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.

Conceptual People-Dance: Penelope Freeh on Tere O’Connor’s BLEED

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Agree or […]

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

BLEED, Tere O’Connor’s newest work, an amalgamation of sorts of three other dances, sits well with me. About halfway through the work I remembered that this was the concept and then several mysteries were solved, for example, the austerity and import of many of the transitions. They seemed particularly loaded: introducing new dancers, breaking with the action and walking to a new location, building to a sentimental embrace, then journeying away into another choreographic land. Some of the costumes felt initially incongruous but then strangely cogent as the dance transpired. Remembering this notion of bleeding three dances into a fourth makes sense (not that I need it to make sense, but it’s satisfying to solve a mystery) and I dive deeper as a result.

BLEED begins with a woman in a green dress undulating, swirling almost, but not quite. Her balance is caught then abandoned, a constancy of the body catching up with itself. There is a quartet of onlookers who soon move into the frame. A quintet commences and I am reminded of court dancing, the roots of ballet, with handholds and tippy contortions that remain just upright enough to prioritize the vertical. Certainly the soundscape influences me here, composed and designed by James Baker, evoking the baroque.

More dancers enter and I am surprised. This is one of those previously alluded to mysteries that unto itself is jarring, but in the context of the concept makes perfect sense. There are eleven dancers total, a satisfying number. The stage feels very populated, and it is fascinating to see the many and varied stage pictures evolve with so many bodies.

There are many classical values amid the post modern: symmetry, awareness of front, a formal quality to much of the movement, all of which render outlier moments, like when all the dancers verbally shudder and stagger apart, more potent.

O’Connor is a dance-maker on the edge of discovery, investigating his own dances and previous choices to unearth something new. In the new are movements from those previous works but also subtle evocations, loaded embraces, powerful stillnesses (near the end, the dancers were in dynamic yet grounded poses holding hands in a giant s curve), and especially deliberate transitions. He is trying to reveal the negative and I see it in the mist, like Brigadoon.

The investment of these dancers is profound. They seem to reside simultaneously in the worlds of the previous dances and in this new terrain. Meaning is carried through, gathering mass like a snowball rolling downhill. This particular dance seems to be less about investigative movement than process. The vocabulary feels spare, complicating in terms of many bodies rather than in one individual. It is readable, then blurry, then discernible again.

The concept is a rich one and O’Connor’s touch is just right, just Midas enough. For me, it could have gone on longer. It takes awhile to get to know these wonderful people dancing, and just when I had my bearings, blackout.

BLEED continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, March 20, 8 pm) and tomorrow (Saturday, March 20, 8 pm). Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at the Walker on March 21 at 11 am. 

Revealing the Space / Revealing the Dance: Penelope Freeh on Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on the World Premiere […]

Photo: Gene Pittman.

Stripe Tease artists, left to right: JT Bates, Jennifer Davis, Max Wirsing, Dustin Maxwell, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Tristan Koepke, Laura Selle-Virtucio, Mary Ann Bradley, Krista Langberg, and Mike Lewis. 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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on the World Premiere of Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

From the beginning of Stripe Tease I feel as though I am in good hands. Two men enter in silence and commence a dance, opening the main drape in the process. It is an elegant and surprising gesture, the curtain billowing apart then slowly opening part way.

Silence continues as the duet takes the space. I remember that Chris’ last epic dance, Matching Drapes, ended with these very men, Max Wirsing and Dustin Maxwell, engaged in an elegant arm wrestle that resembles what I see here. I love this notion: start your new epic dance where your other one left off…

During the course of this hour-long work various parts of the space are revealed: the upstage curtain opens to display a striped backdrop in day-glo colors, side wings disappear, side balcony curtains move aside revealing drawings of tigers in the same palette, and the musicians are exposed upstage left with a vertical tiger lurking behind. These scenic elements, designed by Jennifer Davis, deftly support the stripe theme and the notion of tease/reveal.

The six dancers, at various times, occupy the entire theater. They use the stairs, the side balconies, the exit doors. The masterful lighting by Joe Levasseur sometimes shines on the audience, involving us and possibly implicating us.

And now to the dance, ah the dance and the dancing. Chris’ movement is highly gestural, arms often swishing, swiping, initiating. There is virtually no partnering and yet relationships abound. His choreographic sweet spot seems to reside in quartet work, pitting two dancers in contrast to the other pair then seamlessly swapping unison partners. The dancers track one another’s movements, rather like tigers, racing with them down a diagonal and tearing back. Often one dancer frames another’s movement, a sort of tracing with abstract gesture and physical intention.

The soundscape, played live by Alpha Consumer (Jeremy Ylvisaker, JT Bates, and Michael Lewis) perfectly accompanies the complex choreography. The music does not dictate the steps. It hovers alongside them, inspiring but not enforcing rhythms. The movement contains its own rhythmic impulses, likely based upon what works well with contrasting steps and also perhaps driven by an abstract dramaturgy of sorts. To my eye, the dancers groove on having the music there to support them. Laura Selle Virtucio in particular let her passion shine through, leveraging her exhaustion to dig deep.

The steps unto themselves are not particularly hard. The virtuosity resides in the craft of how the dancers move in relation to one another and in the duration of certain passages. A rapid-fire yet simple gestural arm and hand choreography becomes sublime in duplicate. Unison and relationship reveal rigor and intelligence.

The three other wonderful dancers are Dolo McComb, Krista Langberg and Tristan Koepke. All the dancers serve the overall vision while remaining utterly themselves, unusual to see amidst so much unison and the need for keeping an eye on one another.

The work was by turns mesmerizing and edge-of-my-seat inducing. There were quiet moments that apertured in, like in the opening arm dance, and full-throttle moving acrobatics that laced and spun and careened. There were beautiful, very feminine feeling gestures, fascinating to see on male bodies. Then later a double knocking gesture became a signature, ever so slightly more hard-edged.

Get your tickets, folks. There is an added show, Saturday at 2pm as the others are virtually sold out.

For a World Premiere, this work is well cooked. It has legs beyond this moment and may well be one of those occasions about which we can say we saw it when.

Stripe Tease continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight, Friday, February 20 at 8pm, and tomorrow, Saturday, February 21 at 2pm and 8pm. 

Listening Body: Penelope Freeh on Panaibra Gabriel Canda

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Saturday night’s performance of Time […]

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Panaibra Gabriel Canda and Jorge Domingos performing Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos. Photo courtesy MAPP International Productions.

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Saturday night’s performance of Time and Spaces: The Marrabenta Solos by Panaibra Gabriel Candathe second evening of Tales of Home: Congo/Mozambique. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

There are stations onstage: a chair and amp on center, three microphones on stands in three corners and costume elements near the middle wing stage right. As the lights fade moments before the piece formally begins, a guitar player lays down near his equipment. Lights up and Panaibra Gabriel Canda, his back to us, speaks Portuguese into a mic, translations projected onto the scrim upstage.

Identity is outlined as a major theme here. With a clever trajectory of verbiage we become entangled in the macro/micro crisscrosses and crosses to bear of Canda’s personal history. He comes from a musician father and dressmaker mother from Mozambique, a country colonized by Portugal, turned communist, turned democratic. It is a confusing story that seems to have forced this contemporary dance and performance artist inward. Out pour guttural stutterings and a body wrestling with itself.

Intimate dances occur, accompanied by the virtuosic musicianship of Jorge Domingos. The two performers are always in counterpoint. Very little needs to be communicated between them in order to be completely on the same page. For a work with a subtitle that contains the word “Solos”, this reads very much as a duet.

Canda’s intelligent body holds many qualities and dynamic ranges. Initially making well-muscled arm gestures that repeat with accompanying text, he moves into more sinuous musings, traversing space. The geography is specific and seems to jump from the stage onto Canda’s very skin. I begin to perceive his body as a map, zones, multi-locations with various topographies. Stomping and gentle tapping accompany flinging arms and tight-fists. Grooves are interrupted and swell into eruption again and again, like water lapping.

A slow and deliberate crawl from upstage to down is my favorite moment, executed with profound coordination. We see the body lower then upright, and it is significant in its changing of planes. The bone and muscle dances begin under the low mic. We are reminded of what’s under the skin (that cannot be rubbed off, no matter how hard he tries). We are left with sweat and breath, a silent musician and a darkening space as we listen hard.

After Relentless: Penelope Freeh on Rosas danst Rosas

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s performance of Rosas […]

A 1993 performance of Rosas danst Rosas. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos.

Rosas danst Rosas. Photo by Herman Sorgeloos.

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, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s performance of Rosas danst Rosas by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker / Rosas. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Rosas danst Rosas is a seminal work for Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker; it is the piece that catapulted her onto the international stage as well as the impetus behind forming her company Rosas.

Known now for her relentless use of repetition to exhibit and reframe her quotidian movement, De Keersmaeker started it here, demonstrating virtually every repetitive iteration possible with four bodies. (Specifically four female bodies, but more on that later.)

Rosas danst Rosas begins with a slow burn of floor work. Performed in silence, it is a study in duration, cut through with crackling, rapid-fire gesture. The women move with languid sensuality then flop, drop and roll in the blink of an eye. Virtuosic for even a single performer, this section amplified by four is exponentially so. Tiny variations begin and, because of all the repetition, we can track and even anticipate them. One by one the women leave the group, still connected by movement synchrony or counterpoint. There is anger, defiance, even grumpiness.

Scene change to a stage set with groupings of chairs. Now we really comprehend the feminine as each dancer claims a seat and executes vamping gestures including a cupping of a breast. This sequence is brash and confrontational while also numbing and defamiliarizing as the speed increases. Hair is loose and messy. Sexuality and power are underscored musically and to great effect as the performers stop on a dime at the end of the section.

The chairs are moved upstage and so begins where I really fell into this work. A trio ensues upstage near the chairs as the fourth performer sits on an end. The trio dances in unison until De Keersmaeker separates, coming downstage and into a hallway of light. Like the beginning, again we see connection in separation, distance amplifying and bolstering movement relationship. Many variations occur, more hallways of light, more downstage vs. upstage action.

And so it goes until the fourth dancer joins and yet new ways of patterning take hold. Two women maintain a ground, gently traveling back and forth, while the other two, in opposing squares of light, execute emotional and experiential gestures*. (*There is a sequence of gestures. The emotions are employed too, inherent to a gesture. As gestures repeat, the dancer seems to feel each one again, like it’s new, and yet there’s a cumulative effect.)

There are repeats inside repeats. Movement phrases constantly recur, as do whole passages. I love this micro and macro use of duplication. Again the sound score supports the dance and buoys the dancers. The demand for endurance is unforgiving and yet exhaustion works to get the point across.

Movement washes over us, coming from upstage to down and sweeping across in wide arcs. The dancers spread apart then suddenly converge like a flock of birds creating contrails. Eventually one by one they opt out, collapsing into individuality.

Another satisfying, stop-on-a-dime finish; blackout.

And after, work lights fade up as the dancers, separated by their respective conclusions, respond to the moment. Reminiscent of Toto exposing the man behind the curtain, it is a raw and revealing scene. Echoing gestures from earlier, these are far less dancerly, far more sweaty and necessary. And as quickly as this work was long and took its time, it was over.

Rosas danst Rosas continues in the McGuire Theater tonight (Thursday, October 16) and tomorrow night (Friday, October 17, 2014).

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.

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