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Interact Center’s Response to Jérôme Bel

In November 2013, the Walker presented Disabled Theater, a work by French choreographer Jérôme Bel in collaboration with Theater HORA, a Swiss theater group made up of actors with disabilities. During Theater HORA’s week-long visit, the Walker partnered with Interact Center, a local arts organization for people with disabilities. This community partnership included a tour of […]

In November 2013, the Walker presented Disabled Theater, a work by French choreographer Jérôme Bel in collaboration with Theater HORA, a Swiss theater group made up of actors with disabilities. During Theater HORA’s week-long visit, the Walker partnered with Interact Center, a local arts organization for people with disabilities.

This community partnership included a tour of Interact’s visual and performing arts spaces, along with a meeting (and dance party!) with Interact artists. For more information about Theater HORA’s visit to Interact, check out Lydia Brosnahan’s in-depth blog post about the day the two companies spent together.

After seeing a performance of Disabled Theater at the end of that week, Interact founder Jeanne Calvit and Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts  Philip Bither discussed at length some serious criticisms that Ms. Calvit had of the show.  While Bither and Calvit came to the conclusion that they had simply had very different perspectives about the production, both appreciated the respectful dialogue. As a result of their conversation, the Walker invited Calvit to share her critique of the work on The Green Room. In a follow-up to her blog post, Calvit asked Interact actors to perform their own version of Bel’s Disabled Theater; the resulting video is posted above.

We present it here as an interesting companion piece to Calvit’s critique of Bel’s work. Both Bel and Bither found the video “re-make” intriguing. We are happy to share it here, as we are committed to representing a variety of perspectives — whether positive or negative (or somewhere in between) — as a means to spark dialogue about the work we present.

Upcoming Opportunities for Minnesota Choreographers

1. Momentum: New Dance Works 2015 proposals The call for proposals is now open for Momentum: New Dance Works 2015, presented by the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in partnership with the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater, with support from the Jerome Foundation. The series will run July 9–11 and […]

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Laura Selle Virtucio and Erika Hansen Nelson in Fortress by Leslie O’Neill, Momentum 2013. Photo: Gene Pittman

1. Momentum: New Dance Works 2015 proposals

The call for proposals is now open for Momentum: New Dance Works 2015, presented by the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in partnership with the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater, with support from the Jerome Foundation. The series will run July 9–11 and July 16–18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.

The Momentum dance series was created to promote the work of an exciting new generation of dance and dance-theater creators in Minnesota. The series enables innovative, under-recognized choreographers to have their work presented by presented by the Cowles Center as well as provide professional development opportunities facilitated by Springboard for the Arts. Momentum seeks out applicants from a full range of styles, cultures, aesthetics, and approaches that represent contemporary dance in the world today.

Proposals are due Thursday, April 25, 2014, by 5 pm.  Refer to the PDF file for eligibility requirements and application instructions.

Attend a public informational session on Saturday, April 5, 2014 at 10 am in the café at Mason’s Restaurant in the Cowles Center to answer all your Momentum questions.

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Kenna-Camara Cottman (center) performs in V6 by Pramila Vasudevan, Momentum 2013. Photo: Gene Pittman

2. Choreographers’ Evening auditions

The Walker Art Center is pleased to present the 42nd Annual Choreographers’ Evening curated by Kenna-Camara Cottman Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 7pm and 9:30pm.

SAVE THE DATE: Auditions will be held in the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater August 20th, 22nd, and 23rd. We are not accepting audition requests right now but times will become available in early July. Check back after July 7th for specific dates and times.

Watch MN Original’s segment on 2010 Choreographers’ Evening auditions:

Urban Experiment in Concert Form

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia […]

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Tiago Sousa of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Renato Mangolin

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia Urbana de Dança. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

Seven faces greet us in the dark. Sitting upstage in a line spread across the space, light allows us to only see this. A dancer emerges, sinewy and dreadlocked. He begins to move in silence, undulating his tallness and extending his limbs. It is a personal exploration, spontaneous, except that when another dancer joins there is unison, and it feels like a miracle.

This passing off of a solo happens several times, and thus we are introduced to the performers of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Seven of eight are in this first work, ID:ENTIDADES, one female and six male. Clad in black and sneakers, they blend hip-hop and contemporary dance. Conceived, directed and choreographed (with members of the Company) by Sonia Destri Lie, this layering of hip-hop, customarily a solo form, with contemporary concert dance sensibilities is visually arresting, surprising at every turn.

I am especially struck by the unison, moves identical save for some personal practicalities that take precedence like the need to sneaker-scootch another quarter turn or an arm response that differs according to a body’s momentum. These subtle differences combined with the dancers’ stunning individual appearances make for a marvelous statement about coexistence: many in body, one in mind.

Music by Rodrigo Marçal leads the dancers through a soundscape that influences but never dominates. Passages of silence elegantly transition dancers from episode to episode. Just when a visceral build occurs, visually and aurally, things break apart and a new scenario begins. It seems that movement is sourced from the dancers’ natural instincts then codified for group learning. Unison is urbanized, tolerant of dancers’ individualities.

Partnering comes into play but is less effective. Moments of contact feel superficial, and one can understand why given the solo nature of hip-hop. But here is where this hybrid experiment could really take flight. If the dancers could access one another’s bodies down to the level of bone, truly pouring their weight deeply into one another, the inherent visceral experience of this work would give birth to yet another new dimension.

Otherwise I am enchanted, inspired. It is structurally smart, lots of witnessing, watching, framing. Every body is loaded, cocked to explode at any moment. Countenances are at once soulful and suspicious. I fall in love with every one of them.

The second piece on the program is Na Pista. The program notes state that this work sources movement and personal experiences from the dancers. They enter wearing radically different attire, reflecting their personalities. They begin with a game of musical chairs, ending up in a line upstage. Water bottles add to the décor and choreography.

Ironically, while this second piece indicates more “personality”, I feel as if I learned more about the dancers in the first work. Fancy clothes and props are distracting more than anything. I prefer a barer context, allowing the dancers and the language singing out of their bodies to speak for themselves.

It is thrilling to see hip-hop dance merge with contemporary dance composition. Hip-hop electrifies the concert stage and tools like layering images, altering tempo, unison and stage picture show off hip-hop to extremely flattering effect.

Companhia Urbana de Dança performs ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista in the McGuire Theater March 27-29. 

Performing Lives, Dancing Experiences: Companhia Urbana de Dança’s Marvelous Symbiosis

Companhia Urbana de Dança, founder and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie insists, just sort of happened. At the time of its formation, she had just moved back to Brazil from Germany, where she had studied contemporary dance and delved into the world of hip hop. Back in Rio de Janeiro, she began working on a dance […]

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Tiago Sousa, Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Renato Mangolin

Companhia Urbana de Dança, founder and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie insists, just sort of happened. At the time of its formation, she had just moved back to Brazil from Germany, where she had studied contemporary dance and delved into the world of hip hop. Back in Rio de Janeiro, she began working on a dance project for a fashion show, auditioning B-boys and hip hop dancers. Meeting those dancers, she explained, “was the turning point. I saw so many good dancers, and they had no idea how good they were. In Rio, there was no opportunity, no jobs, so I decided to use my contacts in Europe to try to do something.” She started finding some dancers to form a company — or, as she likes to say, they found her. Companhia Urbana de Dança fully came into existence when a festival director took notice of her work and invited her to the Biennale de Lyon, an international dance festival in France. Along with dancer Tiago Sousa, whom she had met at the fashion show, Destri Lie pulled together a group to perform in Lyon in 2006. The company has changed members extensively throughout its existence, growing through three iterations into the critically-acclaimed group it is today.

Destri Lie has two conditions for her dancers: they must be good, respectful people, and their desire to dance must come above all else. For her, big egos have no place in the company, and a good personality is more important than flawless technique. Tiago explained in an interview: “Our desire to dance is greater than any necessity. We are all intelligent and talented. We could be doing anything else, but we chose dance, and we know that it takes a lot of love and dedication.” Indeed, many of the dancers have gone to great lengths to keep dancing. Rafael “Rafa” explained that after his mother told him he couldn’t keep dancing, he sneaked out of the house to go to rehearsal. In the beginning, the only rehearsal slot Destri Lie could get was from 11 pm to 3 am in a studio that was a substantial commute away from many of the dancers’ homes. Nevertheless, the dancers’ passion and dedication have propelled the group to international recognition.

Part of the genius of Companhia Urbana de Dança is the marvelous symbiosis it exhibits, both in terms of the styles of dance performed, and the company itself. Destri Lie and her dancers each contribute something to the company, creating a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. As she explained in an interview with Time Out NY:

Tiago Sousa said one day during this fashion show rehearsal: “Sonia, you are the only one that can understand our language, and you are the only one that can take us to a different level. If not, we are gonna be the black kids that dance from the favelas. And we are never gonna get respect! We need you, and I think you need us because we will be the reason for you to do something fresh and new. Maybe you will reinvent yourself and do not need to go to Europe again.” [...] I already had two dance companies before. It was hard to get support, money and sponsors, and I did not want to go through this all over again. But I said, “Yes! Let’s try.” And here I am.

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André Feijão, Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Anderson Café

But Destri Lie is aware that the fusion of artists and dance styles that exists in Companhia can be risky, especially given the juxtaposition of her background with those of the dancers. A recent New York Times review addressed this delicate balance:

Companhia Urbana de Dança sounds like a bad idea. It is a Brazilian dance troupe composed of young people, mostly men of African descent, mostly from the favelas, or slums, of Rio. But it is led and choreographed by Sonia Destri Lie, a white woman not from the favelas. She is trained in ballet and American and European contemporary dance, yet the works are based in hip-hop, somehow refined. Exploitation, condescension: Pitfalls abound. And yet [...] Companhia Urbana de Dança is so wonderful that it seems miraculous.

Indeed, pitfalls abound. Companhia Urbana de Dança dances in a delicate space in which issues such as race, poverty, violence, and gender are, through the act of performance, at risk of alternately being exploited or erased. Similarly, there is the balance in their performance between dance and narrative, with the chance that the background stories overpower the dancing.

Indeed, few descriptions of the company fail to mention the dancers’ origins in the favelas and suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Favela is usually translated as “slum,” and denotes an informal urban settlement in Brazil, often associated with poverty, crime, and drug trafficking. Since 2008, the government has worked to decrease the rule of drug lords in favelas through the implementation of UPPs (Police Pacification Units). Recently, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics have increased international scrutiny over crime and violence in these neighborhoods. In discussing some of the challenges of building a professional dance company through the years, Destri Lie does not deny that the dancers’ living situations often made things difficult — some of her dancers were consistently late, or couldn’t leave their neighborhoods for rehearsal because of drug-related violence, or even collapsed during practice because they didn’t have enough money for food. Tiago, when describing how he started dancing, explained, “I realized that, in my neighborhood, the guys who got girlfriends either danced or carried a gun… I chose to dance.”

But while crime, drugs, and violence, remain issues in Brazil’s favelas, the focus of popular narratives on these negative characteristics of the “morros” (“hills,” as they are often called), allows only for a narrow and stigmatizing perspective on them and the people who live there (indeed, discrimination and prejudice towards residents of these neighborhoods often makes it more difficult for them to find employment). In contrast to many prevailing conceptions, visual and performing arts have permeated some of these neighborhoods—for example, the colors of the neighborhood of Santa Marta, or faces and eyes painted on the houses in the Morro da Providência neighborhood. Favelas are where funk carioca music originated, as well as dances such as passinho, which has gained international recognition. In Morro dos Prazeres, a favela near the center of Rio de Janeiro, MTV built a high-quality soccer field to film a Brazilian TV show. There are schools, hospitals, and libraries in the neighborhoods. Cidade de Deus (inspiration for the Academy Award-nominated film of the same name) even has its own form of currency.

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Morro dos Prazeres, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Lydia Brosnahan

Companhia Urbana de Dança cannot erase the influence of its multifaceted background stories. Yet Destri Lie is cautious of creating performances that focus solely on the favela origins of the dancers. As she explained to TimeOut NY, while discussing the second group of dancers she worked with in the company (2006–2008):

I knew that to have a dance company with black dancers that came from the favelas and so on, I should be careful. Not with them, but with others: the media, the press release and so on. I did not want to use them. For me, it was just the place they came from. I wanted respect because they were a good dancers, I wanted respect because the work was good, I wanted respect because we were working hard… I did not want to have FAVELA in bold letters, not the way people use that in their Playbill. First, I wanted to be a dance company and not a social project.

The recent New York Times review concurs: “Ms. Destri Lie, with her artistry, never stresses the obstacles that her dancers have to overcome. But,” the article continues, “that, too, is under the surface.” Companhia Urbana de Dança’s works allow the dancers space to speak for themselves; to masterfully, but subtly, tell their own stories through their dance. While the pieces are choreographed by Destri Lie, each dance is also shaped by the dancers themselves — as she says, “The choreography isn’t mine, I just design it… I take their movement and make it my own, and vice versa.” And as her website describes, “Their social and cultural backgrounds fuel their inspiration and creativity, allowing for intense, genuine, and beautifully expressive movement.”

As the dancers influence the dance, so does the dance influence the dancers. Working with the Companhia dancers helped Destri Lie to revitalize and rethink her work, and through working with a renowned dance company, the dancers gained the respect not only of their families and their peers, but also of the international dance community. On the company website, dancer Feijão explains: “Dancing gave me self-respect, changed everyone’s opinion of me…. It brought up my self-esteem. At rehearsal, I found myself, I knew where to go, when I started to dance… Dance gave me the chance to get to know the world, it gave me direction.” Destri Lie, as well, described how she hopes the company can influence audiences’ perceptions, not only of dance, but of the dancers themselves: “I want them to show the world that being black, poor, Brazilian — third world — and having talent, that they could change the game through dance. And to show them as protagonists of their own transformation.”

Companhia Urbana de Dança exemplifies the innovative potential of 21st-century performance. It seamlessly fuses hip hop and contemporary dance, while simultaneously creating thought-provoking dissonance. It builds global performance with local motivations, encouraging dialogue about both dance and global issues. It is inclusive and inspirational without being exploitative — each piece recognizes the undeniable influence of each company member’s individual story while highlighting, on stage, the power of dance itself.

Companhia Urbana de Dança will perform Na Pista and ID:ENTIDADES Thursday–Saturday, March 27–29, 2014, at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Dismantling Dance: Penelope Freeh on Trisha Brown Dance Company

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown […]

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I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown Dance Company. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Trisha Brown Dance Company, after this 3-year tour of eight seminal proscenium works is complete, will redefine its mission, which includes dismantling these works. The company’s new direction includes installing interactive archives with as-yet-to-be-announced partner spaces (museums and the like) and will maintain a non-proscenium performing presence along with other modes of audience engagement.

It’s essential to see work live that will never be done again, most especially by longtime practitioners of said work. These dancers bring these works to life in such a special and specific way. There is no ornamentation, no put on style or aesthetic to detract from the ever-changing forms and fluid passages. The aesthetic is in fact bare and almost quotidian if it wasn’t so dancerly. There were four works on this particular program spanning 1983-2011. A fantastic overview though it made for a long evening.

First up was the rather glorious Set and Reset whose flow was only rarely interrupted by an arrested pose or lift, usually in a flex-footed open run position. Robert Rauschenberg created the visual presentation and costumes, which included see-through wings. These were used to great and subtle effect, adding another ephemeral element to an inherently ephemeral form. The flowing costumes were of the same fabric, with silk-screened images in black, white and grey. I assume these echoed the ever-present video installation that hovered above the dancing space, conjuring a sense of time passing, history and dream-like nostalgia. Individually and in groups forms melted away as soon as they were made manifest. The driving score by Laurie Anderson contributed to the sense of never-endingness. Just when a movement would register another would take its place, catapulting into a new flow and another seamless interruption.

While Set and Reset encapsulated many of the company’s overarching qualities and capabilities, Astral Convertible got more specific. With more visual elements from Rauschenberg including towers of light decorating and defining the space, this work was very formed and architectural. Dancers too were used as decorative and space-defining elements as others moved through and over them. Floor-bound bodies folded and unfolded, quietly cueing with the word “go”, adding nicely to the minimalist score by John Cage. In this world there were more moments of isolation for individual or a few dancers. Contact and partnering felt more emotional as connections were attempted and sometimes made awkward with mechanical motions bumping against the organic.

If you couldn’t see me was solo for a female, accomplished entirely with her back to the audience. Performed by Cecily Campbell, the material had room for personal élan and choice-making. Interesting, since we never saw her face. The lighting and costume rendered her back as expressive as a face, her ribs and muscles hyper-articulate.

The last work on the program and in the proscenium repertoire in general was I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours. This was a poignant watch, knowing it’s Brown’s last work of its kind.

Burt Barr, longtime partner of Brown, designed the visual presentation, comprised here of many large industrial fans. The dancers, wearing baggy white tops and pants, begin among them, situated stage left. Clothing gets blown off some, pulled off by others, another nod at ephemera laced with a little bit of danger. With a score by Alvin Curran, it was a great treat to hear and see him live on piano.

In various states of undress for much of the work, the dancers settled into a comfort zone of close calls, forms competing to occupy the same space, gently making contact long enough to leverage a launch away.

For this as in all the works on view, the music served as a landscape and not a specific set of directions. This use of music perhaps defines the work as post modern more than any other element, many of which might be considered classical: the segregated costuming for the sexes; the highly structured nature of the dances; the awareness of front, the audience, indeed, the proscenium. But the use of music is what defamiliarises us with watching this work. Because the dance isn’t bonded, in a traditional sense, to the music, we end up viewing it differently. The steps call out to us of their own accord, asking to be viewed for their own sake. Steps lay atop the sound scores for all these works and we are asked to multitask. The watching and listening are on two tracks, each getting a democratic treatment.

I wish this great and historic company well, on the remainder of this tour and for their future endeavors. It’s a brave thing to dismantle, to leave behind, to let one’s personal ephemera fade away. But as any dancer can attest, it’s simply what we do.

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs Proscenium Works: 1979-2011 in the McGuire Theater March 12-15. 

The ‘Golden Gestalts’ of Alvin Curran and Trisha Brown

The Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances at the Walker this week highlight their namesake’s dedication to the exploration of movement over that last 30 years. The music they move to reveals Brown’s engagement of unique compositional voices in this exploration. Their performances include music from experimental powerhouse Laurie Anderson and the master of chance John […]

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I’m going to toss my arms- if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company, with music by Alvin Curran. Photo: Stephanie Berger

The Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances at the Walker this week highlight their namesake’s dedication to the exploration of movement over that last 30 years. The music they move to reveals Brown’s engagement of unique compositional voices in this exploration. Their performances include music from experimental powerhouse Laurie Anderson and the master of chance John Cage. Alvin Curran will join the company at the Walker for a rare live accompaniment of Brown’s piece I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours.

Curran has been one of the leading experimental composers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, most known for his incorporation of electronics and found recordings. As a student of Elliot Carter’s at Yale, he received a rigorous education in midcentury avant-garde music. His own works built from and grew beyond this tradition, incorporating improvisation and technology to make a style completely his own. “This is part of the problem, carrying my own work around with me all of these years,” he told NewMusicBox, “because it isn’t all in one bag. It’s a bunch of bags.” His compositions are often as much improvised as they are composed, and electronics, installations, and recordings are common in his work. They call for instruments from flugelhorns to hotplates. Curran notes the uniqueness of our point in history, when composers have a wide range of styles and sounds both new and old at their fingertips, easily reproduced through technology. He calls this great synthesis “the new common practice,” “the direct unmediated embracing of sound, all and any sound, as well as the connecting links between sounds, regardless of their origins, histories or specific meanings.”

In the ’70s, Curran presented his music at the Walker on two occasions. His first visit was in 1977 with Musica Elettronica Viva, a group of electronic improvisors he founded with composers Richard Teitelbaum and Frederic Rzewski. He returned the following year to present a show of his solo work. The centerpiece of the evening was Light Flowers, Dark Flowers, billed as a structural improvisation featuring a tape recording, piano, “a section for ocarina, a monologue about the Trojan wars and a trip to the moon”.

Curran’s music of synthesis lends itself well to experimental dance, and he composes frequently for movement. He believes that “sound and image together create an infinity of meanings, timbres, energies, and emotions that would be impossible to achieve using either alone,” making Brown an ideal collaborator. The two have been working together regularly since 1991, when she called Curran asking for some last-minute music for a piece of hers. In his work with dancers, he strives for a unity of the senses, what he calls “golden gestalts when one ecstatically hears movement and sees sound.” Brown’s natural yet investigative choreography serves this goal well, and Curran has the utmost respect for her and her art. “I’m sure like any angel she has some faults,” he writes. “I’ve just never seen them”.

I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours, accompanied by Curran’s work, premiered in Paris in 2011, and the company has been performing it steadily ever since. The dancers’ movements are natural, comfortable, and rooted as they progress from isolation to contact throughout the piece. Their white costumes are slowly destroyed and blown away by the fans that share the stage, revealing brightly colored swim gear beneath.

Curran’s accompanying piece, Toss and Find, is a reflective sonic backdrop for the movement on stage. Curran, on piano, joins a prerecorded tape with electronics and sounds of everyday life. Beginning well after the dancers have begun, the sound creeps in with drones and static that becomes increasingly shrill. The piano enters with sparse, pointed octaves. Eventually the elemental sound of a horn is heard, its open intervals recalling the creation of the world as told musically by Mahler or Bruckner. As the dancers’ bodies begin to interact and their papery clothes have been shed, children’s voices appear, and Curran introduces an entire scale, creating dissonances with the recording. His score of found sounds and simple motives is engaging alone, but it is made complete by its physical manifestation, the dancers’ movements translating with their bodies.

“The human animal is eminently musical,” wrote Curran in a New York Times editorial. “Human music is a vehicle for personal and collective enjoyment and expression, and a means to transcend time and place.” The synthesis of his music with Brown’s choreography heightens this collective expression. As bodies move through and with his music, we may be moved to transcendence as well.

Alvin Curran will perform with the Trisha Brown Dance Company in the McGuire Theater March 12 – 15 at 8pm. Copresented with Northrop at the University of Minnesota.

Talk Dance: luciana achugar on OTRO TEATRO

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 Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the […]

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achugar’s new work is inspired, in part, by the idea of an abandoned, crumbling theater. Photo: Matt Lambros

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 Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the entire podcast here.

Talking with luciana achugar was fascinating. Her thinking unravels in layers, one connected to the other, sometimes digging deeper, sometimes sliding sideways, always moving forwards. Editing our hour of conversation about her upcoming premiere, OTRO TEATRO, into a busy-schedule-friendly 20 minutes was a challenge. Each edit made me a little sad.

One interesting detail (especially for Walker Art Geeks like myself), that I had to cut for time, was a connection luciana made between OTRO TEATRO, which she imagines beginning in the rubble of a decrepit and decaying theater, and the work of Argentinian visual artist, Guillermo Kuitca, whose series of paintings, 32 seating plans, incorporates laser printed images of seating plans of famous theaters that have been treated with water. A retrospective of Kuitca’s work entitled, “Everything” was in the Walker Galleries in 2010. As she said, “It speaks to a kind of way of making theater or a history of … the codes that we go by when we put theater or dance in the theater, and I liked this idea of it melting or collapsing or shifting … it relates to the world we’re living in right now and how it feels to me that the system we’re living in, our establishment, doesn’t feel like it can hold. It feels like it needs to soften and be a bit more flexible and shift its structures.”

What struck me most as I edited was how fully luciana integrates her ideas into her dance making process. I have the sense that it is her aim to take the conceptual, theoretical, ideological thinking she has around her work, and put it directly onto her skin, into her blood, bones, fascia. As she writes on her website, “…with a brain that melted down to the skin, the flesh, the bones, the guts, and the crotch… and with eyes that see without naming and see without knowing.”

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with achugar on the Walker Channel.

OTRO TEATRO takes place Thursday-Saturday, February 27-March 1, at 8pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

luciana achugar: Cultivating Communal Vibrations

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO at the Walker on February 27.

Throughout her career achugar has embraced dance as a means to create a sense of communal awareness. Intentionally spelling her name without capital letters to diminish hierarchical power, her choreography reflects the same passion for equity –her work lacking the traditional, established soloist roles. She told Curator Michèle Steinwald that she believes “everything should be a collective.”


Homogenizer Hybrid, Canada, January 2004

OTRO TEATRO will expand upon the feminist perspective achugar presents in her compositions. She challenges socially constructed standards of beauty and elevates the female form by concentrating on movement from the pelvis. The women in her 2004 piece A Super Natural Return to Love wore blue factory uniform smocks, storing red paint in the pockets that leaked through, and was later spread onto the white set backdrop. Celebrating the female experience, achugar’s work focuses on the sensuality – not sexuality – and pleasure of movement and the body. Her development of feminine expression aims to channel energies and cultivate communal vibrations.

achugar draws on the use of ritualized sound and movement to encourage a social bond between the audience and the performers. Patterned and repetitive sequences strengthen and clarify the dancers’ emotional intent, and empower the audience to actively engage with the performance. Recurring sounds construct an otherworldly, meditative space in which the choreography comes to life.

For her 2010 work PURO DESEO, she composed a dark and haunting duet with long-time collaborator and OTRO TEATRO set designer Michael Mahalchick, utilizing repetition of sound and action to articulate “performance as an incantation.” A spiritual tone resonates through many of her works. In PURO DESEO, both male and female voices alternately sing short, insistent melodies reminiscent of the chants of Tibetan monks. A single bell rings again and again, vibrating like the singing bowls historically used in Eastern meditation and healing practices. As achugar and Mahalchick pace, crawl, and reach upward across the dimly lit stage, a mysterious and dark energy vigorously appears.


PURO DESEO, The Kitchen, May 2010

Integrating a performance’s surroundings also affects the relationship between vibration and energy exchange. Steinwald wrote of achugar’s productions, “Each completed work takes on a ceremonial tone, acknowledging the agreement, we as audiences and artists have together, within the inhabited theatrical experience.” Like attending a church service that allows the congregation to share the same space physically and mentally, achugar endeavors to create an environment that both performer and spectator occupy, transferring energy to one another. OTRO TEATRO, for example, will metaphorically take place “in the ruins of a collapsed theater.” This work will actualize the performance space into which we, the viewers, will enter and participate.

An exploration of movement, sound, and perception, achugar’s OTRO TEATRO will provide a window into feminist expression in a vibratory landscape. Her past works’ engagement of the spiritual mind and imagination has redirected rhythmic and ordinary elements to produce meaningful, provocative exchanges. Continuing in a tradition of experimental and socially aware choreography, the ritualized patterns and communal consciousness that have served achugar so well will lay the foundation for her upcoming world premiere.

luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO opens February 27–March 1, 2014 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Balancing Act: Clément Layes on Performance, Philosophy, and the Art of Play

Clément Layes’ Allege is based on a simple question: “What can I do, and not do, while balancing a glass of water on my head?” Each performance of Allege is a 45-minute exploration of the possibilities and limitations created by this balancing act. With water bottles, glasses, and other everyday objects, Layes subverts the structures that constrain him by […]

Clément Layes "Allege"

Clément Layes. Photo: Dieter Hartwig

Clément Layes’ Allege is based on a simple question: “What can I do, and not do, while balancing a glass of water on my head?” Each performance of Allege is a 45-minute exploration of the possibilities and limitations created by this balancing act. With water bottles, glasses, and other everyday objects, Layes subverts the structures that constrain him by making a game of them, pushing them to the point of absurdity, merging research and performance, logic and phenomenology. As with the glass of water, he creates a balance with elements from his training in dance, theater, circus, and philosophy, while still refusing to be defined or confined by categories.

Allege is a performance and a question. As Layes writes on his website:

It is not an art for the future nor a culture for now. It is five hundred quotes disguised in few plastic bottles. It is not a geometric demonstration. It is not about Clément Layes, it is not a rock concert although it would be great, it is not only happening, it’s also unhappening, it is not ambivalent.

In advance of his visit to Minneapolis, I had the chance to chat with Layes over Skype to learn a bit more about his eclectic background, the philosophical inquiry in his work, and how Allege came to be.

Allege Clement Layes

Clément Layes in Allege. Photo: Karen Linke

What was your creative process for Allege? How did you come up with the ideas for this piece?

It started with some research I was doing with objects, particularly with glasses and bottles of water. I was working with a few other performers at the time, and we started practicing balancing a glass of water on our heads — which is not so easy to do! But I realized that there was very interesting potential within the structure of the glass. I wanted to explore how I could constrain myself in order to not be able to dance like we would expect a dancer to, but rather to move in a very specific way that would be defined by the constraints we had created — in the first place, the glass of water. So that’s how it developed. It wasn’t something that was planned; it was more ongoing research about these constraints and these objects.

On the topic of constraining structures: you’ve studied philosophy, and it seems to find its way into many of your pieces. How does philosophy figure into your work?

First of all, I am not a philosopher. But I have a great interest in philosophy, and for me, creating a performance is not so much something that is meant to entertain people, but rather to create some thinking in the audience. And not just conventional logical thinking — I see performance as a way to experience the world through the senses as well. I was very influenced by the phenomenological thinkers, the type of philosophy that invites one to come back to the experience of things. The question for me, particularly in performance, is how to find strategies to re-engage with the world, how to rediscover the things we actually know. By rediscovering them we also discover how the inscribed knowledge we have accumulated can be made dynamic again.

I’m also very interested in the creation of systems. This is maybe not so much about philosophy, but it’s something that is very present in bureaucratic systems and so on: we endlessly create systems that constrain us in different manners, being totally ineffective. I was curious to see what is produced on stage if I do this to a kind of extreme absurdity.

You have an eclectic background in circus, dance, theater, and philosophy: how does your background contribute to your work?

It’s a very strange path. I did theater and circus in high school, and later I pursued philosophy and circus. I was a juggler — it was my first specialty. At circus school I also did all kinds of acrobatics and trapeze, but my main interest went very soon to dance. I had been struggling in between circus, philosophy, and dance, and somehow I ended up only doing dance and attending dance school.

What’s interesting for me is that it took me around ten years to finally be able to combine these different elements of my background on stage and to make them play together without excluding elements of one or the other. And because they are so different in terms of form and aesthetics, I feel like part of the creation I’ve been doing in this performance particularly was to find ways to make those interests merge into one specific form that was satisfying for me.

In this sense I think the performance speaks a lot about categories, about how we organize categories — which to me is very complex. I started to reflect really precisely on the category of dance: what does it mean if I, as a creator of dance, place myself in the dance category? Am I not keeping myself within certain boundaries which are defined by the institutions with which I work? So now I try not to think in those terms, not to define myself while I’m working.

That actually was one of my questions—“Do you have a way to describe yourself and the work you do?” It sounds like from what you’re saying, you don’t really describe yourself as doing just dance, or theater, or circus, or art…

Exactly. I cannot escape being defined by others and particularly by institutions, because there is a need from theaters and critics and so on to define something for the audience. But in order to have the chance to create something new, I have to take care not to be defined within these frames. For example, I find that dance and visual art actually have a lot in common, but they are created in two categories that are very strongly socially divided, in terms of the practice and the people involved. In dance, we tend to be dependent on the dance studio and can only access it for a certain number of hours per week or month, and only in relation to a production. That is, dance as a practice is defined by the time frame of the rehearsal schedule. This is the opposite of practice for visual artists: they have the studio, where they can work every day without having to produce something. Now I am trying to create a space where I can work whenever it’s needed, to not only function in order to make a production, but to also be able to try out things, to research without being bound to make a piece.

One of the most important aspects of Allege is “play,” as a way to deal with these categories. I never take a very serious approach, but more a kind of childlike way of working: putting things together and seeing what happens in order to decide the next step to take.

Clément Layes "Allege"

Clément Layes in Allege. Photo: Dieter Hartwig

Your company, Public in Private, also seems pretty uncategorizable. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

Jasna Vinorvski is one of the main members and a co-founder with me. The primary thing we do is create performances, but since it’s a young company, the idea is to also develop it as a collective. We have worked with performers, visual artists, musicians, theater makers, etc., but often just for the creation of a production. The next step for us is to have a group that would be linked to Berlin, or to people passing through there, doing ongoing research and thinking and discussion, on a very playful basis — it doesn’t have to be very serious or academic — about how to position ourselves as artists within the contemporary scene. Because the artistic act is not only on stage, it’s not only something that relates to the stage itself, but it’s also a way to enter into the social context in which it is happening. We are working on a project we call the “Private Theater,” as a way to deal with these questions, and to involve more choreographers and artists in our discussions.

Clément Layes performs Allege at 8 pm January 23–25, 2014, in the McGuire Theater. Stay after the performances for a post-show reception with the artist (Thursday, January 23), a Q & A with the artist (Friday, January 24), and a SpeakEasy discussion with local artists and a Walker tour guide (Saturday, January 25).

Join Clément on Saturday, January 25, 11 am1 pm in the McGuire Theater for Inside Out There. This charmingly philosophical workshop creates theater and choreography with everyday objects. Each participant is asked to bring an object that they use daily to imagine what dreams it might imply, invite, or induce. Open to all. $6 ($4 Walker members).

Jeanne Calvit on Disabled Theater by Jérôme Bel

In November 2013, the Walker welcomed Paris-based conceptual choreographer Jérôme Bel for his fourth Walker engagement, a collaboration with Theater HORA, a Zurich-based company of actors with disabilities. Disabled Theater, which has been presented across Europe at festivals and prominent art exhibitions like dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, has indeed met with a range of […]

Jerome_Bell_Theater_Hora

Jérôme Bel/Theater HORA, Disabled Theater. Photo: Michael Bause

In November 2013, the Walker welcomed Paris-based conceptual choreographer Jérôme Bel for his fourth Walker engagement, a collaboration with Theater HORA, a Zurich-based company of actors with disabilities. Disabled Theater, which has been presented across Europe at festivals and prominent art exhibitions like dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, has indeed met with a range of responses, from ecstatic, glowing reviews to questions about intent or appropriateness. Understanding the challenging and potentially controversial nature of the piece, we reached out to Interact Center, a Minneapolis-based organization that for 17 years has worked to present “art that challenges perceptions of disability,” to join us as a community partner on the residency with Theater HORA. It’s the third time the Walker’s performing arts department and Interact have worked together; in both 2008 and 2013 we collaborated around performances by Back to Back Theatre, an Australian company of “actors perceived to have intellectual disabilities.”

In late November, Theater HORA members visited Interact Center, and Interact founder and director Jeanne Calvit joined us for the show’s opening night performance and the reception with Bel and the company members that followed it. After that performance, Calvit met with Walker performing arts curator Philip Bither to share her perspective on the work, which she found to be “socially regressive and devoid of any compelling artistic merit.” After talking through their very different perspectives on this work, he encouraged Calvit to share her concerns with us in writing. The Walker regularly uses its website to publish a diverse array of independent voices and opinions which don’t reflect the views of the Walker or its curators. In this instance, we felt it important to share Calvit’s perspective on what we believe to be a compelling and important, if controversial, work.

Thank you for this opportunity to share my response to the recent Jérôme Bel/Theater HORA performance at the Walker. As both an experienced theater artist and a person who has worked with artists with disabilities for most of my career, I was disappointed and angered by what I saw as both socially regressive and devoid of any compelling artistic merit. It has taken me some time to respond to this work, not because I didn’t want to respond sooner, but because I was careful to get past my own sense of outrage in order to be able to articulate the reasons for that outrage.

A bit about who I am: A graduate of the École Jacques Lecoq in Paris, my 40+ year theater career includes work with companies throughout Europe, the Middle East, and in the US, and I have spent much of that career working with artists with disabilities. I founded Interact Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in the mid-­1990s, a theater ensemble and studio/gallery for artists with disabilities. Interact has been recognized nationally and internationally for the award-­winning, high quality of our work and for our pioneering spirit of radical inclusion, a philosophy that blurs ideas of “who can” and “who cannot” and embraces the full spectrum of human potential.

Jérôme Bel’s work was an affront to my sense of artistic integrity, but my real outrage was at the demeaning content of this work -­‐‐ and at the fact that the Walker put this on stage at all.

Artistically, Jérôme Bel characterizes his work as avant garde. Yet the earliest use of that phrase in its customary sense, by St. Simian Rodriguez in 1825, states that the “power of the arts is the most immediate and fastest way to social, political, and economic reform,” and further, he calls upon artists to be the people’s avant garde, the vanguard of change. Bel’s presentation of developmental disability included no notion of why perceptions should change; instead it reinforced the perception that people with disabilities are of little value to society and are incapable of creating high-quality art.

I have been told that Jérôme Bel is a strong collaborator. However, I have seen Theater HORA’s own work, and it is compelling, edgy, and interesting, and it clearly shows the talents of these actors with disabilities. The company itself — sans Mr. Bel, who had never heard of Interact and had no interest in learning about us — came to work with our own actors while they were here in town. They were exceptionally capable artists, far more vibrant and interesting than Bel had portrayed them to be, so even here he failed as a collaborator.

It was explained to me that Bel’s approach is a revolutionary aesthetic of stripping the subject down to its barest essentials, yet that idea of stripping-down is part of the earliest acting exercises in any study of theater. I understand that Bel has used this technique to advantage in other work, for example, paring down to minimalist movement with trained ballet dancers, a witty and provocative attempt to erase the magic and let audiences “in” on exactly what ballet dancers do. Applying this idea to people for whom prevailing expectations are already at the lowest possible level, however, does not open a door to understanding: it reinforces permission for complete disregard.

I shudder to think what the reaction would be if Bel used this framework with a group of, say, African American men, or a group of Muslim women, or a group of Native American children…. the white, paternalistic master saying, “Now Jérôme Bel says to …”

Rather than taking a challenging concept and hammering out a provocative piece of theater, it seems to me that Mr. Bel was working through his own issues about people with disabilities. During the Friday night Q & A, he actually said, “Now, after working with these actors, I am not afraid of people with disabilities any more.  Now I feel good when I see them.” It was all about Mr. Bel. In no way did he recognize these actors’ potential for creativity or their ability:  “I tried to do performances with them, but it didn’t work.”

It was all the more insulting to have work by this particular European artist presented to US audiences. Theater HORA’s exceptional work in Switzerland is not typical of European attitudes, where they are only just now de-­institutionalizing people with disabilities — something the US did 60 years ago. There has been no disability-rights movement in Europe, and Theater HORA’s own work in European theater is breaking ground and setting new standards for the work that can be accomplished by artists with disabilities.

Mr. Bel seems ignorant of our country’s enlightened environment and oblivious to the incredible stigma he reinforces. He asked each of the actors to tell what it’s like to have a disability. One said, “I have Down syndrome, and I am sorry.” Another actor said, “I’m a mongol. A f-­‐ing mongoloid.” That is a term that hasn’t been used in this country since the 1950s, and even then it was meant as an insult. Would any of us tolerate such a blatant slap in the face to any other marginalized community? In fact, the very framework of this piece, “Jérôme Bel says do this… Mr. Bel says do that…” was offensive.

One viewer commented, “But look how well they all got along, and they were able to talk about their feelings.” I cannot think of a lower bar to set for a company of artists — that they acted like humans and were able to have friendships.

Mr. Bel would have us believe that he understood the people he was supposedly collaborating with, and he insisted during the Q & A that he wanted to “show their humanity.” His approach smacked of the worst kind of exploitation. It was demeaning and dehumanizing. It portrayed people with disabilities as having no gifts to bring to the world, little sense of joy or wonder, little emotional or intellectual intelligence. He fits the stereotype of the “modern artist” who is working out his own issues: self-­absorbed, not in touch with reality. In reinforcing stereotypes about people with disabilities, he wrapped himself in stereotype.

I’ve spoken to many other audience members who have had the same reaction. Several people walked away from the after-show talk because they couldn’t bear to listen to Jérôme Bel talk about himself any longer. Anyone who had any connection to people with disabilities cringed at what was happening on stage and left with heavy hearts at the idea that this could be considered groundbreaking art.

I believe serious harm was done to the image of individuals with disabilities through this performance. I therefore invite anyone who attended to find a way to experience people with disabilities in their own right — as fully realized, happy, angry, full of joy, full of despair, smart and no-­‐so….  regular people. Visit Interact any day of the week to see a rehearsal, or spend time in our studio, or drop in on any of the dozens of Twin Cities organizations that celebrate the work of people with disabilities.

 

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