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Beauty at the Edge of Terror: A Conversation with Pavel Zuštiak

  Born in Czechoslovakia and based in New York City, Pavel Zuštiak is a director, choreographer, performer, and sound designer. He is also the Artistic Director of Palissimo Company which he founded in 2004 and the winner of the 2015 Juried Bessie Award for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer. This weekend, the Walker will present the Midwest […]

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Custodians of Beauty by Pavel Zuštiak. Photo: Maria Baranova

 

Born in Czechoslovakia and based in New York City, Pavel Zuštiak is a director, choreographer, performer, and sound designer. He is also the Artistic Director of Palissimo Company which he founded in 2004 and the winner of the 2015 Juried Bessie Award for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer. This weekend, the Walker will present the Midwest Debut of Zuštiak’s newest work Custodians of Beautyco-commissioned by the Walker Art Center, New York Live Arts, American Dance Institute, and Legion Arts. In Custodians of Beauty, Zuštiak questions where beauty is found and whether it needs our defense. With this piece, Zuštiak moves away from his usual large scale productions by focusing on a more minimalist approach to choreographing dance—picking away at the subject to find, perhaps, the truth of what beauty is.

I had the honor to talk to the artist himself over a cup of coffee and what follows is a series of questions and responses to get a better idea of who Pavel Zuštiak is as an artist, and how he went about creating Custodians of Beauty.

Ben Swenson-Klatt: So glad that you are able to sit down and talk! I thought we would start out with a few questions to get to know you. What inspired you to become an artist? Was there a particular moment or artist that inspired you the most?

Pavel Zuštiak: I was born in former Czechoslovakia in an area that is now Slovakia, and I was always attracted to the theater world as far as I can remember. I built my own lighting system for my homemade puppet theater when I was very young, then acted and sang on a very popular TV series starting at age nine. Early on I also studied piano—I almost went to a conservatory to study that—and then things kind of shifted; when I was 12, I started to dance by accident.

That’s actually a funny story. This was around the time when Flashdance and Dirty Dancing had just come out, so dancing was very popular and everybody was looking for studios to dance in. Slovakia has a very rich tradition of folk dancing, and every town had its own specific folk dance vocabulary and traditions. A schoolmate of mine wanted to go audition for a folk dance company, but he didn’t want to go alone and asked me to go with him. I said sure. We got to the cultural center where the audition was being held, but he messed up the dates and we ended up at a modern dance company audition instead. Everyone was in tights except the two of us! We both got in—he quit after a month—but for me it was a revelation. I was fascinated by the ability of dance to touch upon something that goes beyond words and yet can be very specific in communicating.

One particular moment made me recognize art making could be a vocation, and that was meeting Pina Bausch and seeing her work. She came to my hometown, Kosice, in Czechoslovakia in 1987 and rehearsed and performed at the cultural center where the dance company I was a part of resided. We observed her rehearsals, interacted with her, and eventually saw two of her seminal pieces, Café Muller (which she performed in) and The Rite of Spring. This experience blew me away and revealed how powerful dance and theater can be. It was truly a pivotal moment for me. Later I went to the School for New Dance Development in the Netherlands. Seventeen years ago I moved to New York, and that’s my journey.

But I would also say that very early on, because of all these different genres that I had explored, to me, in a theater performance, one is not more important than the other, so rarely I see set, music, or lighting just as a decorative element but as an element that can push the narrative of the piece.

Swenson-Klatt: You seem to be really aware of the sound and lighting, and I think you even mentioned that you are playing with scent in this production?

Zuštiak: Yeah, this is the first time. The show is titled Custodians of Beauty, so one of the very first tasks when talk

ing with designers was asking what is the most beautiful thing that you could witness in theater, musically, visually or scenically? So of course we

went through all this stuff including clichés, and someone brought up the scent of a rose.

Swenson-Klatt: And other scents,like perfumes?

Zuštiak: Yes, and I was reminded of how powerful scent can be in transporting you to a place or time in a very immediate way. This is the first show where I am playing with that, and I plan to explore that further in my next project, where I will be collaborating with a scent artist. So this is dabbling into something new.

Swenson-Klatt: Could you talk a little bit more about the collaboration you have with lighting designer Joe Levasseur, set designer Simon Harding, and sound designer Christian Frederickson, and how they are integral to Custodians of Beauty, in terms of pushing the narrative through transitions?

Zuštiak: I usually start with a question or dilemma around a certain subject or theme as an opening question or conversation, not only with the designers but also with the performers, who are equally contributing artists in the room. Out of those conversations and out of contributions from all of us, we start to look at a palette of possibilities. Ideas, scenes, and events start to emerge, and then at a certain point I end up with a series of… I call them images, but I don’t see it as a static moment. I start placing them in a certain order, looking dramaturgically at what kind of trajectory the show could have, and then I start shaping individual images or scenes, and their progression, throughout the show. In terms of my direction, often I come with an image or I come with a clear proposal or direction of a scene, and sometimes I know what function a transition or scene has and that’s my direction to designers, to problem solve. But it’s a lot of back and forth, a very organic process. I have worked with Christian, the composer, on five productions, and Joe Levasseur is the exclusive lighting designer that I have worked with since living in New York, so at this point they pretty well understand my aesthetic. I think we are also at a place where, we were joking, we can be like an old couple: we know when to fight over something and when to let go.

Swenson-Klatt: You bring up seeing the overall choreographic process as visual or image-based. Do you have a connection to visual arts or a way that the visual arts play into making movement?

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Pavel Zuštiak. Photo: Maria Baranova

Zuštiak: I think there are choreographers who are creating or editing through kinesthetic feedback, and that’s how they shape and edit the work. For me, it’s seeing the work and seeing all the elements together, and I am more and more curious in reduction: how far can I push reducing expressive modes into a simple statement or gesture that would hold much more than you are seeing? Like reduction in cooking—you taste something but there is a depth—many different ingredients that went through a long process to get to that point. Or like a capsule that locks together complex layers, or a statement. I like to see how far I can push that without losing the intensity of what goes into it.

Swenson-Klatt: And the way that all the different elements that came together. In other interviews you’ve discussed the research that went into this piece, like how its title is pulled from a 2009 address by Pope Benedict XVI when he met with artists at the Sistine Chapel, as well as the influence of Alva Noë’s book, Action in Perception, and Susan Sontag’s essay, “An argument about Beauty.” Could you talk about your research?

Zuštiak: The original speech by the pope already touches on some references from history. He quotes Plato, for example, who talked about beauty as something that shocks us out of ourselves, which I find fascinating, as a way of being disarmed as an audience member, which also leads to a certain loss of narcissistic vision and makes you aware of larger issues or gives you a sense of humanity. In the show there a few moments where we are eluding to this sensibility of breaking the fourth wall, to making the audience realize that we are here in the same room, that this is something happening collectively.

I came across an article with the same title in a wonderful Dutch magazine Works That Work, published by a Slovak editor, Peter Bilak, which mentions the pope and his speech to leading art makers of the time—his insistence of holding onto beauty as something important in their art making. I was perplexed that this was high up on his agenda, although the relationship of the church and art world is nothing new. That led me to research beauty throughout contemporary art history, and I realized how problematic this subject matter is and how in certain parts of the art world, beauty has become almost taboo. Often we feel more comfortable talking about something as interesting rather than beautiful, which Susan Sontag states at the end of her article as an argument for the definition and existence of beauty: “If you are watching a sunset it would be strange to say it is interesting rather than beautiful.” I find that when we say something is beautiful we are laying our cards on the table, while when saying something is interesting we are holding them close to our chest.

Swenson-Klatt: It’s kind of like calling on people to really stand by what they believe in. I think that is an important concept to tackle especially today, when sometimes it is almost easier to not have an opinion but to instead stay on the sidelines and say, “That’s interesting.”

Zuštiak: I think the resistance towards beauty also comes from its associations, for instance as something being pretty or as something that has to be symmetrical, these preconceived ideas of what beautiful means. Who defines that? I think the question itself has also become controversial: who is in charge of the definition of what is and what is not beautiful? Although the pope is approaching the artists as custodians, the title Custodians of Beauty for me is more of a question mark, i.e. who are the custodians? Is it the audience member? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Is it the curator, who presents the work, is it his or her responsibility? The questions that this subject raises are challenging and lack straight answers, and I found it to be a fertile ground for a new work.

Swenson-Klatt: In her article, Sontag brought up the feminine connotations of beauty, and of course in mainstream media beauty has almost become attached to the feminine. Did you play at all with gender?

Zuštiak: Yes, there is one scene that acknowledges that. I am acknowledging feminine beauty as an image or association, although the notion of beauty as the cover of a fashion magazine often relating to a product was not something I was going for in this piece. I was more interested in beauty that is at the edge of terror. You know you can be in the presence of a tornado and it can be a beautiful sight, but you are also at the edge of something that can consume you. I believe there are artworks that can produce the same effect.

Swenson-Klatt: Is there a piece of artwork that you find beautiful? That’s probably a big question.

Zuštiak: I’m sure there is. For some reason I’m going to music. I’m thinking of the work of Arvo Pärt, music I find incredibly simple yet immensely beautiful.

Swenson-Klatt: It’s a hard question! But maybe something for everyone to think about when they are approaching this piece.

Zuštiak: And by saying something is beautiful, there is also judgment, so that is part of the show, where—I don’t know how much I want to say because people should come and see—basically, it’s a subjective matter, something can be witnessed by two people but they can have polar opposite experiences. So it’s also touching on that; it’s a subjective thing relating to judgment. And that leads to perception, which leads to Alva Noë, who talks about perception as not something that happens to you but something that you do. So he is talking about perception as an active engagement with what you are seeing. And for me, not just with this show but for any show, the audience is the co-creator of the experience and it is a live thing. When that meets with what we are proposing and comes into a conversation, I feel like that’s what releases the magic of a theatrical experience, something unpredictable but alive.

Swenson-Klatt: It almost seems that by setting the context with the term beauty that you are asking the audience to be active participants and to make a decision about what they find beautiful.

Zuštiak: And I’m hoping that it’s not just about this show. I’m thinking of another performance that we did in a public space. It was called Halt! and was presented in the terminal of the Staten Island Ferry in New York City. There were three performers who were among the people that accumulated to get on the ferry, and after one of the shows I got an email from someone who came to see it, and she was saying that suddenly everything in that terminal, in her eyes, was choreographed. She said, “I left the terminal and it continued. I was on the subway and it felt like everything was a dance.” So her perception shifted and I would hope that this show could also shift people’s perception. There are many things in the show that look at subtleties, the mundane, and when you start looking at things for an extended period of time or from a different angle, you start to see things differently, so that’s also what I am hoping to achieve with the show.

Swenson-Klatt: Do you have any last words as the audience prepares for the show?

Zuštiak: I feel like non-dance audiences come to a dance show believing that there is a certain kind of experience they should be having rather than just having their experience, so I would say, go in with an open mind; have an experience first, and then start analyzing what happened rather than coming in with an analytical mind at the start of the show. The biggest compliment I received for my work was from an audience member who said, “I did not understand it but I know what it was about.” I think dance is not the best medium at telling stories but an amazing medium to tell stories in its own language.

Pavel Zustiak’s Custodians of Beauty will be performed Thursday through Saturday, October 20–22, 2016 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Backstage Haiku

A recipe for four thousand happy puppies? Or Daniel Fish prep?   Crew chief Christian shoots a quick pic of four thousand tennis balls from the catwalk as the crew loads in for our upcoming performances of Daniel Fish in the McGuire Theater!  To answer your burning question:  justusedtennisballs.com

A recipe for

four thousand happy puppies?

Or Daniel Fish prep?

 

Crew chief Christian shoots a quick pic of four thousand tennis balls from the catwalk as the crew loads in for our upcoming performances of Daniel Fish in the McGuire Theater!  To answer your burning question:  justusedtennisballs.com

Answering that burning question:  what does four thousand tennis balls look like?

Tracey Austin would be proud…

Meet the Artists of Choreographers’ Evening 2015

On Saturday, November 28th the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening will take place at the Walker Art Center. Choreographers’ Evening celebrates the vibrant, experimental, and intelligent performance creators that inhabit the Twin Cities. This years’ curator is Justin Jones—who sought to develop an evening that represented the diversity of the Twin Cities dance community while highlighting his own convictions […]

On Saturday, November 28th the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening will take place at the Walker Art Center. Choreographers’ Evening celebrates the vibrant, experimental, and intelligent performance creators that inhabit the Twin Cities. This years’ curator is Justin Jones—who sought to develop an evening that represented the diversity of the Twin Cities dance community while highlighting his own convictions about the accessibility of dance.

“For the original announcement I wrote, ‘I believe that the infinite complexities of physical expression belong not just to the specially trained and professionally experienced. In my work with young people, I have seen incredible dances made and performed by 7 year olds… everyone is welcome, Every Body is welcome. If it’s your first dance, or your 100th, please come and share it, I can’t wait to see it.’ I didn’t know when I wrote that if I’d be able to fulfill my pet desire to see this range of work/experience represented on stage. I’m thrilled that the night features choreographers ages 10 to mid-eighties, there’s even a preschooler dancing in one of the works.

Approaching the actual curation, I was looking for work that spoke plainly and directly. In my own work and recent dancing with BodyCartography Project, I’ve been investigating simplicity – what is dance’s clearest communication, or how can you make direct impact so that feeling is the audiences first response. That was certainly on my mind when considering the work, and all the works I selected gave me feelings…”

Over 80 choreographic works auditioned, and Jones had the difficult task of selecting just 11 to be presented this year. These artists represent a dynamic group of new and experienced dance makers. I sent them some questions about their work and lives – below are their responses.

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DaNCEBUMS

Kara Motta, Maggie Zepp, Eben Kowler, Karen McMenamy, & Margaret Johnson

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DaNCEBUMS is a group of five collaborators creating and performing dance works. Their partnership is based on mutual love and respect for each other, systems of support, and togetherness. Their performances reflect their deep technical training in concert dance, interest in experimental performance practice, and popular forms such as music videos and musical theater.

How did you five come to collaborate?

We danced in each other’s pieces for dance composition classes at The University of Minnesota. Karen bought a large three story house with a one car garage where we made several performances in collaboration with musicians. We then rented a studio where we played, improvised, breathed, talked, and eventually started to make our first batch of dances together. The opportunities kept presenting themselves and we kept making dances.

If you could make a dance for one person, who would it be and what would the dance look like?

Our moms. Our moms put us through dance classes and loved to “ooo” and “aahh” over our pointed feet. They didn’t realize their support would give us the confidence to keep dancing FOREVER. It would most likely include grande allegro, triple pirouettes, half up half down pony tails, flowy lyrical costumes, and smiles that make your heart melt.

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Kendra ‘Vie Boheme’ Dennard

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Photo Credit: Farrington Llewellyn

Vie Boheme is a Detroit native and Pittsburgh blossomed renaissance artist. In addition to being a choreographer, she is a former dance artist with TU Dance in St. Paul, Minnesota, was a founding member of The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and is a soul, funk, jazz vocalist.

Congratulations on your album release for “Exit.” What parallels do you find between making music and making dances, if any?

Thank you for the “congrats” on my single ‘Exit’! The work I’m creating now is focused on smashing those two experiences together instantaneously without diminishing either one. I’ve been dancing since I was 6 and singing since I can remember. They have both always been with me, side by side. Now, I cannot sing without dancing anymore and I cannot dance without singing anymore so my work is geared toward the marriage of the two for a unique and potent performance experience.

You’ve also been curating a monthly series called “Hit The Step!” – can you tell us more about that?

‘Hit The Step!’ is a quarterly happening that facilitates space, time, and fertile ground for cross genre artistic exploration of the professional dance community of the Twin Cities. It functions as an experimental space for dance artists to test out new ideas without the pressure of being perfect. We all know that the dancers in the Twin Cities work hard to put on superb quality dance performances but this event is a space for us to get comfortable making mistakes while finding our voices. For me, it is where I comfortably experiment with singing and dancing at the same time.

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Ea Eckwall

Ea, in collaboration with her house full of artists, has made two shows in her garage. She has been performing in the Barebones Halloween show for 9 1/2 years and dances with the Young Dance Company. This dance came out of a joke that dancer Max Wirsing would commission Ea to make his McKnight solo.

Both of your parents are artists—do you ever ask them for feedback? Is your work inspired by their work?

Sometimes I ask my mother, Arwen Wilder, for feedback but I don’t usually take her suggestions. By watching [Wilder’s and Heidi Eckwall’s] work, I have seen new ways of dancing but I don’t feel like their work necessarily is what I base my work on. My work comes straight from my imagination.

What about making dances is exciting for you? Do you think you’ll make more?

I like when I get to watch the dancer work on it and try it and I like when the dancer finally does it how I imagined it. If I say something like “dance like a volcano,” I like seeing what the dancer thinks that would be. I will probably make more dances.

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Fire Drill

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Photo Credit: Liz Josheff

Minneapolis-based Fire Drill  is comprised of artists Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney. Together, they create performance works that challenge contemporary modes of spectatorship, exploring how internet culture and the attention economy affect the way we watch live performance.

Your trainings are in theater and dance – how do those trainings compliment or inhibit one another as you are creating?

When we started working together, we immediately decided that our research need not result in the making of “theater” or “dance.” At the same time, we find that examining the conventions of both disciplines is hugely generative. Both forms come with ingrained practices and deeply rooted assumptions, and we try to be really specific when we’re working with or against those.

What are the prevailing questions that come up for you when you’re making performances?

The biggest question that has spanned many of our projects is: how do audiences watch live performance? What cultural histories, spatial formats, and power dynamics condition our expectations for viewing performance? How has the internet shifted the way we pay attention, and our experience of digesting information over time? What other qualities of attention or modes of engagement exist beyond an entertainment paradigm? What is capitalism doing to the body, and via what tactics can we intervene?

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Kathie Goodale

Kathie Goodale and her late husband, Robert Goodale, have been instrumental figures in the Twin Cities dance community for years as philanthropists and advocates of the form. In addition, Kathie has an extensive career as a ballet instructor and was a founder of Ballet Arts Minnesota.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement with dance?

I have an AA in Dance and a BA in French and Spanish.  I have studied at Jacob’s Pillow and Connecticut College in summers and did summer stock as a student.  I have taught at MDT and Ballet Arts (which I founded with Bonnie Mathis, Marcia Chapman, and Julia Sutter in 1989) for 40 years.  I have taught two improvisation sessions in Ibaragi, Japan with Mako Okatake, and have taught and performed with Link Vostok in Yaroslavl, Russia for 6 summers.

Can you share with us what the inspiration is for the piece you will be presenting at Choreographers Evening?

My piece is based on Tai Chi.  I do plan to do more based on Tai Chi, hopefully with dance students. Being a part of Choreographers’ Evening is a special community involvement.

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Jes Nelson

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Photo Credit: Asha Efia

Jes Nelson studied at the New York Studio Program in Brooklyn, NY and received her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2010. She has exhibited work throughout Minneapolis.

What is your background in choreography and performance?

I trained and performed as a competitive studio dancer from 4-18 years old (a watered down version of the Lifetime show Dance Moms is probably the best way to describe it). I was good at turning and won a lot of trophies. Regarding choreography: I’m an only child so I naturally took to bossing my friends and family around at a young age, instructing them to sing/act/dance in some way. In middle school I began choreographing lyrical and jazz dances for competitions.

After high school, I went to art school. My experiences and exploration in school made me realize that dance was a pretty weird medium that people tended to either avoid or put on a pedestal. Both scenarios bummed me out and gave me reason to stop interpreting music via dance and instead start interpreting dance on its’ own terms.

This past year I established jestural to continue this research and document the ways in which we move together in time. It’s my version of owning my own “dance studio” and aims to identify and re-contextualize existing choreography.

You also presented work in Choreographers’ Evening 2013 – is your piece this year related to that one, in content or in inspiration?

Definitely. Both pieces were conceived around the same time and rearrange choreography that already exists. Sugar Babies played with duration, this years’ piece does as well. Sugar Babies asks young dancers to perform, this years’ piece asks their parents to. In both instances there’s a curiosity to see how their movement changes in content and in value within a high theory environment like the Walker Art Center.

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Pedro Pablo Lander

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Pedro Pablo Lander was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Feeling constricted in a conservative environment, Pedro moved to Minnesota to attend Winona State University where he got involved with dance. He has worked with Time Track Productions, is currently apprenticing with Eclectic Edge Ensemble, and is an advisor for a non-profit organization that focuses on college success for marginalized students.

What was your first interaction with dance?

Growing up, the only physical activity options for men at my all-male, private, catholic school were sports teams. Due to my fear of being outed in my social circles and family, I did not bring up my desire to dance or do anything related to the arts. Sadly, this meant that I did not get exposed to any kind of performance art in my own country. My first encounter with dance happened at college—after viewing the dancers, I felt an amazing urge to do what they were doing. I have since performed and presented my work at various American College Dance Association festivals and attended the American Dance Festival which was one of the most transformative experiences in my life.

What is the inspiration for your piece in Choreographers’ Evening this year?

For me, performance is a vessel to demonstrate our true humanity and our raw nature. In society there is a stigma to showing anger or sadness, and viewing distress as weakness; I believe that these emotions connect us to other people as much as happier emotions do. Dance truly saved my life; it took me from those horrible experiences and brought me into a creative space. Sharing my story and learning about others’ stories is what keeps me moving.

In March I created an evening-length show, Maricón (Faggot) in collaboration with dancers, music producer, graphic designer, etc. The work that I will be showing at Choreographers’ Evening is the ‘religious’ section of this particular work and is a reaction to my religious experiences through the lens of sexuality.

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Angelique Lele & Cary Bittinger

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Angelique Lele has been doing theater for most of her life, from school plays to co-founding Toxic Shock Stage—a women’s only theater company based in Los Angeles. Angelique trained in aerial arts on trapeze and silks and performed with Blue Phoenix Circus Troupe and the Kenny Kiser Show. In 2012 she was paralyzed while training on her trapeze. Introduced to the beautiful world of integrative dance with the help of Young Dance, Angelique is excited to be performing again and open to the challenge of exploring a new physicality on stage.

Cary received her master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 and has had the opportunity to share her love of dance and the power of movement with individuals from around the world. Currently, she works as a Dance Therapist at HeadStart in St. Paul and for Young Dance in Minneapolis.

When did the two of you start working together? What are your backgrounds with movement and how do your interests overlap?

AL: Cary and I met while working on the show “Wild Swans” with Young Dance and hit it off.  I became a fan and knew that working with her would really help me grow as a dancer. I have so enjoyed collaborating with Cary and I hope to create with her more in the future.

CB:  This summer, Gretchen Pick of Young Dance, asked us to perform for the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the ADA (American Disability Act) in front of City Hall. The piece we performed there served as the basis for our piece for the show at the Walker. Our belief that movement has no boundaries and our shared interest in dance and performing make our duo dynamic, exploratory, and innovative.

Congratulations Angelique on becoming Ms. Wheelchair MN 2015, can you describe your work as an advocate for people using wheelchairs?

AL: As Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota I have been trying to create more awareness and visibility for the disabled community.  I cofounded a group called Chicks on Wheels which is an informal social group for women.  We are a community that tends to be alienated so having a place to go and a group to talk to that really understands is important.  We also believe it’s vital for us to be out in public, taking up space and not hidden.

Cary, in what ways does your experience with Dance/Movement Therapy transfer over into creating performances?

CB: While I was pursuing my master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy, I began to approach my choreography with a different intent. Our bodies hold the stories to our past; the body never forgets. There is a psychological component that links to a deeper connection of who we are in relation to ourselves and others. The dance gets to tell these stories through the moments: slowly with a lot of weight, fast with bound muscles, etc. I believe that healing can be facilitated by modulating movement styles from one extreme to another.

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Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees

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Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees have created four original pieces together: mr. hijack’s devotion chopped and screwed in jockstraps, mr. hijack’s devotion, it asks for forgiveness please, and getting caught in a rainstorm of light.

How did both of you get involved with dance and what about dance gives you a common ground from which to create and choreograph?

In regards to getting involved in dance, the most honest answer for both of our entries into the dance world is through what Tom calls the “Dance Party” and what Craig calls the “Clurrrb.” Really they’re the same thing and where we both truly started dancing. For the two of us, dancing is an excuse for us to hang out when otherwise we might not do so at all. On the other hand, it’s a means for us to have conversations that we simply can’t have in words about a relationship that similarly continues to defy description or labels. Therefore, as Craig says, “it MUST exist on the dance plane.” Feel free to let your imagination go with that one.

Do you have plans to continue collaborating with each other?

Only God knows the answer to that. We promise we’ll listen. #danceplane #godflow #seeyouonthedanceplane #danceplanerealness #isanyonereadingthis?

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Dolo McComb

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Dolo McComb is an artist and healer originally from Colorado Springs, CO. She relocated to Minneapolis after earning a degree in dance from the Colorado College and has since worked and toured nationally with BodyCartography Project and Chris Schlicting. Currently, along with Kimberly Lesik and Scott Stafford, Dolo is creating as a collective called //cathedral\\.

In this work, you collaborate with Kimberly Lesik and Scott Stafford, both of whom were in your Works-In-Progress piece at the Red Eye last summer. Is the work you are showing in Choreographers Evening a continuation of the research you did last summer, or does it stem from a new idea?

The piece I have created for Choreographers’ Evening is not a formal continuation of or sequel to my WIP piece. But naturally, discoveries and disruptions were made during the WIP process that propelled me to where I am now. There are certainly some long-term thematic gardens of research that have carried over from that work and will undoubtedly be hanging on for a while.

What do you think is the weirdest thing about dance?

The weirdest thing about dance is that people don’t do it more often. We all have these bodies whose natural states are of motion. Dancing is a tool to lead us to power and healing and magic. And I don’t understand why a body wouldn’t want these things.

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Jeffrey Wells

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Jeffrey Wells is a performer and performance maker from Minneapolis. He works primarily with the performance ensemble SuperGroup but has also performed with Fire Drill, Karen Sherman, Chris Schlichting, Chantal Pavageaux and others around town.

I hear you have a background in musical theater, but switched your major to dance while in college. Why did you decide to switch to dance? Does your musical theater background influence your choreographic process?

Actually I started in musical theater and transferred to experimental theater, but honestly these days I’m not that interested in these terms and distinctions. Both my musical and experimental theater training had a lot of emphasis on dance and the body, though at different ends of the spectrum. Musical theater was really concerned with ballet, tap, and jazz. With specific technique, learning to execute specific “moves” or “steps,” and with really “selling it.” My experimental training was much more concerned with discovering movement and systems specific to my body, improvisation, etc. It was there where I really was introduced to BMC and the fluid systems, developmental movement, contact improvisation, Mary Overlie’s Viewpoints, etc. Certainly all these modalities and experiences help shape my process today. I would say my musical theater training primed me to be interested in singing and dancing simultaneously, which certainly is happening in my Choreographers’ Evening solo, as well as my work with SuperGroup, albeit very different from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In this work for Choreographers Evening, you experiment with your voice. What was your inspiration for pursuing that exploration?

I’m really dealing with monotone. I was feeling overwhelmed with the variables available in using my voice. I would sit and sing and I kept having this impulse to sing one long sustained note. So I did. I suppose in some ways I’m interested in stripping away melodic and lyric variation (which are very tempting in music) in order to uncover other qualitative variations. I also had a colleague once who referred to the vocal apparatus as a mini body within the larger body—in terms of complexity of parts, range of articulation, and I like thinking about that. I mean I don’t like thinking about that in the way that it creates this false separation of the vocal apparatus as being other than the rest of the body, but I do like thinking about it in terms of how the vocal apparatus is responsible for and able to make (with the support of the rest of the body) this incredibly diverse range of sound (perhaps like the range of movement the body is capable of). I also like thinking about and feeling the intense micro movements that happen internally as vocal sound is made. It’s like a small hidden dance.

 

Choreographers’ Evening 2015 will be presented on Saturday, November 28, 2015 at 7 pm & 9:30 pm.

Black Market Reads: Resisting and Rebelling with Dean Moss

In this episode, BLACK MARKET READS interviews the quixotic and brilliant multidisciplinary artist Dean Moss who is presenting his work, johnbrown, at the Walker Art Center this weekend. He is also a speaker at Convening: Resistance and Rebellion, a day-long international convening exploring the role of art in revolution on Saturday, October 17, presented by the Givens Foundation for African […]

Moss_Dean_johnbrown_2015-16_06_PP (2560x1707)

In this episode, BLACK MARKET READS interviews the quixotic and brilliant multidisciplinary artist Dean Moss who is presenting his work, johnbrown, at the Walker Art Center this weekend. He is also a speaker at Convening: Resistance and Rebellion, a day-long international convening exploring the role of art in revolution on Saturday, October 17, presented by the Givens Foundation for African American Literature in partnership with Million Artist Movement.

Check out minute 13:04 to hear the interview from the beginning in its entirety.

BLACK MARKET READS is a podcast produced by The Givens Foundation for African American Literature and hosted by Erin Sharkey and Junauda Petrus of Free Black Dirt, who are also the Givens Foundation’s Cultural Producers in Residence.

johnbrown will be performed at 8pm, October 15-17, 2015 in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. johnbrown is copresented by the Givens Foundation and in conjunction with the Resistance and Rebellion Convening

Backstage: Three Questions with thestand4rd’s Allan Kingdom

Allan Kingdom took a moment following thestand4rd‘s tremendous Rock the Garden set to answer a few 8-Ball–style questions. What is your current musical obsession? I’ve been listening to a couple artists out of Atlanta: Uno the Activist and Playboi Carti. They’re dope. For the past few days, I’ve been listening to their music a lot. […]

Allan Kingdom of thestand4rd. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

Allan Kingdom of thestand4rd. Photo: Paul Schmelzer

Allan Kingdom took a moment following thestand4rd‘s tremendous Rock the Garden set to answer a few 8-Ball–style questions.

What is your current musical obsession?

I’ve been listening to a couple artists out of Atlanta: Uno the Activist and Playboi Carti. They’re dope. For the past few days, I’ve been listening to their music a lot.

What is one well-kept Twin Cities secret you don’t mind sharing?

Probably the boutique BlackBlue, on Selby and Dale. It’s a good place to shop.

Finally, you’ve achieved an incredible amount of success at a young age, and it seems like part of that stems from how original and well-developed your musical concept is. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I think I’ve always known. Even when I was little, I would be thinking about how things would sound and look on stage. It’s the one thing I’ve always wanted to do.

In()Flux: Contact Improvisation & Steve Paxton

I was suspended for a moment on my partner’s shoulder before falling to [the] ground… I softened, spread, and rolled… folding to continue the dance, I caught the pelvis flying toward my chest… As he dove I grounded, finding a one-legged apex of balance held only for seconds… and we continued… For the last few […]

BodyCartography Project workshop/Fritz Haeg’s Domestic Integrities at the Walker Art Center. Photo: Gene Pittman

I was suspended for a moment on my partner’s shoulder before falling to [the] ground… I softened, spread, and rolled… folding to continue the dance, I caught the pelvis flying toward my chest… As he dove I grounded, finding a one-legged apex of balance held only for seconds… and we continued…

For the last few weeks on Monday evening,  the Cowles Center Target Studio has played host to participants engaging in contact improvisation, a dance form developed in the 1970s, instigated by Steve Paxton. Often done in duet or small groups, it has been described as an “art-sport,” combining elements of social dance, rules of physics, aikido, wrestling, and modern dance.

“The dancers in contact improvisation focus on the physical sensations of touching, leaning, supporting, counterbalancing and falling with other people, thus carrying out a dialogue.” (Cynthia Novack, Sharing the Dance)

Contact Improvisation (CI) has been alive in the Twin Cities for a long time. HIJACK has been teaching a class at Zenon’s dance school since 2000, and Morgan Thorson has taught a beginning CI class at the University of Minnesota since 2002. Patrick Scully, a pillar of the Twin Cities dance community, is an anchor for contact improvisation. He has been an advocate for the form, its teachers, and practitioners, and he has continued to attend jams over the years. In collaboration with the CI series, he will present a fireside chat on CI’s presence and evolution in the Twin Cities. Former resident Chris Aiken, now an internationally known CI teacher, taught locally from 1989 until 2000 and was the first ongoing contact improvisation teacher at the University of Minnesota. The emergence of this new series feels compelled by the upcoming events with Steve Paxton at the Walker Art Center this fall.

Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson. Photo: Paula Court

I’ve been imagining contact improvisation as a room with many doors. For me the practice of CI is a rigorous commitment to embodied listening, agency, and spontaneity. This practice can lead many directions and be used as a tool to create community, to foster self-awareness, to inform partnering choreography, to understand a three-dimensional body in space, and to inspire nuanced choreographic structures.

The form can be used to inspire or train for performance and as its own performance modality. Within the dance world, improvisation is sometimes referred to as lazy, unrefined, “doing whatever you want,” but now we have an opportunity to reset this idea. Through the CI series and the performances and events surrounding Steve Paxton’s and Lisa Nelson’s visit, dancers and audiences can explore the many layers – physical and intellectual – that contribute to the phenomenon that has endured for more than 40 years. Witnessing the sheer magic that lives in an unplanned moment, executed by individuals with a mature practice in the unknown. In a way this series is readying our pallet for Paxton and Nelson’s upcoming work and his longtime commitment to structures of improvisation within performance.

…pause, I gesture with fingers and knee simultaneously to the body on the other side of the stage, he responds, I respond, then we are together…moving as a two headed, multi-limbed being, surfing pelvis over pelvis, upside down, I’m head over heels and weak in the knees… I’m exhausted, not knowing what might come next, I shout “Go”…and we continue.

To find out more about Twin Cities Contact Improvisation classes and lectures, visit BodyCartography Project’s upcoming events.

Writer Taja Will is a Twin Cities based choreographer, educator and improviser. This year’s WAC Choreographer’s Evening, curated by Kenna Cottman, will include an improvised work by Will and long-time collaborator Blake Nellis.

Building The Room Nobody Knows

As a part of Out There 2014: New World Visions, the Walker presents Japanese performance group Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows, a personal, psychosexual account of the competitive strain between two brothers. The piece is rife with Freudian imagery, with phallic shapes forming much of the set and props, as company director Kuro Tanino intersects […]

As a part of Out There 2014: New World Visions, the Walker presents Japanese performance group Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows, a personal, psychosexual account of the competitive strain between two brothers. The piece is rife with Freudian imagery, with phallic shapes forming much of the set and props, as company director Kuro Tanino intersects his experience as a practicing psychiatrist with his work on the stage. Intricate, surreal sets are a hallmark of Niwa Gekidan Penino’s shows. Works of art on their own, their sets are often opened as miniature exhibits before the narrative or characters that inhabit the space are even conceived. Of course, the process of setting up such a space is equally as detailed as the space itself.

This time-lapse video shows the set’s careful recreation at the show’s North American debut at the Japan Society in New York City. This construction (and deconstruction) will happen a number of times over the next few weeks: the Walker is the second stop on a tour that also hits On the Boards (Seattle, WA), FringeArts (Philadelphia, PA), and the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio).  Audiences at the Walker will be placed on the McGuire stage with the performers for an intimate look at this symbolic world and its story. (For another chance to interact with director Kuro Tanino, consider Inside Out There: Niwa Gekian Penino, an acting workshop that will perform a surgery in silence.)

In a recent interview with the Walker, Tanino provided some advice for his audience: “Please build a house and have a room in your mind somewhere. Put your secret emotions, curiosities you can’t tell anyone, and your dangerous illusions there. The room will instantly be filled, almost to the point of exploding. Lock your room then, and open the door with the key after you see the show.” This set, bursting with these curiosities and illusions, is such a room, and he has left his door wide open. See how yours compares.

Niwa Gekidan Penino performs The Room Nobody Knows Thursday, January 16, at 8 pm (SOLD OUT) and Friday and Saturday, January 17-18, at 7 and 9:30 pm in the McGuire Theater. Very limited seating.

Backstage Haiku: Back to Back Theater

The last Out There show! The sets and lights will delight… Ganesh says “GO NOW!”  

The last Out There show!

The sets and lights will delight…

Ganesh says “GO NOW!”

 

Head of Ganesh

Head of Ganesh

Backstage Haiku: She She Pop

She She Pop load in! Despite a long list of notes, s quick photo op!

She She Pop load in!

Despite a long list of notes,

s quick photo op!

Serious

Serious

Backstage Haiku: The Rude Mechs

  Come watch this tiger (possibly) eat an actor! Rude Mechanicals.

Ready to eat a Liz, a John or a Beth...but not a bird

Ready to eat a Liz, a John or a Beth…but not a bird

 

Come watch this tiger

(possibly) eat an actor!

Rude Mechanicals.

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