Blogs The Green Room Re:View-Overnight Observations

Danny Sigelman on Kneebody + Daedelus = Kneedelus

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 Kneebody + […]

Kneebody and Daedelus. Photo: Chris Clinton

Kneebody and Daedelus. Photo: Chris Clinton

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 Kneebody + Daedelus = Kneedalus last Friday night at The Cedar. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

It was a double dose of experimental, electronic and progressive jazz music at the Cedar Cultural Center this past weekend as the Twin Cities were treated to a reunion of sorts between producer Daedelus and the bicoastally-founded 5 piece, Kneebody. Having not performed together since unleashing and touring behind their 2015 collaboration entitled Kneedelus, saxophonist Ben Wendel acknowledged the special moment with a big smile and expression of appreciation for the rare opportunity the Walker Art Center and The Cedar presented to a full house Friday night.

Heavily sideburned and dressed in a formal shirt and tailcoat, Alfred Darlington AKA Daedelus found his way to his perch of laptop, mixers, and gizmos to set the tone for the evening’s series of performances.

Darlington wasted no time indoctrinating the audience with straight hip hop beats and a steady wash of tones and burbling bleeps. Manipulating the sound patterns and dancing atop his arsenal of electronic devices, he wildly gesticulated, physically animating the thick and dense layers of sound. Daedelus continued to test the highs and lows of the house sound system, ultimately pulling away from the obscurity of descending melodies and introduced a familiar voice: Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life. Chopping up the Purple One’s voice made for a respectful tribute to the hometown hero before Darlington craftily returned to the head-bobbing norms of thumping bass, with counterpoints of malfunctioning video game noises and a barrage of space lasers.

Virtually strangling his brilliant box of glowing orange buttons, Daedelus’ sound collage progressed into more spare, bird-like sounds and eventually made way for the five gentlemen that make up Kneebody to join him in the cacophony on their own respective instruments. To wild applause, the assembled musicians that make up “Kneedulus” made a grand transition, demonstrating the shape of music to come for the evening with just a taste of their famous joint effort.

Giving props to Daedelus, Kneebody bassist Kaveh Rastegar remarked, “Imagine tonight is going to be like a great sandwich. You just heard some peanut butter, that would make us jelly. Soon you are going to hear the whole damn sandwich!”

Currently on tour in support of Anti-Hero, released this month, Kneebody brought more timbre and a different sound to the proceedings. Swelling horns, jagged rhythms and angular bass and drums created a bed of grooves during the new record’s lead off track, “For the Fallen”.

The post rock excursions and thick tones from keyboardist Adam Benjamin stretched out amid the rhythmic foundations aptly provided by drummer Nate Wood and Rastegar, allowing for ample solo opportunities from saxophonist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley, who built on his own sound with several boxes and pedals of his own.

Oceanic ebbs and flows in Kneebody’s music from the electronically affected instruments, pulsing math-rock bass and drums laid way for much improvisation. Often devolving into chaotic interplay between each musician, massive downbeats and the more crunching rock of “Yes You” from Anti-Hero, Kneebody performed with a fresh tightness. The beautiful arrangements displayed the group’s precision as they managed to continually rejoin each excursion by stopping on a dime, in unison. Kneebody then wrapped up their own set with the somber tribute to an old friend (“For Mikie Lee”), once again capitalizing on their knack for composition and sweet melodies.

After a short break at The Cedar, the audience reconvened for an extensive grand finale from the joint effort, Kneedulus. Daedulus returned to stage to bring the sounds back to outer space, with giant echoes and atmosphere for the dub-like “Loops”.

Swirling repetition, affected trumpet and urgent drum breaks recalled On the Corner-era Miles Davis that continued to venture into more of an Acid-Jazz impulse. The dual rhythms between Daedelus’ clapping beats and Wood riding the beat stretched beyond typical structure and gave room for an effective drum solo that roused the audience with applause. Benjamin laid a heavy groundwork with his Fender Rhodes during “The Whole” allowing for incredible face-melting from his band mates.

“We’ll see if you can recognize this one,” suggested Wendel.

Interestingly the ensemble brought the vibe down as Daedelus triggered the familiar acoustic guitar arpeggiations that took some time to sink in. Once Kneebody introduced the delicate melody and theme to Elliott Smith’s “Angeles”, the producer brought Smith’s sampled vocal from the heavens and into the chorus, making for a sentimental moment in an otherwise musically frantic night.

The evening was a true test of musicianship; in essence we found an overall tribute to music, the spirit of composition, and improvisation as a whole. It was a truly gratifying experience to witness such vitality and camaraderie on stage.

Kneebody and Daedelus performed at The Cedar, in a concert copresented by the Walker Art Center, on Friday, March 24, 2017.

Paul Harding on Mbongwana Star with ZULUZULUU

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, Paul Harding from Foreign Currency on KFAI shares his perspective […]

Mbongwana_Star_2016-17_02_PP

Mbongwana Star. Photo: Courtesy the artists

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, Paul Harding from Foreign Currency on KFAI shares his perspective on Mbongwana Star with ZULUZULUU. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Mbongwana Star brought the remarkable cacophony of Kinshasa to the Cedar Cultural Center Friday night.

Opening up was the local emerging ZULUZULUU, which struck me as an insightful pairing. Their layers of frequently gritty analog-sounding synths offered a spaced out, soulful counterpoint to the guitar-driven Congolese headliners. A sound equal parts pioneering and archetypal of the Minneapolis black sound, they foreshadowed the sonic thickness, complexity, and sense of locale that Mbongwana Star would also deliver. Both groups used multiple independent vocal parts to create depth and intricacy, reaching occasional feverish heights.

My sense of the elusive saga of Mbongwana Star took a new turn before they took the stage, when the Cedar’s Director of Operations told me their guitarist had spent the two previous nights in the hospital recovering from malaria. It was still unclear whether he’d be able to perform at this first show on their U.S. tour. Almost 6 years ago, visa problems prevented Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza and their band at the time, Staff Benda Bilili, from playing here. They founded that group homeless and paraplegic from childhood polio, launching into meteoric international recognition, and eventually disbanded.

Only when they took to the stage was it clear that their guitarist was able to perform, and also that Mitchell Sigurdson of Black Market Brass—called the night before and having rehearsed with them all day—would play with the band too. He added even more to their already surprisingly full sound given the simple instrumentation. Coco and Theo sang and danced excitedly in their wheelchairs alongside yet another singer, the two guitars, bass, and drums. Their energy swelled into a clamorous rhythmic force.

Mbongwana Star takes the Kinshasa sound further into the future. From Congolese rumba, through soukous, and the rumba funk sound of Staff Benda Bilili, they carry forward elements into a visionary arena. With the bubbling trance-y chaos of Konono No.1 and the groove of a Koffi Olomide tune (after a six minute prelude) with just as many individual voices fighting for your attention, they drove home their unique sound to an exuberant crowd.

Mbongwana Star and ZULUZULUU performed on Friday, March 3, 2017 at The Cedar.

Patrick Marshke on Music for Merce: Night Two

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 and composer Patrick Marschke shares his perspective on Music for […]

Music For Merce, Night two. Photo: Gene Pittman

Left to right: George Lewis, Zeena Parkins, Christian Wolff, Fast Forward, David Behrman, Joan La Barbara, Philip Selway, Quinta, Ikue Mori, and John King performing night two of Music For Merce, February 24, 2017, in the McGuire Theater. 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, musician and composer Patrick Marschke shares his perspective on Music for Merce: A Two-Night Celebration. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

It would be easy to interpret “Music for Merce” as an answer to the question “whatever did happen to Indeterminacy?” It could have easily been a night of  “Music After Cage.” Those angles would have completely made sense within the context of Merce Cunningham: Common Time, but unlike the incredible archival materials found in the gallery or the jarringly pristine performances of Cunningham’s choreography throughout the exhibition, this night of sound making went beyond documenting a time and place, beyond putting Cage or Cunningham on (yet another) pedestal, and transcended what could have easily been billed as historical performance. The night captured what (for me and hopefully some of you) is incredibly special about experimental and improvised music: the performers completely embodied what self-actualization can look and sound like and epitomized the idea that virtuosity can be more about perceiving an incredible amount of love/compassion in the environment an artist creates rather than simply being about how skilled a performer is at a thing.

So what does sonic self-actualization look like?

For George Lewis in his piece Shadowgraph, 5 it was quadraphonic signal processing of Joan La Barbara’s tactile vocal iterations, Fast Forward’s literal kitchen of instruments, and Zeena Parkins’ sometimes extended harp techniques with subtle accompaniment by Ikue Mori’s own digital sound palette and thoughtful and subtle piano played by Quinta. Sounds whirled around, sometimes with clear correlations to what was happening on stage, other times not (a theme of the night). It sounded like what one would expect “sonic research” to sound like. What set this piece apart from the novelty of 4.1 surround sound and Lewis’s digital effects was how perceivable the performers’ listening was (another theme of the night): compassionately listening to their own sounds, Lewis’s sounds, and each others’.

The love that Zeena Parkins has for the sound of the harp is palpable. Captiva for Acoustic Harp and Processing, performed with assistance from David Behrman on the processing component, framed Parkins’ incredibly physical playing with distinct electronic landscapes. The work had a sense of direction and narrative that differentiated it from the improvisation/indeterminacy of the rest of the night.

Behrman remained at his computer for his piece Long Throw. Electroacoustic music is tricky in many ways, a primary reason being that one has access to any and all sounds: an infinite palette of sorts. Another being how to compellingly incorporate acoustic instruments. The instrumentalists in Long Throw seemed secondary to Behrman’s sonic landscapes at times, but rather than detracting from the work, the disparate and patient iterations contributed to feeling of sonic time lapse before evaporating into silence.

Ikue Mori’s subtle laptop keystrokes completely contradict the intense kinetic and frenetic sounds that her laptop produces — a sonic arsenal that is nearly impossible to keep track of, all somehow being individually triggered by the same interface one would answer an email with. The depth and complexity of timbres are astounding, which made for a bit of a shocking entrance by Christian Wolff’s slightly acontextual clapping. The duo took a moment to calibrate, but eventually the prepared piano and electronics blended and morphed into a cohesive whole.

Earle Brown’s December 1952 / November 1952 stood out as the only purely acoustic performance of the night and the only piece by a composer outside of the group. The work deserved a bit more context, either as a program note or a simple glimpse of the piece’s stark graphic score, which is interpreted by performers simultaneously. It was the most “historical” of the performances of the night, one whose sparseness was welcome.

Fast Forward’s graphic score Octopoda (for four arms) ended up being a bit indiscernible from Shadowgraph, with the only thing setting it apart being Philip Selway’s first appearance of the night. Selway seemed uncomfortable, as did his ocarina tooting ‘xylosynth’ and the queasy jangling of a coat rack tucked to the back of the stage. Perhaps this unease was made starker next to Fast Forward’s performative and aural confidence with his mass array of metallic objects being perpetually sent down Lewis’s quadrophonic rabbit hole. Forward’s take on indeterminacy invites the audience to chuckle a little, warming up a medium that can be a little more distant than it means to be.

Each individual performer’s voice had come into focus at various points throughout the night, particularly in the kaleidoscope of the large group improvisation at the end of night, but the individual personas never clouded the communal joy that perpetually radiated from the stage.

In a time when ‘individualism’ has been commodified to the point of parody it seems especially poignant that art collectivism and community is a thread that ties Music for Merce together. It pops up in the program, where many of the artists appear in each others bios and discographies. George Lewis literally wrote the book on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and David Behrman is a founding member of the Sonic Arts Union. Notice the empathetic listening and generous sonic support that is inherent in improvised music of this caliber. Then notice the collective aesthetic of Cage, Cunningham, and Rauschenberg that is currently enlivening the Walker galleries. It keeps going — all culminating in the realization that when an artist’s work so clearly comes from a place of compassion and love it becomes natural to extrapolate that love and compassion out onto others, enriching an arts community person by person — a truly inspiring model for what a community/society can look like, all stemming from experimentation and exploring the fringes of sound/art. It could feel like a bit of a stretch, but for me, Music for Merce proved that experimental/improvisational music isn’t a fixation on the individual, but in fact a model for a society in which individualism strengthens rather than stifles community.

Music for Merce: A Two-Night Celebration was presented  February 23 -24, 2017 as part of the exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time, on view in the Walker galleries until July 30. 

Adam Zahller on Music for Merce, Night One

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, composer Adam Zahller shares his perspective on the first evening […]

Left to right: Quinta, Ikue Mori, Philip Selway, Christian Wolff, David Behrman, Joan La Barbara, John King, Zeena Parkins, Fast Forward, George Lewis. Photo: Gene Pittman

Left to right: Quinta, Ikue Mori, Philip Selway, Christian Wolff, David Behrman, Joan La Barbara, John King, Zeena Parkins, Fast Forward, George Lewis. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer Adam Zahller shares his perspective on the first evening of Music For Merce: A Two Night Celebration. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Large swathes of the audience didn’t need John Cage’s stage backdrop to be reminded of this ancestral spirit’s presence in the room. The spotty but spunky crowd who turned out for the evening—youngsters with finger tattoos, aging arts boosters, and local emissaries of the AACM among them—clearly knew the score: Grandpa Cage is watching over us. From the look of his hauntingly beautiful etching, it would seem that Grandpa, prescient as always, had in return understood something of our present situation: others are watching, too. The intermittent black strips looming from the rafters resembled the redactions of a leaked NSA surveillance document, brought to life as titanic phantoms. I imagined Cage foreseeing that his benign timers would metastasize into iPhones, that his warmly hissing magnetic tapes, shortwave radios, and Victrolas would ossify into Macbooks. I could see him peering at us through the tiny cameras that crowded the stage, chuckling.

We chuckled, too. During curator Philip Bither’s unwitting anacrusis to Cage’s famous Indeterminacy lectures, we chuckled knowingly at the comment that the evening’s culminating EVENT would be “a world premiere every time it’s performed.” This was good; it showed esprit de corps.

Bither promised us that the concert would be “breathtakingly historic.” My inner Cageian imp tells me that so is every ascent of a sufficiently steep flight of stairs. No matter. This was a touching and unifying occasion, a jovial tribute to Merce Cunningham’s not-to-be-underestimated musical legacy, and a reminder that art makes a loving family for us at home here on the stolen prairie, just as it does for those out East, on the coastal lowlands and barrier isles.

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Set 1: Christian Wolff’s Or 4 People

Wolff at piano, with melodica and other toys; Behrman mostly playing tenor recorder and harmonica; Lewis on trombone/mutes; King on Stratocaster

After a slightly faltering start, the players found each other in one-mind continuity, building a distended klangfarbenlullaby of gorgeous spectral harmonies, passing pitches across the stage from tonecolor to tonecolor, drip by drip, like stalagmites forming in air, occasionally punctuated by skronches, clacks, and gritty hammer-ons, articulating space. Four gray-haired men became happy little boys as they grinned to find themselves concluding together.

Set 2: Joan La Barbara’s Solitary Journeys of the Mind

La Barbara, voice and microphone

Miracles of amplification! Not just the microphone boosting the subtlest details of La Barbara’s endlessly flowering virtuosity, candle-flame upper-partials dancing above her sonorous mezzo, but her hands amplifying in gesture the spinning-out of musical ebb and flood, and her breath itself, amplifying the internal structure of its exalted chamber with each practiced inhalation, exhalation. Hearing this, one understood better what it was, centuries ago, that etched those beasts onto the cave walls at Chauvet.

Set 3: Philip Selway/Quinta: Yaasholl, One Note Arpeggio, and Of Course I Do

Mori on xylosynth (first tune only); Selway on xylosynth and piano; Quinta on synthesizer, musical saw, xylosynth; King with “assist” on synthesizer (end of last tune)

Selway’s connection to Merce Cunningham dates back to a much-hyped 2003 Sigur Ros/Radiohead collaboration with MCDC titled “Split Sides.” At the time, Laura Shapiro from New York Magazine characterized the music as “art rock on its best behavior. Mild, a bit tentative, sometimes disconcertingly reminiscent of New Age, the music was nowhere near as scary as the work of Cunningham’s usual collaborators.”

Fourteen years later, if anything, the music has tamed further. It was pleasant, in the washy sort of way that advertisers like for making soaps, pills, and software feel “inspiring.” In its finest moments, its saccharine pan-ionian harmonies and moody upper-neighbor-tones gave even my prickly heartstrings a slight tug. Quinta’s intonation on the musical saw (when she picked it up, another knowing chuckle emanated from the crowd; I’m not sure why) was revelatory. By far my favorite sound, though, was the tap of mallets against the xylosynth, slightly audible above the gentle thrumming of the music.

Set 4: John Cage’s Fontana Mix, Aria, and Indeterminacy, performed simultaneously

Mori & Behrman, laptops; La Barbara, voice; Fast Forward, narration

Enter Grandpa, radiant. Despite Fontana Mix feeling a bit hemmed in by digitization, this set came on just like the big game after a commercial break. To the kind of people that come to an event like this, this is straight-up classical music, and I, for one, am a fan.  Fast Forward gave voice to Cage’s well-worn anecdotes with the same gusto that Heifetz puts to a Brahms concerto, proving that there are still hilarious wonders in these slightly yellowed scores. The serendipitous ending: “I know you’re very busy. I won’t take a minute of your time.”

Set 5: David Tudor’s Untitled

John King on Laptop

Whippoorwills and vampire bats caught in quadrophonic black holes fluttered erratically around the theater, the volume tastefully cranked. John King, propelling these creatures from the ease and comfort of his Macbook trackpad, was clearly having fun, rocking back and forth, smirking. The whirling of these sounds around our heads provided a potent counterpoint to the far more delicate spatialization essayed in the night’s opening work (Wolff’s Or 4 People). It made me think, however, that a whole computer universe couldn’t equal the complexity or spiritual heft of a melodica, a recorder, a Stratocaster, and a trombone.

Set 6: John King’s petite ouverture en forme de mErCE CunninGHAm

Wolff/Behrmann on piano; Lewis on trombone; Quinta on violin; King on Stratocaster

This piece started out as a piano solo written for Cunningham’s 90th birthday, and has apparently been arranged for chamber ensemble by the composer. The title is a nod to Erik Satie, one of John Cage’s most touted idols. Its capitalization scheme reflects the work’s use of “musical cryptogram,” in which letters from a name create a musical motif, a longstanding practice in classical music, predating even Bach (who used it famously). In true Cunningham/Cage tradition, repetitions within the form are determined by dice throw.

If this all sounds a bit academic when explained, it does in musical realization as well. Absolutely delightful, however, was watching Wolff and Behrman share a piano bench, plodding along with the piece’s pachydermic triads, using absolutely zero pedal. Hearts beamed.

Set 7: EVENT

Full ensemble: Behrman, Forward, King, La Barbara, Lewis, Mori, Parkins, Selway, Wolff

Watching musicians old enough to be my parents or grandparents cue one another to thumb their smartphones in tandem, then proceed to punch furiously at their laptops, set me reflecting amusedly on my mother’s love for Facebook and solitaire apps. Unintended as it may have been, the presence of all these mobile devices on stage made a fitting update of Cage’s running commentary on technology in daily life—it’s here to stay, so we might as well practice listening to, even loving, it. Nonetheless, I was silently hoping that someone would receive a call and have to walk offstage.

Inevitable balance issues arose from the preponderance of digital signal paths, but on the whole the EVENT’s chaos was organized nicely. Center stage, gleefully taking the helm, was a decidedly “analog” Fast Forward, tossing handfuls of sticks at various drums. His energies were greatly appreciated. Every once in a while, one could hear an isolated plink from Christian Wolff at the piano, or Zeena Parkins at the harp (otherwise absent from the night’s program). It was wonderful to hear their voices piping up through the din.

Overall, the musicians kept things short, sweet, and cordial. Smiles abounded, onstage and in the crowd.

At the end, clapping people stood, probably trying to get up closer to wherever Merce is now.

____

 The Twin Cities crowd that appeared for this performance was visibly thrilled to be able to see so many venerable masters of the New York and London experimental scenes on one stage, in our own town. Excitement and gratitude were palpable in the room, and I was happy to be able to contribute my own. We did a great job, I think, warmly receiving our esteemed guests, who in turn offered a moving tribute to one of our city’s most welcome new residents: the legacy of Merce Cunningham, as embodied in his archives.

It was an engaging retrospective—a window into other cities, other scenes, other times. Now our task is to shift our gaze forward and carry musicking for Merce into the future. I know some local “experimentalists” who are up for the challenge.

 

Music for Merce: A Two-Night Celebration was performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 23-24, 2017.

Ray of Light : Penelope Freeh on CCN-Ballet de Lorraine

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on CCN-Ballet de Lorraine’s performances of […]

Ballet_de_Lorraine_SOUNDDANCE_2016-17_03_PP

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on CCN-Ballet de Lorraine’s performances of Fabrications, Sounddance, and Devoted last night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

The CCN-Ballet de Lorraine program opened at Northrop with Devoted, a dance by choreographic duo Cecilia Bengolea and Francois Chaignaud. Wearing variations on an emerald green leotard, the nine women on pointe also had geometric face paint, corsage-like bows on their shoulders, and/or a single stocking on one leg.

Devoted was fierce and challenging, to dance as well as to watch. It opened with the dancers doing distorted chaine turns, lower backs arched and arms unhelpfully behind them like low wings. Set to music by Philip Glass, the dance was as relentless as the music, and then some.

This work placed extreme ballet tropes (running and jumping into the splits, distorted chaine turns, balancing in sous-sus for forever) alongside pop cultural clichés like the moonwalk, twerking, and breakdance-esque partial spins on the back with legs splayed then folding. The combination of these aesthetic forms was a fun surprise and well handled, formal and casual. Repetitive passages unfolded, varied, developed. The movement was athletic, leggy and wildly difficult technically, mostly due to the pointe shoes, though it’s fair to say that some technical feats are in fact easier when fully up on pointe versus demi pointe, when the calves strain with responsibility.

There was a nice dynamic shift when a quartet occurred. Three women balanced like tree-statues while a soloist glided among them. Her entirely backwards vocabulary was mesmerizing, particularly in how it navigated pointe work.

The piece ended with the music finishing and the dancers continuing, the sounds of their shoes audible, a reminder of the hardness and the work.

Next up were two works by master dancemaker Merce Cunningham. Fabrications featured a painted upstage scrim by Dove Bradshaw that had drawings resembling both mechanical objects as well as chambers of the heart. The fifteen dancers, clad in gender specific street clothes, accomplished the Cunningham style cleanly and neutrally. They let the work speak for itself, exemplifying the patience it takes to enter in.

Arms were often held in a neutral open 5th low while the legs extended, balanced, tilted, rotated. The movement resembles ballet and is indeed incredibly technically challenging, but there is a grounded difference, something about the relaxed torso, the frank expression, those arms finished with hands, just hands, not flowers of articulated fingers.

Coupling images emerged in unsentimental partnering, lifting and supportive balances. At one point all the couples did the same slow counterbalanced phrase but in different phases so that we could see all of it at once. The use of plié was magnificent, and I wished I could’ve seen its full expression had it not been for those dresses.

There was a blur of a running trio, identical dynamically fast footwork in triplicate. This was my favorite tiny moment exemplifying Cunningham’s mastery. His layering of events is just enough. There is a lot going on simultaneously but somehow the eye doesn’t get tired, it gets an education. All that movement adds up to something, and one can’t help but be moved by the sheer force of dancers doing what they do, mining the grand physicality.

Sounddance closed the show, and I am so glad I changed seats in order to view this at closer range. The work had me at hello with its decadent curtain-collage décor in pale peach. Its heavy folds and sensuous curves both framed and participated in the dance.

The ten dancers entered singly, adding in to the space with aplomb as they burst through the center curtain of the set. It’s so satisfying to watch people repeatedly enter this way, unabashedly flashy yet in the context of a Cunningham work it was business as usual, neutral and not commented upon.

This dance too had lots of coupling, with nice movement diversity and panache. There were variations of lifting and turning, each couple occupying their own timing and spacing. Groupings of dancers regularly came together for en masse sculptural moments. These blended beautifully with the drapey set, placing the bodies in relief against it for brief, baroque stillnesses.

The music by David Tudor supported and propelled this dance ever-forward with its driving electronica. The accumulating effect was one of suspense as one by one each dancer exited as dramatically as they had entered, through the drapery, flapping it wildly. The piece began and ended with a male soloist, soft, fluid, precise and young seeming.

This seminal work premiered in 1975. I felt a thrill at the reminder that, from baroque to classical to post-modern and beyond, dance is a living art, wonderfully and heartbreakingly ephemeral. I spent the whole piece thinking it was aptly titled Sundance. I have since noted my mistake but will always think of it as a piece of light, a fractured, radiating hope.

CCN-Ballet de Lorraine’s performances of Fabrications, Sounddance, and Devoted was copresented by the Walker and the Northrop on February 16, 2017 as part of the exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time, on view in the Walker galleries until July 30.

DaNCEBUMS Margaret, Karen, and Eben on Philippe Quesne’s La Melancolie des Dragons

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, Margaret Johnson, Karen McMenamy, and Eben Kowler of DaNCEBUMS share their […]

Philippe Quesne, La Mélancolie des Dragons. Photo: Martin Argyroglo

Photo: Martin Argyroglo

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, Margaret Johnson, Karen McMenamy, and Eben Kowler of DaNCEBUMS share their perspective on Philippe Quesne’s La Mélancolie des Dragons. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Conceived by Philippe Quesne, a theater director by way of set designer, the premise for La Mélancolie des Dragons is very compelling – seven metalheads are stranded in the forest and build an amusement park for a single visitor and car mechanic: Isabelle. So absurd you have to see it.

Details, details, details. From the meticulous construction of the remote and snow covered forest, to the didactic explanation of each attraction – what it is made of, how it functions, how visitors engage with it – the power of the performance comes from a thorough attention to detail. The result is more like a diorama than a play.

La Mélancolie des Dragons confounded expectations. When a hiccup in the plan could be disastrous, it instead provides an opportunity for generosity. The hard metalheads have a gentle disposition and are eager to share the many features of their amusement park. These diverse, understated interventions are meant to attune the visitors to their own senses and the natural environment. A kind of anti-amusement park that seeks to inspire reflection over thrills.

The fantastical situation is made believable by startling realism in design and performance. It allows you to accept and appreciate things for what they are.

Relevance

This show was originally performed in 2008, (sigh) such a different time. Signifiers of 1980s metal culture were heavily featured, along with some classical music. Their wigs and denim/leather outfits recreated stereotypical metal, hair-band outfits. 0/5

Hardness

Each attraction was thoroughly explained by the group. They described how the technology worked and the intended effect before demonstrating it. Self-awareness was used as a tool to invite the audience into the action. At times, the cadence of the dialogue and thoroughness of explanations were tedious. Overall, each element was offered both to Isabelle and the audience in bite-sized pieces. 1/5

Danciness

The performers strive to be appear natural, crossing the stage as they would cross a street. The movement is not stylized or overly structured. However, the characters do perform choreographies of their own, developed as attractions for the park. 1/5

Musicality

Ranging from 80s classics to cinematic scoring, sonic environment effectively created an overall feeling of magic, especially toward the end, when the attractions were presented simultaneously to create huge, operatic images. 4/5

Buminess

The show opens with a bummy highlight: four dudes drinking Hamm’s and Grain Belt, eating Lay’s, in a crowded Volkswagen Rabbit. They live a transient lifestyle, traveling the world with their melancholy installations. The world that Quesne created was quite detailed– using both cheap objects and current technology. La Mélancolie des Dragons toes the buminess line. 5/5

Pizza

This group seems like they know how to throw a party and have the true party spirit in their hearts. Potato chips are almost pizza. The characters are perfectly pizza. They are generous with what they have, earnest, and good natured. 5/5

TL;DR Nice metalheads are weird artists. Set design was on point.

La Mélancolie des Dragons continues at the Walker tonight and Saturday night, January 20-21, 2017.

***

For those of you who have followed these reviews, here’s some insight into our categories! They were originally devised when Tom Lloyd challenged DaNCEBUMS to a dance competition. It was legendary, we hope you were there.

These days, the categories moonlight as a lens to consider performance. They help us to focus conversation and pit it against certain elements that are important to our personal dance-making preferences. In a way, the rubric doesn’t so much evaluate the performance, but uses the experience to evaluate the categories themselves.

ReLEVANCE: This category evaluates how well a performance engages with current events, performance practices, and/or our personal journeys. Is it topical? Did it change our lives? Will we talk about it later?

HaRDNESS: Hardness is challenge. This could be physical or performative. This could consider how challenging a performance is for an audience member. Is it easy to follow or digest?

DaNCINESS: DaNCINESS is a disputed category, encompassing the choreography of bodies, space, materials, sounds, and light. The question of “what is dance and why is it important?” can swallow you whole…

MuSICALITY: We love dancing to music. We use it a lot in our work. In this category we ask two questions: 1) What is the role of music and sound in the piece? 2) How do the performers relate to and embody the music. We also look for an overall groove.

BuMINESS: We come from a DIY community and we value an air of casualness in our work. We are equal parts serious and lazy. Tattered edges and pop elements are endearing; but we also appreciate polish when it’s called for. This category is about aesthetic and attitude.

PiZZA: Pizza stands for universal enjoyment – as a theme and an experience. In the context of performance it may be hard to discern, but pizza is something deeply known. Would we eat this for dinner? If the answer is yes, then it’s definitely pizza.

TL;DR Too long; didn’t read.

DaNCEBUMS Margaret, Karen, and Eben on Okwui Okpokwasili’s Poor People’s TV Room

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, Margaret Johnson, Karen McMenamy, and Eben Kowler of DaNCEBUMS share their […]

Poor People's TV Room. Photo: Mena Burnette of xmbphotography

Poor People’s TV Room. Photo: Mena Burnette of xmbphotography

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, Margaret Johnson, Karen McMenamy, and Eben Kowler of DaNCEBUMS share their perspective on Okwui Okpokwasili’s Poor People’s TV RoomAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

On the eve of the inauguration, Okwui Okpokwasili’s Poor People’s TV Room was the antidote to the always on political commentary. Joined by a multigenerational cast of women,Okwui, offered a splintered story in text, movement, and design. It was a beautiful disorientation that deliberated women’s initiation of, presence within, and erasure from historical narratives. Although it sourced from real events – Nigeria’s 1929 Women’s War, the #bringbackourgirls campaign – it told and teased out its own history entirely. It projected its own future and asked us to follow. It gave us the mystery and space we didn’t know we needed.

The show begins with a silhouetted dancer continually approaching and retreating from a side light. Behind a thin plastic wall, another figure – hazy like an aura – follows closely with quick sharp movement. We see a tv room completely turned on its side. A woman sits in a plastic lawn chair. In that moment we are saturated with depth. The set creates a layered environment and bodies follow suit by foregrounding and backgrounding, mirroring, mimicking, extrapolating and departing from each other’s physicality. We are primed for the continual shifting of timelines and characters to come.

Poor People’s TV Room combines movement and text to weave together a mythology incorporating breath, a knife, a time-traveling device inside a chest, cameras for eyes, and Oprah. The same myths are fragmented and recycled through the show. Nothing is fixed. Every repetition makes us question what came before. Who is a credible source, and who is really there? Who has the power to speak, and whose story is being told?

Dancing followed speaking. One ebbing into the other. Energy was processed and expelled from the body, or transmuted and transferred to another. Duets were both tender and combative, building on the relationships revealed by the text. Look carefully and sit close, low lighting obscures details of the choreography – calling attention to erasure in history and the blind spots of memory.

Here’s how Poor People’s TV Room rates based on DaNCEBUMS’ Standard Performance Criteria:

Relevance
We’re at a moment in our country’s history where there’s a lot of anxiety around the erasure of individual’s stories and/or needs from a national conversation. The show is explicitly about making something visible that’s not. 5/5

Hardness
Performers were virtuosic in movement, voice, and crafting environments. Movement seemed, at times, an act of endurance. As an audience member, there was a lot of content to digest. There was a sense that everything that happened was important, and yet it was delivered so rapidly that it was difficult to focus on everything. Bodies were intentionally hard to see. 5/5

Danciness
In this piece the state of the body was the danciness, not the individual dance moves. When they handled props or encountered the set, the performers moved with ease. We were super impressed by the scenes in the “tv room” – very trippy. Even the text felt like dance, every word was placed with a choreographic sensibility. 5/5

Musicality
The movement expressed the music but they didn’t happen simultaneously. 3/5

Buminess
The materials were bum-y: plastic sheets, plastic furniture, mylar, untreated lumber. However, the installation of all these materials was very precise and minimal. Delivery was polished, voices were confident and clear. 1/5

Pizza
“You had me at pizza.” Sparkly costume was like a personified trippy disco ball. Sideways room. 5/5

TL;DR
Words can’t do this show justice. Go see it; feel it.

Poor People’s TV Room continues at the Walker tonight and Saturday night, January 20-21, 2017.

DaNCEBUMS Margaret, Karen, and Eben on Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Play

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, Margaret Johnson, Eben Kowler and Karen McMenamy of DaNCEBUMS share their perspective […]

OT_Driscoll_Faye_PLAY_2016-17_13_PP

Photo: Maria Baranova

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, Margaret Johnson, Eben Kowler and Karen McMenamy of DaNCEBUMS share their perspective on Faye Driscoll’s Thank You for Coming: PlayAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

All artifice at every point, Thank You For Coming: Play exists between dance and theater. Play looks at the structure of the performance, how every part functions: the director, the audience, the performers, the set, the theater. Play begins as an on-stage installation, and transitions to an extended pre-show overture before kicking off a play within a play: the origin story of Barbone. Five performers plus Faye embody dozens of characters – even themselves – to tell Barbone’s story from birth, to death, and after. The story was an absurd and over-acted farce, with tropes that hit close to home. Our audience didn’t laugh very much, but there was a lot of humor in the text and performance.

Play’s obsession with fabricating and consuming narrative raises questions of agency and control. The show opens up with the premise of co-creating the story. We are greeted by a dreadlocked witch who tells us “the story has not yet been written.” So we pitch in. When Barbone’s play starts, we learn that the story has been written. Scene by scene, we notice that none of the characters are self-aware about how the stories they tell themselves create their identities.

We see Faye interact with the story at multiple levels, seeming to be herself the entire time. She manipulates the set, interrupts and augments the narrative, and incites the audience to sing along. From the front row she pulls the strings. She even interjects herself into the climax of the show, sharing her feelings, then SPOILER kills Barbone. Who has the power to fabricate their own narrative, and who only gets to consume?

Here’s how Thank You For Coming: Play rates based on DaNCEBUMS’ Standard Performance Criteria:

Hardness

The play within the play was prepackaged, easily digestible, and entire scenes can be described in one or two sentences. The choreography closely matched the text – which makes Play not so hard for the audience. The stop motion movement demanded finite muscular control, combined with the fast switching between modes of performance and character; and the rigorous  detail in the facial expression, choreography, and vocal work all made Play hard for the performers.
3/5

Danciness
This is making us question what danciness is. Even in the more dancerly sections, we still felt that the performers were gesturing towards dance. A kind of meta-dance: dancers, playing actors, pretending to dance. Is that danciness? Their performances were hyper-embodied, and obviously choreographed. One thing is for sure, we’ll be thinking about this for a while.
[alien emoji]/ 5

Musicality
Music was used as a emotive and narrative tool. In a memorable solo, the movement felt unhinged from the music. Music was often used as a sound effect, and there was not much movement as an expression of music.
2/5

Buminess
Play was kind of like a show we made in our garage, and a show we planned to do but didn’t. Bedazzled costume pieces were used as all kinds of things (we even spied some hot-glued jewels). Using the audience as performers is kind of like using found objects for sculpture. And there were butts, also known as bums.
5/5

Relevance
Referenced current events – very relevant. There was a topical interruption that abruptly shifted the play’s emotional landscape. The line “getting all the likes,” is timely – but is that relevant? It’s the second part of a series, so very relevant if you are interested in seeing the last installment! If relevance is an experience that resonates with you where you are, the mad lib text is that – it mirrored the audience’s own stories back to us.
4/5

Pizza
A rollercoaster of pizza and not pizza.The extended intro was not pizza. The songs Barbone felt pizza. The “rage” song was pizza. Loneliness and mad-libs section were serious, not pizza. Costumes were pizza, very visually stimulating – like toppings.
1 and 5/5

TL;DR
Overheard in the audience: “My participation will be tremendous. I will participate in this play bigly.” You may participate, but who is pulling the strings?

Thank You For Coming: Play continues at the Walker through Saturday, January 14, 2017.

Overnight Re-view: DaNCEBUMS’s Eben Kowler and Karen McMenamy on YOUARENOWHERE

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, Eben Kowler and Karen McMenamy of DaNCEBUMS share their perspective of […]

Andrew_Schneider_YOUARENOWHERE Invisible Dog, Coil festival 2015

Andrew Schneider in YOUARENOWHERE. photo: Maria Baranova

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, Eben Kowler and Karen McMenamy of DaNCEBUMS share their perspective of Andrew Schneider’s YOUARENOWHEREAgree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

YOUARENOWHERE takes place in the present, literally. The protagonist is a melancholy and frenetic leading edge Millenial. Born in 1981, he could also be a Gen-xer. We meet Andrew Schneider in a white void, his presence is switched on. He sings us a 50s pop song and then speaks directly to us, the audience.

Part physics lecture, part mental breakdown, part series of personal anecdotes, part rupture in space-time. The narrative jumps around forward or backward a few seconds or minutes, in a “time is a flat circle” way. The atmosphere is permeated with a sense of inevitability, the protagonist already knows what is going to happen because it’s happened that way before. Simultaneity, destiny, chance, and his own singular existence and death are what keep this guy up at night.

We can’t get into it much more because this is a very spoilable show. Instead, here’s how YOUARENOWHERE rates based on DaNCEBUMS’ Standard Performance Criteria:

Relevance
Schneider has a lot of hype. There are SO many write-ups about his work and this show in particular. In this case hype=relevance. The lighting evoked the red, blue, and green pixels of televisions. Bright white lights recreated the glow of cell phones, and laptops. Any reference to screens, screen culture, and screeniness is relevant. He seemed pretty melancholy, which fits the post-2016 vibe. Relevant.

However, after the awe of the tricks wore off, neither of us felt like the content resolved in an impactful way. 3/5

Buminess
There were two bum-y elements, costuming and a nosebleed Schneider gets toward the end. The pants Schneider wore looked like they came from his closet, which made him feel human in an otherwise stark environment. Having a nosebleed and making no attempt to clean it up, or being totally unaware of it, is bum-y in a rock-n-roll, no-fucks-given way.

Other than that, YOUARENOWHERE is precise and professional. High-quality. 1/5

Pizza
This show was engaging from start to finish. There were a few surreal glitches and precisely executed tricks that felt very magical. Minus one pizza point for reminding me of my intro physics lecture. 4/5

Hardness
The physical feat of YOUARENOWHERE is enough to give full points for the “Hardness” category. Schneider rapidly moved around the stage and switched in and out of various modes of performance. Additionally, Schneider and company pulled off some insane moments of coordination which we won’t spoil here. 5/5

Musicality
Comprised of effects ranging from deep sonic rumbles to the familiar ding of a fresh IM, the soundscape was tightly integrated with every element of the piece. The performance was fast paced and the performers never missed a beat. There was even a song in the first act. 5/5

Danciness
A mid-show Robyn dance break was the danciest section of the show. Throughout the performance the treatment of the space was very choreographic, every movement had purpose and intention. Movement and the space affected each other, which is danciness. 4/5

TL;DR
When we were paying for parking we talked to another audience member for a minute. He said the show reminded him of one time in college when he tried mushrooms. And that seemed accurate to us.

YOUARENOWHERE continues at the Walker through Saturday, January 7.

Overnight Re-View: Penelope Freeh on Soft Goods

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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods, which makes its […]

Joanna Furnans, Krista Langberg, Jessica Cressey, and Ross Orenstein in Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods (2016). Photo: Sean Smuda

Joanna Furnans, Krista Langberg, Jessica Cressey, and Ross Orenstein in Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods (2016). Photo: Sean Smuda

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, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods, which makes its world premiere on the Walker stage December 8–10, 2016. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Soft Goods, conceived and directed by Karen Sherman, directs the eye to what is usually unseen in performance. Light is shed upon what is deliberately kept in the dark, specifically the tech folks who make performance happen. But she also draws our attention to elements that support and allow them their day in the sun: power cords, hanging lights, Genie lifts, a tool box, a puff of smoke…

Soft Goods was created collaboratively over several years at multiple residency sites where tech needs could be experimented with in rehearsal. This is a very unusual opportunity in the performance world, and utterly necessary here. Dancers and technicians are equalized, and we are treated to insider banter, jokes, and hijinks as the piece escalates.

Sherman is known for her keen wit and clever direction, and she brings these fully to bear here. Even more impressive, however, is how the work uses those platforms to reveal touching and ultimately blatantly sentimental celebrations of performance and life itself.

Work is underway when we enter the theater. Nothing is overtly theatrical; we watch the quotidian. The piece formally begins when the house lights dim and the stagehands take center stage, bantering as they work, at once readying and breaking down a show.

Enter The Dancers, a moment that is repeated to great effect, a superheroesque face-off, sublime and ridiculous. The suitcases are my favorite.

Tension ensues between the crew and cast as each vie to do their jobs, which necessarily involves claiming stage time. An exaggerated technical jargon moment among the crew reminds us that these folks bend over backwards for directors, designers, and performers. It is a subtle and touching moment underneath the comedy, reminding us that the frame is as important as what’s inside.

The culminating moment of the show is a sustained section of dance that takes place entirely behind a cyc [or cyclorama, a large curtain wall], the dancers only appearing in silhouette against a sidewall and occasionally coming into view to change a costume, take an oxygen break, or demand a prop. Random and ridiculous objects fly over the cyc, and the crew attempting to wrangle the stuff of stagecraft is hilarious, the overt exaggerations utterly rooted in truth. Philip Glass’s In the Upper Room, famously used by master choreographer Twyla Tharp, is blasted here as accompaniment, a sly wink to iconic, ballet-centric dance history.

The end envelopes us in smoke, the smell of which takes me back. I am 13, sitting backstage and watching a dance from the wings. I have friend trouble at school, but in that moment I am safe and content to be a watcher, a smeller, inhaling my future and knowing that, as far as school was concerned, I’d be okay.

Soft Goods is many things. Like the above, it is memory and safekeeping. Another is a 360-degree celebration of all of the people and stuff that give performance life.

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