Blogs The Green Room Megan Mayer

Megan Mayer is an award-winning choreographer and artist working in dance, photography and experimental video. She is performing in the second week of Momentum in Angharad Davies' work The Scraps.

In the Dark in 5… Megan Mayer on Momentum Week 1

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

Hiponymous (Renée Copeland and Genevieve Muench). Photo: Gene Pittman

Hiponymous (Renée Copeland and Genevieve Muench). Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Megan Mayer shares her perspective on State of the Moon Address by Hiponymous and Broken by Luke Olson-Elm. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Momentum: New Dance Works Festival! This series is one of my favorites, as it generously funds dancemakers venturing into new territories, cushioned by institutional support and a whole team of folks rooting for them and their work. I was thinking about how related yet distinct the skill sets of choreography and dance are; so I feel it’s important to note that in addition to directing these original dances, the choreographers featured in the first weekend of the festival gave stellar performances as dancers in their own work. If you don’t already know how challenging it is to be at once inside a work while keeping a fresh outside eye on its development, please trust that it requires extreme rigor and selflessness. Congratulations to these artists on multiple jobs well done.

Hiponymous’ set consisted of a green astroturf mound (reminding me simultaneously of the Nutcracker’s Mother Ginger, a golf course, Teletubbies, and the construction of the new I-can’t-see-downtown-anymore Minneapolis stadium), set up against one side of the Southern Theater’s arch. A lichen mini-mound adhered itself to the opposite side.

State of the Moon Address begins with a brief applause loop, serving as a preemptive favor on the audience’s behalf (more on this bit later). Evy Muench emerges on the side of the stage, shivering off a silvery tether as Renee Copeland shoots out from under the mound, and the two tilt-a-whirl and frantically spin around one another until connecting, and soften into a koala embrace. The pair scouted and explored their apparently new, foreign surroundings, working well as a team, using each other’s limbs, joints and kneepads as legos to build and compound strength and range. They seemed to be researching and building a language using the body and movement phrases to interpret their findings. The choreography was dense with clever, gestural material: a quick listening to the ground, scratching twitches, precise hands near the face, forearms sticking to the ground as if they were magnetized in a curious manner, bent forward at the waist and traversing backwards on deliberately placed hands and feet in unison, laying on their sides with their backs to us in quivering lumps.

The work’s tone fluctuated in and out of concern and anxiety. At times the choreography seemed too buoyant to be troubling in the way that seemed to interest them; leaps were at odds with the implied danger that was supposedly tethering them. The intriguing way they hung their heads, revealing only the crown to the audience, while slowly wheeling the light stands across the space, as a janitor pushes a mop bucket down a deserted hallway at night, was in stark contrast to the frontal eye contact held at other times. Their faces, side-lit by Heidi Eckwall’s evocative design during a stationary section, echoed the solitary, vulnerable time one waits in a doctor’s office on the exam table. During a slick commercial portion of the soundscore, they were able to morph their expressions in a matter of seconds: I saw Jane Fonda’s Barbarella’s confident stare, the spasmic grin of Max Headroom, Betty Boop’s smooshy pout and, Wile E Coyote’s predatory sideways glance.

After a quick blackout, the lights came up to reveal them holding large, shiny, silver gardening tools. They didn’t so much use the tools as animate them; Evy reluctantly overextended her arms and pretended to groom the astroturf mound and Renee slowly grazed the rake along her leg without actually touching the skin. Was this commentary on our culture’s disdain for women’s body hair? Or a reference to Bruce Dern’s gardener in Silent Running? The tools’ performance was short-lived.

The dominating soundscore overpowered the dance at times. There were moments when cacophony was the clear intention; there were others when the vibration was so loud I couldn’t distinguish the words and I missed hearing key clues. A few times the sound cues were late for the movement (the antennae section in particular). I questioned the choice of an initial authoritative male voiceover; it seemed to undercut the specific female strength that the performers had established with their movement. Overall I wanted more stillness, more time to settle in with these strong performers.

The piece “ended” when the stage crew walked on stiffly and immediately began dismantling the astroturf mound as Renee and Evy began a fast, tightly woven partnering section of winding torsos and furious legwork, twisting and careening their way upstage. The house lights came up and the audience shuffled in their seats. The sound bumped off early which was odd but that’s when the stage action of the strike crew got more interesting: I felt they dropped their “we had to be talked into this surprise fake ending but now that’s over and we’re really getting some shit done” personae and seemed less self-conscious, their bodies calmer and more at ease. I could also hear the drill, which helped me appreciate the work that went into the set. We didn’t get to applaud for the performers, but I grinned, remembering how they’d already snuck that in for us back at the beginning. After the mound had been completely removed I was hoping to catch one more glimpse of Hiponymous to know that they’d been just out of our sight this entire time, still spinning wildly and intricately working their way into the ether, but they were gone.

Luke Olson-Elm. Photo: Gene Pittman

Luke Olson-Elm. Photo: Gene Pittman

Luke Olson-Elm’s Broken started before it began by filling the space with a golden haze that accentuated the brick and rough texture of the Southern’s walls and invited my eye upwards. The lighting by Heidi Eckwall was gorgeous: expansive, raw, intimate with a dusty, dystopian edge and served the choreography well. The dance began with a row of downstage spotlights. The dancers walked dramatically in and out of the delineations on the floor and took turns showcasing in the spots. The movement material was a mostly frontal, aggressive mix of isolations, supple torsos, and articulate limbs with a hard edge. The choreography moved the dancers in diagonal pathways, fluidly finding the floor, falling in and out of unison to reveal solos and forming trios and duets.

The dancers were all tenacious and accomplished but I felt little connection among them as a group and didn’t learn much of anything about them as individual dancers. I’m not sure if this was a directorial choice or a missed opportunity. My eyes kept landing on Luke. You can always pick out the choreographer if they are one of the dancers because the material reads more clearly on their body. He owns this movement, it’s from within, and it pours out of him like water. I noticed his humility, his choice to not put himself center stage, to generously give the limelight to the other dancers, but he was ultimately the reluctant star of this piece. His performance was imbued with a grief not shared by the others and internalized in an intriguing way. His head bobbed at the neck, his hands reaching but never quite grasping, his eyes cast downward for much of the piece. Leaning against the archway under a light, his head hanging, I thought of Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, broken in his own way. Luke has a curious, evocative way of articulating his hands, implying that whatever he tries to touch has already dissolved.

The soundscore was percussive, aggressive, repetitive, electronic, machinic. A factory with bits similar to the Six Million Dollar Man bionic jumping sound peppered throughout. Audible breath cues among the dancers were superfluous when the music provided a structure. At times the partnered lifts with pointed toes and outstretched limbs seemed incongruous with the rest of the material and the soundscore; virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake was not a viable currency in the world he had created.

Towards the end Luke used the spotlights in a clever way by walking straight across and through all of the spots. I then thought of him as a sort of ghost, someone who lives in-between alongside the grief and fading memories which broke my heart a little as it was such a successful way to express displacement/isolation/loss. This was a delicate, haunting image and I thought the piece could have ended there. 2 other dancers eventually walked through the spots in the same way which lessened the impact of the image for me. In the program notes Luke mentions that he’s not sure why he’s inspired by themes of community and identity. I don’t know if his intention was to isolate himself from the rest of the cast, but I found that to be the most interesting aspect.

Megan Mayer is performing this weekend in The Scraps by Angharad Davies as part of Momentum: New Dance Works 2015, Thursday through Saturday, July 16-18, at the Southern Theater.

Eiko & Koma’s Hunger: Overnight Observation by Megan Mayer

I saw Eiko & Koma perform many years ago in Studio 6A in the Hennepin Center for the Arts. I don’t recall the title of the piece but I remember water all over the stage and the sound of dampness lapping against marley. Their intensely slow and slothlike movement quality was like nothing I’d ever […]

I saw Eiko & Koma perform many years ago in Studio 6A in the Hennepin Center for the Arts. I don’t recall the title of the piece but I remember water all over the stage and the sound of dampness lapping against marley. Their intensely slow and slothlike movement quality was like nothing I’d ever experienced. The Minnesota Dance Alliance at the time had been working with corporate sponsors on audience development so there were some folks from American Express in the crowd that night. I’d imagine this was like nothing they’d ever seen, either. The post-show Q & A began with silence because we didn’t have words to talk about this; we were all dumbfounded by the intimacy and sorrow of the piece. Finally, one of the men from AmEx who spoke with a southern drawl raised his hand and asked good-naturedly “How do y’all stay so darn thin?” I felt mortified; I cringed at his question because of its apparent lack of depth and clumsiness but now, some seventeen years later, I realize this was his way into the work and now think of his question as somehow charming. I’m still finding my own ways into work, often clumsily.

With that said, I arrived late and didn’t have a chance to read the program before it started. I had some inkling of what it would be like from seeing them before.

The musician started playing with mallets that muted the sound in an odd way that I couldn’t quite identify. I instantly tried to define what that was and found myself distracted by the mallets, held sort of sideways in his hands, as if they were eyes looking around the theater out at the audience. The whole instrument became a creature and the musician receded. I decided that the sound had a swallowed quality that was resonating along the sides of my upper teeth. It wasn’t an entirely comfortable sensation and left me unsettled.

I spent the next several minutes trying to breathe and settle into the slowness of Eiko & Koma hanging upside down against a metal wall. The wall looked fixed and solid and reminded me of the walls of the McGuire theater and how surprised I was to discover that they were not soft felt but instead hard metal. I wondered how they could stand the cold against their bare skin. I was struck by Eiko’s inverted torso and how it slowly morphed into a large upside-down face, the crease in her belly resembling an open mouth. Again, her torso became a creature that was exploring the audience, challenging our gaze, much like the instrument had a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t until Koma’s feet slid down the wall a bit more rapidly than before that I realized the wall was not solid, but a fluid chain metal suspended fence that was miked and was creating a live soundscore. This was revelatory to me.

Koma glides as he walks like noone I’ve ever seen. He shifts his weight almost imperceptibly in his shuffle and somehow suddenly transports across the space without me noticing, almost as if he melted his way there. Yet he also moves solidly, as if he’s made of dense clay that sculpts its way into space. Conversely, Eiko can suspend a gesture in a way that makes time stop but also twitches and jerks like one of those spiders you don’t know is a jumper until you reach for it. Her legs at the beginning when she was hanging upside down reminded me of chicken bones abandoned on a paper plate at a picnic, all hollow and angular. She masterfully and readily accesses this almost cartoonish quality of movement and when she holds her mouth open and dares you to look it is at once harrowing and mesmerizing.

Was the bag of rice (I thought it was flour) a bed? Deathbed? Dinner table? It looked like a giant crushed saltine cracker.

There was such a stark difference between the older duo and the very young performers (perhaps younger versions of Eiko & Koma?). I thought about how poverty and hunger are inherited and also of culture clashes between generations. The hues and textures of the younger performers’ skin tones and costume pieces were rich and saturated while Eiko & Koma were dressed in greyish rags and they’d muted and dusted their skin with powder or flour. I was startled by the young woman’s ability to manipulate her wrist joints; they almost appeared broken as she held them up in the air, giving her movements a jilting and haunted peculiarity. I thought about the gender roles in this piece and tried to translate that into music. I felt that both men’s roles and movements provided a round, soft thrumming undercurrent or drone for the movement score while the women’s performances brought forth chords and ornamentations. Both roles were integral and essential and complemented the other.

When they began eating the rice I thought of my grandmother and how she used to make me bowls of rice mixed with warm milk, cinnamon and nutmeg when I was little. Comfort food. They seamlessly transitioned from hungering for food into hungering for sex. Both felt primal and desperate and universally familiar. I also thought of prostitution and what we are willing to do for sustenance. There was a gorgeous moment where Eiko & Koma’s faces were buried in the rice. I swear I didn’t see them move, but the next time I blinked Koma’s mouth was buried in Eiko’s neck, with Eiko’s mouth on Koma’s forehead. Again, comfort food and intensely familiar. This was perhaps the most beautiful moment of the piece for me. Later, a ghostlike open-mouthed Eiko would settle upstage against the chain link fence with her arms detached from her shoulder joints floating above her head, her left breast pressed into the surface. Later her foot and wide-spreading toes would remind me of fiddlehead ferns, unfurling and reaching.

I wanted to know what lyrics the musician was singing and how it related to the movement and set. His voice was rich and sincere. I asked him after the show and he told me that the last section was improvised (which sounded the most mournful to me). At the end, the young duo painted black streaks on big pieces of canvas that were drawn up and suspended in front of the chain fence. The paintings were full of sharp geometry (like Eiko’s legs in the beginning) that resembled swooping birds or beaks. Or hunger pangs. The softer swirls at the bottom of the canvas looked more like seaweed. The sound of their paintbrushes swatting against the chain link fence echoed the raspy call of the waterbirds heard throughout the piece.

Now I’m off to read the program. And maybe eat something. Thanks for reading.

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