Blogs The Green Room Re:View-Overnight Observations

“Don’t we need goggles?” Gender Tender responds to Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort’s Germinal

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Germinal […]

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Photo: Alain Rico

Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Photo: Alain Rico

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Germinal by Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

WILL: Does starting from scratch mean you don’t know anything? Well, they knew who they were…

SYNIVA: …they knew each other’s proper names. They were going by their real names.

W: They knew what a guitar was but they didn’t know what a computer was. No one mentioned their sex or gender.

S: They did all appear to be white….that’s my assumption.

W: This was a really unusual play. It was interesting how the performers had control of the technological aspects.

S: Did they? I thought there was a sense of another somebody or some bodies behind the curtain, or under the floor, following cues about when to do certain things. This was in the program info a quote from the artists in an article by Kate Bredesen:

…we decided to start from scratch. And this itself became the starting point for what would become Germinal. This would be a piece that would build itself.

S: The performance makers identify primarily as visual artists and in conversations about the concepts behind art making we can’t escape discussing creation…making and presenting art means knowing we will always be influenced by and compared with the art, histories and ideas that came before, the art of the now and what is yet to come. I felt an installation artist’s approach at play in a traditional theater space. They were embracing the cheesy nature and limitations of common elements found in black box theaters and the materials afforded artists in these spaces as though they were visual art materials (text, voice, song, movement, technology, props, effects). The black box was approached as a new kind of white gallery cube. I felt the influence of the cataloguing, titling and research tactics of the museum at play in the content of this work as well.

W: I’ve never seen somebody chop a hole in the stage with a pick axe before.

S: That’s true, I haven’t seen that before. What did you think of it?

W: It seemed really dangerous to me…

S: For who?

W: I felt like it was a dangerous thing to do. What if a wood splinter flies off? I’m sure they thought about these things. It seemed dangerous for us all. I was like “Don’t we need goggles? Doesn’t everyone need goggles?” Ondine was like a danger Gallagher. I found it very satisfying to watch.

S: Why?

W: I guess because it was really happening. Something was being destroyed for real. It wasn’t acting like you’re making a hole in the floor it was just the act of making a hole.

S: Isn’t performing just doing, talking, walking, kissing… aren’t we really doing stuff?

W: Yeah!

S: So why was this different?

W: I guess I’ve seen shows where people are miming digging a hole and they just aren’t. I’ve never seen an actual demolition of a built stage before.

S: It was weird…so meta. A demolition of a carefully wrought installation that was a fake stage over a real stage. When it first started and it was all light and space investigations I thought this might just be an installation on a stage run the same way as it would be in a gallery, or in the natural environment, that it might not have a narrative trajectory. That feeling wore away and it became clear this was carefully scripted, more like a magic show with a musical ending. And wow, audience members were laughing so hard through a lot of this. It was awesome to be around people that were entertained and enjoying themselves. I felt a bit awkward because I wasn’t finding it funny.

W: I thought it was genial but I didn’t find it to be hilarious.

S: People around me were REALLY laughing hard. I felt like Grumpy Cat.

W: So did they build a world? From scratch?

S:  I don’t know. They made a play. My point of view as a queer black artist influences my take on this hardcore. Aren’t people always making their own worlds? Directly or indirectly, abstractly or literally, in fantasy or reality. When people exist outside the normative, the safe, the accepted, we have to create worlds for ourselves to move and make in, we have to fight for space for our histories to exist in.

W: Always. I read in the program the title comes from the title of a French book about people on strike wanting a better world by Emile Zola. Something about the desire to make a better world where none exists….

S: The tone of this in the show made me uneasy. It seemed like colonialist ideas about discovery were at play but it didn’t read as tongue in cheek for me…what’s underneath….yikes, such a heavy metaphor with that floor: the literal floor that they bust through to discover what is there they can use onstage like drilling for oil on stolen land.  Human made resources underneath a built structure that has to be destroyed to access them. I kept thinking about burial grounds and decimated cities with new corporate developments being built on top of the survivors, their culture, their knowledge…

W: The underlying thing, the unspoken truth…the dark…

S: Yeah so, maybe it was a conceptual sign of our times. Knowing but not knowing…caring but not caring…

W: …funny but not funny.

S: We know there is always someone behind the curtain. Holograms exist…we know we are usually being deluded. We know people have made some terrifying stuff in the name of investigating what is technologically possible…we know people can make a black hole, a bomb that leaves no survivors.

W: It’s a TED talk…

S: …with a fake hot tub center stage instead of a red dot.

W:(laughs)…in a fake swamp.

S: Right, a TED talk! Germinal was part PowerPoint lecture…categories, groupings, labels, diagrams. Even though it was absurd the performers were soon experts at everything they investigated or presented even when it made no sense. Maybe this is French and Belgian humor lost on me in translation.

W: Was it supposed to be funny? It was presented with a lightness that was surprising but I had a sense from the visual elements that I’d be experiencing a super abstract and serious performance.I thought the performers were excellent, it was really good…but I didn’t think it was laugh out loud funny.

S: I found it melancholy…and everybody around me was laughing their asses off.

Germinal continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 29) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 30) at 8 pm. Halory Goerger will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 30 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

Press Play, Repeat: Gender Tender responds to Rabih Mroué’s Riding on a Cloud

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Riding […]

Yasser Mroué in Riding on a Cloud. Photo: Joe Namy

Yasser Mroué in Riding on a Cloud. Photo: Joe Namy

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Riding on a Cloud by Rabih Mroué. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

WILL: My brain is doing flips about this performance. Is this a play? Is all of it true? Is all of it fiction? When I saw the stage set up with the table and chair off to the side, stacks of cassette tapes and DVDs and electronic devices on it and the big white movie screen set up I thought it was going to feel really choppy. When Yasser came out and began to play the films and tapes, to sing, to watch himself on screen, it became immersive. I loved the way these presented excerpts became a singular experience. The convergence of all these possibly un-mixable techniques became one thing. Was this style an attempt to create a performance about what it felt like for Yasser when he woke up in the hospital after he was shot, after he was in a coma?

SYNIVA: Was his brother Rabih there in the hospital?

Yasser (from the program notes and projected introductory performance text): This is my real story yet these are not my thoughts. These thoughts are mine, yet this is not my real story.

WILL & SYNIVA: Is the director intentionally using this mix of devices used to remember things (stories, songs, photographs, recordings) to create an atmosphere of remembering? We keep thinking about the things we are told Yasser did to come to grips with what pretending means.

WILL: Oh, like when he was talking about going to see plays and saying if somebody died on stage he would shake and cry and be sure that they really died and then be really confused when that dead person came out for their bow at the end of the play. I wondered if that was a true story.

SYNIVA: Wasn’t this written and directed by his brother Rabih? Did any of these stories even happen? Yasser also talks about hanging out with Lenin and Tchaikovsky and that’s impossible. He also mentioned letting his brother the director pick out some videos from many he’d made during his recovery. He talked about using a camera to document things to help himself understand the difference between knowing what a thing is in real life (for example, he had no problem with knowing what a knife was when the knife was there with him but when he saw an image of a knife in a photograph he wouldn’t know what it was).

WILL: Am I going to cry?

SYNIVA: You’re discussing this performance like it’s a documentary. I don’t think it was, I definitely think Yasser and his brother are sharing art inspired by life with us but I doubt this is anything but poetic. I can’t tell if the details are real or imagined…like losing his virginity to a nurse in the hospital while he was recovering. The films throughout were beautiful, surreal…weird. I couldn’t tell if these were really from the supposed collection of videos Yasser made while relearning representation or if these were films his brother made for this performance. There was the film that showed images of a location we are told is the actual building where the sniper that shot Yasser was hiding. A film of Yasser putting his injured hand on a torturous looking wooden board from an impossible angle. Watery images of people walking down city streets, wavering, blurring, images of static, images of television test patterns. These were not pieces of story they were pieces of art.

Rabih Mroué: (from an interview on the Walker website): For me, how I understand art, art cannot heal any person or people or group. On the contrary, art is like a tool to make things more complex. It’s trying to understand, but at the same time by seeking understanding you bring up more things. It’s exactly like when you ask a question and then you try to answer this question.

WILL: I keep thinking about Yasser saying he couldn’t tell what was real or not after the brain injury.

SYNIVA: Could he tell what was real or not before the injury?

WILL: Was he saying his brain re-learned what is real? Or did he just learn to tell himself…”ok, let’s say that’s real”?

SYNIVA: Like an actor does. They are aware of doing it. They are aware they are part of the created story. They are aware they are fictional.

WILL: Does he look around at everyone and read their faces like a script and wonder…is everyone else freaking out? No? Ok, I guess what I’m seeing isn’t a thing to freak out about.

Rabih Mroué (from the interview, again): Actually it [art], has no aim. It’s just the pleasure of thinking, of being a human being. It’s thinking and being a human being. It’s the celebration of the human.

WILL: I was in a weird in between sort of magical place with Riding on a Cloud. It was a movie and it was a play, Yasser was playing himself but Rabih directed it, Yasser was acting like himself but he was also really himself. Fiction and reality. This is a fake real story…or a real fake story. This was present in the structure. There were so many…

SYNIVA:…fragments. How can we, the spectators, construct anything except poetry from bits and pieces?

WILL: It reminded me of the structure of memories. Slivers that you can piece together. Fragments that everybody watching might piece together differently.

Milan Kundera (via poem hunter on the internet): ‘I think, therefore I am’ is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches.

SYNIVA: Wisps, shreds. I loved this performance.

WILL: Sometimes things would overlap that didn’t have anything to do with each. Other. Things. Non-sequential.

SYNIVA: Yasser’s physicality was controlled, methodical. He’d take a tape out, put it in the player, speak, record his voice, play it back, put a DVD in, press play. Talk. Sing. Eject, get the next one ready, press play, eject, press play.

WILL: The way the brain jumps from thing to thing, like, oh! That song makes me think of this.

SYNIVA: That Kundera poem makes me think of that.

Hamlet and Yasser Mroué and Shakespeare: The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation/Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;/To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

SYNIVA: History is like this, too. We think we remember but we are really retelling stories we’ve heard, describing images we’ve seen but not experienced. We end up putting the pieces together. We rely on the memories of others. We rely on the face looking back at us in the mirror to know we are getting older. But we can’t see ourselves getting older.

WILL: This performance was like being inside the images inside of someone’s thoughts. Like being able to watch somebody think. I keep thinking about watching Yasser watch himself projected on screen…did he cease to be a performer at that point?

SYNIVA: Could he even recognize his own face?

***

Riding on a Cloud continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 22) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 23) at 8 pm. Rabih Mroué will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 23 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

Watching Them Listen: Gender Tender Responds to Daniel Fish

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoingRe:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Daniel […]

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 ongoingRe:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on Daniel Fish. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

The stage was filled with bright yellowish green tennis balls. As we entered the theater the multitude of orbs were ordered in a grid-like manner across the entire stage; tennis balls created a weird modular snow drift upstage. A loud machine to the far left served even more tennis balls that continuously ricocheted off of a poster taped haphazardly against the exposed back wall of the theater. This was the first image of a person present. Not an image of Wallace himself but of a white blond tennis player I didn’t recognize caught in the midst of returning a ball, hair flying out behind them, racket in hand ready to go. As the performers entered the machine was turned off and we lost it’s rhythmic puffing. They entered casually as though arriving for a weekly tennis lesson. Two people were mixing the audio recordings of Wallace’s voice right there out in the open as well. They faced center and were seated on black meditation cushions at a small sound board table to the far right.

The ghost of the author’s voice was present. In the beginning we could hear a bit of what I assumed to be Wallace’s voice (noticeable but not understandable) coming out of the ear pieces from the mound of headphones lying on the floor center stage. As the performers put them on his voice left the space and we were suddenly in the loud silence of watching them listen. They began to give this simple act of listening a presence and then a voice. They began to speak aloud interpretations of the words of a literary artist I’ve just discovered decided to commit suicide after a lifetime of struggling with depression. A meandering anxiety ensued in layered voices and singular voices, voices dropping in and out, voices occasionally repeating text over and over again, sometimes in unison, sometimes monologuing excerpts from his writing with the feeling of a deadpan Shakespearean aside in a casually choreographed, possibly improvised, muffled and ridiculous shifting field of felted rubber balls. Simple lighting changes cued reconfigurations of people, action and text. At a halfway point in the action the performers took a generous amount of time rounding up the pool of balls that had been taking up most of the stage using their shoveling arms, throwing hands, an actual broom and a lot of picking up and sending them all to the back wall. The result was the creation of an even more menacing drift of accumulated mass produced fluorescence. This simple, wave-like action transformed the space gently, anxiously and without fanfare, without voice.

We rushed home buzzing after Thursday night’s performance of Daniel Fish’s A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace. Inspired by what we saw Will and I traded a few questions we came up with in reaction to the work. This is our exercise in giving each other a bit of our voice, our style…a bit of textual material for another body to interpret. Instead of redelivering the text as the performers did we will respond to the other person’s questions. We will then chose one word (THE WORD IN ALL CAPS) from our response and share only that word with the original question writer who will then write a poetic and non-traditionally formatted footnote in response to the singular word. Extensive and tangential footnotes were a trademark of Wallace’s. We admit we’ve never read any of his books.

-Syniva

WILL: Where was the physicality of the performers movement coming from?

SYNIVA: Sometimes I felt like the movements were devices they’d come up with to remember the structure of certain pieces they’d heard many times before. Similar to the way a spoken word artist uses their arm movements and vocal pauses to create rhythmic interest for the listener and to memorize poetry. I also thought the movements could be the unthinking result of only focusing on speaking the text rapidly and fidgeting with the considerable pressure to get it right and make it clear.

W: FIDGETING: Can also be referred to as shuffling, twitching or jiggling. May lead to such physical activities as “bouncy knee”, “slide foot”, “air grabs” and excessive blinking.

S: How can something be expanded and condensed at the same time?

W: Signals are required. The pressure must be increased. Flattening occurs. Stuff spreads out. It’s bigger on the inside.

S: STUFF: See The Story of Stuff, a documentary film I’ve been told is great but have never taken the time to view. You might want to. Consider sitting in the middle of your living room and taking a mental survey of all of your stuff. Start with with the things you can’t see, like the stuff under your bed or the contents of the junk drawer in your kitchen. Begin to italicize in your mind the stuff you’d be sad to lose in a fire. Also consider things and junk.

W: Is that Steffi Graf?

S: No I think it’s Tracy Austin, the tennis player from a Wallace text we heard delivered in the performance. I take it from all the tennis talk and from the set design David Foster Wallace was a big tennis fan. I’ve never heard of her (Austin) but I loved the quip that Wallace thought tennis was more abstract than boxing…that it was combat at a huge, geometrically pleasing distance.

W: ABSTRACT: A bunch of different colored cubes. Or it could be a bird. Or feelings.

W: Will someone get hit with a tennis ball?

S: Yes and no.The possibility of tripping and falling hung over the action as the performers rushed across stage, sat on tennis balls, and generally seemed to be dealing with the objects under their feet and their unknowable rolly-ness. At one point a performer did about a thousand jumping jacks while delivering Wallace’s text about all the privileged people in a men’s restroom and lists of possible bathroom related bodily functions. I was afraid  they’d trip over the headphone connector box center stage and sprain their ankle.

W: JUMPING JACKS: There are over 47 varieties of Jumping Jack. Do you want all of the dates? The record for consecutive jumping jacks in a row is 27,000 (citation needed).

S: When does the story become the character?

W: The exact moment the eyes blur and look up. And in. I’m looking right at you but I’m also at the pool, in the bathroom or at the game. The stage ripples. An optical illusion made by a grid of soft round shapes.

S: BLUR: Blur is an English rock band, formed 1988, London. Blur is a band I thought I liked when I thought Jell-O shots were a good idea. The feeling of failing at focusing.

A (radically condensed and expanded) Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again After David Foster Wallace by Daniel Fish continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Friday – Saturday, January 15-16, 2016 at 8pm.

The Walker will also present a free film screening of Daniel Fish’s Eternal on Saturday, January 16 at 1pm in the Walker Cinema.

I have the feeling there are more selves here, more selves than I can safely explain: Gender Tender responds to RoosevElvis

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective […]

Kristen Sieh and Libby King in RoosevElvis. Photo: Nick Vaughan

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, choreographer Syniva Whitney and actor Will Courtney of Gender Tender share their perspective on RoosevElvis by the TEAM. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

We ran home after Thursday night’s performance from the TEAM to respond to the evening’s work while still marinated in the experience. This is a festival of performance alternatives so we thought why not craft an alternative kind of response for our speedy Re:View. We structured what’s below using a few techniques we use in our own creative process and mixed those gestures up with our feelings and ideas about this approximation of a line of text from the show:

“You’ve only known me for three days, you don’t really know me, you only know what I’ve presented to you.”

We’ve combined observational writing (what we recall was presented), time limits (what we’ve only taken 30 seconds to write and resisted editing, so we don’t really know it) and the structure of a conversation (a thing people do to get to know each other.) These responses are in our own order and are not meant to reflect the real sequence of events in the show.

-Syniva

WILL: Roosevelt tells a boxing story about Harvard. He got punched once after the bell because the other fighter was hard of hearing but he was cool with it because he’s cool. Roosevelt dons white boxing gloves and begins punching all over the place. He asks the tech to “Play my Planet Earth video please!” Buffalo footage begins to play. “Tatanka, ” he whispers and the audience busts out laughing. He runs to the screen and begins punching the buffalo projected there, the curtain ripples with each blow. Loud punching Foley effects happen in time with the punches. Teddy is just punching randomly at the buffalo and then…POW! Catches one in a close-up right in the nose. Next: a wider shot of the buffalo all peaceful on the range. Roosevelt runs back and forth punching several buffalo…then a super wide shot…he screams and swings more wildly punching all of the buffalo. Meanwhile, Elvis is karate chopping pizza boxes in half. Roosevelt begins a balletic dance sequence still in boxing gloves. He hisses, “YES!” every time he lands a jump. Elvis does a karate dance solo. This is not the exact order in which these things happened.

SYNIVA (30 seconds to respond to the above after hearing it read aloud): Reminds me of a girl I knew at Bryn Mawr College all sharp points and desperate edges . Brilliant, fragile seeming, but somehow the most likely to kill for profit (succeed?). Maybe she was lonely.

SYNIVA: Ann sits on a bed in a motel room. They are halfway to Graceland, I think. Ann drunk dials their former online hook-up. This person is also Teddy Roosevelt and they are seated in one of the directors chairs to the far left of the stage, mutton chops still in place, his long, thick brown hair is now in a ponytail. He answers the call, asks if Ann is fucked up…they say yes. Teddy now speaks in the voice of Ann’s old flame. Ann attempts to talk about their true self, they say they are not a man or woman they are a power, a force of nature. Ann states an alternate dimension would be a better place to live and wants to know what she thinks about this, is this a joke to her, or is this more, is this somebody worth loving? She responds that she thinks Ann is depressed and “yes”, she did tell the story to all her friends at the bar and they did laugh about it.

WILL (30 seconds to respond): This was heartbreaking, but somehow it felt like the truth, or Ann felt it was the truth. The old flame was cruel, or too blunt. They don’t really know each other.

WILL: Ann comes home from the meat packing plant with a six pack of beer in a black plastic bag. They toss their phone on the table. They throw their hat on the dish rack.They put the six pack in the fridge and grab a single beer. Ann twists the cap off (there is no sound) and throws the cap in the direction of the sink, nods decisively, then drinks deeply. They lean on the kitchen table looking toward the audience. A strangled breathing sound comes from Ann’s mouth. It could be the sound of suffocating or the faraway sound of an arena crowd. A conversation begins between Anne and Elvis. Advice is given about girls. This whole scene happens again later in a different way as if Elvis is the sympathetic best friend Ann comes home to at the end of a hard day.

SYNIVA (30 seconds):  Hard to breathe, I have the feeling there are more selves present here, more selves than I can safely explain, more ghosts of those that understand me in the air than I care to remember, avoiding thoughts of my past selves that came to a bad end.

SYNIVA: An image of the Badlands is projected behind 2 rowing machines. Darkness falls onstage. The campfire light is shining on the faces of RoosevElvis because a stage tech came out and shone tiny footlights of orange at them. Elvis brings Teddy a weenie on a stick to roast and sings an out of tune and off key song he wrote on a ukulele. Elvis then admits to just writing the title, his friend Red wrote the lyrics. It’s about the love he feels for his dearly departed mother, his best friend. Elvis asks Teddy if he is like him, does he have an Ann like presence in his body too that he has conversations with? He says no but then wistfully gazes at the fake campfire and begins to embody John Muir. The performer deftly moves between Teddy’s can-do manic patriot rant and Muir’s relaxing Scottish brogue. Muir attempts to convince Teddy he could give up all the achievement based shit he does to fill the void in his heart and spend more time getting in touch with his true self while out in nature.

WILL: I’m thinking about bears. And trees.

WILL: Ann has checked into a motel with RoosevElvis. They are on a road trip. Roosevelt is restless and Elvis is asleep. Teddy wakes Elvis and they argue about rich kid privilege. Elvis accuses Teddy of feeling superior to other men because he doesn’t know what it’s like to be a man without means. Teddy says he is superior to other men. The audience laughs. Ann comes in and out a few times drinking a beer, disheveled. The argument becomes heated. Elvis jumps up on the bed and strikes a karate pose in his silk robe. Roosevelt suggests they take this outside. They do.

SYNIVA: Femmes do also struggle with violence. Giving and receiving it. And we may not just be the means to a satisfying end.

SYNIVA: The characters shift through performed versions of history, celebrity, fantasy and other more internal experiences of who they are and who they might become. RoosevElvis are now Thelma and Louise in the convertible at the point of no return. There are a billion armed policeman behind them. They kiss, they hold hands, they wax poetic. This is a film. This is not happening on stage. They drive to their deaths into the heart of the Grand Canyon. The original version of Thelma and Louise has played throughout the performance on the TV set in Ann’s apartment and the TV set in the motel room. Things are always projected on screens. Sometimes we see the Badlands, sometimes the meat packing plant. There has also been footage of Mount Rushmore. Throughout the performance footage has played on a small TV screen, a set that  looks more like a monitor you’d view security footage on off to the side of the stage, lower than waist height. This footage is of two waitresses in the back of a restaurant prepping food, talking, working standing. There is no soundtrack. There is a moment onstage at Ann’s kitchen table when RoosevElvis appears wearing pink waitress uniforms with white aprons but it seems dreamlike to me now, I’m not sure it happened.

WILL: It was like stepping with my own feet back into my own head. Sometimes I feel like my life is a TV show, too. I’m there but I’m also looking at myself. Also, I’m someone else.

….

RoosevElvis continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, January 8) and tomorrow night (Saturday, January 9) at 8 pm. The TEAM will also teach an Inside Out There Workshop on Saturday, January 9 at 11 am in the McGuire Theater.

OOIOO and Sumunar at the McGuire Theater

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, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on OOIOO last […]

OOIOO. Photo: Gene Pittman

OOIOO. 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, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on OOIOO last night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

The McGuire Theater hosted two amazing performances last night.

Quite different from visiting artists OOIOO, the Twin Cities-rooted Gamelan ensemble Sumunar kicked the evening off with a very traditional style under the direction of Javanese musician Joko Sutrisno.

Humbly introducing each piece, Sutrisno lead Sumunar through a handful of tunes. With his 7 person group scattered about the stage, festooned by Gamelan instruments including bells, xylophones, delicately hanging gongs, Sutrisno set the tone with a short vocal intro while playing his set of hand drums to establish a rhythm.

While the various mallets systematically danced about the bells they provided a depth of alternating, subtle melodies which became accented by stark rhythms, shifting in tone. Gradually Sutrisno picked up the tempo for a climax that ended in a sudden stop with each joyful work.

Introducing the last few pieces, Sutisno showed his gratitude, “We wish you a happy holidays and are happy to bring you together in harmony here tonight.”

With solid beats driving the final performance, the seemingly random nature of the music captured a hypnotic effect among the audience. Ultimately the musicians continued to find their stride with one another, trading off melodies and returned to a unifying theme to triumphantly finish their set.

Heavily influenced by the same style of Gamelan music, it was ironic to see the stage hands setting up for the headliners. Quickly removing the traditional instruments from the stage, Walker staff meticulously moved in the guitar amps and drums for the Japanese experimental rock group. Linking some guitar pedals together a sonic burble burst out from the bass cabinet, providing a small glimpse of what was to come from OOIOO.

Dressed in white robe-like outfits, the four women took to their instruments and immediate command of the stage. Without the rhythmic Gamelan instruments from their recordings, this was a more sparse and direct form of OOIOO that took more from No-Wave rock in their style and approach.

pa2015ooioo1203_ Performing Arts, Music, Performances. Japanese avant-tribal-noise-pop collective OOIOO (oh-oh-eye-oh-oh) perform in the McGuire Theater, December 3, 2015. Under the intrepid leadership of Yoshimi P-We (cofounder of Japanese band Boredoms and the inspiration behind the Flaming Lips’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots), the group has subverted expectations and warped perceptions of what constitutes pop and experimental music since the mid-1990s.  The concert opens with a special set by Minnesota-based Javanese musician Joko Sutrisno and his Sumunar Gamelan Ensemble.

OOIOO performing at the Walker Art Center, December 3, 2015. Photo: Gene Pittman

 

To begin, vocalizing together, the four of them stretched out a harmony that conjured feedback trough the sound system. Coalescing to a fever pitch, drummer Ai introduced a rhythm that would remain constant virtually for the entire performance.

Building up toward accents, the tribal rhythms and a meandering groove from bassist Aya laid a foundation for Yoshimi and second guitarist Kayan to repetitiously play counterpoint melodies with one another. Meeting each other along the way they’d continue to stretch the sound of their strings, often ending with one another playing a twin leads.

Yoshimi’s vocals would blend with the melodies and would weave in and out, often treated with electronic effects. Her vocals sounded conversational at times leaving the audience to feel a story of sorts as the drums stopped and started often shifting into an altogether totally different rhythm.

Continuing to ride an 80’s new wave sound, more effects were applied to the bass guitar’s sound, providing a fat groove that matched the funky rhythms Ai so seemingly effortlessly and masterfully employed. Matching one another once again later with a dub like quality, Kayan and Yoshimi dove into obtuse guitar riffs, treating their own instruments percussively with tapping and more enhanced tones.

More marching drum type beats and echoing vocals took OOIOO and the audience into prog-rock territory with Yoshimi’s child-like vocal bursts above the cacophony and entrancing sound of the band.

Sludgy bass lines and Ai performing patterns of tones on an electronic drum, the guitars rejoined with added dissonance, allowing for more spoken vocals and Yoshimi’s patented scream/singing. Evolving into a disco pattern that morphed into Math-rock it was a delight to not necessarily know where OOIOO was going to take each piece. While improvisation is certainly a part of the band’s formula, ultimately there is a pure structure that shows how well the women perform together, which was illustrated in the efforts when they’d rejoin each other with solid melodies and capturing rhythms.

Sheepishly taking bows toward the audience OOIOO left the stage and the audience, truly wanting more, gave them an elongated standing ovation. Eventually the house lights came up and as everyone was grabbing their coats and getting ready to leave, the four women returned to the stage causing everyone to laugh with joy as they stayed in their seats for a couple more tunes.

This was a really satisfying evening with OOIOO. For a group that has been around for 20 years, it’s remarkable this was the group’s Twin Cities debut. It’s been a sorrowful year for OOIOO since original founding member, Kyoko passed away in July. But as Yoshimi P-We and the band proved, the spirit of experimentation and organized chaos they so masterfully have carried on through the years continues to break new ground.

Conceptualizing Dance: Deneane Richburg on Choreographers’ Evening 2015

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to attend the 7pm performance of the Walker Art Center’s 2015 Choreographers’ Evening. Seated in a full house, and only being familiar with a couple of the choreographers/performers presenting work that evening, I was excited to experience the show and its relationship to Justin Jones’ curatorial agenda to examine […]

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to attend the 7pm performance of the Walker Art Center’s 2015 Choreographers’ Evening. Seated in a full house, and only being familiar with a couple of the choreographers/performers presenting work that evening, I was excited to experience the show and its relationship to Justin Jones’ curatorial agenda to examine the breadth of the Twin Cities dance community, to create a space that was accessible, and to seek out “work that spoke plainly and directly.”

Jeffrey Wells. Photo by Alice Gebura.

The evening opened with Jeffrey Wells, Monotone #3. This dance was comprised equally of Wells’ powerful exploration of the voice (featuring his ability to create different tones) and his physical movements. There was a definitive sound and movement narrative arc as we saw Wells’ body move from shape to shape while his voice emitted different tones. The fullness of his voice seemed to mimic how he positioned his body as it moved from a neutral stance to more powerful shapes–there were a couple of warrior one positions, creating very full and robust vocals. His body then moved to a more playful, almost cheeky, stance with his voice following, creating a tone that was bit thinner and higher pitched. The work resolved itself as Wells returned to his neutral position while his tone became softer and seemingly peaceful.

The second work was created and performed by Tom Lloyd and Craig VanTrees, entitled getting caught in a rainstorm of light. The work opened with a large square special, illuminating the majority of the stage. Throughout the piece, Lloyd and VanTrees deliberately move around and through the center of the square. Stripping down to nothing but jockstraps, Lloyd and VanTrees open the work by performing movements that are rigid, symmetrical, and—with the exception of a gesture of a fluttering hand—seemingly robotic. The feel of the work changes as the music shifts from a heavy and somber track to picks such as “The Finer Things” by Steve Winwood and “OK Pal” by M83. The movement accompanies this musical shift becoming lighter and moving close to a feeling of playful exuberance. A moment of stillness with Lloyd and VanTrees, spent, lying on top of one another signaled the beginning of another shift in overall feel. The work then closed by returning to the heavy and robotic movement.

A fun and complex piece, I found myself tempted to view these two male bodies in the same commodified lens that popular ideology often views the bodies of those that exist on the peripheries of mainstream consciousness: individuals of color, women, and those that simply do not share the same stories/histories that occupy standards/norms that dominate mainstream North American culture. Whether or not playing with this temptation was an intention of Lloyd and VanTrees seems secondary to the reality that this work—similar to their own observations on the role dancing plays amidst their relationship—“def[ies] description or labels.”

The next work was macarena.zip by Jes Nelson (jestural). This work examined a still and deconstructed version of the Macarena performed by a large group of movers. Each mover seemed to select a signature position from the dance, held that position for a few moments then exited the stage. This scene was followed by an abstracted version of the song, in which the rhythmic base was changed from a syncopated clave rhythm to a waltz rhythm, played over an empty stage. I was a bit confused by this work and wondered why Nelson chose to use a version of the song in a waltz rhythmic pattern. The Macarena’s clave rhythmic base is an important component of Afro-Cuban rhythmic traditions. This rhythmic pattern is rooted in Sub-Saharan African musical traditions and can be seen in Haitian vodou drumming, Afro-Brazilian music and Afro-Uruguayan music (“Part II: Understanding the Music.”) Stripping the song of the syncopated clave rhythm and thereby uprooting it from its diasporic beginnings by moving it to a European waltz felt a bit jarring for me. This, coupled with an empty stage, left me feeling excluded from the work and pondering why the song was stripped of this rich and essential heritage. In addition, it left me wanting additional clarity regarding the extremely pared down (dare I say minimalist) approach to a piece that was to examine groups “moving together in time.”

In the following piece, Tai Chi Bird, choreographer/performer Katherine Goodale began with the beautiful soundscape, “Piano Songs #2” by Meredith Monk. With Goodale sitting center stage, her back to the audience, the focus shifted to the meditative gestural movement of her arms and hands. This work also became a dance of the costume, as the light danced across the burgundy velvet of Goodale’s shirt which moved as much as the movement of her arms.

Ea Eckwall’s Something About Meow took place in silence with the exception of a single “meow” heard midway through the work. Max Wirsing performed primary movement while holding the self-assured cat, Buster Kitten, for the first third of the work. A box was placed center stage with a small piece of fabric covering it. Twice during the work, Wirsing tried to place the cat in the box and cover it over with the fabric, only to have the cat poke its head out, and, as only a cat can do, confidently attempt to exit upstage right, only to be picked up by Wirsing and returned to the box. In a successful second attempt, Buster Kitten exited diagonally upstage left, leaving Wirsing alone to continue dancing in a manner that seemingly mimics Buster’s smooth, deliberate, and graceful movements.

What seemed compelling about this work was the relationship between Buster and Wirsing as he attempted to both mimic and contain Buster. This relationship brought to light a truth that the audience’s chuckles confirmed—no matter how hard and creatively one tries, cats are their own beings with their own agendas, frequently leaving humans in service to them. Such a fun work to watch!

Fire Drill. Photo by Alice Gebura.

Fire Drill’s Novelty Shots: A Political Fantasy (Excerpt) is comprised of a group of artists competing for the audience’s attention by running, screaming, exposing themselves, flirting, cajoling, leaping, and engaging in any and every attention-getting behavior imaginable. These antics seemed to be a commentary on an increasing desire and need for constant stimulation. Making a very powerful statement, the fervor with which the artists on stage worked to get attention brought home the insanity of North America’s insatiable quest to always be either engaged in this stimulation or to be in the spotlight; both quests affecting how we process information, our critical analysis capabilities, as well as our ability to hold healthy self-perceptions not based on external validation.

Following Fire Drill, This Is Where I Stand by Cary Bittinger and Angelique Lele was a powerful duet that left me focusing on the expansive movement potential of both artists, in lieu of the limitations many may perceive accompany being in a wheelchair. The true joy of moving was very apparent in how the choreography was performed by both Bittinger and Lele. Their movement relationship seemed to be magnetic—many moments of being drawn into one another as well as moments of being repelled. The most provocative part of the work came midway, during a musical transition, accompanied by a moment of stillness and silence. Both Lele and Bittinger stopped and looked directly at the audience, fully present. This pause incited a sense of tension and anticipation.

Pedro Pablo Lander’s Marcón (Faggot) (Excerpt) took the audience on a journey of struggle, self-hate, and at times, despair. The struggle to reconcile faith and sexuality were powerfully displayed through Lander’s ability to wed emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma with physical performance in a sincere and focused manner. Reminiscent of spiritual traditions where practitioners become possessed, his narrative of lack of acceptance, affirmation, and condemnation was wholly embodied in a sincere, non-manufactured, performative, and inspiring manner.

Next in the lineup, Dolo McComb’s Tyrannysaurus Wench (part 1/3), was a trio rooted in a space of magical realism. It seemed to simultaneously take place in the past and the present. The phrasing, which consisted of deliberate pauses coupled with frenzied movement, created an air of anticipation and surrealism. The work featured exaggerated facial expressions and frenetic hair moments. The three artists were all costumed in velvet and moved to an eclectic mix of music ranging from jazz (Duke Ellington) to the sound bending musical styling of Frankie Lane (“3:10 to Yuma”). This work effectively created a feeling of other-worldliness.

vieboheme

Vie Boheme. Photo by Alice Gebura.

Vie Boheme’s A Study of Performance Boundaries (and much more) began with a long narrow diagonal light emanating from upstage right and cascading downstage left. Singing “Good Morning Heartache” a capella, Boheme slowly began moving within this narrow corridor of light. Upon reaching center stage, the corridor of light morphed into a circular special. Bathed in this center stage special, Boheme reached the refrain “here we go again.” She sang this line repeatedly as she appeared stuck at this point of the stage and song, as the circular special grew smaller and began closing in on her.

This moment in light, sound, and movement was a timely reference to the repetition of recent race-based violence, religious-based threats and attacks worldwide, and a general sense of unrest accompanied by a lack of progress that currently characterizes many cultures and spaces the world over. This work left me wondering: when will we as a civilization begin to learn from our history so as not to repeat the errors of our past? The work resolves by the long narrow corridor of light returning and Boheme regressing into it. She again returns center stage on the line “good morning heartache, sit down,” at which point, resigned, she slowly sits down on stage, contained in the bounds of the center stage special.

dancebums

DaNCEBUMS. Photo by Bill Cameron.

Closing the evening was DaNCEBUMSOne-Move-Dance. This work had a cast of 29 movers of all walks of life, age range, movement ability, and perspective. The movement and formations of the 29 artists completely filled the stage. Set to “Time Will Tell” by Blood Orange, this work had a lively and celebratory feel, it seemed to epitomize Justin Jones’ sentiments that “the infinite complexities of physical expression belong not just to the specially trained and professionally experienced… Every Body is welcome. [Whether it is] your first dance, or your 100th.”

The evening’s performances pushed the boundaries of popular conception, questioning who is a dancer and what exactly is dance—encouraging audiences to explore dance beyond bodies/entities moving in a space. I left reflecting: who and/or what else can dance?

All The Things: Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson

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, Minneapolis-based experimental playwright and performance-maker Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on […]

Photo: Max Gordon

Photo: Max Gordon

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, Minneapolis-based experimental playwright and performance-maker Rachel Jendrzejewski shares her perspective on The Object Lesson by Geoff Sobelle. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

I arrived at the Walker just minutes before Wednesday night’s performance of The Object Lesson was meant to begin. Normally, running this close to late for a show in the McGuire Theater would mean quietly slipping into a seat toward the back as the lights go down. Rolling into the theater that evening, however, I quickly realized I was in for a different experience.

The theater was empty when I arrived. No people at all. The stage curtain was closed. Large cardboard boxes were scattered everywhere, piled up in the seats. Where to go? What to do? I caught a glimpse of an usher’s elbow in a doorway way down near the edge of the stage, so I crossed over to meet her. She directed me around the corner, onto the stage itself.

By now, you likely have seen remarkable photos, like the one above, floating around online. The stage was no longer recognizably a stage, but a cavernous room designed by Steven Dufala, warmly lit and filled to the brim with stuff—thousands of cardboard boxes, an array of mismatched furniture, and countless miscellaneous objects. Everything seemed to come from another time: toys from the 1980s, old school library card catalogs, lamps and music-playing devices from nearly every decade of the twentieth century.

“We’re encouraging people to move around and explore during the performance,” noted the usher. And indeed, the audience was moving comfortably through the space, reading aloud the handwritten labels on the boxes to each other (“Paris,” “Stuff that used to be important”) and unabashedly snooping through the clutter. I ran into to a friend who had just found a bunch of tax returns. “They seem real,” she said. “He made $16,000 in 2004.” To enter this space alone might have been eerie or overwhelming—I had flashes of the recent NYT feature about people who die alone—but with dozens of people milling around and chatting, many drinking wine from the bar, it actually felt like walking into a rather pleasant house party. People hanging out before dinner. The vibe was warm, convivial, and full of anticipation. What’s in this box? What’s in that one? What is going to happen tonight?

I noticed a Discman with headphones resting atop a stack of boxes. Next to this setup was a CD case which, for some reason I can’t explain, I registered to be a classical piano album. I put on the headphones and hit play. Music played, but it definitely wasn’t classical piano. “Does it work?” a fellow audience member asked. “Yeah,” I replied, “But I don’t think that CD is what I’m hearing.”  “Really? Are you sure?” I looked more closely at the case and realized it did, in fact, belong to the album I was hearing: Jethro Tull live at Carnegie Hall. I must have looked confused. “Do you not know Jethro Tull?!” he asked. “No, I mean, I thought…” Suddenly he picked up the box, Discman and all, and shoved it into my arms. “You better take this with you.” Then he produced a Victrola seemingly out of nowhere and started arranging furniture to create a kind of makeshift parlor.

The man wasn’t a fellow audience member at all, of course, but Geoff Sobelle himself—and the performance was beginning.

Photo: Max Gordon

Photo: Max Gordon

From here, I’m realizing that I actually don’t want to say anything about what happened in the piece, because constant surprise and the palpable live-ness of people sharing the experience in real time were so fundamental to this work’s DNA. I keep typing out specific images and events, then deleting them; to name them feels diminishing. I’m thinking back on Miranda July’s request that nobody write about New Society for a year, so as not to spoil the newness of the experience for others. I remember appreciating that request—let the surprises be kept secrets for each audience, stay present with the work—and now, I’m craving a similar rule for The Object Lesson, even though Sobelle has made no such request, and despite the fact that many of the show’s magic moments already have been spilled online.

By the way, when I say “magic moments,” I mean actual magic. Sobelle and his director, David Neumann, worked with “Illusion Consultant” Steve Cuiffo to create countless wondrous instances of “How did he do that?!” How did he pull that very large thing from that very small box? How did that audience member he put on the spot know exactly what to say, in a way that worked perfectly with his own clearly scripted text? The tricks are intricate, seamless, and utterly captivating.

Here is something I will say. A good majority of the evening involved watching Sobelle interact with objects, and I could watch him do that for a very long time. In many instances, his tightly crafted material world felt like a charming portal into a deeper layer of inquiry, addressing more unwieldy things that, ironically (or appropriately), can’t ever be fully contained in tactile form: wandering, love, masculinity, aging, death. I thought about the winding trajectory of any life: how constantly we experience, how hard we try and love, how much we’ll never know. How, when we look out at the night sky—or get lost watching a stoplight change from red to green to yellow—we’re reminded that our lives are teeny tiny blips in time. Is that recognition comforting or scary? How do we spend our blip, and why? There we were, mostly strangers, spending some of our very limited time together, laughing, with all the things. I wondered about Sobelle’s relationship to uncertainty; he has the wistful eyes and sweet ready smile of a clown whose drive to entertain might be, in fact, a survival mechanism.

And when I say “clown,” I mean Sobelle is an actual (expert) clown. Some of the most compelling moments in the piece were those in which he let clown logic completely take over—innocently repurposing objects, inviting us to see their hilarious and sometimes poignant unexpected potential. As a colleague observed, most of us will walk into that installation and feel some sense of weight from all the clutter. We know that hoarding too much stuff isn’t good for the soul. We know that memories attached to certain objects can become overwhelmingly heavy. Yet Sobelle invited us to shake off those memories, let go of that baggage, drop all our assumptions about stuff, and instead experience each small offering anew.

That was the real object lesson, I reckon. What’s a telephone, anyway? Smell this jar of dirt! What can ice skates do? Over the course of the evening, our relationships to objects were not illuminated so much as transformed, reinvented. In turn, I left the theater and saw the world itself anew.

 

Spiritual America: Zach Cohen on William Brittelle, Wye Oak, and Michi Wiancko

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, musician Zach Cohen shares his perspective on Wye Oak + William Brittelle: Spiritual […]

Left to right: Lorna Dune, Aaron Roche, Charles Block, Paul Wiancko, Michi Wiancko, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and William Brittelle. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

William Brittelle’s Spiritual America at Aria, October 14, 2015. Left to right: Lorna Dune, Aaron Roche, Charles Block, Paul Wiancko, Michi Wiancko, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and William Brittelle. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

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, musician Zach Cohen shares his perspective on Wye Oak + William Brittelle: Spiritual America with special guest Michi Wiancko. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Brooklyn-based composers William Brittelle and Michi Wiancko, in collaboration with the Baltimore-based band Wye Oak, performed at Aria this past Wednesday evening in a concert copresented by the Walker Art Center and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series.  The performers journeyed through a wide swath of soundscapes blending musical genres—most notably electro-acoustic—bringing a group of top-notch musicians from varying backgrounds on stage together for the first time. The eclectic group of musicians included Charles Block (double bass) William Brittelle (electronics and keyboards) Lorna Dune (keyboard), Aaron Roche (vocals, guitar, bass), Andy Stack (percussion), Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitar and bass), Michi Wiancko (5-string violin), and Paul Wiancko (cello).

The Liquid Music performance series is curated by SPCO’s Kate Nordstrum and spotlights some of today’s most innovative performing artists. Artists are given the space and resources to experiment freely with their newest projects and audiences are delivered something fresh and cutting edge. Spiritual America is one of five copresentations between the Walker and Liquid Music in the 2015-16 season; this iteration of this suite of music was also commissioned by the Walker.

The first half of the show featured the talented and multi-faceted violinist and composer Michi Wiancko. Demonstrating this in action, Michi was performing as part of Spiritual America the same week she was joined the violin section of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as having written a world premiere arrangement of ‘Five Melodies’ by Prokofiev for the SPCO’s program.

Some of the highlights from the first half of Wednesday’s performance at Aria included Michi Wiancko’s string arrangements, which acted as a constant thread throughout the show, bridging and blurring collaboration of the “rock” musicians with the “classical” ones. In her arrangement of Wye Oak’s song “The Tower”, string harmonic glisses and rhythmic pulsing electric bass lines doubled by the violin created unusual sonorities with fascinating outer space-like effects and textures. “Shriek” also employed these effects outlining chords in the synthesizer, cello, and violin that shimmered as indie rocker Jenn Wasner sang over it in a haunting, mellow, and throaty tone.

After intermission, composer and multi-instrumentalist William Brittelle performed selections from Spiritual America, a project which he calls “electro-acoustic orchestral art songs”. The music of Spiritual America examines Brittelle’s journey in exploring and understanding his cultural and perhaps existential feelings in moving to New York City from his native small town roots.

In songs like “Canyons Curved Burgundy”, the listener hears a collage of string sounds like that of Americana Appalachia, and later bass drum, voice, and guitar wave effects meld into one, so that all the sound came together into one trembling and vibrating pitch.

Brittelle is able to discover new sound textures amid a general feeling of melancholia which perhaps captures a glimpse of this generation’s feeling of spiritual America.

All at Once a Paradox: Theo Langason on johnbrown

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, Minneapolis-based theater artist Theo Langason shares his perspective on johnbrown by Dean […]

Photo: Ryutaro Mishima

johnbrown premiere performances at The Kitchen, 2014. Photo: Ryutaro Mishima

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, Minneapolis-based theater artist Theo Langason shares his perspective on johnbrown by Dean Moss. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

johnbrown, a dance/multimedia performance by Dean Moss, is a meditation on the white abolitionist John Brown that uses the historical figure to examine the contradictions past, present, future and their interconnectedness.

John Brown: white man, abolitionist, trigger-happy.  He believed that the only way to end slavery would be through an armed insurrection.  Many scholars disagree on whether he is a hero or a terrorist.  Either way, John Brown was right about the need for a bloody end to the ownership of black flesh. After the failed raid of an armory, Brown was captured and later hanged.  His death is considered to have played a significant role in the start of the Civil War.  For more context read this piece written by Emma Barber, it’s informative and she’s dope.

The stage is set, a white square on the ground: a canvas to be painted upon with bodies and chalk and foam board and deflated kick balls.  A large wall with thick horizontal black and white stripes, slightly askew, looms in the background.  In silence the piece begins as a single white dancer dressed in white does a slow and mesmerizing balletic balancing act.  Flowing and slightly contorted, the dancer moves across the stage conjuring a sense of landscape.  “Now.”  A young woman of color runs out to assist with the balance, then disappears as quickly she appeared.  “Now.”  Another young woman of color, another assist.  “Now.” Again.  “Now.” A reminder that America was built on the backs of black, brown, yellow, and red people.  A reminder that history is held up by those who come after, the younger generations.

Moss, a black man, enters (un)dressed as Uncle Tom/Jesus.  Casting Uncle Tom as a savior is a hard pill to swallow.  John Brown, as white savior and benevolent catalyst that sparked the Civil War, is a hard pill to swallow.  But that’s the paradoxical “yes…and” history that Moss is investigating.  Yes, John Brown was a prominent instigator of the Civil War and gave his life to the cause of ending slavery.  And, he was a mad man with poor judgment and a too-young wife. Yes, ‘Uncle Tom’ is an insult hurled at black people too concerned with the whims of whiteness.  And, the popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was instrumental in the humanization of blackness in the eyes of many white people.  Yes…and.  Hard pills.

Recordings of Moss’ father Harold G. Moss play.  He speaks with a wit and frankness that are common of older black folk who have lived and survived Jim Crow.  His voice is familiar and warm.  He speaks of interaction with white folk.  His words ache with the wisdom of a life lived with purpose.  The audience begins to understand some of Dean Moss’ personal history and what’s shaped the lens(es) through which he looks back at historical figures and forward to future generations.

John Brown strikes a distinctly different figure than the subversive-clandestine-cloak-and-dagger-underground-railroad abolitionist that is most prevalent in middle school textbooks.  Moss highlights the tendency in society’s collective memory to boil down historical figures to their actions and ideas: He lived here, did a thing, thought thoughts and died.  Historical figures were living and breathing people with neuroses and eccentricities.  Video of fictional conversations between John Brown and Fredrick Douglass illuminates their differing opinions on the best tactics to bring about an end to slavery and also Brown’s taste for too-young women.  The two are projected as massive shirtless busts.  They bicker, their voices are distorted slightly and they’re funny.  Hilarious actually, like a sketch from Key and Peele, and it makes both of them feel more like real people.

Throughout most of the piece the young women of color from the beginning interact with the mostly white ensemble of dancers in a multitude of ways. Observing, supporting, framing, and interrupting the action.  The role of younger (darker) generations in the telling and examining of history is on display: the power to manipulate, the desire to witness and ultimately the ability to disregard it.  They transition seamlessly from being stagehands to cheering on a live performance of a song, reminiscent of vintage Cat Power deep cuts.  They use live-streaming video to show the audience their take on the performance then quickly turn the camera to themselves for selfies, complete with duck-faces. The final image of the piece is the young woman in a circle talking as John Brown ‘hangs’ over them.  The young women are uninterested, unfazed or unaware of his presence as they chat and titter about things of little consequence.  Brown fades away and the audience watches the young women as the lights dim, witnessing the future.

johnbrown is the past, present, and future simultaneously.  All at once a paradox: chaotic and precise, patient and hurried, historical and futuristic, connected and disparate. Dean Moss has created an exciting, varied work that is greater than the sum of its paradoxical parts.

Alchemy and Slip Jigs: Todd Menton on The Gloaming

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, musician Todd Menton shares his perspective on Friday night’s performance by […]

Photo: Feargal Ward

Photo: Feargal Ward

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, musician Todd Menton shares his perspective on Friday night’s performance by The Gloaming. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Friday evening’s concert by The Gloaming was a fantastic, immersive show, providing a unique and unprecedented experience with traditional Irish music.

The Gloaming is a collaborative group founded by legendary Clare fiddler Martin Hayes, which also features Dennis Cahill on guitar, Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh on viola d’amore, Thomas Bartlett on piano, and sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird singing in Gaelic and English. They have a dynamic, multi-level approach to the dance tunes and songs of Ireland; utterly new in the way the old music is assembled and presented, but always returning to the core sound of the tradition. In concert at The Walker their intuitive musical exploration was on vivid display.

Beginning with “The Pilgrim”, a song ravishingly sung by Ó Lionáird, the group employed the framework that they used all night: space, silence, the layering and trading of rhythmic gestures, and liquid, relentless build. Cahill’s bell-clear harmonics set a stately pace, and Bartlett’s jazz/classical minimalism on the piano created a bed of rippling, never-resolving chords, deliciously atypical in regards to Irish keyboard accompaniment. As the song closed, Ó Raghallaigh began a plaintive jig on his throaty instrument while Hayes played a drone on the fiddle: the tune in a dark, rasping, rattling tone, the drone a laser bright note. This was the first of many inversions of the lead/backing roles. Cahill’s guitar work was so spare as to be ghostly, but always grounded the rhythm, holding a percussionist’s place in the music. Bartlett’s sweet, restless playing urged the ensemble to a crescendo, and then… Martin Hayes, rocking, swaying, all but leaping out of his chair, unleashed a fiery reel, and the fiddle master led the group to a blasting, last-round-at-the-world’s-greatest-pub climax.

Most of their sets (medleys? ceili-chord-poems?) followed the same template: a gorgeous song opens the door to marvelously inventive rhythmic/tonal explorations centered upon the finest traditional Irish fiddling on the planet.

Throughout the evening, the ensemble’s individual personalities came to the fore and receded as the music unfolded. Impish Ó Rahallaigh’s viola d’amore (equipped with a hardanger fiddle’s sympathetic resonating strings) groaned, whistled, hissed, and sang. Together with Bartlett’s controlled mania at the piano (Glenn Gould made it to the session, lads) they lent a Charles Ives atmosphere to Ó Lionáird’s song “The Lark In the Clear Air”. Frequently, when Hayes entered the musical room created by his fellows, he would bring in only sketches and edits of a tune, staying in the background until the tune formed in full, letting the chords and rhythms swirl and coalesce before breaking into the exuberant lead with “The Old Favorite”, “Sheehan’s”, or “The Sailor’s Bonnet”, a classic jig or reel bringing the many-colored hooley to an end.

The Gloaming have done something wonderful: they’ve found a new form for the famous and venerable tradition of Irish music, a new lens through which to view the gems (“My Darling Asleep”, “Toss the Feathers”) of Ireland’s musical heritage. By all means seek out their recording and, if you can, hear them live. Theirs is an alchemy that makes you want to dance.

The Gloaming performed on Friday, October 9, 2015 in the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater, in a concert copresented by The Cedar.

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