Blogs The Green Room Penelope Freeh

Penelope Freeh is a 2010 McKnight Artist Fellow for Choreography, administered by the Southern Theater and funded by The McKnight Foundation. A member of James Sewell Ballet for seventeen years, she also serves as Artistic Associate. She is on the faculties of the University of Minnesota and Michigan’s Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Formerly the dance writer for METRO Magazine, she has also written pieces for mnplaylist.com and Dance Magazine. Photo credit Cory Goei.

Urban Experiment in Concert Form

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia […]

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Tiago Sousa of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Renato Mangolin

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia Urbana de Dança. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

Seven faces greet us in the dark. Sitting upstage in a line spread across the space, light allows us to only see this. A dancer emerges, sinewy and dreadlocked. He begins to move in silence, undulating his tallness and extending his limbs. It is a personal exploration, spontaneous, except that when another dancer joins there is unison, and it feels like a miracle.

This passing off of a solo happens several times, and thus we are introduced to the performers of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Seven of eight are in this first work, ID:ENTIDADES, one female and six male. Clad in black and sneakers, they blend hip-hop and contemporary dance. Conceived, directed and choreographed (with members of the Company) by Sonia Destri Lie, this layering of hip-hop, customarily a solo form, with contemporary concert dance sensibilities is visually arresting, surprising at every turn.

I am especially struck by the unison, moves identical save for some personal practicalities that take precedence like the need to sneaker-scootch another quarter turn or an arm response that differs according to a body’s momentum. These subtle differences combined with the dancers’ stunning individual appearances make for a marvelous statement about coexistence: many in body, one in mind.

Music by Rodrigo Marçal leads the dancers through a soundscape that influences but never dominates. Passages of silence elegantly transition dancers from episode to episode. Just when a visceral build occurs, visually and aurally, things break apart and a new scenario begins. It seems that movement is sourced from the dancers’ natural instincts then codified for group learning. Unison is urbanized, tolerant of dancers’ individualities.

Partnering comes into play but is less effective. Moments of contact feel superficial, and one can understand why given the solo nature of hip-hop. But here is where this hybrid experiment could really take flight. If the dancers could access one another’s bodies down to the level of bone, truly pouring their weight deeply into one another, the inherent visceral experience of this work would give birth to yet another new dimension.

Otherwise I am enchanted, inspired. It is structurally smart, lots of witnessing, watching, framing. Every body is loaded, cocked to explode at any moment. Countenances are at once soulful and suspicious. I fall in love with every one of them.

The second piece on the program is Na Pista. The program notes state that this work sources movement and personal experiences from the dancers. They enter wearing radically different attire, reflecting their personalities. They begin with a game of musical chairs, ending up in a line upstage. Water bottles add to the décor and choreography.

Ironically, while this second piece indicates more “personality”, I feel as if I learned more about the dancers in the first work. Fancy clothes and props are distracting more than anything. I prefer a barer context, allowing the dancers and the language singing out of their bodies to speak for themselves.

It is thrilling to see hip-hop dance merge with contemporary dance composition. Hip-hop electrifies the concert stage and tools like layering images, altering tempo, unison and stage picture show off hip-hop to extremely flattering effect.

Companhia Urbana de Dança performs ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista in the McGuire Theater March 27-29. 

Dismantling Dance: Penelope Freeh on Trisha Brown Dance Company

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown […]

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I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown Dance Company. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Trisha Brown Dance Company, after this 3-year tour of eight seminal proscenium works is complete, will redefine its mission, which includes dismantling these works. The company’s new direction includes installing interactive archives with as-yet-to-be-announced partner spaces (museums and the like) and will maintain a non-proscenium performing presence along with other modes of audience engagement.

It’s essential to see work live that will never be done again, most especially by longtime practitioners of said work. These dancers bring these works to life in such a special and specific way. There is no ornamentation, no put on style or aesthetic to detract from the ever-changing forms and fluid passages. The aesthetic is in fact bare and almost quotidian if it wasn’t so dancerly. There were four works on this particular program spanning 1983-2011. A fantastic overview though it made for a long evening.

First up was the rather glorious Set and Reset whose flow was only rarely interrupted by an arrested pose or lift, usually in a flex-footed open run position. Robert Rauschenberg created the visual presentation and costumes, which included see-through wings. These were used to great and subtle effect, adding another ephemeral element to an inherently ephemeral form. The flowing costumes were of the same fabric, with silk-screened images in black, white and grey. I assume these echoed the ever-present video installation that hovered above the dancing space, conjuring a sense of time passing, history and dream-like nostalgia. Individually and in groups forms melted away as soon as they were made manifest. The driving score by Laurie Anderson contributed to the sense of never-endingness. Just when a movement would register another would take its place, catapulting into a new flow and another seamless interruption.

While Set and Reset encapsulated many of the company’s overarching qualities and capabilities, Astral Convertible got more specific. With more visual elements from Rauschenberg including towers of light decorating and defining the space, this work was very formed and architectural. Dancers too were used as decorative and space-defining elements as others moved through and over them. Floor-bound bodies folded and unfolded, quietly cueing with the word “go”, adding nicely to the minimalist score by John Cage. In this world there were more moments of isolation for individual or a few dancers. Contact and partnering felt more emotional as connections were attempted and sometimes made awkward with mechanical motions bumping against the organic.

If you couldn’t see me was solo for a female, accomplished entirely with her back to the audience. Performed by Cecily Campbell, the material had room for personal élan and choice-making. Interesting, since we never saw her face. The lighting and costume rendered her back as expressive as a face, her ribs and muscles hyper-articulate.

The last work on the program and in the proscenium repertoire in general was I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours. This was a poignant watch, knowing it’s Brown’s last work of its kind.

Burt Barr, longtime partner of Brown, designed the visual presentation, comprised here of many large industrial fans. The dancers, wearing baggy white tops and pants, begin among them, situated stage left. Clothing gets blown off some, pulled off by others, another nod at ephemera laced with a little bit of danger. With a score by Alvin Curran, it was a great treat to hear and see him live on piano.

In various states of undress for much of the work, the dancers settled into a comfort zone of close calls, forms competing to occupy the same space, gently making contact long enough to leverage a launch away.

For this as in all the works on view, the music served as a landscape and not a specific set of directions. This use of music perhaps defines the work as post modern more than any other element, many of which might be considered classical: the segregated costuming for the sexes; the highly structured nature of the dances; the awareness of front, the audience, indeed, the proscenium. But the use of music is what defamiliarises us with watching this work. Because the dance isn’t bonded, in a traditional sense, to the music, we end up viewing it differently. The steps call out to us of their own accord, asking to be viewed for their own sake. Steps lay atop the sound scores for all these works and we are asked to multitask. The watching and listening are on two tracks, each getting a democratic treatment.

I wish this great and historic company well, on the remainder of this tour and for their future endeavors. It’s a brave thing to dismantle, to leave behind, to let one’s personal ephemera fade away. But as any dancer can attest, it’s simply what we do.

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs Proscenium Works: 1979-2011 in the McGuire Theater March 12-15. 

The Decorative Raw

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar Agree or disagree? […]

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luciana achugar. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

An environment establishes itself, a humid one, where humans recline and shed their skins like reptiles.

For a long while there is a lone figure onstage, wearing a sparkling fabric overhead, draping to the knees. The figure circles and chants, and slowly we discern that some, from their seats among us, are joining this incantation. Sympathetic responses emit yawns and stretches, deliberately just louder than usual. There is a meditative quality as the tempo increases. The figure retreats upstage. Against the back wall a new texture takes hold, a rumbling that causes the feet to shimmer, ambulating the figure forward again, toward us.

This episode takes place three times, accumulatively lasting about a half an hour. With each repeat the passage imprints itself more deeply onto the world. It rocks it.

The figure reveals her red-streaked nakedness. This reads like war paint and ties together the notions of primal and ritualized, raw and decorative. She begins a reclining solo, sensuous and curvy. I don’t detect pleasure per se, but a kind of indulgence, a relishing.

Another figure has slowly made its way across the back, also shrouded. The two form a stacked image, a unison squatting with a side-to-side motion that brings them together. They draw upwards and sway in circles, connected and chanting anew.

A woman in street clothes gets drawn into the mix and it feels like an abduction, so incongruous is this new presence compared to the context we’ve come to know. She is manipulated into the space, performing a sleepy, dreamy standing tumble. Eventually she makes her way upstage and frames a corner where floor and wall meet, slowly extending her long legs and shape shifting as she reclines.

Over the course of the rest of this long work performers keep adding in. Bodies, in various states of undress, accumulate to respectively experience for themselves and elaborate upon movement motifs. There’s a walk on all fours: hands slide out, feet slide in, hands release, hands slide out, feet slide in, hands release…There’s “legs against the wall”: either slowly and experimentally extending/lifting/lengthening or releasing and flinging back hard, hips thrusting. There’s an extra-wide second position grande plie gyration. There’s hip thrusting relocation. There’s step leaping into a wall, run back, repeat.

At the height of this visual and aural cacophony a performer sets about unrolling tape onto the back wall. The design has straight and articulate lines traversing the wall’s entire length. As bodies conglomerate into a spread-out pile center stage, tape encroaches upon the floor. Shapes become 3D, portals are formed, entrances or exits.

The house lights come up, there is a brief smattering of applause, and slowly, the audience starts to leave. I stay awhile, watching as many performers add in to the taping of the space. Wall and floor meet, horizontal and vertical. Straight shapes and round bodies intersect, worlds collide. The ecosystem that was this piece bleeds into starts to feel like a post-show moment. Performers release their performativeness and relate in more quotidian ways.

There are all kinds of blurry in this work and the end is no exception. Eventually I make my way away, assured that I witnessed an endpoint of sorts and that the art still goes on, even as the theater clears.

OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar runs through March 1 in the McGuire Theater.

Loaded, Long-form, Laughable, Lettuce, Love It

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on the opening night of HIJACK at 20. […]

HIJACK at 20

Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon of HIJACK. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on the opening night of HIJACK at 20. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

HIJACK, the beloved dance duo collaboration comprised of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, turns 20. Their newest work, redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye, brings all that experience, and then some, to the Walker stage. It is apparent that the creation period took three years. This is a vast and multi-layered group work that, miraculously, has plenty of room for the imagination to enter, to linger, to just hang around.

After a piano prequel the work officially opens with all the performers onstage executing an adagio. It comes off as grounded and tentative at once. Ballet barres adorn the space, as does a grand piano. The costumes are loose and white with patches of red peeking out. Two of the performers are wearing white horse-head hats and red capes. I’m not sure of the symbolism here, but I know they are decadent and set the tone for the entire piece. The world they create is fractured and fast moving. It shape-shifts with the help of the barres, the perpetual costume changes and the brilliantly compiled and edited soundscore.

The first approximate half is ornate, a splendid array of objects, costumes and spacial divisions. The group is very active and featured. Kristen and Arwen take a backseat as performers to let their craft, the shaping of others and the space, take precedence. I am reminded of Diaghilev-era abundance and busyness. I feel as though I’m in the wings and watching the bones of a production take shape, with half-dressed performers multi-tasking, executing complicated steps then running off to the next order of business.

Morgan Thorson, performatively compelling as ever, has several star turns throughout the work. A longtime HIJACK colleague, she seems to intuit their modus operandi, from inception to open-ended conclusion. Her articulate body and kinesthetic smarts render her a muse of sorts, wild-haired and tough yet vulnerable. She is a medicine-woman, a storyteller.

The piano gets pushed offstage, curtains condense the space and HIJACK, the beloved duo, begins to do what they do best. Perhaps it’s inevitable, that this “best” is in duet form and composed of them specifically. Perhaps it’s my desire to see those 20 years in those two bodies of experience. Whatever it is, I truly fall into the piece here, in this moment of duo-ness and single-minded pursuit.

I recognize the beginning movement material: the slow arching backs, the feet sliding way out in front of their bodies. It’s uncomfortable, under-tempo and because I am familiar with it, I have a satisfied feeling in my gut. My red insides begin to peek out.

For most of the remainder of the piece there is this duet, several duets, versions of versions that repeat in different contexts. It condenses such that for one passage they are forced way downstage. There are awkward partnered manipulations, awkward stool-sitting with home-girl vamping against balletic grand pliéing, awkward non sequitur texts. Repetition satisfyingly seems to mean something new each time around. It is funny, hilarious even, then poignant, then sad. It means everything and nothing. It is significant and meaningless. It is memorable and I have amnesia.

I wonder what didn’t make it into the piece. This work is stuffed. Hijack’s brilliance lies in many arenas not the least of which is editing. I am sure we are seeing a fraction of what we could see. There must be so much more in their archives to display. I look forward to their next long-form work. What a treat.

HIJACK performs redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye December 5–7 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Stay after the performance on Friday, December 6 for a Q & A discussion with Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder moderated by Miriam Must, co-founder of Red Eye Theater.

After the show on Saturday, December 7, all audience members are invited to join a SpeakEasy conversation about the work, facilitated by Walker Tour Guide Mary Dew and local artist Eben Kowler.

Gilding the Frame: Penelope Freeh on Choreographers’ Evening

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Saturday’s performance of Choreographers’ Evening. Agree or disagree? […]

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Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Saturday’s performance of Choreographers’ Evening. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Choreographers’ Evening 2013, curated by Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, was the best such evening I’ve seen. It was framed in a way that provided a semblance of context, giving us viewers something to hang our hats on.

Their idea was to design the evening as though it was a mixed tape. The curators dedicated the evening to a close friend and used that as an imaginative jumping off point for choosing work. They asked the choreographers to likewise dedicate their dances. Like the statement on the exterior of the old Walker wing (bits and pieces put together to create a semblance of a whole), these dedications provided just enough for us to view the work with the confidence of knowing there was something (and someone) specific in mind.

The show started with a bang as six bespangled tweens tap danced their way to center stage and stopped in formation. Clad in white costumes resembling ice-dancing outfits, they proceeded to talk. Together they respectively described their dance, listing their steps specifically and in order, all the way to the bow. “…and then I do a double pirouette…”, “…and I do suzie-q, suzie-q…”, “…and then I…”. When finished they shuffled off one by one. By choreographer Jes Nelson, this disarming dance was about the innocent vocabulary of young performers, alert yet kinda squirmy in front of an audience.

Laurie Van Wieren’s 1964/1994 was a solo-for-self that also made great use of the voice. It began with hurtling semi-classical forms and a long look to the audience, part dare, part declaration. Then a mysterious wig was donned, a microphone taken up and the body’s articulations shifted to the vocal chords. A sentence repeated; words were lingered upon. It was fractured and odd and beautiful.

Juan M Aldape also performed in his smart solo work Cacartels, Cacaffeine and Cucumbia. Literally dark, clad as he was in black fabric that covered his head and arms while the rest of him wore jeans, plaid shirt and cowboy boots, this work did a sharp left turn somewhere in its’ conception. The body, personal identity and politics were inseparable. And it was funny. The movement vocabulary consisted of deep and satisfying back contractions/contortions, scootches, lurches, sauntering and posturing.

Known as a contemporary tap dancing guru, Kaleena Miller’s yes yes no no took place unshod. Four performers spread out in a line danced in deadpan unison. The beat was hot, accommodating the rapid shirt changes that just barely interrupted the movement. Tap-like steps performed barefoot are still specific yet somehow a level more interesting, being that much closer to the ground.

DANCER read the t-shirt of Otto Ramstad for his solo Untitled. Sometimes the simplest statements are the most descriptive which is true here but I would also add SCIENTIST, DAREDEVIL and SMARTASS. Otto’s dancing is a visceral joyride. He truly sources movement from the inside out, so hard to track but if you try you will go deep with this guy. Splendid was my watching experience.

THROB from Anghared Davies utilized sixteen performers clad in utilitarian white jumpsuits. The work led them through organized chaos layered with extreme emotionality. Facial expressions, contortions really, leapt out at us given the neutral backdrop coupled with dramatic spotlights placed in the stage space. Exciting was to see seasoned and raw performers alongside one another.

Morgan Thorson created and performed Dead Swan with the onstage help of Evy Muench and several owls, plastic and stuffed. The physical language of birds was fun to trace in the well-danced movement. Occasional references to Swan Lake choreography were also interwoven. Morgan was perpetually busy while Evy was on and off, placing arrows of tape on the floor, bringing on a table, an owl, even dancing with her during one pass. Another instance of framing: a solo with visitors.

Curtains framed Theresa Madaus in her solo For Cody. A short and funny lullaby, this dance felt sincerely made even though the humor was wry and dry. Well, ok, a little wet. There were fake guns, a mustache, eye rolls, two cowboy hats, and all-around macho physicality. A checked blanket appears and cutout sun and moon pass across the sky in turns. Sweet home on the range.

Still Too Long by Joanne Spencer was a sort of showstopper. Wearing their hearts on their bare arms, the choreographer, Dana Kassel and Judith James Ries recalled the dancing style that brought them together in JAZZDANCE! By Danny Buraczeski. Joanne is most certainly a choreographer in her own right, making lush traveling steps and gestures that were at once fluid and percussive. It was a great pleasure to see these three dancing together again.

The final work of the evening was Salsa Rumba Cubana created and performed by Yeniel “Chini” Perez. A sort of oblique bookend to the opening sextet, this dance satisfied the dancing expectations initially established. It began in a spotlight center stage and took us across the fourth wall into the audience and back. Joyful and sinewy, this solo was the perfect way to end a remarkable evening.

The water of our dance community can be murky. While most of our dances get made in vacuums, placing individual parts into a greater context can makes for a sudden shimmer of clarity. Kudos to Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs for accomplishing the nearly impossible task of capturing an accurate and compelling overview of our current Twin Cities dance scene.

Kyle Abraham: Sparkle and Plenty

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Live! The Realest MC by Kyle […]

Photo by Ian Douglas

Photo by Ian Douglas

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Live! The Realest MC by Kyle Abraham / Abraham.In.Motion. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in Comments!

A golden child is hatched downstage right. Clad in sequins and lamé, Kyle Abraham is born. Shoulders articulate. Limbs elongate then shrink. Abraham tentatively balances on his sickled feet and, for a moment, he is grown.

Soon other dancers enter and athletically frame him. Their movements are clear-cut and concise. Everything is clean and visible. The oscillation from casual hip-hop to balls-to-the-wall contemporary dance is utterly discernable, readable.

Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima

Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima

There is so much unison dancing that when an image stops for a moment, like when a trio of men sightlessly hug/spoon and reach for one another’s hands, we sit up and take notice. There is depth of meaning here that extends beyond the virtuosity of high battements and multiple turns. This piece is about coming of age, being gay, pain and rage.

Video is projected on an upstage curtain of floor to ceiling white strips. Kids chase after someone over and over, a childhood nightmare played out larger than life and in color. The music is drone-like and full of static, at times too loud but to a point. Life is sometimes unbearable and dangerous. You want to cover your ears and hide away.

At about the halfway point this full-evening piece breaks apart. Humor finds its way in by way of a video of a southern white woman giving a hip-hop tutorial. Next is a voiced-over dance lesson all about the hips. Later two men physicalize the same dance instructions, one effeminately and the other hip-hop style. A beautiful juxtaposition and, I think, complement.

The evening is comprised of episodes rather than a super-narrative. This is elegantly done and with superb transitions. The lighting helps to carry this off, creating and defining sub-spaces within the larger one.

The end brought my only complaint: I wanted the last dance episode to be a solo for Abraham. After making himself so vulnerable in a section where he by turns talked tough and broke into childhood tears, I wanted just him and his sublime musicality. Alas, I loved it anyway.

From the dancers to the clever costumes, all were well cooked. For a work that drew upon the autobiography of Abraham, credit and generous dancing time was given to the dancers.

Deborah Hay: Beauty Through Time and Leaving it Behind

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s Talking Dance: A Lecture on the […]

Deborah Hay, No Time To Fly, 2010. Photo: Rino Pizzi

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s Talking Dance: A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty by Deborah Hay. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Wednesday night’s … I’ll call it a lecture demonstration … had Deborah Hay talking about the process for her 2002 solo that became known as Beauty. She gave us the work’s chronology, its initial hiccups (different title and costume) and led us into a performance/reading of an article she wrote about it all (which is in the guise of a set of inspired instructions as though we, the audience/reader, are the performer). As Hay maps Beauty’s geography with marker and large white paper on an easel, two videos of her performing the work play simultaneously, one from each incarnation.

My task here is to offer my take on what I saw and experienced while also attempting to contextualize the works that will be performed this weekend as part of Hay Days.

Well, Deborah Hay is a force, a creature perhaps with all the instinct that that implies, but she is also a very deliberate wordsmith, intentionally spinning language into a just-barely-discernable tumble. “What if every cell in my body has the potential to perceive and surrender beauty simultaneously?” This is the question/premise that Beauty is based upon. Holy shit.

I am amazed by the question, by the thought behind it and the thoughts behind those, thoughts that go on to elaborate: “Onstage you shimmer. Shimmering is time passing: here and gone, here and gone, here and gone, here and gone, here and gone…”

What we have here is a sensibility aligned with a dance practice that offers choreographies highly crafted, scored and improvised based upon specific questions that ultimately require a performer to empty and be foolish.

As life and luck would have it, I saw Beauty in London in 2003. It was performed at the end of a day-long symposium with Yvonne Rainer and Deborah Hay. I will not dig for my notes from then now but, for all I know, they are the same as what I took tonight: quick scratches in an attempt to capture, well, anything. All her words are golden and honed to capture the imagination. They give permission and allow for individual interpretation. Her words come at the end of a long day of dance as ever-present: for her, for me, and for the me of 2003.

She is practical and enigmatic.

My best guess is that this weekend’s dances (Beauty will not be on view) will have undergone great discipline and rigor to arrive in this world. There is a great brain behind, beneath, and above it all. There will be informed bodies, intelligence, and raw sensory perception.

I am sorry to say I will miss these events, but you go. Go to spark your questions about what you think dance is and see what, actually, it can also be.

Any artist who, ten years later, still talks and writes about a dance and “performs” that lecture globally, is vital. She’s interested. She is asking more of us. “It helps us as dancers to be writing papers.” So, while I sadly can’t see these works this weekend, I will write about what I think about when I imagine what I would’ve seen.

Dance can be practiced in all kinds of ways. There are many pathways in fact, and therefore many to diverge from which, guess what, she encourages us to do!

“The world opens when you depart from the path.”

In other words, “detach from the blueprint.” It is good to have one and even better to leave it behind. It’ll always be waiting.

Respites, Clowns, and Curtain Down

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Tuesday night’s performance of Political Mother by Hofesh […]

Photo: Simona Boccedi

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Tuesday night’s performance of Political Mother by Hofesh Shechter Company. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

In Tuesday’s mail came my latest Obama/Biden bumper sticker, free due to my last-minute $10 contribution to the campaign. I knew it’d arrive after the election, but I wanted to contribute nonetheless. My politics would still be true, even if Obama lost. Sometimes things will still be true.

This is the case with Political Mother. What I mean is, though our recent election blessedly turned left, the subject matter of Political Mother is still true: there are harrowing from-the-top-down political scenarios and, sometimes, sufferers can see their way through to the other side.

What I mean is,

“Something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day.

I’ve looked at life from both sides now,

from win and lose, and still somehow

it’s life’s illusions I recall.

I really don’t know life at all.”

And perhaps it’s that notion of not yet knowing life that keeps the heart beating and seeking.

What I mean is, get a hold of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and listen, really feel that tune and those lyrics. Now, imagine you are an Israeli-born choreographer and musician. Make a dance/music hybrid extravaganza that deals with torture and social dynamics in general of all sorts, from cooperation to conflict, complete with top-down leadership bullshit yelled in amplitude and then wind it all up with that song. What I mean is, if you can do that, you will deserve all the acclaim. You will have delivered all the parts of your selfhood alongside your particular cultural experience. Your finale is Both Sides Now and, what I mean is, you will leave us with hope and something like astonishment.

Political Mother needed seatbelts. It certainly needed (and supplied) earplugs. Yet it offered respites, loud and quiet, from the holocausts. Movement shivered out of bodies in unlikely unisons. Folk dances craftily maneuvered patterns, breaking away and carving back into messy and organized folds. Duets emerged from the rubble of sound and furious repetition, taking us into problematic and irregular intimacies and stillnesses.

Stage pictures flowed like filmic montages. Music and sound were dramaturgic, hierarchical, and threatening. There were breathing spaces, too, like when the wind swept through and, for more than just a moment, nothing happened visually other than the dusty light beaming down. Dark, strobed and rock concert-y, the lighting, too, was toward a purpose. Dancers melted bonelessly, bounced listlessly. Limbs initiated or trailed, conducted or derailed. Like floppy clowns’ bodies ambulated and interacted, circling unseen mazes. It was like they had been there before, pawns of history. And indeed, they had.

Miraculously, through an earsplitting testosterone-driven wall of sound come the gentle strains, “Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air…” The dancers, in semi-darkness, are doing something familiar. In fast-forward, they cycle through every image we had seen thus far, but in retrograde. It was a visual and visionary re-wind. Sound cradled us finally instead of making us quake. Images passed across our view and we now had a stake in all that chronology. The curtain came down as the house lights came up. We were folded into the fold, on both sides now.

Photo: Ben Rudick

Supernatural Star Turns

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Super Nature by the […]

The BodyCartography Project, Super Nature. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Super Nature by the BodyCartography Project with Zeena Parkins. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

We fell into the work as a performer stumbled down the stairs and onto the stage. Already there were performers as pedestrians, awkward and uncomfortable yet colorful, like birds of paradise shifting for attention. They made room for the newcomer, accommodating her, sort of. Gangly and contorted, she couldn’t help but do her dance. It was how she was, innately.

Another performer began from a seat among us. She made herself known by intensifying her breathing, chorused by the group. A visceral long-distance back-and-forth ensued till Anna Marie Shogren revealed her true colors.

She entered the light, the most vibrant of them all. Her dance was a comical star turn, her face the epitome of a silent movie actress. The group organized into an ensemble of six. (Extras made their way off stage.) Group, re-group, and emerge Emily Johnson. One of our most compelling local performers, her brand of dance here was seductive, secretive, shielded by the bodies of the others.

And so Super Nature begins.

These episodes are framed in the space by a string-hanging. Like a giant ponytail, it canopies the stage, tied at the back and on an angle. Light plays upon its flimsy surfaces reminding me of rain or clouds patterning. We are in a contrived and organic environment and the soundscape soon supports that with strains of harp mixed with electronica: acoustic and electric, a perfect and pithy balance for this work.

Performers couple up with strange agendas. There’s an invasive yet funny duet involving a body mic. Things degenerate, break down, devolve. Clothes are removed to varying degrees but just before that is my favorite moment, a double duet of same-sex couples, the timing of which is offset just perfectly. The images are intimate, touching, obtuse, sculptural, and somehow iconic.

One by one the undressed performers enter what becomes a new landscape, now filled with smoke. They carry branches, at once covering themselves and simply becoming them. Otto Ramstad (one half of BodyCartography Project along with Olive Bieringa) gets physically guttural. Recalling his vocals from earlier, this time it is all embodied sound. He dips his head to initiate tumbling and head-sliding into laying down. On all fours, he gallops, exactly like a chimp, wild and driven by instinct. His rounded back reveals his ribs; his contortions sensuous and necessary, not emotive.

He claims Emily, who remains fully clothed. It is a sad and startling image, a collision of two worlds, made odder still in that, at one point, she initiates a scrabble. Maybe we’re all just operating from instinct after all, our clothes merely a ruse.

Near the end a long sequence ensues, tableaux-like, in which time alters. I imagine it’s like watching a live nature cam. Events happen at their own pace: bodies shift, dash, huddle, protect, isolate, cover. Two large furs move low across the space. A body emerges from one and there’s a Lord of the Flies moment (cleverly implied with a projector), but gentler, more organic, like it’s supposed to happen.

Satisfyingly, the hanging gets released and flings toward us. The performers inevitably entangle, at once constricted and freed.

Intuition in the Dark: Penelope Freeh on Voices of Strength, Program II

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Sombra by Maria Helena Pinto and […]

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local 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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s Sombra by Maria Helena Pinto and Madame Plaza by Bouchra Ouizguen. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

White floor, a line of upended big, black buckets across the upstage, a couple of white ones, right-side-up and just in front. Maria Helena Pinto appears from a blackout but we still can’t fully see her. Her head is obscured by, you guessed it, a big, black bucket.

Her piece is Sombra and she begins with a walk across the buckets. Her steps are as sure as they can be, her gestures gentle. Her dancing is sure and gentle too. It’s like she’s used to being in there, head obscured but with other senses attuned.

Her body is sensuous and curvy. She is honey-colored and languid. We can read her well against the white and the black. One floor phrase in particular gets my attention as she launches herself in a circle, her head the pivot point. Various limbs take turns in the bucket, one arm then another, then a leg. Her body’s equilibrium shifts lower, much lower, foot with head in a black bucket on a white stage.

Upside-down yoga-like poses became possible, though perhaps one of the only options. She makes the best of what she has. A new row of buckets flies in mid-stage, emanating light. She manipulates these, affixed as they are to a crossbar. But they can swing and entangle. They too do what they can.

In a flurry of dancing near the end her bucket flies off. I wonder if it’s a mistake? It seemed to take her by surprise. She soldiered on and everything felt different. What had been a slow build of tension was released and slightly perplexing. I did not capture the logic but was glad she was free and hoped her second walk across the bucket tops took her somewhere new.

Madame Plaza is a smartly crafted, slow burn of a piece. Four women on three long cushions rearrange themselves slowly. Individual movements are quotidian yet precisely timed, in perfect accord with the others. A balance is somehow struck, stage picture-wise, and this virtue continues to embed as the work unfolds.

The women’s voices are used. With no warning one among them begins to shriek and call. The others join in, responding, leading or both. Whole conversations unfold and though I have not a clue as to what’s being said, I am enthralled. It goes back to that stage picture balance I think. Every level is thought about and perfectly contrived. A doubled-over dancing duet accompanies a prodding, noise-making couplet. The cushions are made to stand and are stacked. Two do this as two couple up, one now dressed as a man.

Timing is key to this piece. Sound is reserved for when something needs to be said or underlined with music and not just because music usually accompanies dance. This essential relationship dynamic makes for a piece that allows itself to unfold according to its own inner logic. A song or score’s imposed duration had no bearing here.

Slow to unfold but long on remaining with me, Madame Plaza was a joy to observe and attempt to decode. The four women emerged as singular individuals. Had any one of them not been there I feel as though I would’ve missed them. It is a testament to Ms. Ouizguen’s craft that she allowed each personality to contribute so affectingly. She herself is an astonishing dancer, intuitive and guileless.

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