The Green Room: From on stage, back stage and the theater seats, the Performing Arts blog illuminates the intersecting worlds of dance, theater, and music.
Dance and the Body Look Who’s Looking Now: How We Watch, What We Think, and Why It Matters is a four-part series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper [...]
Dance and the Body
Look Who’s Looking Now: How We Watch, What We Think, and Why It Matters is a four-part series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper into the philosophical meaning behind the works. Feel free to add to the discussion and share your own insights in the comment section below.
Understanding dance performance begins with simply describing what we observe. Certain terms help us communicate these observations. For example, we can use terms that describe parts of the body, like head, face, shoulders, arms, legs, torso, and feet. We can describe how bodies in motion create shapes and divide space. We might describe the symmetry or asymmetry of the arrangement of bodies on stage, or we might describe rounded or angular motifs in the positions of the dancers (Cunningham). We might describe the dance techniques employed in the performance. Some techniques are muscular (Streb), while others require dancers to move from their bones and organs (BodyCartography Project); some techniques use breath at the center of movement (Eiko & Koma); and some techniques use all these elements. Beginning with simple descriptions of what we see, we can begin to think about how a dance performance makes us feel and what it means to us. Reflecting further on the cultural context of a performance, we can begin to consider what it might mean to its choreographers and dancers, and what its broader cultural impact might be.
The body is the instrument of dance. We – as audiences – watch how the body moves or doesn’t move. We observe shape, movement, and technique; body size, gender, race, age, and more. We make these observations and others through visual cues whose cultural histories predate the present performance. What is communicated through dance performance depends both on the dancers’ bodies and the audiences’ cultures of perception. That is, our bodies, as viewers, are part of the meaning.
Imagine a performance involving black dancers and white audience members. In the United States, this occurs in and communicates an ongoing negotiation of power dynamics and cultural conversations. The same can be said of a performance involving a woman dancing for an audience of men. In these examples, the significance of the dance has to do in equal part with the dancers and the audience members: race and gender are part of ever-changing cultures of racism and heteronormativity. These are only two examples of ways in which visual cues interact with audience culture to affect a performance’s meaning, message, and impact, in the field of dance and beyond. Many dancers and choreographers, aware of the complexity of visual cues, create work with such negotiations in mind.
Choreographer Bill T. Jones creates art with his audience in mind. He observes that the audience that sees his work is mostly white, and he admits that this awareness informs his choreographic choices. Jones addresses issues of interest for his audiences, challenging what he perceives to be the social and cultural assumptions viewers bring to a performance. In discussing his 2012 work Story/Time, Jones asks audiences to “watch [ourselves] watching.” He explains, “I’m always aware that I am a subjective consciousness, trying to observe something and trying to relate to it. It makes me very self-conscious, but it also makes me feel like I am participating in the world of ideas.”
An opportunity arises to “watch [ourselves] watching” during a section of Story/Time. The same story is repeated three times, each time accompanied by a different choreographic representation – first by a black woman dancing abstractly, alone on the couch, then by the cast, narratively performing the story as it is told, and finally repeated again by the cast with their backs to audience and with their real names inserted into the story. The repetition and variation emphasizes how bodies and culture can influence the perceived meaning of a story. During the piece, Jones retells a story centering on relationships, struggle, and violence and the sequence of events that unfolds. The original version of the story is as follows:
A woman is sitting alone on the couch, distraught, because she can’t pay her mortgage. The father and daughter enter and try to comfort the mother. Then, the landlord [sic] comes in with his goons, demanding the money. The mother says, “have mercy, we don’t have the money. Please, please give us more time.” The landlord says, “I don’t care, I gave you another month already. This is not a fucking charity.” He tells his lackeys, “take the furniture.” The father screams, “But you can’t do this!” the landlord says, “not only can I do this, but I’m going to take her, as well.” The mother shouts, “no, no, no, no!” as the landlord seizes the daughter and begins ravishing her. The father tries to intervene, fails, and has a heart attack. The landlord, full of himself, walks away. The son enters the scene, witnessing the carnage. The mother tells him, “The landlord is the cause of all the troubles.” The son, full of fury, takes his revenge.
The story itself is an example of using the body as a weapon for control, reinforcing dynamics of sexism and classism.
After watching each segment, some questions to consider are: What is conveyed when it is performed by a black woman? How did the impact of the story change when the dancers pantomimed the events? How did the bodies of the people portraying each character influence your feelings about it? What do you think that means? What about when the dancers’ real names are used and they are portraying themselves? How do Jones’s presence on stage and his narration impact the overall presentation? Does the impact change when the dancers have their backs to the audience?
In all three iterations, the bodies performing on stage influence the significance of the piece and affect how it is perceived by the audience. In what way might the meaning change in relation to the cultural background of the viewer? Taken together, these considerations inspire unique interpretations that arise equally from the bodies of the performers and the bodies of the audience members.
Connotations of the body vary from community to community. In times of war, the body is often used as a weapon and as a tool of control. In the 20th century, the Democratic Republic of Congo was fraught with political and military coups, political corruption, poverty, civil wars, and human rights violations. In a 2010 performance, Congolese artist Faustin Linyekula (lin-yay-coo-la) reflected on the significance of the body during political upheaval and instability:
So, you have a body. The ultimate territory you could occupy. And you know what? History could be understood through the lens of the evolutions of forms of violence against the body. Not only the history of my country, which has been particularly violent against the body, but any people, any country, can be understood through that angle. The evolution of forms of violence against the body. So, maybe a dancer is a fortune or a curse.
As Linyekula describes, violence against the body is not restricted to select countries or cultures. Violence against the body is a common phenomenon among all human cultures, and it has evolved over time. Rape, slavery, and mutilation are examples of extreme brutality, but violence also takes on more subtle and nuanced forms through systemic racism, sexism, classism, and religionism, to name a few. Dance and performance remind us of the embodied human experience in their portrayal of relationships, emotion, struggle, perseverance, elegance, and beauty. Live performance not only invites embodied empathy for characters and actors, but invites us to see the impact of our own interactions with other people. As audience members, we experience ourselves as embodied participants in an embodied story.
The methods that performers use to get us to challenge our own notions of the body vary greatly, but they all contribute valuable information and experiences to the ongoing dialogue around the body and the cultural habits that it bears.
Deborah Hay hails from the Judson Dance Theater, a dance collective whose philosophy centered on dismantling the conventions and theatricality that often accompanied dance performance and utilized every day movement as the predominant vocabulary. They organized informal performances in unconventional places, without elaborate lighting or costuming, in an effort to convey their true selves.
For her original performance of O’ Beautiful, Deborah Hay hired a costume designer to design a “post-apocalyptic looking costume… it did not feel appropriate to me, at all, in that it strongly influenced my dancing and really got in the way for me. I felt quite limited by the cuteness of the costume.” During one rehearsal in the Texas heat, Hay rehearsed the piece in the nude.
I’m in the studio one day and it’s so hot, I just take off all my clothes and I start performing O’ Beautiful and that was the costume. And what I experienced performing that piece without any clothes on was so phenomenal that [nudity] had to be the costume.
Hay no longer performs the piece live, renamed Beauty, but performs A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty in which she discusses the evolution of the piece while projecting two performances of it (one in the post-apocalyptic costume and the other in the nude) side by side.
Hay’s change of opinion in how to (un)dress for the piece was a response to her daily experiences (climate control). The banality of those circumstances, however, does not change the cultural significance of a woman in her 60s performing in the nude. How differently would the performance have been perceived if she were in her 20s or 30s? If she were black? If she were male? How does showing the side by side performance change the viewer’s perception? Seeing the performances side by side, we become increasingly aware of the differences that costuming has on the body and the impact costuming has on our interpretation. Since Hay no longer performs the work live, in costume or in the nude, the audience watches a video of her dancing, while she gives a lecture, live, about the work. Her academic presentation and intellectualization of the piece further de-sexualizes the performance.
Though Hay found comfort in her nudity, not every dancer or company agrees that the uncostumed self is the “true self.” In the tradition of the Harlem vogue balls, one’s true self was her or his attitude.
This realness, what is interesting, is that it includes all the artificial means that you may need to use… While realness, to be real, you may use a lot of makeup, a lot of fake bra, a lot of costumes, a lot of accessories that’s going to make you be real. So this is this interesting situation where being real is not getting rid of all the cultural elements and all the artifices, but being real is using everything you may use, from hormones to costumes to heels to fake dick to pass as what you want to pass as. – François Chaignaud
To the members of Judson Theater, their bodies “true forms” were revealed by ridding performance of traditional theatrical elements like costumes, hairstyles, and stage makeup. Dancers in Harlem’s vogue balls took an opposite approach, utilizing all available technology for altering bodies to represent their “true selves” so that the images and persona that they presented to the world matched their inner ideas of their bodies. In both cases, the notion of “realness” has the body at its center – perhaps because we, as a society, place the body at the center, taking social and cultural cues from what we see, who we see, and how we see.
Whether making physical or philosophical observations about the dancing body, perception and understanding are undeniably influenced by the culture in which we live. Analysis of the performing body requires contextualizing the work based on the background of the choreographer, the cast performing, and the demographics of the viewers. Each participant brings with her a body of unique experiences and varied perspectives that together effect the overall reception, meaning, and impact of a work. Dance is more meaningful for viewers who bring this awareness to a performance.
Most of us can say that at one point in our lives, we didn’t fit in. But how did we know that we didn’t fit in? Kyle Abraham knew because people told him so: My dad, he was a big basketball coach, and he sent me one summer to a basketball camp – which was [...]
Most of us can say that at one point in our lives, we didn’t fit in. But how did we know that we didn’t fit in? Kyle Abraham knew because people told him so:
My dad, he was a big basketball coach, and he sent me one summer to a basketball camp – which was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. I didn’t know that I didn’t fit in, but I was told on several occasions how much I did not fit in. I think there’s something about that in the story of Pinocchio, where I don’t really think he’s aware that people see him as different, he just thinks that he is this boy, he thinks he’s like everybody else. But then people tell him otherwise. And then he goes on this quest; he wants to be famous and do all these things and he does all these shows with the puppeteer. So, for me, I found all these really interesting parallels between that and my experience growing up in an urban community in Pittsburgh where it seems like if you put this kind of Hip Hop bravado on, you’ll be more accepted, or you won’t be called out as different. So that’s really what the show is referencing in relation to the story of Pinocchio. The soundtrack gives you this more industrial vibe, so, for me, it was thinking, “how can I make this story relate?” And, for me, it became less about this cobbler, or craftsman, making this wooden puppet, but more – maybe it’s happening in a factory, maybe it’s more industrial. Maybe you’re turning someone into a robot. Really devoid of feelings and emotion and just this false sense of celebrated masculinity.
Contributing to the ever-evolving dialogue on heteronormativity, in Hip Hop, sports, and beyond, Abraham’s newest work Live! The Realest MC infuses dance and storytelling in a journey of self-discovery. Questioning constructs around masculinity and identity, Abraham, like Pinocchio, only began searching for himself after others informed him that he was different. In both stories, though, it seems less about finding yourself, and more about understanding yourself while searching for others like you.
For some, sports and masculinity are synonymous. In football this past season, there seemed to be as many articles about homosexuality and players’ controversial (and also awesome) statements about marriage equality as there was coverage of the games. For Abraham, basketball became a place where his masculinity was questioned, where his “difference” was called out.
Speaking of heteronormativity and sports, remember Dennis Rodman? In the early 90s, Rodman challenged gender perceptions in the NBA, regularly painting his nails, dying his hair, and wearing women’s clothing. His public appearances garnered a lot of positive and negative attention, but no matter what the response, it got people talking. Twenty years later, that dialogue has evolved, hopefully progressing.
And since we’re talking about Dennis Rodman, Hip Hop, and gender roles/heteronormativity, here’s this little bit of awesome for you.
Join the dialogue, check out Live! The Realest MC this weekend, March 14-16.
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, February 2, about Back to Back Theatre‘s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Mary Dew and local arts [...]
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, February 2, about Back to Back Theatre‘s Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Mary Dew and local arts and culture guru from Salon Saloon, Andy Sturdevant.
A symbol designates our most powerful feelings, beliefs, and commitments. How can a single image symbolize totally opposed world-views? For a millennia the swastika was a symbol of auspiciousness in Indian religions, but it most recently symbolized murderous hatred. Once we are aware of this, what do we see when we see the swastika? Can it be both? Can it be anything but both? A symbol has a reference, it has significance, and these change over time. The swastika has gone through several evolutions in meaning before its appropriations by the Nazis. In addition to its meaning in Indian religions, the swastika represents the octopus that created the world in native Panamanian culture, and has been found on numerous artifacts from Africa, to ancient Greece, and in European antiquity. Does the association with Nazi Germany atrophy the swastika’s development as a symbol in Western culture?
In Saturday’s SpeakEasy, audience members discussed whether a symbol could be retrieved from the cruelty it once inspired. The play was powerful enough that the audience was willing to humor the idea that the swastika could be a positive image. The discussion showed this in two ways: an analysis of power and a conversation about the use of images in print and media. The play expanded what the audience was willing to think about, and they talked about it several ways. They talked about the ability of a symbol to change: can it ever change? Or does significance accumulate? Can it be relieved of any of its past usage, or forever be burdened by all of its appropriations? These questions were the theoretical starting points for the audience and included playful imaginings of whether an ad campaign could adopt the image of the swastika without international backlash. While the speculation was far-reaching, ultimately audience members felt that symbols are so powerful that we cannot predict how they will transform in the future (while as the play demonstrated, symbols are transformed all the time).
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, January 26, about (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, by Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and Trajal Harrell. [...]
A SpeakEasy is an informal audience discussion facilitated by a Walker Art Center tour guide and a local performer or choreographer. Today’s edition highlights themes shared during a conversation on Saturday, January 26, about (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, by Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and Trajal Harrell. This SpeakEasy was led by tour guide Skye Stauffer and local arts and culture guru from Salon Saloon, Andy Sturdevant.
Inspired by the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, which follows the vogue dance scene in Harlem in the 1980s, (M)imosa investigates the hypothetical question of what contemporary dance would look like today if vogue had the same influence as the Judson Dance Theater on the evolution of the art form. Utilizing elements of time, space, persona, the four artists address the question of “what is real” while trying to convince the audience that each of them is “the real Mimosa.” The element of “real” is the dominant theme, explored through song, dance, story-telling, and costuming, challenging audiences perception of gender, sexuality, and what it means to be comfortable in your own skin. After the show, audience members gathered in the Balcony Bar to discuss what they saw. Here are some key topics:
The house never went dark, except during a few sections. Performers were in audience, talking to people, to each other, drinking tea, eating. The audience quieted when Freitas took the stage, topless. Even as she began dancing, the lights stayed up and the other performers remained on the sides or in the audience, giving the performance a rehearsal quality, making the viewers aware that they were watching a very intimate scene of artistic and personal exploration. As the audience watched the performance, the performers watched each other, moving seamlessly between being viewers and performers. As an act was happening on stage, there was often something just as captivating happening in the audience, forcing the audience to choose what to look at and where to look. Costumes and props scattered throughout the audience brought on interactions between the artists and viewers that turned several audience members into performers themselves.
What is male? What is female?
From the very beginning, gender lines were blurred. Freitas performed topless for the majority of the show – wearing purple lingerie for one section then doing a Prince impersonation shortly after, Bengolea performed a section wearing a strap on penis then later performed in a red dress, Chaignaud seamlessly shifted between elaborate drag costumes to street clothes, while Harrell wore khakis and a sweater the entire show. The obscured gender lines were less about sexuality and orientation than they were about identity and self-actualization.
Will the real Mimosa please stand up?
In the beginning, each performer introduced themselves as “Mimosa.” In subsequent pieces they explained what made them “Mimosa” and how they came to identify with that word. At the end, they each made their case for why they are the “real Mimosa.” So who is the real Mimosa? In the film Paris is Burning, being “real” meant to inhabit a persona so fully that you could walk down the street and no one would question whether or not that’s the “real” you. In (M)imosa, the performers committed to each character, each persona, so that the audience couldn’t tell when they were in character or not. Their use of costumes, makeup, prosthetic, and so on, did not mask their true selves, but enhanced it. The performers utilized all that culture has to offer to highlight that there is not a singular definition of what is real. People have many faces, persona, attitudes, ideas and, like Mimosa, they change, evolve, and grow.
“What would have happened in 1963, if someone from the voguing dance tradition had come downtown from Harlem to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?” This is the question at the center of (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, in which choreographers/authors/collaborators Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, [...]
“What would have happened in 1963, if someone from the voguing dance tradition had come downtown from Harlem to Greenwich Village to perform alongside the early postmoderns?”
This is the question at the center of (M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church, in which choreographers/authors/collaborators Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas explore their own identities and what it means to be “real.” This work is part of Harrell’s larger series of seven (presented in sizes XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) investigating the ways in which the vogue scene of Harlem and the postmodernism that developed in the Judson Church intertwine and is being performed during the third weekend of the Walker’s Out There 25, January 24th-26th.
In December, the Walker hosted one of Judson Dance Theater’s founders, Deborah Hay, for what would have been the collective’s 50th anniversary. The theories and practices developed by Hay and her contemporaries have had a lasting and profound impact on the trajectory of contemporary dance ever since the movement began. In (M)imosa and the Twenty Looks series, Harrell, Bengolea, Chaignaud, and Freitas explore the hypothetical space where voguing and postmodern intersect.
What interests me is historical impossibilities and how, through performance, we can rethink history. And we can, in a way, participate in a sort of historical invention, in a certain type of way. So, what’s interesting is these two histories haven’t shared the same value in terms of how they’ve been brought to contemporary dance and the contemporary art world. It’s only now that people have begun to see voguing in a certain type of way, and yet, it had some fundamental, important, theoretical things to bring to the table, that’s what I think is important., but, of course, so did early post-modern dance. And, of course, those things have been absorbed, and continue to be absorbed, into contemporary dance. (Harrell, in interview with Justin Jones 12:20)
The central issue that Twenty Looks, the vogue balls, and the Judson Church similarly explore is the concept of reality/realness and draws inspiration from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, by Jennie Livingston. In the Judson school of thought, “realness” meant to strip dance and performance of all theatricality – costumes, lighting, staging, even technical training. But in voguing, “realness” meant to immerse oneself into their desired reality so fully that the performer’s original self was unidentifiable. Choreographer/author François Chaignaud explains:
This realness, what is interesting, is that it includes all the artificial means that you may need to use. It’s this realness, Trajal was always opposing it to the authenticity of the Judson Church that was trying to get rid of all the theatrical tricks. While realness, to be real, you may use a lot of makeup, a lot of fake bra, a lot of costumes, a lot of accessories that’s going to make you be real. So this is this interesting situation where being real is not getting rid of all the cultural elements and all the artifices, but being real is using everything you may use, from hormones to costumes to heels to fake dick to pass as what you want to pass as. (Interview with Jones 27:45)
(M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church runs January 24th-26th.
In the third weekend of Out There 25, choreographers/authors Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas, bring their work (M)imosa to the Walker. It is the medium version of Harrell’s series of seven (sized XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) titled Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church. The series is [...]
In the third weekend of Out There 25, choreographers/authors Trajal Harrell, Cécilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, and Marlene Monteiro Freitas, bring their work (M)imosa to the Walker. It is the medium version of Harrell’s series of seven (sized XS-XL, Jr., and made-to-measure) titled Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church. The series is based on Paris is Burning, a documentary film on voguing. In preparation for their visit to the Walker, we asked Harrell to take part in our 8-Ball series, in which artists answer questions about some of life’s most (and possibly least) pressing issues:
What global issue most excites or angers you?
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
How do you like to unwind/relax?
Whom would you like to spend three hours in an elevator with?
What is your favorite euphemism?
If you could have any job/career, what would you choose?
Foundation officer of foundation with a billion-dollar endowment
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Fried fish and collard greens
When did you realize you wanted to be an artist?
(M)imosa/ Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church runs January 24-26, 2013.
The other night, I was telling my husband about this show that he will be going to see next weekend, and after we chatted about it for a while, he seemed unsure and said, “Is it going to be old?” I responded, “Maybe, I don’t know.” I didn’t think much of this conversation until I was [...]
The other night, I was telling my husband about this show that he will be going to see next weekend, and after we chatted about it for a while, he seemed unsure and said, “Is it going to be old?” I responded, “Maybe, I don’t know.” I didn’t think much of this conversation until I was watching the video Dancers Discuss Working with Deborah Hay. In it, dancer/choreographers Miguel Gutierrez, Michelle Boulé, and Luke George describe their experiences working with and learning from Hay. The content of my conversation with my husband seemed insignificant until, at different points in the interview, both Gutierrez and Boulé used the qualifier, “for a person of her age.” Rude! Right?
Well, maybe. In dance, when people retire at 30, it’s important to note that choreographing and performing at 70 is rare. It is rude, however, when age suddenly equates irrelevance. But you should know: Deborah Hay is not irrelevant. Her age, much like her work (and its success), is a testament to her philosophies and practices and only adds to the list of reasons she is more relevant than ever. Deborah Hay, along with the members of Judson Dance Theater, changed how dance is made, taught, learned, and created. She has continued to explore new ways of creation, of thinking, of understanding, and in this interview with her dancers, it is clear that she continues to have a very real and relevant influence on how artists of a younger generation approach their work. It goes beyond the notion that to understand where art is today, we must understand where it has come from. It’s about seeing how a person that has been working/growing/experimenting for 50+ years continues to influence and impact the trajectory of the field of dance.
Even in just her process and approach to creation, dancers are faced with new (or old) methods of exploration. From Hay’s influence, artists create and express contemporary ideas in a new (or old) way. The process of fusing old and new/ young, is what keeps the form moving forward. They’re not reinventing the wheel, just mobilizing in different directions. Dancer/choreographer Miguel Gutierrez makes this point in his very simple and succinct reflection on working with Hay:
Once you’ve been in her world, it’s really hard to get out. Suddenly, you think, “how could you think of dance in any other way?”
Earlier in the video, Gutierrez refers to Hay as “this genius rug-puller.” Not only is that notion reinforced in the stories that these three dancers tell about working with Hay, but it’s apparent because I feel like I had the rug pulled out from under me regarding my own (inaccurately) preconceived notions about what Hay Days might be like. So, yeah, that’s pretty genius.
Hay Days: A Deborah Hay Celebration will feature a lecture and two different performances December 5-8, 2012.
On Saturday, the Walker will present its 40th installment of Choreographers’ Evening. To celebrate this milestone, co-curators Aparna Ramaswamy and Patrick Scully chose works that represented the Twin Cities dance community through the ages. The show will feature works by CE’s founder and first curator, Judith Brin Ingber, along with Blake Nellis, Emily King and [...]
On Saturday, the Walker will present its 40th installment of Choreographers’ Evening. To celebrate this milestone, co-curators Aparna Ramaswamy and Patrick Scully chose works that represented the Twin Cities dance community through the ages. The show will feature works by CE’s founder and first curator, Judith Brin Ingber, along with Blake Nellis, Emily King and Ryan Underbakke, Joanne Spencer, Rosy Simas, Third Coast Collective, Michael Engel, Luke Olson-Elm, Christ UP Dance Crew, and Voice of Culture.
For the occasion, Justin Jones departed from his typical interview format for TALK DANCE and had the curators each send in a haiku about CE and each of the choreographers send in a one- to two-minute description of their work. The resulting compilation highlights the diversity within the selected group and runs the gamut from funky to descriptive to creative to bizarre.
It starts with Ramaswamy’s haiku:
Past present future
Rhythm melody word thought
Inspired we move
From Ramaswamy’s haiku, we catch up with Blake Nellis. His soundbite is a highlight of the podcast as he shares the story behind his piece, Burger King Rescue, over the sounds of Brian Evans beat-boxing. At the end of the story, Evans breaks into Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” Based on the works I’ve seen by Nellis, this clip is a perfect representation of the storytelling, music, funk, and fun that he regularly infuses into his work.
Next, we move into an interview with Christ UP, in which they convey their enthusiasm for performing and for the Walker, followed by Emily King’s description of the piece she made with Ryan Underbakke, Start Select. Her voice melds well with the beeps and bloops of the 8-bit soundtrack that accompanies her, and the sweetness in her voice highlights the fond memories of video gaming that acted as the inspiration for their piece.
Similar in its nostalgic quality, Joanne Spencer describes her hiatus from dance and her subsequent transition from dancer to mother to government worker to choreographer. She guides us through the journey surrounding the circumstances that took her from one to the other (to the other, to the other) and ultimately led to the creation of her piece.
Centered in the podcast is the voice of Judith Brin Ingber, who founded and curated Choreographers’ Evening (then called Young Choreographers’ Evening) in 1971. For the event’s 40th anniversary, she is resetting her work I Never Saw Another Butterfly, originally performed for CE’s inaugural season, on local powerhouse Megan McClellan. Her audio description discusses CE’s origins and her work, and it clearly conveys her pride in the institution that Choreographers’ Evening has become.
The episode goes on with Luke Olson-Elm’s submission of an interview with composer Walter Carlos. Listening to it made me curious to see how (or if) this clip relates to Olson-Elm’s piece.
After Kenna-Camara Cottman (Voice of Culture) sings us her bio and Michael Engel explains the origin of his piece Desiderata Update #1, we get to co-curator Patrick Scully’s haiku:
Two score and heaven
Years of dance at Walker
Step roll slide fall fly
The podcast concludes with Rosy Simas discussing her beautifully titled piece, I want it to be raining and the window to be open, followed by a group conversation between the members of Third Coast Collective, offering a peek into their creative process.
This year’s group of artists represents a sliver of the diverse and rich local dance community and gives a glimpse into the past. Jones’ compilation of sound bites reflects the differences and similarities within this group of people–their styles, inspirations, and approaches to dance making and community building.
In preparation for its 40th year, the Walker compiled and archived information on years past of Choreographers’ Evening, including programs, photos, rehearsal notes, press releases, reviews, and more, all posted in chronological order on the Walker’s tumblr site. Choreographers’ Evening: 40th Anniversary will be performed on Saturday, November 24.
On the heels of what may be considered a crucial election, Hofesh Shechter Company comes to Minneapolis with Political Mother. In the newest installment of TALK DANCE, local dancer and choreographer Justin Jones interviews choreographer and artistic director Hofesh Shechter about politics, art, and influence. Born and raised in Jerusalem, Shechter grew up in a tense political [...]
On the heels of what may be considered a crucial election, Hofesh Shechter Company comes to Minneapolis with Political Mother. In the newest installment of TALK DANCE, local dancer and choreographer Justin Jones interviews choreographer and artistic director Hofesh Shechter about politics, art, and influence.
Born and raised in Jerusalem, Shechter grew up in a tense political environment, which he admits may have a subconscious impact on his work, as well as his worldview. Growing up, Shechter began dancing Israeli folk dances, later joining Bat Sheva Dance Company, and then moved on to music, studying drumming. Shechter’s diverse artistic background helps him draw inspiration from music, his childhood, his current outlook on dance and politics, relationships, his aesthetic preferences, and so much more. Throughout the interview, he makes profound statements that are engaging, thought provoking, and often infuriating – at one point he claims that dance is apolitical! In a revealing section, Jones and Shechter dig deep into the role of politics and society on relationships and the political process, which Shechter views as merely giving people the illusion of power and influence where perhaps they have none.
Justin Jones: One of the realities that I was noticing as I was watching a video of the work, was the reality of being part of a society and the reality of being part of a relationship between two people. And the conflict and contrast between those two things and how large social movements have interesting and unexpected ramifications in your personal life or your relationships with just one person. You really feel people existing in both of those situations simultaneously in the work.
Hofesh Shechter: Yeah, I mean, you know, we can get into, sort of, philosophical conversations about it. You could say that everything we do is defined by the society we grew in, and it’s pretty obvious. But, to think that it also affects our most deep emotions, and the way that we treat each other, is just a bit of a scary thought. And I think one of the questions Political Mother may raise to some people that watch it is whether the emotional connections we have with other people, how much of these are really affected by our social conditioning? And how much of it is actually natural, instinctive? And how much of the natural and instinctive is being used and abused by the systems that ask us to serve them? So, I think it’s a very complex world of emotions and needs and conditioning. Which, I don’t know if it has a real answer or solution, but I find that Political Mother may raise these questions for people that watch it – or these emotions.
JJ: It’s really interesting to me, also, that this work is touring the United States very close to our election. You brought up the word “need” and that is a word that I’ve read you using in interviews talking about neediness – the neediness between people and others, the neediness between people and their governments. That’s actually become one of the main issues of our election, in the US, this idea role of government in our lives and how and should people depend on government or not. I’m curious about how you relate to that issue in Britain.
HS: Oh, I don’t know, I’m not getting a lot into political conversations or arguments. It feels to me that politics is a sort of like mask, a smoky – I don’t know how to put it – it’s a smoky thing. As a democracy, it’s there to make us believe two basic things: one of them is that we are choosing the people that rule and, therefore, that we have a voice in making decisions – in the decision-making. And I think both of these things are not true. Because our choices are very limited, and I think the choices of the people that rule, that make the choices, are also very limited… I think that we are grown to believe that there is a sense of freedom in our societies, which I personally don’t feel very strongly. I actually feel that there are very strong sets of rules that if you don’t follow, you are being punished, quite vigorously. So, you know, you can’t get into an argument with people about that. People either believe that they are free or that they are not. I think, to me, it’s pretty evident that governments are actually affecting each and every element of our lives. Once you buy a house, once you pay your tax, once you have a child, once you go to the doctor, to the bank. Once you go to work, the way it’s going to be handled, the transport, the taxes you pay for your roads, and how this is handled. Every aspect of our lives is actually influenced and affected by decisions that governments make… It’s my personal feeling that we, the small people, have very little influence on that decision-making – if any. There is one way to look at it where it’s depressing; there is another way to look at it where maybe it doesn’t matter. When you get into the world of art, which is maybe why I am in it, you do get into a place of extreme freedom, but it’s something to do with your internal world. It’s a place where nobody can really reach. It’s a way that you manage yourself, your emotions, your thoughts, the way that they happen. So, there is a place where you can think about that for a long time that gets very depressed, or just let it be and deal with things that you feel are more hopeful and give you more freedom, which are perhaps more internal. (14:00 – 21:00)
Additionally, Shechter describes the collision of dance and music in Political Mother. He explains how his experiences as a drummer brought him to England, influence his choreography, and drive the intense (and fast!) movement. You can watch a preview of the work here.
Political Mother is co-presented with Northrop Dance at the Orpheum Theatre on Tuesday, November 13th at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster/ Hennepin Theatre Trust or you can avoid processing fees by purchasing tickets in person at the State Theatre Box Office, 805 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis, or by calling 612-339-7007.
The newest installment of TALK DANCE with Justin Jones highlights the upcoming world premiere and Walker commission of Super Nature by the BodyCartography Project with music by Zeena Parkins. Not only is this Jones’s third interview with co-directors Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad, but he’s also performing in the work this weekend. In the conversation, [...]
The newest installment of TALK DANCE with Justin Jones highlights the upcoming world premiere and Walker commission of Super Nature by the BodyCartography Project with music by Zeena Parkins. Not only is this Jones’s third interview with co-directors Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad, but he’s also performing in the work this weekend. In the conversation, Bieringa and Ramstad provide a glimpse into their new work, their research involving somatic practices, and their process. Additionally, they ask questions of Jones, giving him the opportunity to share insights regarding what it’s like to be a performer in Super Nature.
The BodyCartography Project is a Twin Cities–based company whose work explores empathy and the intersections of wild and urban landscapes through dance, performance, video, and installation. The inspiration for Super Nature came from a previous performance, where Bieringa observed the kinesthetic response of audience members to her eye contact and movement. That response is something that Ramstad and Bieringa encounter regularly through their somatic studies and their practice of Body-Mind Centering.
Bieringa: [Referring back to neuroscience and empathy research] As dancers, we go to all these – I’ve been to – lectures with philosophers talking about this and scientists talking about this research- or just about the body even and how the brain works. As dancers, I feel like we’re so advanced in knowing that information already. And that dance is really this tool that we can… it’s like a very direct way for us to take any discipline or any area of research and be able to process it and digest it and have a response to it in a really immediate way. And I think as dance makers, it’s a very cool thing about the form that we have. It’s this way of really figuring something out quite quickly because we trust the subject of experience. We let the subject of experience be true- it is what we know. And so there’s a way in which we’re really close to that, as a kind of truth for ourselves. It is our knowledge base. That, for me, is what’s so awesome about dancing and why I make dances. Because, it’s really this way of processing and having a relationship to the world we live in through our bodies.
Ramstad: It’s beyond awesome and cool; it’s also very powerful. I feel like the embodying experience is very, very powerful. And, I’ve thought about that at different times. When I feel in that state we were talking about – really engaged – it feels very powerful, and I feel very –
Bieringa: We can change our worldview, just through different movement practices.
Ramstad: I don’t even think about worldview or other things. Just that experience is powerful and I like to remember that and think about that when I think about the position we have in society. As artists, in particular dancers, this really impoverished art form that one can’t take that as an analogue as being a powerless person. Because we have zero dollars and we’re not in pop culture, we have this very almost subliminal feeling in culture, if you look at it as a whole. What we get from that and what we can share is so powerful, just that experience of being and embodiment. (35:25 – 38:00)
Super Nature will be in performance at the Walker Art Center Thursday thru Saturday, October 25– 27; all shows are at 8 pm. Post-show activities include meeting the artists in the Balcony Bar on Thursday, a Q&A session with the artists on Friday, and a SpeakEasy discussion in the Balcony Bar with local choreographer Rosy Simas and Walker tour guide Mary Dew on Saturday.