From on stage, back stage and the theater seats, the Performing Arts blog illuminates the intersecting worlds of dance, theater, and music.
With its historic acquisition of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection earlier this year, the Walker marked the beginning of a new era in its more-than-50 year relationship with the legendary choreographer. The collection comprises hundreds of works by a roster of leading visual artists who created sets, props, costumes, backdrops and other decor for the […]
With its historic acquisition of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection earlier this year, the Walker marked the beginning of a new era in its more-than-50 year relationship with the legendary choreographer. The collection comprises hundreds of works by a roster of leading visual artists who created sets, props, costumes, backdrops and other decor for the company.
Cunningham Fellow Abi Sebaly has been providing a sneak preview of some of the objects here on the Walker blogs (while throwing in some recipes with impressive art-historical pedigrees), and the first exhbition featuring works from the collection, Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg, is set to open November 3.
Dance Works I is part of a larger showcase of events, The Next Stage: Merce Cunningham at the Walker Art Center, which fittingly includes some of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performances on its Farewell Legacy Tour.
In leading up to that “Next Stage,” it also seems fitting to look back and chart some key moments in the decades-long association between Cunningham and the Walker. Thanks to Walker archivist Jill Vuchetich and marketing intern Ashley Monk for finding, scanning, and uploading the artifacts below, and for a couple more blog posts in the coming weeks. Click on any image for a larger view.
Cunningham’s relationship with the Walker started with a cold call of sorts, via US post, in 1948. An enterprising sort, Cunningham — who was then performing as a soloist with composer John Cage, before founding the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in 1953 — wrote to the Walker’s then-director Daniel S. Defenbacher regarding a possible tour stop in Minneapolis in the winter of 1949.
The handwritten note on the letter above ( “? nothing else in letter”) indicates that Cunningham may have forgotten to enclose his promotional brochure; in any case, one eventually arrived at the Walker “under separate cover,” as they used to say. Click on the second image to read commentary on Cunningham’s “gifts as a lyric dancer” from the Herald-Tribune‘s esteemed dance critic (and poet and novelist), Edwin Denby:
While Cunningham’s Twin Cities debut took place at a YMCA in the late ’50s, the Walker’s first presentation of this “leading figure in the contemporary American dance” occurred on February 13, 1963. The Walker facility at that time lacked a theater, so the performance, which included John Cage and ” ‘far-out’ pianist ” David Tudor, took place nearby at The Woman’s Club:
That 1963 performance was an apparent success, as Merce & Co. returned the following year. This time they performed in the brand-new Guthrie Theater, which was to host many Walker dance and music programs. The 1964 program, as in 1963, included Antic Meet — a piece that will also be performed during the Company’s final Twin Cities performances November 4 – 6, 2011. Note Cunningham’s statement at the end of the program, which seems simple and forthright today, but was quite radical at the time.
In 1967 the Walker brought Cunningham to town to offer a series of local classes:
And in 1969, he visited (and performed) as an artist-in-residence, the first of nine such engagements. The poster for that performance featured art from Jasper Johns, who by then had replaced Robert Rauschenberg as Cunningham’s primary artistic collaborator on Company productions.
Stay tuned for posts featuring artifacts from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
This feature was originally published in the September-October issue of Walkermagazine. Faustin Linyekula performs at the Walker with his company, Studios Kabako, and guitarist Flamme Kapaya on September 23rd and 24th, and gives an artist talk on the 22nd. IN THE DECADE SINCE he returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from a […]
This feature was originally published in the September-October issue of Walkermagazine. Faustin Linyekula performs at the Walker with his company, Studios Kabako, and guitarist Flamme Kapaya on September 23rd and 24th, and gives an artist talk on the 22nd.
IN THE DECADE SINCE he returned to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) from a self-imposed exile, 37-year-old Faustin Linyekula has become internationally renowned for super-fluid choreography and dancing that combines intense physicality with formal innovation. While he remains committed to creating art in his home city of Kisangani, and also teaching and mentoring younger artists, his work has fed Africa’s global reputation as a hotbed of new dance.
In 2007, he and his company, Studios Kabako, performed the audacious, four-hour-plus Festival of Lies as part of an artist residency at the Walker. Now they return with more more more … future, a work about political resistance and harsh economic disparities reflecting the uprisings around the world this year. In June, Linyekula spoke by phone with Philip Bither, McGuire Senior Curator for Performing Arts, about the origins of this work; making art in a country ravaged by civil war and a collapsed economy; and how hope, in and of itself, can be a form of resistance.
Could you talk about the circumstances a few years ago that led to the creation of more more more … future—its inspiration points in terms of your broader work?
Looking back at my work, I had this feeling that I’d spent so much time trying to tell stories—be it brief stories from the Congolese and the collective history, or from a personal experience. And suddenly the question for me was simply, “Have I really danced?” I thought maybe this is a very romantic idea of dance as some kind of state outside history, outside geography, outside storytelling and into something more sublime. So I just thought, “OK. I’ll invite a musician whom I know to make an art dance for people in the Congo and beyond. One of the major voices in the Congolese Soukous and Ndombolo music scenes. He’ll play and I’ll dance.”
But it didn’t quite turn out that way?
Well, I started working with guitarist Flamme Kapaya in March 2008. I started digging into the role that ndombolo music plays in our society. This music is so, so important for us. It is part of the daily life and experience of being in the Congo, really. It’s got incredible energy, but it’s there actually to help us forget about our problems—so it’s art as some kind of escape from reality. I started just questioning myself differently—like, “No, I can’t just play ndombolo, I have to investigate further what it means to us.” I came across a text by Achille Mbembe, the Cameroonian philosopher who lives in South Africa, called Variations on the Beautiful in the Congolese World of Sounds. I had never heard anyone talk about the role that music has played throughout the history of the country in that way.
I started also looking into popular forms of music in Western society—mostly the rock scene in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and the punk scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The energy I was getting from these types of music was similar to the energy I get from Congolese pop. Wow! The punk scene had this energy and it was a form of rebellion. Why is it that, for us here, this energy is helping us forget? Is it possible to play ndombolo with a punk attitude? And if yes, what kind of slogan can we have? The punk scene had “no future,” but we cannot say “no” to a future whose promise is so far away from us. We need more future—so that’s how the title came about: more more more … future. We have sound, really loud, and we scream into the world how much we need to continue dreaming in the middle of this chaos that’s our heritage from our fathers.
The lyrics to the songs in the piece are projected in English against a wall—where did that text come from?
Vumi, Antoine Vumilia, is a friend of mine, a poet, who had been in jail for seven years when I talked to him about this piece. I said, “You’re here in jail for political reasons, and you’ve been even sentenced to death. When you hear “more more more … future,” what comes to your mind?” Two weeks later he sent me five texts, five poems, which became the heart of the lyrics for the songs that we were making. So going back to the initial impulse where I just wanted to dance? Again, here I am telling stories.
It’s interesting that in your work you often seem to be finding the balance between an ecstatic response that the physicality of dance or music can give, and a kind of political rage. How do you navigate those tensions, in this work in particular?
God, I wish I knew. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice. You have to go through this, you have to survive. The only way to survive—even if it’s only to remain capable of standing in front of a mirror and facing your own self—is to just take a stand. Sometimes I don’t even need to make dance about these tensions. They are just there and I have to deal with them.
So it’s not a conscious thing so much as a feeling that you don’t have the luxury to just make a purely aesthetic artwork that can exist outside your country’s history?
By making the choice of living in the Congo, developing work with people there—it’s somehow in the back of my mind that it’s possible to change my world, at a very small scale. That is definitely a conscious choice. But I’ll say that my ultimate dream is to simply be a poet. By “poet,” I mean being able to transcend all these contradictions. As a citizen I can afford to choose facts, to choose sides and say, “Okay, I’ll side with this cause.” And yet as a poet—as Walt Whitman put it, “Do I contradict myself? Yes, I contradict myself. I contain multitudes.” And so maybe there is tension inside me between this conscious political choice of being in the Congo, and wanting to be a poet in the middle of all that. That’s why I need the company of other artists—if we’re many, there is a chance of achieving some degree of poetry besides the weight of the situation. I always tell the team working with me, I wish I was capable of just making a piece about the beautiful flowers we have also in the Congo; only whenever I think about the flowers, it messes up the image I have of corpses that people were never able to bury, and who in turn fed the flowers.
The imagining of a different kind of future has a particular power in your work in general, and this piece in particular. Could you talk about that role?
With this piece, the screaming is so hard that it should be possible to dream, or to reinvent ourselves and thus give ourselves a future. Maybe today imagining a future is simply resistance to folly, to desperation, and because you keep some hope and you don’t despair—but you still recognize how difficult the situation is—it opens some possibility. Maybe it’s just giving myself the strength to continue being there. And hoping, because I’m not alone, maybe there’s a possibility of throwing some little virus in the middle of that society. This virus could be called “resistance,” and that’s hope and a possibility of a future, because you only resist when you think there is something to hope for, to look forward to.
Flamme Kapaya is not well known in the United States yet, so can you talk about his role in this piece, and in the musical life in the Congo?
Between 1997 and 2007, at least every year, you heard Flamme’s guitar in a hit song that made the entire country dance, because ndombolo is primarily a dance and party music. So he can walk on the streets of any city or town, and within 15 minutes you have hundreds of people around him. But when you reach such a status, there is less and less space for you to question what you’re doing. Basically, you give the people what they want and you stay there. It’s comfortable. So he says that he needed to go somewhere else. more more more … future was also for him a way of imagining a way forward.
Hearing his remarkable facility and his technical virtuosity, while also knowing how his music has lived in a very popular world—in the villages and in the music of ndombolo—there seems to be a parallel with your work. There’s a high-art quality in its experimentation and its form, but it also connects on a popular level. Would you say that’s true?
That’s a central question for me today. How can I talk to my grandmother, to the young kids on the streets of Kinshasa or Kisangani, and at the same time, maintain the same degree of rigor in the work, and integrity? An Egyptian theater director named Hassan El Geretly told me something that I took over as mine: contemporary art, wherever you are, is always a very strange animal, and how can you create a sense of identification with that? It’s very important to me to show a work to these kids on the streets and hope that they would say, “What the hell is that? We don’t understand this, it’s so strange, and yet we recognize it.”
And your other collaborator on this work, Malian fashion designer Lamine Badian Kouyaté—it seems like Xuly Bët, his Paris-based fashion studio, is very high-end in some ways, but also has a kind of urban, pop, Afro-futuristic quality. How did you come to work with him?
Lamine’s work is trendy … he says it’s “funkin’ fashion.” It’s about reinventing one’s self in the city, and about survival with what you have. But we’ve known each other for some time and have common friends, so it was not so much what I saw in his shops in Paris that made me invite him on the project, but it was how he talked about Africa—about, yes, the future. Inviting him to design original material and to discuss the fruition of this project was possible because I knew how he approached things.
So, he really was a part of the conversation?
Exactly, oh yes – it was really funk over fashion. He reacted to what I was telling him with his own background, his own ideas about the possibility of the future.
With more more more … future, when one comes into the theater it’s almost as if things are already in motion and you take the audience through a journey—one that feels like it continues even after the show is over, like it might go on forever. How did you come to create this kind of structure?
I definitely didn’t want a show where people come in, the lights turn down, and then it begins. And then you go home and that’s it. I felt it was very necessary to propose a space where we slowly invite people in—and you need time to open your house to people. It’s like warming up a relationship, really. Once you’ve invited people to come in, it’s compelling—they are going to check you out!
So you have a back-and-forth between the house and the stage, and the to-and-fro of trying to sustain the movement with the audience. But of course, it takes a lot of energy to sustain a relationship. Sometimes, you can forget about yourself. So we’ve built in such a moment where we go back to ourselves. We close the circle. The audience might feel excluded, but we need to reassess where we are before we continue. It’s negotiating a relationship amongst ourselves, because we need to move as a group. Maybe that’s another statement about the future, because you cannot do it alone. We cannot do it alone.
Choreographer Lucinda Childs’ Dance met with boos and walkouts when the Walker and Northrop copresented the piece in Minneapolis in 1981 for the New Dance USA Festival. It returns to the Walker 30 years later (April 7-9) as an acclaimed revival—a radical combining of choreography, music, and film that has over the decades attained […]
Choreographer Lucinda Childs’ Dance met with boos and walkouts when the Walker and Northrop copresented the piece in Minneapolis in 1981 for the New Dance USA Festival. It returns to the Walker 30 years later (April 7-9) as an acclaimed revival—a radical combining of choreography, music, and film that has over the decades attained a unique neoclassical grandeur. A landmark collaboration between Childs, composer Philip Glass (performing April 6 at the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant), and visual artist Sol LeWitt—who created a larger-than-life film version of the piece as its décor—Dance “brought together three individuals who since the ’60s have been working with similar modular structures in their separate disciplines,” wrote critic Ann-Sargent Wooster after its 1979 premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In this wide-ranging interview, Childs talks about working with LeWitt (whose work is currently on view in the Friedman gallery exhibition Sol LeWitt: 2D+3D), the renewed acclaim for Dance, and her work in Europe over the past ten years.
How did the collaboration with Sol LeWitt and Philip Glass for Dance come about?
Working with Philip [Glass] on the opera Einstein on the Beach in 1976 was a big new experience for me. Up until that time I had been working just with dancers using kind of selective patterns that were musical in nature. But there was no musical accompaniment of any kind.
Philip suggested we do another piece together, and since Einstein was an incredibly ambitious project, with sets and lighting by Robert Wilson, I thought we must turn to a visual artist to complete this new project. I didn’t want to just take it into a bare theater, which in and of itself is sort of a statement. So Philip suggested we meet with Sol Lewitt; I didn’t know him.
Sol said ‘I’m not interested in making some kind of arbitrary drop for you to dance in front of.’ And I said ‘I’m not interested in that either, I agree completely, we should think of something that makes sense for why we would all work together.’ And finally we came up with the idea of the film of the dancers—the décor becomes the dancers. That solved our problem for how to get around the visual aspect of the piece being something arbitrary in form. And Sol did a fantastic job.
Had he worked as a filmmaker before?
No, but he’s always been very interested in photography. At Mass MoCA [where Sol LeWitt:A Wall Drawing Retrospective is on view through 2033], there’s a video where he’s talking about having photographed absolutely everything in his house, even his toothbrush. He had such an interesting way of approaching detail, there’s nothing he doesn’t notice, and he has a wonderful eye. I’m still finding things I hadn’t noticed before in his editing of the film. It’s just beautifully done.
How did the two of you collaborate to make the film?
I didn’t work on the editing at all. But I had a score worked out—kind of a storyboard, showing which dancer is doing what with whom, and where in the music and how in the space, and so on. He could follow that and we worked together on what to shoot. Sol wanted to sort of edit in his mind ahead of time which parts to shoot and how, because the piece consists of sometimes just film, sometimes just dancing, and then the combination of the dancers on film with the live dancers. And shooting in 35mm was and still is very expensive. You can’t just shoot endlessly and pick out what you like. So he worked almost all of that out before we actually went into the studio.
That sounds incredibly mind-boggling to figure out. But that kind of mathematical complexity is in keeping with what we see in his visual art, too.
Yeah, exactly. It was great because I could say ‘I know exactly where he wants me to start and stop’ and we’d move on to the next passage. Still, it was hard with a piece that’s almost an hour; for the dancers it’s almost 40 minutes of really rigorous material. [See the Visual Arts blog for an essay excerpt about LeWitt's role in Dance, by Ann-Sargent Wooster.]
How have the audience’s reactions to this work changed since its 1979 premiere?
We had a lot of conflicted responses. I think people had never seen this sort of thing before, or heard this kind of music, which was kind of strange because Philip by then was quite well known, in my opinion. But in the dance world it’s a little different. In Minneapolis, at the Northrop Auditorium in 1980, a lot of people just walked out. So it’s amazing to come back with this piece 30 years later.
What do you think changed over those intervening years, in terms of audiences and what they expect from dance?
I think they respect what we went through. Now people are talking about it like it’s a classic. I wasn’t at all the recent performances in Philadelphia but the dancers told me there were standing ovations!
In reviewing this revival, some critics have noted interesting stylistic differences between the performers seen on the film from 1979 and the contemporary dancers onstage. What have you noticed in that regard?
In the film we didn’t really isolate too much, there was a lot of freedom in the interpretation. Now there’s a little more, I would say, ‘uniformity’ among the dancers, and they need that , they need to know okay, now where are my arms supposed to be? Whereas in the old days a lot of things were let free, because I don’t like to make too many positions sort of forcing the dancers into a certain presence or a certain style. I want them to use their arms in an organic way because there’s all these changes of directions, quick turns and half-turns, very very fast work . I find that in the film there’s a lot of diversity and of course therefore the dancers look different—but people understand that and it adds a dimension.
Was this stylistic aspect related to what you were saying earlier about being your own little group?
We were our own little group, but we were all from different places. Now in New York everybody’s in ballet class, absolutely everybody. In those days that was not the case. People were doing tai chi, all kinds of things, gymnastics. It was a freer world, with contact improvisation and all that—it was a freer world in terms of the downtown scene anyway. Although my work is very very demanding, and I had to find people who could deal with it and do it.
Dance has been called “a seminal collaboration emerging out of one of the most vibrant and prolific periods in New York’s art world.” What made the art world at that time so vibrant, and how is it different from today?
Well, we just … we made that piece happen, a lot was through the generosity of the artists involved. I by some miracle got a Guggenheim Fellowship that year, which enabled me to devote my time to the work and that was so great. But everything else about the work, there was no production budget … it happened, and we wanted to do it, and as Philip said, we found a way.
Was there something about New York at that time that made it easier to work in that way?
There was a lot of interaction with the visual arts community and musical people. Einstein brought together so many different people, singers, dancers. Now I don’t feel very connected to the visual arts community except for the people I knew then. Also, what’s changed is the technology in theater—you tend to want to work with someone who’s inside that world, who knows about what can be done.
So a Sol LeWitt today couldn’t pick up a film camera and shoot like he did in 1979?
I’m not really saying that, it’s more that the technology of the theater has changed radically. With Sol, we brought in a wonderful lighting designer, Beverly Emmons, to translate his ideas. That can still be done. But now there are theater artists who want to work specifically for choreographers or for opera.
It’s about the evolution of theatrical professions, then.
Exactly. The whole visual aspect of contemporary opera and contemporary dance, especially in Europe, has been a phenomenal development in the last 25 years. And I would say a very small percentage of that work in Europe comes here.
You’ve been working mostly in Europe for the past 10 years, right?
Since my 25th anniversary season at BAM in 2000. I don’t regret at all those 25 years, it was wonderful to have my company, but I was at a point in my career and my life where I wanted to open up to all these freelance opportunities in opera, and to continue working with Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, and doing solo work.
Is that a dream now, to bring more of the work you made in Europe to the U.S.?
Or make new work for this new group [formed for the revival of DANCE], that would be wonderful. We may have a chance because there’s another revival we might be doing in connection with Einstein, from that same period, Available Light, a collaboration with John Adams and Frank Gehry. Because I’m still working – I’ve loved doing this revival, but I like to have the chance to make new pieces. Or, as you say, bring pieces made in Europe here at some point.
How would you describe the work you’re making today, how has it evolved?
It’s the same process; it’s always the same because the music is always different. I study the music, improvise, then I find, little by little, how to bring the improvisation into a structure that fits the music, then that material gets set on the dancers and then I set the piece. It’s quite a long process, but I love working this way. I choose music that sort of takes me different places—mostly in the postmodern genre, but also because of opera I’ve been exposed and had more opportunities to work with more classical forms. I’ve moved out into another realm, it doesn’t always have to be Philip Glass, John Adams, Steve Reich, or composers like them. These explorations in other genres have been satisfying … I think 20 years ago it would have been terrifying to me, but now that kind of challenge is very interesting.
Nearly all arts institutions faced budget strains in 2009 that are not likely to let up much in 2010. The current issue of NEA Arts, the quarterly published by the National Endowment for the Arts, addresses the economic pressures facing performing arts presenters in particular; in “Focusing on the Work: Arts Presenting in Hard Times,” […]
Nearly all arts institutions faced budget strains in 2009 that are not likely to let up much in 2010. The current issue of NEA Arts, the quarterly published by the National Endowment for the Arts, addresses the economic pressures facing performing arts presenters in particular; in “Focusing on the Work: Arts Presenting in Hard Times,” writer Paulette Beete sought perspective from Philip Bither, the Walker’s McGuire senior curator of performing arts, as well as Michael Kaiser, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Both offered a number of often overlapping insights; for Bither, persevering in hard times means three basic things:
- Take risks: “I would encourage my presenting colleagues in general that sometimes the smartest thing to do is to take the biggest risk. Surprisingly we have found that sometimes the scariest projects, the most ambitious and audacious undertakings, have delivered the greatest rewards” –not just in terms of acclaim, he noted, but in future support from funders.
- Collaborate both locally and nationally: “Very infrequently [is the Walker] the sole commissioner of a new work. I think collaboration and cooperation between arts entities that’s on a national scale and on a local level are really part of what we define as requirements that allow us to be fiscally responsible and still support new work.”
- Focus on the artists: “ … it’s a very vulnerable and lonely place, especially for emerging and mid-career artists, to not know who’s out there that might believe in them enough to not just put on their last hit but to actually support their next idea. I think in many instances the Walker saying to an artist, ‘We believe in you, and we want to help make this great idea you have come to life,’ is equally important, if not more so, than the cash we can put on the table or the range of resources we can provide.”
Radiohole’s production of Whatever, Heaven Allows, which played as part of the Out There series last month, was a case in point of point 3. The Walker’s commission – a partnership with New York’s PS122, Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum, and UCLA Live (see point 2) – allowed members of this company to work on a scale they haven’t before.
Other upcoming commissions for the current 2009-2010 season include new music from Bill Frisell, Rahim AlHaj, and Eyvind Kang, created during a residency in the McGuire Theater (February 6); Morgan Thorson and Low’s Heaven (March 4-6), also supported by a residency; and the John Jasperse Company’s Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies (May 20-22). Midwest debuts include Bruno Beltrao/Grupo de Rua with H3 (February 11-13), the Akram Khan Company with bahok (March 3), and Saburo Teshigawara/KARAS with Miroku.
Those who’ve already seen — or rather, become a part of — Rimini Protokoll‘s “Call Cutta in a Box: An Intercontinental Phone Play” probably know that at the end of the piece there’s an offer to stay in touch. At least one audience member accepted the offer, and has struck up a correspondence with one […]
Those who’ve already seen — or rather, become a part of — Rimini Protokoll‘s “Call Cutta in a Box: An Intercontinental Phone Play” probably know that at the end of the piece there’s an offer to stay in touch. At least one audience member accepted the offer, and has struck up a correspondence with one of the performers (see Rimini Protokoll’s website for photos from a special event with some of the performers). The two graciously agreed to share an excerpt from a dispatch from Calcutta:
Sorry I am a little late in replying to your mail from New York. My daughter had her school cultural event which is quite a big one that happens every four years and we were a bit tied up with the preparations. It went off well and now she is trying to get back to her study schedule.
Have you started reading NAMESAKE? There is a film in Hindi which has been made based on the novel. Maybe after reading the book you might like to see it.
Urvashi will be writing to you soon.
Shows in Minneapolis are simply rocking. Almost all the shows are booked and we all are enjoying ourselves performing for the audience there.
The team has performed together for over two years now and are able to get back to the rhythm very well though we started shows this time after a break of almost 9 months. Actually this theatre is a show after our hearts and all of us just enjoy doing the shows whenever we get a chance to do them. We are hoping that the shows go on all over the world in the years to come. It is an amazing way of being connected to the world and you feel a true global citizen.
Today is a festival here in Calcutta and whole of Bengal. Saraswati Puja – the day of the Goddess of learning – Saraswati. It is also a festival to celebrate the coming of spring so the predominant colour that we wear today is yellow and also white (white is the colour of Saraswati as a symbol of purity). It looks very bright and beautiful to see people of all ages going around in yellow and white.
I have to go home now to make arrangements for the puja at home. I will write to you again soon. Waiting to hear from you too.
Tickets are still available for “Call Cutta,” which continues through January 31; call the Walker Box Office for your reservation: 612.375.7600.
Performing Arts staffer Emily Taylor stopped by the McGuire Theater yesterday as stagehands from the Druid Ireland theater company built the set for tonight’s opening of The Walworth Farce. It’s unusual to see a detailed representation of everyday life on this stage — take a look at those authentically grimy sinks — but Enda Walsh’s […]
Performing Arts staffer Emily Taylor stopped by the McGuire Theater yesterday as stagehands from the Druid Ireland theater company built the set for tonight’s opening of The Walworth Farce. It’s unusual to see a detailed representation of everyday life on this stage — take a look at those authentically grimy sinks — but Enda Walsh’s play is anything but mundane.
The Walworth Farce has been getting rave reviews on its first North American tour, first in Toronto, then in Columbus, OH, where the Post-Dispatch said “this provocative and ingenious work offers a clever and revealing portrait of how story-telling can become an escape from reality, even a prison … ” We’re expecting more of the same here — and very much looking forward to Walsh’s talk with Guthrie Theater artistic director Joe Dowling this Sunday.
Raimund Hoghe and his company have arrived in Minneapolis and are working with the Walker’s Events and Media Production department to set the stage for their premiere of Boléro Variations this Friday. If you missed Philip Bither’s eloquent and impassioned comments about Hoghe at last week’s performing arts season preview, you might turn to Bither’s […]
Raimund Hoghe and his company have arrived in Minneapolis and are working with the Walker’s Events and Media Production department to set the stage for their premiere of Boléro Variations this Friday. If you missed Philip Bither’s eloquent and impassioned comments about Hoghe at last week’s performing arts season preview, you might turn to Bither’s colleague, Walter Jaffe, a co-founder of White Bird Dance in Portland, OR, who interviewed Hoghe recently in conjunction with the U.S. premiere of Boléro Variations at Portland’s TBA (Time-Based Art) Festival.
Hoghe and Jaffe cover an array of topics, including Hoghe’s admiration for ice-dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (whose Olympics performance to Ravel’s Boléro was a key inspiration for Hoghe), and the ways in which great singers are also great dancers (he mentions Callas and Piaf and Peggy Lee, among others). About his process, Hoghe says, “I’m fascinated when I feel that a little movement can tell a big story. If I could express it with words I would do it but I can’t—and therefore I do my work with dancers. Otherwise I still would work as a writer.” Read the full interview here.
Speaking of Hoghe’s work as a writer, well before he created his first dance pieces, Hoghe had developed a journalism career that included celebrity profiles for the German weekly Die Zeit as well as pieces on avant-garde or “fringe” artists—including Ana Mendieta, whose rarely seen films screened here last March. Bringing things full circle, it turns out that Walker director Olga Viso—curator of the retrospective Ana Mendieta: Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance 1972—85, author of the recently published scholarly tome Unseen Mendieta—is an admirer of Hogue’s writing and referenced it in organizing the Mendieta exhibition. No doubt she will be in the audience this weekend, perhaps looking for parallels between the Hoghe’s choreography and Mendieta’s performance pieces, both of which have strong links to ritual.
Over the past few days, several staff have been writing on their memories of Merce: Julie Voigt, Senior Program Officer for Performing Arts, recalls working with him here at the Walker, while Phillip Bahar, our Chief of Operations and Administration, tells how watching Merce’s performances over the years totally changed the way he thinks about […]
Over the past few days, several staff have been writing on their memories of Merce: Julie Voigt, Senior Program Officer for Performing Arts, recalls working with him here at the Walker, while Phillip Bahar, our Chief of Operations and Administration, tells how watching Merce’s performances over the years totally changed the way he thinks about dance. Finally, watch for a tribute by Philip Bither, McGuire senior curator of performing arts, in the upcoming issue of Walker magazine (out in mid-August).
Julie Voigt writes:
I am one of the lucky ones to have had the extraordinary pleasure of working with Merce and his company over the years. I will never forget his grace, generosity, and strong yet quietly humble presence. I have many fond memories of Merce, but my favorites ones are of some of those unusual small moments that engaged my artistic imagination and gave me a glimpse into this man’s spirit.
There was Fluxarenarama in 1993, where we turned a downtown health club into a performance site to wander through and experience chance performance. The Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) took on the challenge of performing in the workout area, with their final dance presented on the basketball court.
There was that moment of joy on Merce’s face when he and his company first walked through Art Performs Life: Merce Cunningham/Meredith Monk/Bill T. Jones, a Walker exhibition that recognized the critical contribution he and the other artists made to the history of 20th-century performance.
There was also the 10th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in 1998, when MCDC performed a special Event for the Garden on an unusually hot fall day. The company’s shoes were literally melting onto the scorching dance floor, but they continued to dance beautifully across the stage as Merce proudly and calmly looked on.
But my fondest memory was this past September, when we produced Ocean in the Rainbow granite quarry in Waite Park, Minnesota. This site-specific production was by far the largest and most complex performance that any of us have ever done. Not an easy task to take a completely empty rock quarry and turn it into an outdoor performance site for 1000+ people each night. After months of hard work turning this seemingly crazy idea into reality, on the last few days it poured rain on many of the afternoons. All of us were on the edge of our seats, hoping it would stop in time for us to do the performances.
Luckily it did – until the final night, when, toward the end of the performance rain began to fall hard and we had to make the unfortunate call to stop the event. We were all feeling frustrated and very disappointed that the final night was cut short. But Merce just smiled and said to me – in an almost consoling way – that he actually embraced the uniqueness of that evening’s performance and that is was just Mother Nature stepping in to change the ending for him – a chance encounter with forces over and above us all that made that final artistic call.
I loved that moment. Merce told us that this performance experience was one of the highlights of his career. It was one of my personal highlights as well and I’m so very glad to have been a part of it.
“A Dancer Breathes”
Merce Cunningham once said that as long as he was breathing he was dancing. I’ve always thought that this was a remarkable way to live in and experience the world. Of course, the dance and cultural community all mourn the loss of Merce, one of the great choreographers of the last hundred years. Merce reshaped modern and contemporary dance: how it was created, how it looked, how it was experienced. He re-envisioned with some of his closest peers—Cage, Rauschenberg, and Johns to name some of his closest associates—how movement, music, light, and décor could come together to create something wholly new, intentionally unintended, and something that allowed each of the art forms to breathe at its own pace within a larger, more complex organism.
My first experience with Merce was through art history — you can’t take a post-war art course without coming across his innovations, often through the lens of his visual arts peers. However, my first true understanding of his work came a few years later. As a new transplant to New York, I found myself with nothing to do on a Friday night. I came across an announcement for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company season at City Center; out of curiosity I attended. I sat in rapt absorption through the entire show; I had always enjoyed dance, but until that moment I had never experienced it in such a visceral and engaging manner. I returned on Saturday. I returned on Sunday. In those three nights, Merce Cunningham changed my understanding, appreciation, and passion for dance, opening me to a vocabulary about which I was uninformed and which I breathed in wholeheartedly ever since.
While living in New York I never missed a season. From that first performance on, if Merce was in town, wherever I happened to be visiting or living, I was there. I can unequivocally say that I’ve seen more performances by Merce Cunningham (well over a dozen) than by any other single performing artist, and over the past few days I’ve been wrestling with what life will be like now that he’s gone. For nearly 20 years I’ve looked forward to my next experience of the athleticism and magic of his work. I never knew what to expect and relished the anticipation. Would the music be ethereal or intense? Would it be Cage, Tudor, Kosugi, Eno, Bryars, or someone fully unexpected? How would he make his own appearance (I remember the first time I saw his “chair dance,” and also the first time I realized that he would no longer be performing in that way)?
I once had the privilege of sitting at the back of an empty theater, watching him conduct class with his dancers — he was at the barre making subtle movements and directing the dancers, who understood implicitly what he was searching for and more often than not delivered it as intended. (The Company began a series called “Mondays with Merce,” which provided enthusiasts and dancers alike an opportunity to see inside his classes and gain insights into his thinking and working process; they are well worth a look.)
A force of contemporary art and performance has left us and all that’s left for us to do is breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
– Phillip Bahar
More coverage of Merce:
- We just uploaded “Merce Cunningham’s Working Process” on the Walker Channel and on YouTube
- The New Yorker has a dance reviews going back to 1976 on its site, including one on the performance of Ocean, which the Walker presented this past year
- The Cunningham Dance Foundation’s Legacy Plan — the Foundation had only recently established “a precedent-setting plan delineating the future of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) and ensuring the legacy of Cunningham’s work”
- Interview with Village Voice dance critic Deborah Jowitt
Karen Sherman relocated to Minnesota from New York in 2004, and has since become a fixture on the Twin Cities dance scene, both as a choreographer and as a performer in other artists’ works. Her Tiny Town was featured as part of Momentum: New Dance Works in 2006, and she has performed in several other […]
Karen Sherman relocated to Minnesota from New York in 2004, and has since become a fixture on the Twin Cities dance scene, both as a choreographer and as a performer in other artists’ works. Her Tiny Town was featured as part of Momentum: New Dance Works in 2006, and she has performed in several other Walker dance events — including roller-skating in NTUSA’s Chautauqua! last winter.
Sherman was kind enough to send some of her thoughts about the Twin Cities dance scene for a story in the July-August issue of Walker magazine; below you can read them in full. John Munger and Carl Flink also shared their insights about the state of dance both locally and nationally: click here for John Munger’s interview; we’ll follow soon with Carl Flink.
“One quality that I feel really defines the dance scene in the Twin Cities is rigor. I think many dance artists here are truly pushing themselves, looking for ways to go deeper into their work and are asking questions about dance as a form in general. There is a desire to find one’s own voice but also to transcend it, or at least to use that voice to say something unexpected in each new project. Maybe the long winters facilitate that kind of concentration — I mean, what else are you going to do all winter? Plus, there have long been some excellent funding sources and fellowships available to Minnesota artists that encourage and make possible considered artistic exploration. Unfortunately, those sources have taken a hit over recent years and dramatically so in the last few months. That’s really a shame because those resources set us apart from other cities and have helped build a creative infrastructure that actually generates hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
Dance artists here are also very aware of what is going on nationally in a way that I don’t see in other cities. The Walker of course enables many local artists to see what’s going on by bringing in national and international artists, but I have many colleagues who fly all over the world to take classes, teach, see shows and so on. There is a real dedication and genuine desire to know what’s going on, to be inspired by other people’s work, and to further one’s own inquiries.
I’ve also been impressed by how artists from different forms of dance take interest in each other’s work. That seems partly due to the smaller size of the TC dance scene compared to New York, where the dance scene is so vast that you could choose one form of dance — ballet, contemporary, modern — and basically see only that all year long. We don’t have that kind of density in the Twin Cities, which is good and bad, but overall I find there is enough dance in general here that you can attend shows year-long, but not so much of one kind that that’s all you see. I almost never see anything but contemporary dance in New York so it’s been nice to branch out in my own viewing.
The Twin Cities could use more venues that present fully-produced work by local artists, venues with a less commercial bent, ones more akin to the Walker. There aren’t quite enough opportunities like this locally and artists who are making new, full-evening pieces every 1-2 years are limited as to where they can perform them — they tend to show at the same theater every time because the options are limited. At the same time, this has made a lot of us seek out touring opportunities, either on a DIY level or gigs that are commissioned and fully supported. That requires a lot more money and administration to make happen, but it means we get to go a lot of great places and meet so many other amazing artists. I think we have a reputation for this now. When I perform in other cities, artists often tell me that they hear great things are happening in Minneapolis or that they have seen some of my colleagues perform in their city or some other town. They have rarely been to Minneapolis themselves so this speaks to how Minneapolitans get around, but it also means we should figure out more ways we can bring them here to show us what they’re doing. But you kind of have to invite them to come in the summer or it’s just too cruel.”
I interviewed John Munger, Karen Sherman, and Carl Flink for a story in the July-August issue of Walker magazine. Their insights about the state of dance both locally and nationally were so astute that we’re publishing them in full here on the blogs. First up is John Munger; we’ll follow with Karen Sherman and Carl […]
I interviewed John Munger, Karen Sherman, and Carl Flink for a story in the July-August issue of Walker magazine. Their insights about the state of dance both locally and nationally were so astute that we’re publishing them in full here on the blogs.
First up is John Munger; we’ll follow with Karen Sherman and Carl Flink.
Munger is a locally based dancer who has, as he says, “been observing the field for 20 years or more, depending on how you look at my job descriptions.” One of those jobs is to create statistical portraits of dance – performers, companies, venues, performances, genres, etc. – both locally and nationally, in his role as director of research and information for Dance USA, a Washington, D.C.-based service organization. Click here for a full bio.
“When my first wife and I were dancing in Colorado and decided to move to a bigger pond, we looked around the country and thought the Twin Cities had a lot of promise. We moved here in 1978. So I’ve been here 31 years and part of the reason I stayed, aside from quality of life and things like that, is because as I’ve been here, the arts and dance communities have fulfilled that promise we saw when we were kids-it’s fulfilled it richly.
My succinct take on the evolution of the dance community here is: During the 1970s, there was an era of a handful of major companies. From about 1980 to 1995 or 1996, there was an era of enormous growth that was based on the efforts of individual choreographers here at home. And for the last 12 yrs or so, that model has grown into larger companies and greater national presence.
There are clearly two major dance centers in America, New York and San Francisco. After those, depending on whom you talk with, about 6 or 8 other cities are named as being among the four most significant, after those centers-including Chicago, the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Seattle, Los Angeles, and greater Washington, D.C.
These cities are not necessarily in competition with each other; rather, they’re all different from each other — we’ve determined this through research. We can quantify ways in which best practices from one community will not translate to another, because these places are genuinely, uniquely different.
And while the Twin Cities are in that group, quite frankly, the hardest message I’ve had to communicate in my 30 years living here is to tell media and the general public that this is one of the key dance communities in the country. It is the most diverse among those secondary those cities, and compact as well-and that is a unique construction.
For example, Seattle has basically 3 categories of dance companies, including a ballet company of major size. We don’t have a $6-million budget flagship ballet company in the Cities, but we do have about 10 categories of dance among our more than 200 companies. There are about 14 companies with budgets over $100,000 (up to $1 million) — including James Sewell Ballet, Ragamala Dance Theater, Shapiro & Smith Dance, Ballet of the Dolls, Zenon Dance Company. There’s also percussive footwork companies, there’s Indian dance. There’s Ethnic Dance Theater. Eastern European/Western Russian dance, classical and contemporary ballet. All these companies have budgets over $100,000.
Not one other city in the country matches our per-capita distribution of companies that size. Chicago actually has about 17 such companies, but their total population is two-and-a-half times our size. We also have more solidly established mid-sized companies in this city, on a per-capita basis, than anywhere else in the U.S. except New York City, which has about 37 mid-sized companies.
That is part of what makes us compact yet varied. We also have variations in age, with highly visible choreographers in their 20s and 30s, 40s, 50s, and even a few in their 60s. We have companies that have been around for 30, 20, and 10 year, as well as those recently formed. We have major mid-level and small upstart organizations working in ballet, in modern, in culturally specific dance, in percussive forms, experimental forms-all of them. We have over 50 nationalities and cultures represented through dance in these cities, and all of this is compressed into a community of about 3.5 million people. If you know where everybody is, you can go see any of them. Whereas in, say, San Francisco, or Brooklyn, those numbers are overwhelming.
This whole picture in the Twin Cities — ages of choreographers, degrees of experience, sizes and duration of companies, dance genres — all of that is richly represented. And that is what brought me here. I’m still here, delighted to be here, it’s a terribly exciting place to be involved with dance.”