calm, a humanity even as the dancers’ bodies appear more and more like the shapes with which they are paired. It’s a visual of Jean- François Lyotard’s “collection of materials” as the definition of humanity, but one where once collected, the assemblage has been pared down, reduced, leaving a kind of unknown essence.

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener. Photo: © Mick Bello / EMPAC

Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener. Photo: © Mick Bello/EMPAC

It’s this form of utopia that Tesseract offers, one where bodies can take on the auspices of other objects or species. The film culminates in a sensual pas de deux, a courtship dance of strange birds-of-paradise. Mitchell and Riener, half clothed in the rope-like décor that surrounds them, demonstrate their individually unique yet compatible movement styles: Mitchell’s preciseness, exuding a quiet strength, and Riener’s beguiling and fiery movements, supported by a technique that maintains its strength even as both fall into playful exchanges with each other and with the viewers. It’s this technique allows an experience of witnessing a private moment between two beings, not men, not dancers. The portal through which we are gazing, the fourth dimension of the tesseract, lets us into a world not yet realized and only beginning to be actively sought within our own. A fourth dimension removes the possibilities of binaries, creating a space for bodies to exist outside of gender. Tesseract is this utopian world, one that equalizes without essentializing.

Tesseract ◯, or the live performance and video second act, follows the logic of the geometrical form, adding yet another dimension to the work. The dancers enter in a square formation lead by Mitchell, pausing at each corner of the stage, sharply changing direction and running to the next corner. Down to the gauzy white flared pant suits (which also share a kinship with Suzanne Gallo’s kimonos for Cunningham’s BIPED [1999]), it’s a futuristic version of Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy (1979). The choreography again balances between stark and formally playful. Where there isn’t eye contact there’s touch, a closeness that seems innate with dancers who have worked and trained closely together for extended periods of time, a calmness in knowing where everyone else on stage is (and why) at any given time. The silent observer to this play is Ryan Jenkins, Senior Video Technician at EMPAC. Costumed in a bright pink jumpsuit and glittering silver shoes, Jenkins embodies the camera, quite literally becoming another body within the choreography. Even his donning of the rather awkward and seemingly heavy Stedicam occurs center stage with the assistance of technical producer Davison Scandrett, a reveal of the façade, a fourth wall (or fifth wall) moment. After establishing the structure of the dance, and ensuring us that the world that existed within the frame of Tesseract ▢ can exist here, mediated only by a barley visible scrim, the action folds out onto itself again, with Mitchell guiding Jenkins, the human-apparatus onstage. Jenkin’s movements are from here out choreographed, while the video footage he captures live is mixed by Atlas in real time and projected onto the scrim downstage of the dancers. Even when Jenkins is off stage, hidden cameras offer alternate views of the movement on stage including close-ups and aerial shots.

Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener's Tesseract in the Walker's McGuire Theater.

Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener’s Tesseract in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Photo: Gene Pittman

In Tesseract ◯, the artists picked up Cunningham’s oft-repeated adage of “there are no fixed points in space,” a key structure to his work from Suite for Five (1956) to Ocean (1994). For Cunningham, this exploration of “space time” is arguably his trademark as a choreographer; even more than using chance to construct his work, his use of the stage (and non-stage) space—the temporal structure through heightened moments of stillness and silence—is arguably his most lasting impact on choreographers working today. Atlas, Mitchell, and Riener’s live performance gives form to Einstein’s concept of “space time” or (x, y, z, t). Time—the real-time aspect occupied by all live performance and underscored by Atlas’ live video mixing—is added to the structure established in the film. Where the dancer’s relationships to the objects in the film was firmly established, Tesseract took up this approach by constantly provoking a viewing of the dancers as objects that will be seen from different vantage points. The dancers themselves are the geometric forms, turned, and observed from different angles.

There’s more to unpack in Tesseract. There’s a moment near the end of the live performance when Eleanor Hullihan crosses the scrim, inches away from the front rows. Mitchell remains on the stage, unwilling to let her remain on “our side.” There’s a vulnerability in Hullihan here and when, after a few moments she recedes to the wings and then back to the downstage side of the scrim, there’s a collective relief that she’s found her way back. Atlas, Mitchell, and Riener have offered a view of a future, and it’s one that I’m looking forward to realizing, living in, and finding refuge in.

A Medium for Engagement: On the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Events

“An Event offers the experience of Cunningham’s genius at full strength. You feel with unmistakable force the shock of his creativity, his capacity to illuminate.” —Dance critic Dale Harris, 1978 In 1964, during its first world tour, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) was engaged to perform in Vienna at the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum […]

Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Event #32 in the Walker Art Center galleries, 1972. Photo: James Klosty, courtesy the artist

Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers Douglas Dunn and Chris Komar (foreground) and Susana  Hayman-Chaffey perform Event #32 around Philip Ogle’s untitled sculpture in the exhibition Invitation: 7 Young Artists, Walker Art Center, March 12, 1972. Photo: James Klosty, courtesy the artist

“An Event offers the experience of Cunningham’s genius at full strength. You feel with unmistakable force the shock of his creativity, his capacity to illuminate.”

—Dance critic Dale Harris, 1978

In 1964, during its first world tour, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) was engaged to perform in Vienna at the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum of the Twentieth Century). When company members arrived, they found that the museum had neither a theater nor a portable stage. Forced to improvise, Cunningham invented a new format he called an Event: a collage of excerpts from existing dances which could be performed without special décor or lighting and did not depend on conventional stage exits and entrances. The flexibility of this format meant that Events could be performed in virtually any setting or circumstance; as Cunningham noted, this allowed for “not so much an evening of dance as the experience of dance.”

After Museum Event No. 1, as the Vienna performance has become known, MCDC presented more than 800 Events in parks, plazas, gardens, outdoor theaters, museums, galleries, gymnasiums, and railroad stations all over the world, including several at the Walker. From March 30 through April 9, visitors to the galleries of Merce Cunningham: Common Time will have another chance to experience this unique format when former company members present Walker Cunningham Events.

In the following text, excerpted from her essay for the Common Time exhibition catalogue, art historian Hiroko Ikegami reflects on an Event presented at the Walker in June 1972.


The earliest known video recording of an Event was made at the Walker Art Center on March 12, 1972, while MCDC was in Minneapolis on a weeklong residency. The company was planning to perform the repertory dance Canfield (1969), but for reasons that are unclear they instead danced an Event that included most of the Canfield choreography. It was performed in the Walker’s lobby and three adjoining galleries in which were installed three separate exhibitions: a survey of work by Italian sculptor Mario Merz (Gallery 1); a group show entitled Introduction: 7 Young Artists (Gallery 2), and Bill Brandt: Photographs (Gallery 3), a traveling exhibition of work by the British artist.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Event #32 in the gallelyr alongside Mario Merz's Fibonacci Igloo (1972, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 12, 1972

Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Event #32 in the gallery alongside Mario Merz’s Fibonacci Igloo (1972), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 12, 1972. Photo: James Klosty, courtesy the artist

The video, which is about 30 minutes in length, does not seem to record all of Event #32, as it was later titled, but it captures dancers walking into a gallery space and placing themselves, either individually or in a duo or a group, around a variety of artworks made in 1972, including Philip Ogle’s Untitled, a wood sculpture that hung from the ceiling; Leland Bjorklund’s Durations: X, comprising ten pieces of square canvas painted with tar and bronze; and Merz’s Fibonacci Igloo, an iron structure covered with rectangles of stuffed fabric and studded with neon numbers. The dancers are dressed in simple long-sleeved T-shirts and sweatpants, suggesting that no special costumes were prepared for the performance. Spectators are either seated or standing along the sides of the staircases between the galleries, leaving space for dancers to move from one area to another.

Scattered throughout the three galleries, the audience members cannot see everything that is going on. The majority of them seem unaware of a series of complicated and beautiful movements performed by Carolyn Brown and Ulysses Dove in Gallery 3, where Gordon Mumma plays an [unidentified] oriental instrument. Although not visible in the video, David Tudor can be heard playing electronic music while John Cage recites diarylike prose—most likely his own writing (as he did when he read from his essay “Indeterminacy” during the 1965 MCDC dance How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run). Parts of the sentences sound like a conversation in a medical clinic: “‘Do you have diabetes?’ ‘Don’t know.’ Disturbed, I looked up ‘diabetes’ in dictionary.” These restrained acoustic elements resonate not only with the abstract and unemotional movements of the dancers but also with the minimalistic vocabulary of many of the artworks on view. Although independent from the choreography, music in Events is always live and at times improvisational, collaborating with other factors presented in the performance.

As the Event proceeds, the dance increases in speed and intensity, and the dancers’ movements begin to rhyme with the sculptural objects. Often, the angular lines and balanced poses made by their trained bodies resemble shapes of abstract sculptures. When a male dancer stands next to Dustin Davis’s Wall Rope, which consists of three human-size plexiglass cylinders with strings around them, he looks like he could be the fourth cylinder of the sculpture. When a group of dancers make a circle in the gallery, they look like a sculptural object in their own right, and when several dancers lie down on the floor or lift a female dancer above their shoulders, their bodies appear to be an extension of the wooden bars that comprise Ogle’s hanging sculpture. Cunningham, who always claimed his dance movements were just movements and did not refer to anything else, probably did not intend or wish for this effect to happen. Yet, the correspondences between art and movement in this Event are more than just an insignificant coincidence, as they offer spectators an opportunity to actively grasp their experience by making an association between different genres.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company performing Event #32 in the gallery alongside Mario Merz’s Fibonacci Igloo (1972), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, March 12, 1972. Photo: James Klosty, courtesy the artist

Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers Carolyn Brown and Susana Hayman-Chaffey perform Event #32 in the exhibition Bill Brandt: Photographs, Walker Art Center, March 12, 1972. Photo: James Klosty, courtesy the artist

The role of spectators actually seems to be more important in Event #32 than in previous Events. As the performance progresses, their number increases. Seated or standing, they now surround the dancers in the gallery spaces, as if constituting a part of the presentation. Although the limited space keeps them from wandering freely around, they seem focused and engaged by the dynamic interplay between dancing, live music, spoken word, and artworks. In fact, the spectators become an indispensable actor in this interplay, as they are positioned to synthesize various sensorial elements into the “experience of dance.” In 1964’s Museum Event No. 1 in Vienna, the connection between dance, music, and visual art was somewhat unclear to the audience, who did not know that they were able to come and go as they wished. In contrast, Event #32 cleverly used the gallery’s architectural settings and provided the audience with not only the physical space to move about but also the mental space in which they were free to associate one artistic element with another. By the time of MCDC’s 1972 engagement at the Walker, the Event scheme had matured into an open, flexible format in which artistic dialogue among different genres could occur and spectators could create their own experiences.


Excerpted from Hiroko Ikegami, “A Medium for Engagement: On the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Events,” in Merce Cunningham: Common Time (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2017).

 

Danny Sigelman on Kneebody + Daedelus = Kneedelus

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on Kneebody + […]

Kneebody and Daedelus. Photo: Chris Clinton

Kneebody and Daedelus. Photo: Chris Clinton

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on Kneebody + Daedelus = Kneedalus last Friday night at The Cedar. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

It was a double dose of experimental, electronic and progressive jazz music at the Cedar Cultural Center this past weekend as the Twin Cities were treated to a reunion of sorts between producer Daedelus and the bicoastally-founded 5 piece, Kneebody. Having not performed together since unleashing and touring behind their 2015 collaboration entitled Kneedelus, saxophonist Ben Wendel acknowledged the special moment with a big smile and expression of appreciation for the rare opportunity the Walker Art Center and The Cedar presented to a full house Friday night.

Heavily sideburned and dressed in a formal shirt and tailcoat, Alfred Darlington AKA Daedelus found his way to his perch of laptop, mixers, and gizmos to set the tone for the evening’s series of performances.

Darlington wasted no time indoctrinating the audience with straight hip hop beats and a steady wash of tones and burbling bleeps. Manipulating the sound patterns and dancing atop his arsenal of electronic devices, he wildly gesticulated, physically animating the thick and dense layers of sound. Daedelus continued to test the highs and lows of the house sound system, ultimately pulling away from the obscurity of descending melodies and introduced a familiar voice: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Chopping up the Purple One’s voice made for a respectful tribute to the hometown hero before Darlington craftily returned to the head-bobbing norms of thumping bass, with counterpoints of malfunctioning video game noises and a barrage of space lasers.

Virtually strangling his brilliant box of glowing orange buttons, Daedelus’ sound collage progressed into more spare, bird-like sounds and eventually made way for the five gentlemen that make up Kneebody to join him in the cacophony on their own respective instruments. To wild applause, the assembled musicians that make up “Kneedulus” made a grand transition, demonstrating the shape of music to come for the evening with just a taste of their famous joint effort.

Giving props to Daedelus, Kneebody bassist Kaveh Rastegar remarked, “Imagine tonight is going to be like a great sandwich. You just heard some peanut butter, that would make us jelly. Soon you are going to hear the whole damn sandwich!”

Currently on tour in support of Anti-Hero, released this month, Kneebody brought more timbre and a different sound to the proceedings. Swelling horns, jagged rhythms and angular bass and drums created a bed of grooves during the new record’s lead off track, “For the Fallen”.

The post rock excursions and thick tones from keyboardist Adam Benjamin stretched out amid the rhythmic foundations aptly provided by drummer Nate Wood and Rastegar, allowing for ample solo opportunities from saxophonist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley, who built on his own sound with several boxes and pedals of his own.

Oceanic ebbs and flows in Kneebody’s music from the electronically affected instruments, pulsing math-rock bass and drums laid way for much improvisation. Often devolving into chaotic interplay between each musician, massive downbeats and the more crunching rock of “Yes You” from Anti-Hero, Kneebody performed with a fresh tightness. The beautiful arrangements displayed the group’s precision as they managed to continually rejoin each excursion by stopping on a dime, in unison. Kneebody then wrapped up their own set with the somber tribute to an old friend (“For Mikie Lee”), once again capitalizing on their knack for composition and sweet melodies.

After a short break at The Cedar, the audience reconvened for an extensive grand finale from the joint effort, Kneedulus. Daedulus returned to stage to bring the sounds back to outer space, with giant echoes and atmosphere for the dub-like “Loops”.

Swirling repetition, affected trumpet and urgent drum breaks recalled On the Corner-era Miles Davis that continued to venture into more of an Acid-Jazz impulse. The dual rhythms between Daedelus’ clapping beats and Wood riding the beat stretched beyond typical structure and gave room for an effective drum solo that roused the audience with applause. Benjamin laid a heavy groundwork with his Fender Rhodes during “The Whole” allowing for incredible face-melting from his band mates.

“We’ll see if you can recognize this one,” suggested Wendel.

Interestingly the ensemble brought the vibe down as Daedelus triggered the familiar acoustic guitar arpeggiations that took some time to sink in. Once Kneebody introduced the delicate melody and theme to Elliott Smith’s “Angeles”, the producer brought Smith’s sampled vocal from the heavens and into the chorus, making for a sentimental moment in an otherwise musically frantic night.

The evening was a true test of musicianship; in essence we found an overall tribute to music, the spirit of composition, and improvisation as a whole. It was a truly gratifying experience to witness such vitality and camaraderie on stage.

Kneebody and Daedelus performed at The Cedar, in a concert copresented by the Walker Art Center, on Friday, March 24, 2017.

No posts

Next