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The Zone of Indistinguishability: Maneries by Luis Garay

When I was young, I imagined the inside of my brain looked like a library. Rows upon rows of tall bookshelves extended farther than the eye could see; where my memories, vocabulary, learned math equations, and everything else I knew were filed away. In this library, little workers ran around like mad to pull up […]

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

When I was young, I imagined the inside of my brain looked like a library. Rows upon rows of tall bookshelves extended farther than the eye could see; where my memories, vocabulary, learned math equations, and everything else I knew were filed away. In this library, little workers ran around like mad to pull up the string of words I wanted to say, they sprinted to the shelf where my history class knowledge was, and they put away the things I learned that day in the correct location. When a word was on the tip of my tongue, I imagined it as misfiled and unavailable until the little workers located it and put it where it was readily accessible.

It saves us a lot of time to be able to file our knowledge into categories, and we construct language and rules to adopt this knowledge quickly and effectively. We develop ways of trusting things we are familiar with, ways of recognizing potential threats, ways of sharing what we know with others so we don’t all have to experience everything all the time to know it. To group our knowledge and identify our experiences is part of being human.

Yet sometimes assumptions are made that everyone will have the same definition or relationship to something, and these expectations reveal how our definitions can acutely limit our understanding. Even ‘universal’ emotions (love, hate, fear, sadness) are experienced in myriad ways, and by acknowledging someone else’s experience of said emotion we expand our own ideas of what is possible.

What if we explored an exercise in un-defining? Is it possible to strip away the associations, the cultural connotations, the assigned meaning to a certain object, action, or symbol? Can the relationship between what we experience and how we come to understand that experience be altered? What if the flexing of a muscle didn’t necessarily denote the expression of physical strength or if a smile didn’t signify happiness? Can we re-imagine our understanding of the world from a place of utmost possibility, or does doing so limit our ability to understand and communicate with one another?

Questions of this sort are the seeds from which artist Luis Garay cultivated his intellectually stirring and physically captivating work, Maneries. The title references a term from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s 1993 book, The Coming Community. Interpreting Agamben’s theory, to Garay, “maneries” refers “to a sort of fountain from where all possible forms (tangible and imaginable) come from. Maneries is not the plural of ‘form,’ on the contrary, it is [one] place, and it refers to ‘an example.’ In one example, the universal and the particular are included… so maneries is a series of examples.” Garay also says that his “works try to ‘reduce’ or ‘elevate’ the body to its mere biological functions” – an attempt to unlearn those cultural and significations we have adopted. Using the body as source material in this way grounds it in the tangible and releases the imagination into pure potentiality.

With dancer Florencia Vecino, Garay created a pool of gestures, pictures, poses, and sculptures from which Vecino live mixes, like a DJ. The result is an ever-shifting and culturally evocative progression of movement and meaning. Archaic sculptural poses precede contemporary street dance moves, which are followed by indescribable yet specific movements reminiscent of something, somewhere, but Vecino moves through so quickly and with such confidence that this whirlpool of cultural connotations are scrambled. From this place of disassembled association, our knowledge waits, like a puzzle without a picture on the box, to be put together in an intentional way.

It is an impossible task, of course, since we ultimately cannot divorce what we know from the context in which we know it. However, we can engage in activities that reconfigure our relationship to certain objects, subjects, and information and that shed light on our own mental processes. The potential and the actual merge in Garay’s work as he utilizes tactics to elevate the state of the body, such as physical effort and meditation, and Vecino embodies these activities simultaneously. In a recent interview with FringeArts, Garay talks about the importance of Vecino’s energetic state for the performance.

We talked about it a lot, because this ‘state’ is very complex, it requires that she is very attentive, at the same time inside the piece and observing herself from the outside…. She has many rules to administrate at the same time. Many archives to execute. We talk about warriors all the time and what that could mean: she is a warrior of language.

Vecino serves as a sort of surrogate–representing and manifesting iconic symbols and ideas throughout history.

The vocabulary utilized in Maneries is at once extremely specific and intentionally ambiguous. Using movement as the medium of communication renders more possible ways of understanding the content being proposed. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a movement in Maneries undermines words, excavating the very process by which we would have assigned meaning and definition onto it. The gestures, movements, photos, and energetic states that Vecino virtuosically crafts and executes are a real-time manifestation of the hypothetical. Maneries asks us–and allows us–to take the time to investigate everything, reconstruct our relationship to our own understanding, and it reveals the powerful impacts of such a process.

“The political task of humanity is to expose the innate potential in this zone of indistinguishability.” –Giorgio Agamben

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Maneries  by Luis Garay continues tonight, Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 8 pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. 

Luis Garay will also participate in a public panel, Dance Now: Perception and Influence, at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Sunday the 24th at 12pm. Garay will be joined by BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa & Otto Ramstad) and Kenna Camara-Cottman, on a panel moderated by Justin Jones. Admission is free; reservations are not required.

Feel Like This: Sam Johnson on Luis Garay’s Maneries

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, performance-based artist Sam Johnson shares his perspective on Maneries by Luis Garay in the […]

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

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, performance-based artist Sam Johnson shares his perspective on Maneries by Luis Garay in the McGuire Theater last night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

When I enter the theater I am admittedly tired from a very long day. I woke up at six am to teach high school students modern dance, whatever that is. I agreed to write this overnight observation relatively last minute, just a couple of hours before the show, and sitting down I can already feel my nerves, can already feel the way thinking about writing about my experience is altering my own perceptions, is making me more analytical, is heightening my perceptions.

But what is happening on stage? There is nothing on most of the stage. It is dramatically, if blankly lit. Far on stage right there are two figures, one standing and shifting occasionally, the other sitting at a macbook, cords extending on the floor offstage.

I understand these conventions, the performers on stage performing casual, the exposing of the wires and lights of the theater. In my notes I scribble: “the theatricality of no theatricality.” That isn’t quite right, what I really mean is that these feel like signals of what the show will be, the lineage that it will draw from: “it will be about the body, it will be about the present moment, it will be in conversation with contemporary (read: western?) performance.” After the lights go out and the performance proper begins I realize I could read this as an overture, as both a small encapsulation of the entire performance and as a signal of how to view, and where to place, this work.

But before that Philip Bither comes on stage and tells the audience that because of Prince’s death there will be no artist meet and greet after the show. I jot down: “shadowed by the communal experience of loss.”

The show is a solo dance. One performer moving through various forms, starting in almost darkness and almost stillness (I think there are some spinal undulations going on? But this could just be my eyes adjusting to the low light?), and working through symmetrical gestures, athletic walking and running patterns, sculptural poses, and repeating gestural patterns that accelerate. The dancing is precise, rigorous, and controlled. It is impressive and full. I can get down with the amount of work it must have taken to so specifically embody this material. I can exult in how amazing bodies are, how amazing dancers are.

But as much as the control and precision of the dancing rings my embodied performer bells it also butts up against questions I have about the piece. As I mentioned earlier there is a person sitting towards the perimeter of the stage, which is also often the perimeter of the lit space, on a computer, playing the music. I read this performer as male, and the primary dancer as female. I read the choreographer as male. Throughout the piece the music and the lights frame my viewing experience. The music is either insistently atmospheric or relentlessly rhythmic. It is loud enough that I don’t feel like I can escape it (even when I try to plug my ears, its presence is still there). The lights are crisp and specific. They begin with a low spotlight on the dancer that gradually builds, and then when the dancer shifts to an upstage/downstage walking pattern there is the rectangle of light to frame her (contain her?), and then the movement shifts to take in the whole stage, and before we can register that change there are the lights flashing on and exposing the landscape for the dancer. I can’t help but tie both the music and the lights to maleness. To a male framing of a female body. There was literally a man sitting on stage watching a woman dance the entire time. And this is where the monumental control of the dancing failed me in the dramaturgy of the entire piece. I kept feeling like I was seeing a man seeing a woman. The athletic jogger; the naked, reclining, sculptural nude; the dancing muse. This incessant theatrical framing mediated my response to the performer, to the body on stage. I kept waiting for the moment when I would feel my spine moving in my seat, to feel my neurons firing in response to this beautiful dancing body, but that moment didn’t arrive for me. I kept waiting, too, for the performer to break out of the framing devices. To feel defiant, or messy, or obstinate, or cynical, or broken, or flippant. In retrospect it felt like I was watching the warm up and start of a marathon, but only through mile ten or so. That time when the runners are starting to get tired but are still going strong. I think I craved seeing the end, when the nipples start to bleed and shit is running down legs and the body breaks down in the middle of the road out of exhaustion and joy and pride. I want to know what is after this beautifully constructed dance for this beautifully proficient dancer with these technically immaculate lights and sounds.

As I left the theater I had and overheard casual conversations with several people. I heard at least three people say some variation of: “don’t you want to go the gym after that?” I did want to go to the gym, but I’m not sure if it was because I wanted to feel that way or be seen that way.

Maneries continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, April 22) and tomorrow night (Saturday, April 23) at 8 pm.

Talk Dance: Luis Garay on Maneries

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Luis Garay, whose work Maneries will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater April 21-23, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel.   […]

Photo: Courtesy the artist

Florencia Vecino performing Luis Garay’s Maneries.  Photo: courtesy the artist

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Luis Garay, whose work Maneries will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater April 21-23, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel 

The title of Luis Garay’s 2009 solo dance, Maneries, is taken from the name of a chapter in philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s 1990 book, The Oncoming Community. “Maneries” is a concept that reconciles, as summarized eloquently by Garay in our conversation, “the universal and the particular, which is a big philosophical problem. The solution for [Agamben] is in the examples. For instance, this telephone. When I say ‘for instance,’ we are talking about this telephone in particular and at the same time when I mention an example of this telephone, I am referring to all possible telephones that existed and will exist. So an example is at the same time universal and particular.”

After our interview I went to Agamben’s text and found this passage which I think speaks to Florencia Vecino’s breathtaking performance of Garay’s solo:

…a manner of rising forth; not a being that is in this or that mode, but a being that is its mode of being, and thus, while remaining singular and not indifferent, is multiple and valid for all.

Watching a shaky documentation of the solo, I sense Florencia resisting the performance of recognizable states of being, and effort-fully inhabiting each second of each movement, in each moment. The movement at once hints to a furiously changing inner life, and is yet devoid of personality of affect. She achieves a performance that, like Agamben states, is singular in its stark presentation of a body in extreme exertion, and yet, like a cartoon face without distinct features, allows for projection and connection. Particular and Universal.

The performance is generated anew each time through a complex series of rules followed by Florencia. Garay gave some examples:

For instance, when you’re getting close to the meaning of one form, you should avoid it… We work with the body as a writing machine. So, when that writing is getting, is making sense, she has to avoid that and turn another way for instance.  But that, its a complex system. ‘Complex’ means that there are many rules at the same time. For instance, at the same time… she has to write information in the space with [her] upper body… [and write] different information with her legs… Another rule could be that she has to contradict herself, whatever that means… So, I think all the building of these rules are just trying to put her in a state in which she’s creating her own problems.

Beyond that, we talked about his love of David Lynch films (“strange, dark, mysterious energy”), his connection to the visual artists in his home city of Buenos Aires, how he started dancing (an inability to read and sing in Finnish), and about the value of Art. It was a fascinating conversation.

Maneries has had a long life for a dance work. It premiered in 2009 and has toured on and off again for seven years. Garay mentioned that he looks back to this piece like an “oracle… a resource to understand my own work.” He went on to say that, “the piece is speaking to me about the things that I wanted to do in other pieces and in the future… I always go back to it to understand the other pieces that I’ve done.” I look forward to visiting the oracle, Maneries, to peer into the future of Garay’s fascinating work.

Upcoming Opportunities for Choreographers

Momentum: New Dance Works 2017 Proposals are now being accepted for Momentum: New Dance Works 2017. This long-standing annual dance series provides innovative emerging choreographers support for artistic development and a professional presentation of a new evening-length work. Since 2001, Momentum has highlighted Minnesota’s groundbreaking contemporary dance artists–many of whom are now nationally and internationally recognized–and […]

Momentum 2015. Photo: Alice Gebura

Broken by Luke Olson-Elm, Momentum 2015. Photo: Alice Gebura

Momentum: New Dance Works 2017

Proposals are now being accepted for Momentum: New Dance Works 2017. This long-standing annual dance series provides innovative emerging choreographers support for artistic development and a professional presentation of a new evening-length work. Since 2001, Momentum has highlighted Minnesota’s groundbreaking contemporary dance artists–many of whom are now nationally and internationally recognized–and marks artists in the Twin Cities as some of the nation’s most vibrant cultural producers. Momentum seeks applications from choreographers working in all styles, aesthetics, and approaches who represent contemporary dance in the world today. Performances are July 13-15 & July 20-22, 2017.

Proposals are due Monday, May 2, 2016 by 5:00 pm. There is a Public Information Session on Monday, April 25 at 3:30 pm (during the Monday Night Grant Circle meeting) in the Cowles Center’s Target Education Studio, 2nd floor. Click here for more information and eligibility requirements.

Momentum: New Dance Works is presented by the Cowles Center for Dance & The Performing Arts in partnership with the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater, with support from the Jerome Foundation.

pa2015ce_Fire Drill Performing Arts; Performances; Dance. Choreographers Evening, November 28, 2015, McGuire Theater. Curated by Justin Jones, local dancer/choreographer/sound designer/teacher and all-around innovator. Featured choreographers are DaNCEBUMS, Vie Boheme, Ea Eckwall, Fire Drill, Kathie Goodale, jestural, Pedro Pablo Lander, Angelique Lele & Cary Bittinger, Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees, Dolo McComb, and Jeffrey Wells. From established dancemakers forging new ideas to the scene’s youngest and brightest, Choreographers’ Evening has, over the course of 40-plus years, become an honored rite of passage in Minnesota dance circles. Photo by Alice Gebura for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Novelty Shots: A Political Fantasy (excerpt) by Fire Drill, Choreographer’s Evening 2015. Photo: Alice Gebura

Choreographers’ Evening 2016

The revered conglomeration of Minnesota dance artists will be back this year for its 44th installment. Choreographers’ Evening 2016 will be presented at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, November 26. The call for submissions is extended to all Minnesota-based choreographers and choreographic collaborations. Curated each year by a leader in the local dance scene, Choreographers’ Evening exposes the unique yet vast approaches to dance and performance by a plethora of artists. Be on the lookout for the announcement of this year’s curator and audition dates!

From Impersonation to Celebration: Penelope Freeh on The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai

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

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today,dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai, which had its US premiere at the Walker this weekend. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

For Trajal’s Harrell’s newest work, The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai, it is best to go along for the ride. You can trust it.

The piece gets off to a whimsical start, with lying, impersonations, and the retelling of made-up-in-the-first-place histories. It was a slow elaboration and yet we knew that: “It will take 22 minutes to get to a dance section.” Prior to then, we heard the apology, “I’m sorry for being just a dancer.” This was a deep commentary disguised as comedy. The statement had a ring of truth, or maybe I’m just reading into that.

Despite the many and varied influences upon this work and its slow, origami-like unfolding, it is, essentially, a dance-driven piece. In other words dance is essential, it is this work’s essence.

There was a quiet confidence. A little sly, a little teasing, we were led through a process of discovery. I felt as though the bones of construction were exposed, just covered enough to be mysterious, but pale in the crescent-moonlight to read as bones, i.e. building blocks, DNA, of this piece, a long form exploration of imaginatively intersecting (shoving together) the dance forms of Dominique Bagouet (’80s French Nouvelle Danse innovator) with Tatsumi Hijikata (the founding father of butoh).

What emerged from this playful notion was by turns charming, kick-ass, virtuosic, meditative, touching, smart, and joyful. There was a fashion show that escalated into a brilliant character revelation of an old lady, doubled over yet able and hip. Five low-lying platforms plus a table and stools were well used for this passage, creating depth and verticality. There was sassy, raucous air and actual heel walking.

The stakes became hotter as an accumulation of rapid-fire, guttural dancing occurred. The seven performers soloed until they were replaced, exhausted from gyrating, vibrating and throwing their limbs around, fast yet relaxed, always upright.

Perhaps my favorite passage was a male duet that turned into a trio. It was feminine, strong, luxurious and silky-fluid. Clad in deconstructed kimonos, feet and legs disappeared leaving the concentration on arms, hands, heads, faces, experiences…

The soundtrack (by Harrell) supported the work just so, never dominating despite the loudness. Volume supported what was already going on. It, and the several ‘80s popular music choices, never dictated the action.

The end, with the audience clapping and the bows getting quite close to us, felt like a celebration. The generosity was real and sincere which strikes me as rare in work so heady. But then I remember that despite Harrell’s self imposed mandate to reference, expound upon, bring to light, and elaborate other people’s work, he ultimately ends up with a third thing. Exploratory, self-referential, and original, The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai becomes something worth celebrating for itself alone.

The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Sunday, March 13 at 7 pm).

 

Talk Dance: Trajal Harrell on The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Trajal Harrell, whose work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater March 11-13, 2016.  You can listen to […]

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Trajal Harrell, whose work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater March 11-13, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel 

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Justin Jones: “Where do you call home?”

Trajal Harrell: “… Home for me is in many places I guess would say. I certainly call home where my mother is, my mother is in Douglas, Georgia. One of my homes is New York, and that will probably always be because I spent so many years there. Because I’m touring so much … I do have a place here in Athens that I sublet. And I also spend quite a bit of time in Vienna. … But … when you’re on the road as many weeks as I am you kind of, the internet can be your home too because that’s where you … have your continuity of relationships and friendships. … I don’t have a answer but I know that its certainly not singular for me.”

… 

Jones: “…before we finish our interview. Would you mind just saying your name once.”

Harrell: “No, because, now I’m realizing it’s a funny question because people pronounce my name a lot of different ways you know and I answer to them all. … And you’re the first person to ask me that question … I’m reluctant to have one pronunciation.” 

Something about these two exchanges from my recent interview with Trajal Harrell speaks volumes about his mercurial choreography. Yes, he creates dances, and they are very much located in the body, but the work is as much theater and performance art and runway show and voguing ball as it is proscenium dance. The notion of identity plays strongly in his work. Who is who, Are they runway models or are they dancers? Are they characters from a Greek drama?  Are the performers themselves or are they “themselves”?

Trajal is well-known as the creator of the “Twenty Looks…” series, a collection of dances that imagine a fictional collision between the Harlem voguing balls (watch Paris is Burning now if you haven’t) and the Judson Church postmodern dance scene of the 1960s. As in a fashion collection, each piece was created with a different size (XS, S, M, L, M2M, XL). The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai  takes the idea of size and audience to another place. As he said, “the Twenty Looks… project had this important idea around the sizes of the pieces and how they were […] enlarging the audience through each size […] I really wanted to enlarge the audience even further with Ghost… I wanted to make this for a kind of mainstream audience. And I felt that none of the pieces before had gone that far. I mean mainstream is a strange word, but I’m gonna use it.”

Trajal and I also spoke about what feels new about this piece, which centers around the work of French choreographer Dominique Bagouet and Tatsumi HIjikata, two relatively un-famous artists who died young before their work was done. Trajal went on, “You know we have this fascination with people who died young somehow. But, because they were in very unknown fields, we didn’t have a kind of cultural mourning around them… I didn’t know how you take something that’s tragic or mournful in a way, and by the end get the audience to to sense, to have this great appreciation for life and the joy that we’re here together even though we mourn. And so that was very new for me.”

Though Trajal’s work is about history and springs forth from intense research, what I find fascinating is how that research influences the work. In no way does he attempt to recreate, rather, he uses his research to, as he said, “generate a language on the stage, and a movement practice… informed by operations that may be in those forms.” He went on, “Bagouet was very well-known for his very specific use of the hands and there’s a lot of that in ‘Ghost…’ We don’t try to make Bagouet movement, but there’s this sense of the hands being very important… It’s only a way to generate and get closer to what I want to make as myself.”

Though home for Trajal is not as he said, “singular,” he is an American, and I wanted to hear from him about what it meant to work so closely with the choreography and biography of two non-American artists, working outside of American culture. His response: “American culture has really exported itself into a lot of cultures… and certainly both [Bagouet and Hijikata] have been influenced by American culture and by American artistic creation. And, how do we draw those lines? How we write history and how we think about culture? I’m suspicious of that. In the best sense.”

I look forward to seeing how those suspicions manifest in The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai.

And the Space Will Be Transformed: Erin Search-Wells on Faye Driscoll

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, Erin Search-Wells of SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye […]

Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Photo: Photo: Maria Baranova

Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Photo: 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, Erin Search-Wells of SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

These are the good times, when your body can do that.  This is what it’s like to go out and know a few people, and kind of arrive deep and known and felt.  This is what it feels like to recognize someone as who they really are.

I think I always look like that at a party, stop-motion video laughing maniacally.  I think the camera would probably catch my multiple chins though; I might not look as glamorous in the outfit I have put together.  I might feel like a real dork in this gold shower cap.  After the party I’ll notice that the shower cap left an indent on my forehead.

Everybody might expect me to join in and dance.

It is nice when you don’t realize a transition is happening.  It is nice to feel like something has gone on for a long time so it probably will start to morph soon, but then it goes on a little longer and you look back and realize it has changed.  It is nice to realize you missed the change again.  This level of transformation between sections takes meticulous crafting.  I was reminded that this type of crafting is not only about saying “no, not that,” but also “yes, yes, yes YES.”  It is nice to see something played long because it is simply so satisfying to watch.

I think I have seen another show recently where I was invited to join in the party at the end.  It was the last BodyCartography show.  And they both circled the space like a folk-dance, and dimmed the lights, and got a little bacchanal.  And I think I’ve been welcomed to a show with a song recently.  And the way clothing came off and naked parts of bodies writhed I was reminded of luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO.  All of these associations are not being recalled for nothing.  In fact is it performance zeitgeist? Is it our job to take the temperature of the audience and provide something that they can’t get from other art forms?  Why does contemporary performance, or dance-theater, still feel like the most necessary form to me?  Well we have to make a list of what it can do that other things cannot do.  Film can certainly create the most realistic bear fight.  So that’s done.  In fact we should probably stop trying to stage naturalistic dinner parties because none of the stage china will make the right sound when it’s broken.  But I digress.  What does this form have?  It has a live, relatively game audience.   It has willing, flexible, multi-disciplinary, practiced performers.  It has lights, props, costume, moveable seats.  It has musical capabilities ranging from acoustic, to voice, to reverberating beats.  It has microphones.  We should use these things but what is the hole in peoples’ lives that we will try to fill?  Communal experience.  Acceptance of personhood, yes.  Recognition of difference, yes.  But definitely communal ritual. Is this why we are seeing these things happen in contemporary performance?  I think mostly artists have their form and their interests and they are whittling away at it.  But it’s not like other forms where you go in a room above a garage and practice strokes.  It is completely in touch with the world.  And that is why I think there is a bigger reason we start to notice patterns in what we are seeing on stage.

The last thing I will say about this piece is that the performers are truly amazing.  I was just plain impressed by how many layers of their experience they were transmitting simultaneously.  Faye’s directions were clearly very specific, and the scores have been drilled rigorously, deeply, shaping their lived experiences so that their presences balanced delicately between alert and comfortable, tense and soft, large and small.  I was reminded of the unearthed possibilities our faces, our bodies, hold within us and right on our surfaces.

Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance  continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday-Saturday, February 18-20, 2016 at 8pm, and Sunday, February 21 at 7pm.

Talk Dance: Faye Driscoll on Thank You For Coming: Attendance

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the […]

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the podcast on the Walker Channel 

Right at the start of our conversation, Faye Driscoll refers to Thank You For Coming: Attendance (TYFC:Attendance)  as “quite a live beast.” TYFC: Attendance is the first in a series of three works by Driscoll that, according to her website, “extends the sphere of influence of performance to create a communal space where the co-emergent social moment is questioned, heightened, and palpable.”  Or, as she said it more plainly to me on the phone, “I mean, I hate audience participation, so it was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna make a work that somehow does this … sneakily’.”

TYFC: Attendance has had a rich touring schedule this past year, including stops in major US cities, Croatia, and Argentina, and I was curious to hear about how the feeling between the performers and the audience shifts from location to location.  As a dancer who has toured a bit, I know each audience (even in the same city) feels a bit different, but I wondered if this particular piece revealed anything particular about the places in which it was being performed.  Driscoll responded “I think because we’re dealing with the sensation of co-creation with the audience so directly […] there is a very palpable difference in each community that we go to.  Like when we were in Zagreb […] they went from cold … to not cold maybe?  But there was a movement in every audience we’ve gone to. […] In Argentina it was like from warm to boiling hot. Like it was almost like they were just gonna start kissing the dancers as soon as they rolled into their laps.”

Like her past work, TYFC: Attendance is a demanding, multidisciplinary work.  Watching a video of the performance in preparation for our conversation, I was astounded by the performers virtuosic abilities – not just dancing, but singing, acting, remembering.  What they do seemed to me extremely rigorous, and somehow new.  I was reminded of something Phillip Glass said talking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air; Gross plays a clip of one of Glass’ early works and then admits that she can’t even imagine what it would be like to perform one of Glass’ demanding compositions.  Glass coolly responds that in order to perform his music he had to develop a new performance practice and then goes on to say “if you think about it, for any music to be really new, there probably has to be a different performance practice to go with it otherwise it wouldn’t be new.  What makes it new is that you have to find a new way to play.”

In TYFC: Attendance, Driscoll is seeking out new performance practices.  She elaborates, “I feel like I’m carving out and discovering new forms through the making of the thing and the more that I make things I feel that I bring lots of practices into the room.”  One of the practices we talked about was what Driscoll referred to as “state work”; I thought her definition of “state work” was particularly revealing to what the incredible performers are attempting in TYFC: Attendance: “I think of it like shifting presence in the body […]  it could be emotional, it could be purely the feeling of the body itself, kind of textural and tonal.  It could be working with image.  It could be more psychological.  But it’s become a huge part of my practice because its about […] shifting the shape and changing the alchemy of the body and almost imagining we can shift the composition of our form.”  In watching documentation of TYFC: Attendance, I found the performers’ adroit ability to shift and transform their performative presence fascinating. and I think it speaks directly to what Driscoll says she’s addressing in her work: “the very performativity of being and the sociality of being and how […] who we are is made by all these little interactions and all of these […] movements of self.”

If, like Driscoll, you’re skittish about audience participation, don’t fretDriscoll assures that the piece and the performers “create an environment where we’re at once commanding and extremely gentle and extremely direct. Where there’s options at every stage and there is this sense of, even if you’ve sat there with your arms crossed the entire time, we’ve sort of wrapped you a little bit in our world.” Thank You for Coming: Attendance will be on the Walker stage, Feb. 17-21, 2016.  And, lucky for us, the Walker will present parts two and three of the Thank you for Coming series over the next few years.

2015: The Year According to Trajal Harrell

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, theater director Daniel Fish to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2014: The Year […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, theater director Daniel Fish to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2014: The Year According to                                 .

Dubbed “spellbinding” and “the next Martha Graham,” dancemaker  Trajal Harrell has performed all around the globe, including at the Walker for Out There in 2013. In anticipation of the March 2016 US premiere of his Walker-commissioned new work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai, we invited him to contribute his perspective on the past year—which he generously did while waiting for a flight out of Delhi.

In addition to the Walker, Harrell’s work has been presented by the Kitchen, New York Live Arts, the TBA Festival, the American Realness Festival, ICA Boston, Danspace Project, the Crossing the Line Festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, LA’s RedCat Theater, Festival d’Automne (Paris), Holland Festival (Amsterdam), Festival d’Avignon, Impulstanz (Vienna), TanzimAugust (Berlin), and Panorama Festival (Rio de Janeiro), among others. He has also shown performance work in visual art contexts at MoMA, the Perfoma Biennial, MoMA PS1, Fondation Cartier (Paris), the New Museum,the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Serralves Museum (Porto), Centre Pompidou-Paris and Metz, ICA Boston, and Art Basel-Miami Beach. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and Doris Duke Impact Artist fellowship, among others, he’s currently part working with the Museum of Modern Art on a two-year Annenberg Residency.

2015-0117928722479_f794a5f92a_bWangechi Mutu, She’s got the whole world in her with Forbidden Fruit Picker (both 2015) at the Venice Biennale. Photo: La Biennale di Venezia, Flickr

The 2015 Venice Biennale

Standout works by Sarah Sze, Kerry James Marshall, Sarah Lucas, and Wangechi Mutu, among others.

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Sigmar Polke, Untitled 2006, 2006 © The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / Adagp, Paris. Photo: Grand Palais

I’m late to the Sigmar Polke party, but the MoMA show and a pic in the Picasso.mania show in Paris made me so happy—and frigging better late than frigging never (honk honk!!)

 

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The Serena Slam

When asked was she going after the grand slam in 2016 after not making the final grade in 2015, Williams answered in the affirmative, saying it was a goal she had never reached. Now, that’s a champion! You might beat her on that rare occasion, but she’s always setting the pace. (And a major shout out to Venus, who’s back to winning.)

 

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Tangerine

One of my favorite movies of the year, it was made on an iPhone 5s by director Sean S. Baker.

 

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Cookie Lyon

Taraji P. Henson is killing us and killing it on Empire. Keep your front row seat because Cookie’s Cookout is still on the way…

 

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Hello? Hello!

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Greek Parliament as seen through a protester’s EU flag. Photo: © Nikos Pilos for the Open Society Foundations

The Greek Crisis

Speaking of front row seats, for about two weeks the imminent fate of Greece was compounded with high interest by political havoc, euro neckwringing, and capital controls on Greek banks that still exist until when? (pause) We don’t know.

 

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Agnes Martin, Untitled #1 (1980), in the Walker’s collection

Agnes Martin
Ran into one of her paintings by mistake. She takes no prisoners. I fell so willingly between the lines.

 

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Babette Mangolte, Trisha Brown “Roof Piece”, 1973, 53 Wooster Street to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City Photo ©1973 and 2003 Babette Mangolte

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Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece at the re-opening of Le Centre National de la Danse in Paris—a monument if ever there was one.

 

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Trajal Harrel with choreographer Jennifer Lacey at the Mona Bismark American Center, October 19, 2015. Photo: © Meredith Mullins

The new team at the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris

Looks like things with edge and aesthetic seriousness are breaking into that bespoke townhouse overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Go Mona! Go Mona! Go Mona!

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.

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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.

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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?

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