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Conceptual People-Dance: Penelope Freeh on Tere O’Connor’s BLEED

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 Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Agree or […]

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The 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 Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

BLEED, Tere O’Connor’s newest work, an amalgamation of sorts of three other dances, sits well with me. About halfway through the work I remembered that this was the concept and then several mysteries were solved, for example, the austerity and import of many of the transitions. They seemed particularly loaded: introducing new dancers, breaking with the action and walking to a new location, building to a sentimental embrace, then journeying away into another choreographic land. Some of the costumes felt initially incongruous but then strangely cogent as the dance transpired. Remembering this notion of bleeding three dances into a fourth makes sense (not that I need it to make sense, but it’s satisfying to solve a mystery) and I dive deeper as a result.

BLEED begins with a woman in a green dress undulating, swirling almost, but not quite. Her balance is caught then abandoned, a constancy of the body catching up with itself. There is a quartet of onlookers who soon move into the frame. A quintet commences and I am reminded of court dancing, the roots of ballet, with handholds and tippy contortions that remain just upright enough to prioritize the vertical. Certainly the soundscape influences me here, composed and designed by James Baker, evoking the baroque.

More dancers enter and I am surprised. This is one of those previously alluded to mysteries that unto itself is jarring, but in the context of the concept makes perfect sense. There are eleven dancers total, a satisfying number. The stage feels very populated, and it is fascinating to see the many and varied stage pictures evolve with so many bodies.

There are many classical values amid the post modern: symmetry, awareness of front, a formal quality to much of the movement, all of which render outlier moments, like when all the dancers verbally shudder and stagger apart, more potent.

O’Connor is a dance-maker on the edge of discovery, investigating his own dances and previous choices to unearth something new. In the new are movements from those previous works but also subtle evocations, loaded embraces, powerful stillnesses (near the end, the dancers were in dynamic yet grounded poses holding hands in a giant s curve), and especially deliberate transitions. He is trying to reveal the negative and I see it in the mist, like Brigadoon.

The investment of these dancers is profound. They seem to reside simultaneously in the worlds of the previous dances and in this new terrain. Meaning is carried through, gathering mass like a snowball rolling downhill. This particular dance seems to be less about investigative movement than process. The vocabulary feels spare, complicating in terms of many bodies rather than in one individual. It is readable, then blurry, then discernible again.

The concept is a rich one and O’Connor’s touch is just right, just Midas enough. For me, it could have gone on longer. It takes awhile to get to know these wonderful people dancing, and just when I had my bearings, blackout.

BLEED continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, March 20, 8 pm) and tomorrow (Saturday, March 20, 8 pm). Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at the Walker on March 21 at 11 am. 

Meet the Dancers of Tere O’Connor’s BLEED

BLEED, an innovate work by Tere O’Connor, features eleven dancers at the forefront of New York’s contemporary dance scene. All are esteemed choreographers in their own right and involved in cross-disciplinary collaborations with visual artists, photographers, musicians, and other performing artists. Foregrounding the unique contributions of each artist provides a glimpse into the playful synchronicity that O’Connor achieves in BLEED. […]

Tere O'Connor's BLEED Photo: Paula Court

Tere O’Connor’s BLEED. Photo: Paula Court

BLEED, an innovate work by Tere O’Connor, features eleven dancers at the forefront of New York’s contemporary dance scene. All are esteemed choreographers in their own right and involved in cross-disciplinary collaborations with visual artists, photographers, musicians, and other performing artists. Foregrounding the unique contributions of each artist provides a glimpse into the playful synchronicity that O’Connor achieves in BLEED. Read on to learn more about each of the dancers in advance of seeing the performance at the Walker (Thursday-Saturday, March 19-21, 2015 at 8pm in the McGuire Theater).

Tess Dworman

Tess Dworman Photo: Simon Courchel

Tess Dworman. Photo: Simon Courchel

Tess Dworman is a Brooklyn-based choreographer who has produced work and performed in both traditional theaters and non-traditional venues, including galleries and apartments in Chicago and New York. Movement Research presented her recent choreographic collaboration with Laura Atwell, Stay at Home Prism, in September 2014.

As with many of Dworman’s dances, props are a key element in this piece. Dworman and Atwell begin by running around the stage with long wooden planks extending out of their sleeves as arms. They kick a transparent, inflatable sofa back and forth to each other. The two dancers sit together on the sofa and have a conversation using only their hands. Dworman’s interpretation of everyday gestures in her own work resonates with Tere O’Connor’s continued exploration of gesture through movement.

devynn emory

devynnemoryByTHEYbklyn

devynn emory. Photo: THEY bklyn

devynn emory’s company, devynnemory/beastproductions, has presented performance work at venues such as Danspace Project, Movement Research, and Philadelphia Live Arts Festival. emory has received grants and residencies and spoken on panels about their dance-making process and how it is influenced by cultural and gender identity. In emory’s own words: “i want performance to insist on another version of reality. i want to contribute to a queering of a performance aesthetic that invites a closer relationship to the ways we actually see and experience the world. i want to not only move from a queer lineage of resistance and outrage–i also want to, as a mixed-race native american person, welcome this queer movement on staged ground with peace and persistence.”

The artist recently presented an evening-length work, This room this braid, at the Actors Fund in Brooklyn, a project that developed from a year-long residency at Issue Project Room and received funding from a successful Kickstarter campaign. emory, who overcame severe dyslexia, creates works that playfully navigate issues of order, perfection, and formalism. This willingness to take creative risks makes emory a natural fit for Tere O’Connor’s ensemble.

Natalie Green

Natalie Green Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Natalie Green. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Natalie Green’s work has been presented by Dance Theater Workshop, Danspace Workshop, and Movement Research at the Judson Church, among others. Her first evening-length work, I’m building a shrine., was created as the result of personal research and a collaborative rehearsal process with the dancers, performed at the Chocolate Factory Theater in 2013.

Describing how the dance came out of her recent life experience, Green said, “I started to feel like all I wanted to do was bury objects in the earth to try to make peace, to let go. More recently I’ve realized I want to build a shrine, abstractly and kinetically. I want to honor, adorn, love, and then burn a version of my life. This dance is a way to both build and shed, harness and destroy.” In the work, she invited audience members to select from a host of occult items, among them bone fragments and voodoo dolls, for use in her shrine. This attention to ritual finds resonance with O’Connor’s vocabulary, one comprised of “gestures both ordinary and obsessive” (The New York Times).

Ryan Kelly

Ryan Kelly Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Ryan Kelly. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Ryan Kelly has been working collaboratively with Brennan Gerard for the past decade within their interdisciplinary visual and performing arts organization, Moving Theater. Their most recent project, P.O.L.E. (People, Objects, Language, Exchange), created in residency at the New Museum, transformed the museum’s fifth floor into a laboratory for movement research about cultures and pole dancing.

Hyperallergic called Gerard and Kelly’s project “politicized pole dancing,” discussing the artists’ goal of providing a space for both experienced and inexperienced dancers to play and explore. They worked with two dance crews that had frequented their open, pay-by-donation sessions at the New Museum to incorporate the political language of the Black Lives Matter movement. As Vic Vaiana explained, “many members of the participating dance crews have had run-ins with the police while performing on the subway, influencing the narratives told during their performances”.

Michael Ingle

Michael Ingle Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Michael Ingle. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

New York-based performer and choreographer Michael Ingle focuses on creating site-specific works in and around the community with his company, Michael and the Go-Getters. Ingle says he is drawn to “challenges, contradictions, wide-open spaces, and also trees.”

In addition to performing in Tere O’Connor’s BLEED, Ingle performed in O’Connor’s Cover Boy (2011) and Undersweet (2014), a duet performed by Ingle and Silas Reiner, most recently at American Realness. Ingle also collaborates with Megan Sprenger and performs with other nationally-renowned companies.

Oisín Monaghan

Oisin Monaghan Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Oisin Monaghan. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Oisín Monaghan’s recent collaborations with visual and performing artists have included performing in Xavier Le Roy’s Retrospective exhibition at MoMA PS1. He has been featured in the photography of Job Piston as well as in fashion photographer Kenneth Willardt’s 2014 The Beauty Book. Monaghan performed in the cast of the film As Rosas Brancas, which premiered at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. He has presented work with visual artists at such venues as the Chelsea Hotel and Deitch Projects.

Cynthia Oliver

Cynthia Oliver Photo: Valerie Oliveros

Cynthia Oliver. Photo: Valerie Oliveros

Cynthia Oliver is a Professor of Dance at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Along with her teaching, she runs her own dance theatre company called Cynthia Oliver Co., which creates performances that incorporate spoken word, dance, and sound, infused with Caribbean, African, and American influences. Oliver’s book, Queen of the Virgins: Pageantry and Black Womanhood in the Caribbean, looks at the tradition of beauty pageants as a lens through which to understand the culture of the islands where she grew up.

Oliver finds inspiration in “the spaces between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.” The New York Times reviewed her Ruptured Calypso performance, calling it a “riotously beautiful art of winding, powerful, erotically charged rhythmic dance.”

Heather Olson

Heather Olson Photo: Ian Douglas

Heather Olson. Photo: Ian Douglas

Heather Olson has won Bessie Awards for her performance of Tere O’Connor’s work in addition to her work in Yanira Castro’s video and performance installation at the Gershwin Hotel, Dark Horse/Black Forest. Olson’s own choreography has been commissioned by venues such as Dance Theater Workshop and The Chocolate Factory Theater, where she performed her much-lauded Shy Showoff.  As the New York Times said of Olson, “You could say she’s a deer caught in the stage lights, if the idiom connoted animal alertness rather than dumb paralysis. This deer has some De Niro in her: You lookin’ at me?”

One of Olson’s most personal and experimental works was her collaboration with Yanira Castro on a video installation project resulting from five years of work creating movement material. The movement in this solo was used as the basis for Castro’s The People to Come, during which the other performers created solo works based on Olson’s dance and contributions from the audience. The four-hour performance was comprised of new solo works that were created on stage using web-based responses from the audience and the general public to three requests (“give us a pattern; give us a portrait; give us a task”).” The website exists now as an archive of these audience contributions and the performances created from them.

Mary Read

Mary Read Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Mary Read. Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Mary Read’s diverse educational background – spanning dance, masked theater, and psychoanalysis – emanates from her performances. She connects deeply with the intention of a work, as demonstrated through the New York Times‘ assessment of her performance in O’Connor’s Secret Mary, “Her hands betrayed a slight tremor, her big eyes on the verge of welling with tears. As she fluttered a hand, or stretched one arm almost out of its socket, this effort to dominate with her own body evoked a great internal struggle.”

In addition to working with O’Connor, Read has performed with Vanessa Anspaugh, Hilary Clark, Lily Gold, Molly Poerstel, Katy Pyle, Jen Rosenblit, Jacob Slominski, Larissa Velez, and Enrico Wey.

Silas Riener

Silas Riener Photo: Ian Douglas

Silas Riener. Photo: Ian Douglas

Silas Riener’s accomplishments include a 2012 Bessie Award for his performance in Merce Cunningham’s Split Sides, a collaboration with Harrison Atelier design firm on an installation and performance featuring Riener’s choreography at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and an ongoing creative partnership with former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancer Rashaun Mitchell to make dances, site-specific installations, and immersive viewing experiences of performance.

The pair was featured in Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch in 2013,” and a short video introducing their work was presented by Imagista. The New York Times wrote of Riener’s performance of a duet choreographed by Tere O’Connor: “Mr. Riener has spent several years now determinedly avoiding the technical bravura he displayed with Merce Cunningham’s troupe; still, when he straightened a leg or inclined his torso here, it registered with classic impact.”

David Thomson

David Thomson Photo: Sylvain Guenot

David Thomson. Photo: Sylvain Guenot

David Thomson has collaborated with artists in music, dance, and theater for over 30 years. He has received numerous artist residencies and fellowships, and has served on faculties and boards of some of the most recognized art and performance institutions in the country. Thomson’s list of artists he’s performed for and with is extensive and impressive, including Bebe Miller, Trisha Brown, Ralph Lemon, Sekou Sundiata, Meg Stuart, dean Moss/Layla Ali, Deborah Hay, Marina Abramović, and many more. Most recently, he served as Artist-in-Residence at The Invisible Dog in Brooklyn, developing a trilogy of site-specific performance works on freedom and surrender through voyeurism, to be performed this year.

A cursory survey of this all-star ensemble reveals the fantastic scope of O’Connor’s ambitions. Culled from across the contemporary dance world, these dancers share an orientation towards formal invention and interpersonal exploration. O’Connor’s resolute refusal to adhere to stylistic boundaries and conventions promises to push each of these artists in fascinating new directions, to the benefit of everyone in the room.

….

BLEED will be performed at the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, March 19-21, 2015 at 8 pm. Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at 11 am on Saturday, March 21 in the McGuire Theater.

Talk Dance: Tere O’Connor on BLEED

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 New York choreographer Tere O’Connor, whose work BLEED will be performed at the Walker March 19-21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel.   The latest episode of Talk Dance is […]

Tere O'Connor Photo: Natalie Fiol

Tere O’Connor. Photo: Natalie Fiol

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 New York choreographer Tere O’Connor, whose work BLEED will be performed at the Walker March 19-21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel 

The latest episode of Talk Dance is built around an error. I was a bit flustered and nervous at the beginning of my interview with choreographer Tere O’ Connor and forgot to push the big, super-important, red RECORD button on my Skype recorder. Luckily, I had a second mode of recording going, just in case anything were to go wrong, which it did. However that recorder only captured Tere’s voice and not mine. So, rather than re-record myself asking the questions, I decided to edit the audio I had to sound like a monologue.

As I’ve listened and relistened to this podcast (about 12 minutes of very compelling thinking about dance, a life in dance and the making of BLEED) I’ve come to love the way it mirrors my experience of watching Tere’s dances. From the first moment, I find myself in a highly constructed world where ideas are born and disintegrate in heartbeats, where landscapes become seascapes become portraits become abstract expressionisms become cathedrals and I can’t quite get my footing and I can’t catch my breath and I’m loving every minute of it. Yes, I’m a huge fan. That’s why I forgot to press record. So, I wanted the listening to be like the watching, that from the get go, you were, as Tere said in our interview, “aswim in what’s already gone by … and sifting through that as it goes forward.”

Tere spoke brilliantly about a ton of stuff and I cut quite a bit of the interview (from 45 minutes to 12), so there’s a lot of great material on the cutting room floor. Three (of many) bits I decided not to include were discussions of cooking (and its relationship to dance-making), Tere’s long time collaborations with composer James Baker, and some thoughts about the evolution of his choreographic practice. Here’s a taste:

ON COOKING: “You know, pepper … has all this deep background, that I can both sense and have also read about. It’s the same way I look at history referenced in my work. I’m not doing a critique of that, they’re just all there blended together creating this other thing and that kind of alchemy is really interesting to me in both cooking and in choreography definitely. There are connections there for me. And they’re very deep.”

ON COLLABORATIONS: “It might be interesting for people to know that I make my dances in silence and then the music comes later. And James and I think a lot about what should be the tone what should be the instrumentation, what should be the chord progression over the whole piece, should it be resolved or not … the way that tone and quality of music kind of finish out the work, its really braided between us and he’s a huge part of my voice.

ON HIS PRACTICE: “…at this point it’s like trying to … use the things that are coming from my practice – all the instability that is inside of a practice and the kind of relationship of doubt to certainty that is inside of a practice. And I don’t want to have a practice that says, ‘I’m fixing that and denying that,’ I want to have a practice that says, ‘I’m including that.’… And since I’ve decided to stay in this form, and not go into a commercial area, I want to really be a commercial, I don’t want deal with product production.”

There’s so much more to chew on in the podcast, and it illuminates not just aspects of Tere’s work, but dance in general. Take a listen and make your friend who says “I don’t get dance” listen to it too–then take them to see BLEED. I truly enjoyed talking to Tere about his work, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing BLEED at the McGuire. And, as my end of the conversation evaporated into the ether, I’d like to personally/publicly thank Tere again for taking some time to talk with me.

Head over to the Walker Channel to listen to the podcast with Tere O’Connor.

BLEED will be performed at the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, March 19-21, 2015 at 8 pm. Tere O’Connor will also teach a Master Class at 11 am on Saturday, March 21 in the McGuire Theater.

Revealing the Space / Revealing the Dance: Penelope Freeh on Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease

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 World Premiere […]

Photo: Gene Pittman.

Stripe Tease artists, left to right: JT Bates, Jennifer Davis, Max Wirsing, Dustin Maxwell, Jeremy Ylvisaker, Tristan Koepke, Laura Selle-Virtucio, Mary Ann Bradley, Krista Langberg, and Mike Lewis. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on the World Premiere of Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

From the beginning of Stripe Tease I feel as though I am in good hands. Two men enter in silence and commence a dance, opening the main drape in the process. It is an elegant and surprising gesture, the curtain billowing apart then slowly opening part way.

Silence continues as the duet takes the space. I remember that Chris’ last epic dance, Matching Drapes, ended with these very men, Max Wirsing and Dustin Maxwell, engaged in an elegant arm wrestle that resembles what I see here. I love this notion: start your new epic dance where your other one left off…

During the course of this hour-long work various parts of the space are revealed: the upstage curtain opens to display a striped backdrop in day-glo colors, side wings disappear, side balcony curtains move aside revealing drawings of tigers in the same palette, and the musicians are exposed upstage left with a vertical tiger lurking behind. These scenic elements, designed by Jennifer Davis, deftly support the stripe theme and the notion of tease/reveal.

The six dancers, at various times, occupy the entire theater. They use the stairs, the side balconies, the exit doors. The masterful lighting by Joe Levasseur sometimes shines on the audience, involving us and possibly implicating us.

And now to the dance, ah the dance and the dancing. Chris’ movement is highly gestural, arms often swishing, swiping, initiating. There is virtually no partnering and yet relationships abound. His choreographic sweet spot seems to reside in quartet work, pitting two dancers in contrast to the other pair then seamlessly swapping unison partners. The dancers track one another’s movements, rather like tigers, racing with them down a diagonal and tearing back. Often one dancer frames another’s movement, a sort of tracing with abstract gesture and physical intention.

The soundscape, played live by Alpha Consumer (Jeremy Ylvisaker, JT Bates, and Michael Lewis) perfectly accompanies the complex choreography. The music does not dictate the steps. It hovers alongside them, inspiring but not enforcing rhythms. The movement contains its own rhythmic impulses, likely based upon what works well with contrasting steps and also perhaps driven by an abstract dramaturgy of sorts. To my eye, the dancers groove on having the music there to support them. Laura Selle Virtucio in particular let her passion shine through, leveraging her exhaustion to dig deep.

The steps unto themselves are not particularly hard. The virtuosity resides in the craft of how the dancers move in relation to one another and in the duration of certain passages. A rapid-fire yet simple gestural arm and hand choreography becomes sublime in duplicate. Unison and relationship reveal rigor and intelligence.

The three other wonderful dancers are Dolo McComb, Krista Langberg and Tristan Koepke. All the dancers serve the overall vision while remaining utterly themselves, unusual to see amidst so much unison and the need for keeping an eye on one another.

The work was by turns mesmerizing and edge-of-my-seat inducing. There were quiet moments that apertured in, like in the opening arm dance, and full-throttle moving acrobatics that laced and spun and careened. There were beautiful, very feminine feeling gestures, fascinating to see on male bodies. Then later a double knocking gesture became a signature, ever so slightly more hard-edged.

Get your tickets, folks. There is an added show, Saturday at 2pm as the others are virtually sold out.

For a World Premiere, this work is well cooked. It has legs beyond this moment and may well be one of those occasions about which we can say we saw it when.

Stripe Tease continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight, Friday, February 20 at 8pm, and tomorrow, Saturday, February 21 at 2pm and 8pm. 

Talk Dance: Chris Schlichting on Stripe Tease

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 Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting, whose Walker-commissioned piece Stripe Tease will premiere at the Walker February 19–21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel. Watching the first iteration […]

Jennifer Davis, Chris Schlichting, and Jeremy Ylvisaker. Photo: Gene Pittman

Jennifer Davis, Chris Schlichting, and Jeremy Ylvisaker. Photo: Gene Pittman

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 Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting, whose Walker-commissioned piece Stripe Tease will premiere at the Walker February 19–21. You can find the podcast on the Walker Channel.

Watching the first iteration of Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease at MTM@10: Momentum in the Garden was magical.  As I drove up to the Walker on Hennepin Avenue, I caught a glimpse of something hanging from the trees—like someone had very artfully “teepeed” the sculpture garden.  When I got closer I saw how carefully Chris and visual artist Jennifer Davis had placed each hand-painted butcher-paper streamer.  I loved how the set invited me to dream up and away from the dance and  reminded me to look down at the stage and pay attention!  The weather was summery and amazing (think opposite of February) and the piece, Den Rags, was lush, soft, and at times hypnotic.  After it was over, I loved watching Chris and the cast carefully lower each streamer down from the trees with string.

That first impression of the set, which at first glance it reminded me of a banal high-school prank and then revealed itself as something beautiful, is indicative of my experience of Chris’ work.  As I watch his dances I feel something similar to a concept Chris brought up in our interview earlier this month.  He said, “Kristin Van Loon (of HIJACK) talks about this attraction/repulsion dynamic that really connects with my interests in the form…there are things you find yourself attracted to and then there are things that you’re attracted to but feel kind of gross, and so you’re negotiating those frictions. To me it stirs up questions and keeps me interested.”  Those frictions keep me interested too.

We covered a lot of ground when we spoke: the difficulties of transitioning his work from outdoor stage to proscenium theater; collaborations with Visual Artist Jen Davis and Guitarist/Composer Jeremy Ylvisaker (Alpha Consumer); connections between Chris’ interest in Food and Dance; and Chris’ longtime employment at the University of Minnesota’s Architecture Department.  However, the thing I was most curious to talk about was the sexual content of his work.  It comes to you first in the in the titles of his works (to name a few: Dirty (2006), Love Things (2009), Public Hair (2011), I’m Not Sure What This Wetness Is (2011), and Matching Drapes (2013)).  But it also comes in the slyly suggestive movement vocabulary and the evocative relationships and situations between performers onstage. I wanted to know where this comes from and how he’s thinking about it in the larger context of his work.  Chris spoke eloquently about his interest in “the power and the beauty of these things that we sometimes associate with being somehow dirty […] some people might consider this gross and grotesque but it’s contextualizing it.  These things are also beautiful and these are parts of the human experience.”

Listen to Jones’ entire conversation with Schlichting here

Stripe Tease will have its world premiere in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, February 19–21, 2015 at 8 pm.

Get to Know the Artists Behind Chris Schlichting’s Stripe Tease

Ahead of next Thursday night’s world premiere performance of Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting’s Walker-commissioned dance piece Stripe Tease, we asked his collaborators, including visual artist Jennifer Davis and art-rockers Alpha Consumer, to answer a few 8-ball-style questions. The artists discussed their histories with Schlichting, the other projects they’re working on, their favorite hidden spots in the Twin Cities, […]

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Stripe Tease; Photo by Gene Pittman

Ahead of next Thursday night’s world premiere performance of Minneapolis-based choreographer Chris Schlichting’s Walker-commissioned dance piece Stripe Tease, we asked his collaborators, including visual artist Jennifer Davis and art-rockers Alpha Consumer, to answer a few 8-ball-style questions. The artists discussed their histories with Schlichting, the other projects they’re working on, their favorite hidden spots in the Twin Cities, and much more.

SMALLERKristaLangbergStripeTease

Krista Langberg, Photo: Erin Celeste Westover

Krista Langberg (Dancer)

When or how did you meet Chris ?

At the bus stop on the corner of 62nd and Lyndale

What’s your best kept Twin Cities secret that you don’t mind sharing?

The Lock Up mega self storage on American Blvd

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?

The La Brea Tar Pits

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Honesty

What have you been reading lately?

The Haynes manual “so you own a volvo…”

What else are you working on?

SHORE with Emily Johnson/Catalyst

MikeLewisStripeTease

Mike Lewis, Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Mike Lewis (Sound)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

Ever evolving.

When or how did you meet Chris?

Through Jeremy Ylvisaker, before Alpha Consumer performed as a part of his piece for the 25th anniversary of the Sculpture Garden.

What’s your best kept Twin Cities secret that you don’t mind sharing?

Succotash, a small vintage furniture shop in St. Paul.  The owners, Paul and Noreen, are beautiful and welcoming people with a learned and nuanced aesthetic, and prices always seem respectfully balanced between keeping the doors open and building a devoted clientele.

What global issue most excites or angers you?

The slow death of culture, thought, and individuality via corporate monopolization of food, media, and commerce as a whole.

What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Public Enemy. Mingus. Kubrick.  Rothko.  Jim Henson.

What have you been reading lately?

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra.

What question do you wish we asked you?

Why do you wear that tape on your nose?

What else are you working on? 

Making time for solitary musical explorations and cooking eggs.

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Lion. Painting by Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis (Visual Design)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

I give up. I can’t do it. I just can’t!

When or how did you meet Chris?

I’ve known Chris for 24 years! We went to high school together. We briefly lost touch but were later reacquainted via mutual friends.

What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Axl Rose =0)

What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

Vintage carousel animals.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?

Playing for long hours in a weird, partially below-ground, playground built in the ruins of an old barn across the street from the house where I grew up in Jonathan (Chaska), MN. I have only my memories because I can’t find any photos of the place.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Getting plenty of sleep.

What else are you working on? 

I’m currently working on a series of paintings inspired by an ad for vintage paper mache masks, but after Stripe Tease I’m taking a short break to work on my tan.

SMALLERTristanKoepkeStripeTease

Tristan Koepke, Photo: Steve Niedorf

Tristan Koepke (Dancer)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

Erratic, elegant, hysteric, compulsive, and exquisite hypnosis.

When or how did you meet Chris?

We met casually through the community in 2007, but our relationship became official in 2009 when he mentored a project I created at the University of Minnesota.  I quickly told him that if he was in need of any tall, blond, awkward dancers, I was his guy.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures? 

Writing on bananas with ball-point pens.

What have you been reading lately?

In Bed with Gore Vidal by Tim Teeman

What else are you working on?

I work full-time for Zenon Dance Company. Touring with luciana achugar’s Otro Teatro. I also begin my training at the Rolf Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, CO in May, 2015!

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Dolo McComb, Photo: Bill Starr

Dolo McComb (Dancer)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

Calculating Cool Cats Coming Constantly Candy

When or how did you meet Chris ?

In June 2014 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl after I danced a little solo for 9×22 Dance/Lab!

What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

John Maus. Still. Every day.

If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

Charlie Chaplin; my mother.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I can only think of patience.

What have you been reading lately?

Steppenwolf  by Herman Hesse

What else are you working on?

I am creating a piece for the Red Eye Theater’s Work-In-Progress Festival this May. Also, working with BodyCartography Project on their work called closer.

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Dustin Maxwell, Photo: Andy Richter

Dustin Maxwell (Dancer)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.  

Stripe Tease is a meticulous dance of gestures and short stories.

What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Eiko and Koma changed my life

What’s one of your guilty pleasures? 

Chocolate…and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

New Mexico.

Fill in the blank. What the world needs now is _________________.

Love. No, really, love.

What else are you working on?

I’m also working on Still Life with Morgan Thorson to be performed this summer at the Weisman Art Museum.

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Jeremy Ylvisaker, Photo: Ben Durrant

Jeremy Ylvisaker (Sound)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

Parallels

What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

Distraction. It seems if I skate on top of my ideas, I’m less likely to get lost. I have 2 kids and a dog. This helps.

What’s your favorite place to people-watch?

24 hour casino in the middle of the night. I’ve only done it once, but I recommend it.

What is your favorite place in the world?

My cousin’s farm in Norway.

If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

I think Louis C.K. and Brain May should hang out. I don’t need to be there, but I want credit if they hit it off.

What else are you working on? 

A bunch of solo recordings, Alpha ConsumerGuitar Party, The Suburbs.

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Laura Selle Virtucio, Photo: V. Paul Virtucio

Laura Selle Virtucio (Dancer)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

It is craft and candy.  It is meticulous and precarious. It is arithmetic and heart, clean and broken.

When or how did you meet Chris ? 

Chris and I had a class together at the University of Minnesota in the late 90s.  I remember seeing him swing dance and sing in a punk band around that time too…

What have you been reading lately?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See (my son’s favorite book) and I just started Silas Marner by George Elliot

What’s one of your guilty pleasures?

I’ve recently binge watched The Killing and The Fall on Netflix.

What else are you working on? 

Shapiro & Smith Dance at The Cowles Center for Dance, April 2 – 4, 2015.

Max Wirsing

Max Wirsing, Photo: Courtesy the Artist

Max Wirsing (Dancer)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.

It’s a dance piece that is almost fractal in its composition– the deeper you look into its details and nuance, the more it reveals.

When or how did you meet Chris?

Chris and I toured Heaven (by Morgan Thorson and Low) together– so many of my memories of Chris are in a long white skirt.

What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

So many to choose from:  Robert Rauschenberg, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Yayoi Kusama, John Cage, Meg Stuart, Sasha Waltz—though I guess many of those obsessions started in my 20s.  In high school I went through a jazz phase—so Miles Davis, Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald….and Fauvist painters.

Who is your favorite villain of fiction? Of non-fiction?

Ronald Reagan

If you could throw a dinner party for anyone in the world, who would you invite?

Tilda Swinton, Jeff Koons, Dan Savage, Solange Knowles, my sister Liz, Bjork, Charlie Kaufman, Spike Jonze, Jean Nouvel, Bob Vila, Pema Chodron, Myra Kalman, Malia Obama, and someone who knows how to read tarot cards.  Holy cow, that’d be awesome.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?

I once swallowed the entire contents of my sister’s piggy bank.

What else are you working on?

Over the summer I’ll be a part of a performance installation at the Weisman Art Museum that Morgan Thorson is creating. And somewhere over the next year I’ll be working on a solo for the McKnight “Solo” show—choreographer TBD.  I’m also taking a math class right now.

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JT Bates, Photo: Bryan Aaker

JT Bates (Sound)

Describe Stripe Tease in one sentence or less.  

An honest search.

What artist turned your world upside-down as a teenager?

Max Roach.

What’s one of your guilty pleasures? 

Melted cheese.

What is your favorite place in the world?

Oh c’mon, it’s Minneapolis!

What is one of the most unexpected influences on your art?

The opposite of art/opposite of individuality.  Like, the brand new awful condo high rises everywhere.

What else are you working on?  

I’m always working on the Jazz Implosion series.

….

Stripe Tease will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday–Saturday, February 19–21, 2015 at 8 pm. 

More than the Beat: Choreographers’ Evening 2014

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 Rae Charles shares her perspective on Choreographers’ Evening 2014. Agree or disagree? Feel […]

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Top photo, left to right: Wealthy Phonseya (INC), Travis Johnson (INC), Blake Nellis, Deneane Richburg, Lisa Berman (INC), Madeline Howie (INC), Taja Will, and Darrius Strong (STRONGmovement). Bottom photo, left to right: Arturo Miles (INC), Renée Copeland (INC), Joseph Tran (INC), Tonya Williams, Cheng Xiong (INC), Deja Stowers, Junauda Petrus, and Canaan Mattson. Not pictured: Kendra Dennard, Aneka McMullen (INC), and Ashley R.T. Yergens. Photo: Gene Pittman

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Rae Charles shares her perspective on Choreographers’ Evening 2014. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

When I heard that beloved artist, educator, and community advocate Kenna-Camara Cottman would be curating this year’s Choreographers’ Evening at the Walker, I knew she had a daunting task ahead of her. For an artist of color to be asked to present their personal aesthetic in such a privileged space, the honor was not without immense responsibility and heavy baggage. I’m sure the curatorial process is never a cakewalk, but for Kenna, this journey had to come with the deep reckoning that any “minority” (POC, differently-abled, Trans, queer, female, etc.) artist has confronted at one time or another: How do I represent myself? How and with whom do I identify?

These questions of representation are in fact universal, but diverse artists will tell you that we pay a special tax. There is the burden of gatekeeping, of tokenism—being that one privileged voice asked to speak for all of your kind. Decision-making becomes bogged down when one honestly faces that they may be the example, the experiment. Will there be another black curator? Will diverse artists have another chance like this to be presented and aesthetically valued?

Let me put this another way:

As a young child growing up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, I was not only the sole black student, but often the only black girl in most of my classrooms and activities. I hated February and any discussion of U.S. history for without fail, the buck would be passed to me. What did I think about slavery? Was my grandmother in the Civil Rights movement? Do all black people laugh like that? What is up with black women and your hair?! And on and on. All heads would spin, eyes stare, and ears open as their inquiry suffocated me in its spotlight. Alternately innocent or offensive, always ignorant, these types of questions haunted me through my college years. The responsibility to be the one voice communicating the diversity of my entire race in white spaces was paralyzing.

You can imagine my relief when I saw that this was not so for Kenna and the artists she chose to present at this year’s Choreographers’ Evening. At the 9:30 pm Choreographer’s Evening performance on November 29, I witnessed 10 choreographers and countless supporting artists refusing to be frozen. Unlike most Choreographers’ Evenings, this year’s evening rode an arc of cohesion as it revealed themes of triumph and defiance. Gone was the disjointed variety show featuring the curator’s “Top 10,” instead was a unified vision making a bold and relevant statement—a feat I attribute to Cottman’s curatorial prowess.

The evening was as timely as it was clear in its statement, forcing the audience to acknowledge the zeitgeist seizing hold of our nation this past week. The grand jury’s failure to indict Darren Wilson for his shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown has ignited fervent rage and protesting beyond the city limits of Ferguson, Missouri. A new generation has awoken and arisen all over this country. We are no longer blinded by the promises of a  “post-racial society” or content with what our fore-parents accomplished. There is still work to be done, and we are determined to wail, and shout, and stand until it is finished. A clear takeaway from Saturday’s performance is the importance of artists’ role in this work and their willingness to do it.

Artists are often first responders, the canary in the mines, each singing their own song of alarm. The night’s shining star was a work by Darrius Strong of (Strong Movement) entitled Piece by Piece. Alongside four other dancers, including the powerful and captivating Ashley Akpaka, Strong charges through space summoning a collective spirit as he shows a community in breakdown. Religiously implicit motifs suggests a ceremony of induction as the group shifts between altruistic care for its members and almost cannibalistic violence upon itself, showcasing the best and worst of what happens when we all come together.

Less literal but equally relevant was Significant Nothings, choreographed and performed by Canaan Mattson. Mattson is an entrancing, gooey, and technical mover—able to organically shift through disciplines and seamlessly juggle maintaining the intimacy of his work while still inviting us in to witness the magnificent beauty of a young black man. For the work’s second section, Mattson forgoes recorded music and is joined by vocalist Eric Nordstrom onstage. Nordstrom happens to white, and as he steps on stage in his all black suit the contrast between himself and young Mattson donned in all white, is stark. The visual arithmetic is unavoidable if not intentional and for a moment, my breath caught as I watched these two young men share space and produce creativity rather than destroy life. To behold a young black man, as not dangerous, but beaming in his prime is a lesson our nation needs to learn.

TU Dance’s Kendra Dennard also hits literal high notes in her solo work Dancing With God. While the program notes aptly describe the work as an exploration of the fine line between love and hate, brilliance and calamity, it also resonated with my own experience of the Brown tragedy as young black woman. Brown’s and the countless other shootings in recent years are maddening and heart wrenching, not because I see myself in these men, but because I see my brother, my father, my partner, and I fear for my future sons. There is a loneliness in black women’s sorrow. We are secluded to ourselves but oh so affected. As we lose ourselves to grief, as we isolate ourselves for strength, the threads of ourselves start to fray. This is my own reading of Dennard’s work as she croons and morphs the melodies of Billie Holiday on a stage lit like a cell by a single overhead light. Dennard is beautiful yet tortured as she dances for composure, for relief, for hope—she dances for God to hear us.

From Ashley R.T. Yergens’ sassy Is this more ladylike? to Deneane Richburg’s Quiet As It’s Kept, all of the evening’s artists seemed to share a similar rebellious vision. Shucking cultural expectations, flipping the gaze, and honoring the artist’s civic duty to demand that culture face itself in the mirrors we hold up, this year’s choreographers delivered. An abundance of marginalized artists were given the opportunity to express themselves as so much more than our expectations. With metaphorical megaphones in hand, they spoke up and spoke out—not as tokens or tropes, but as authentic rich, lush, and complex individuals who truly see the world and demand to be seen. For that I say, Bravo! And thank you.

Meet the Artists of Choreographers’ Evening 2014

Curated by Twin Cities choreographer Kenna-Camara Cottman, this year’s edition of Choreographers’ Evening continues the tradition of providing an annual “crash course” on the local dance scene. In a recent interview with City Pages, Cottman expounds on the decision making process that whittled a long list of auditioned acts down to the program of ten choreographers selected for  two […]

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In New Company (INC). Photo: Bfresh Productions

Curated by Twin Cities choreographer Kenna-Camara Cottman, this year’s edition of Choreographers’ Evening continues the tradition of providing an annual “crash course” on the local dance scene. In a recent interview with City Pages, Cottman expounds on the decision making process that whittled a long list of auditioned acts down to the program of ten choreographers selected for  two shows on Saturday night in the McGuire Theater: “I like abstract and really physical things. Things that are clearly dance, but I’m also into weird stuff that has talking or text or different elements.” Noting a “preponderance of blackness” in this year’s program, Cottman emphasizes the importance of providing a platform to artists of color.

On Sunday afternoon, Cottman will also Hold Court in Theaster Gates’s See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court installation as a part of the Walker’s ongoing Radical Presence exhibition. She will lead a conversation with Choreographers’ Evening 2014 artists on contemporary dance and its role as an agent of sociopolitical change.

In advance of Saturday night’s performanceswe asked participating artists to share their thoughts on the questions their works pose, the vitality of performance, and the unique qualities of the Twin Cities dance community.

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Deja Stowers. Photo courtesy the artist

Deja Stowers

Original(Some)Body/Virgo

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

Original(Some)Body/Virgo will address the issue of body image and the unreasonable expectations we put on ourselves as Black full figured women. Our bodies are underrepresented on stage. So how are young Black full figured girls supposed to know what is possible? That their bodies can tell a story to the world? That there is sun and beauty radiating from their skin? This piece is also a Rite of Passage for my own body. Like everyone, I have to learn to love my body and everything it has to offer. This piece is one of the many chapters to helping myself heal and create. I am making myself available to be a reflection.

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

I use Dance and “performance” because it gives me the freedom to tell a story in my own language. I feel it is the only way to get an accurate view of what is going on in my mind. It’s liberating.

Tonya Williams. Photo courtesy the artist

Tonya Williams. Photo courtesy the artist

Tonya Williams

Slaveship

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

One of the primary issues that I tackle through my work is identity, lack of  triumph, and the absolute power of perseverance. When you consider the African American journey as a whole, it is an ever changing story that lives and thrives with the people. So often our voice goes unheard.  I have been given an amazing gift to allow the boarder public the chance to experiences that cultural voice through vibrant, organic art in motion.   My overall goal is  to increase the cultural and historical  acknowledgement for the African American Journey. I would like for people to take away from my pieces the absolute reality of our story.

What makes the Twin Cities dance scene unique?

It is artistically diverse and always evolving. It is creative place-making at its best.

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

At my very core I am a performing artist. There is an overwhelming need to express my artistic perspective.

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Kendra Dennard. Photo: Uchechukwu Iroegbu

Kendra Dennard

Dancing with God

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

This work addresses the dark and complex emotional spaces that we sometimes find ourselves in. Loneliness can be a beautiful gift of relief but it can also be a constricting space with the potential to swallow you whole. It is our freedom and our pain. It can be our space to come to recognize our true selves or run from our true selves. Dancing with God is a glimpse into one woman’s interaction with these ideas.

What makes the Twin Cities dance scene unique?

As a new member of this community I would have to say its vastness, accessibility, and stability are what make it unique. Other than Chicago, NY, and LA, most cities in the US have small communities that either aren’t well funded or don’t have anywhere near as many long-running, stable dance companies and dance centers. From TU Dance to MDT to James Sewell to Zenon, these companies have some of the strongest foundations I’ve ever seen all in one city (The Twins) remaining under the same leadership from their inception. This community is large enough to have its own award ceremony and multiple dance artists to be nominated in each category! I was humbled by the strength and vastness of the dance community at this year’s Sage Awards. All of these things and more make the Twin Cities dance scene very unique to me and very admirable.

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

Performing provides me a visceral connection to people. It is not enough for me to simply do a song and dance; I desire to reach people and share my knowledge, wisdom, and life experiences in hopes that someone can look at things a bit differently. Life can certainly become mundane and, these days, overwhelming with shock and sensationalism in ways that render our emotions and interactions with others very one-dimensional. Performance is my way of keeping myself aware and reminding others of the multidimensional nature of humanity.

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Canaan Mattson. Photo: David Melendez

Canaan Mattson

Significant Nothings

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

My piece originally started off as a story of self-refinement, determining ethics, or  finding out a way to better yourself. As the process went on I couldn’t help to know that the topic goes even deeper and it all simply comes down to the act of noticing these good and bad forces that take hold of our thoughts. The piece focuses on different perspectives of this awareness, and how different types of people deal with this refinement.

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

Humans have evolved to an oral being that can discern many feelings with the use of language. For me, performance breaks down that barrier of language causing your body  to ultimately say what your mouth cannot. This speech is an intense force as it reaches parts of the brain that deal with interpretation and focus. Movement can be just as strong as words in the articulation of feeling.

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‘cides Unseen (2013) by Ashley R.T. Yergens. Photo: Dean P. Neuburger

Ashley R.T. Yergens

Is this more ladylike?

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

During the fall semester of my senior year at St. Olaf, I conducted an independent study called “Queer Female Body in Dance” with Professor Heather Klopchin. As a movement study, I responded to Joe Goode’s 29 Effeminate Gestures as a way to explore the social construction of gender and sexuality in performance. The study developed into a piece that provides an illuminating, slightly sarcastic look at femininity through gestural material. The gestures aim to deconstruct our own preconceived notions of what it means to be “ladylike” in performance.

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Darrius Strong. Photo: Dani Werner

Darrius Strong

Piece by Piece

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

At a young age I was unable to find a way to express myself and speak about my feelings, but over time creating work and performing has given me the tools to physically speak my expressions. Everyday, I witness people who are living day-to-day without thoughts of how society is shaping them. Race, gender, and ethnicity have always been a concern. My question is: Why does it remain a problem? Finding something in common with every race, gender, and ethnicity is a segue into making a change toward this problem. Being born in a predominantly black community in the south side of Chicago, then moving to a mostly white community in the suburbs of Minnesota has helped me find my identity as an African American male in this society. It is hard for me to understand why as people we don’t realize the power within societal norms, and the way in which we as humans use this against one another. I feel that we as individuals need to wake up and realize that unity is the greatest power.

Deneane Richburg. Photo courtesy the artist

Deneane Richburg. Photo courtesy the artist

 Deneane Richburg

Quiet As It’s Kept

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

I am really interested in experiencing substantive connections to my ancestral and cultural history as a means to gain deeper insights into who I am and the present journeys I find myself taking. As a result, my work is centered around experiencing these histories and the narratives that characterize the histories.

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Junauda Petrus. Photo: Valerie Caesar

Junauda Petrus

Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

In my aerial/dance work I reflect on how black people can experience themselves in the absence of limitless investigation and the self-consciousness of oppression. To be embodied,  and sensually and transcendently so. My whole life, I have seen and psychically responded to black people’s bodies being invisibilized, adored, chewed up, mauled, rubbed, loved, experienced, confused, misrepresented, absorbed, mocked, edified, attacked, desired, politicized, and most essentially commodified in Westernized culture and society. And my whole life I wanted to fly. I explore this journey in Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness, using corde lisse, aerial rope, an apparatus I choose in part because of the violent and murderous relationship of ropes and black people.  The rope is tough and capable and connects earth to limitlessness. I try not to be too philosophical or academic about it, but visceral and free when I work with the rope. I try to be something transcendent and whimsical. I just focus on the alchemy of letting go, into myself in ways untouchable and inconceivable to the constraints of this society for black people. Today is an interesting time to answer this question. Tamir Rice, 12 years old, was murdered this weekend by Cleveland Police and the Michael Brown verdict is hours from being announced. The weight of  this moment is fascinating and I am in my heart with it.  I think of them and all of the “black bodies swinging” that there have ever been , that need to be known and seen and loved and humanized.

What makes the Twin Cities dance scene unique?

I think people really show love and support. I think it is also experimental and free, in ways that keep me excited and studying. I have gotten to perform in so many amazing pieces and with so many powerful artists. This season alone, I have gotten to co-choreograph with Nicolas Collard an aerial piece for Barebones, performed in a piece by SuperGroup, did a collaboration with photographer and dancer Bill and Kenna Cottman, musician, Lewis Hill III and photographer Kevin Obsatz which we performed on huge screens. I look forward to seeing and learning more of what the dance scene has to offer by way of the performers at CE.

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

It assuages my ego, by making me vulnerable and open and bold. It is a beautiful ritual for me. I like to process my life’s journey and offer it to people to ponder with me and also make whatever sense of what I do for their own purposes and pleasure.

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Taja Will and Blake Nellis. Photo: Jim Smith

Taja Will 

Terpsichore Told Us To: 23 Gestures, 11 Poses, 2 Solos and a Duet 

What questions/issues do you address in your work?

We [Taja Will and Blake Nellis] are a collaborative team going on ten years old. Much of our work is rooted in exploring the moving relationships of intimacy and risk within our partnership. Our work is dedicated to exploring spontaneity, agency, instinctive choice-making, and instantaneous choreography. We are improvisers.

Why do you use performance as a platform for expression?

Performance is a means to share embodied research, which I believe facilitates a remembering of the human body’s ability, complexity, and magic.

….

Choreographers’ Evening 2014, curated by Kenna Camara-Cottman, takes place on Saturday, November 29th, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

Islands of Imagination: Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson

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, dance artist Blake Nellis shares his perspective on Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson’s performance of […]

Photo: Paula Court

Photo: Paula Court

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, dance artist Blake Nellis shares his perspective on Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson’s performance of  Night Stand (2004), part of Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

SPOILER ALERT: This piece will never be the same.  If you saw it last night, you should go again. Keep in mind that what I am about to write happened last night between 7:50pm and 8:57pm (give or take an hour).  It was a time warp in a theatrical jungle filled with wise, old children, living props and movable obstructions for the imagination.  Oh, and they danced.

We line the staircase, buzzing with excitement.  The lobby seems full of people eager to witness something unknown.  What we do know is that we are here to watch Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson inhabit the McGuire Theater for an eight o’clock show.  And it’s almost eight.  What they will do and how it will look is a mystery to us all, including the veterans of improvisation already on stage.

And so it begins… We enter the theater together, some carrying coats, others still wrapped up tightly to fend off the wintry air they carried in from outside.  We hang our coats and head to our seats.  There is a beautiful lightscape happening on stage.  It’s very dark, but there appears to be a moving constellation spiraling towards us.  The piece has been happening, before we came through the doors and long before we arrived here tonight.  The last few audience members trickle in and a few brave souls wander to the stage to sit (with great alignment) on a few pillows that have been placed in front of the first row.  “Oh cooooool,” I hear a woman next to me say.  I look at her and see that she has just realized that Paxton and Nelson have been on stage the entire time.  The lights fade and the second scene begins (or was that the prelude?)

Nelson is wearing a black and white striped t-shirt, dark pants, dark stocking cap and bright red socks.  She is almost comical, but holding a stick she becomes a serious sort of wizard.  Paxton sports a dark top and bottom with his signature slippers.  He looks a man who has been dancing for more than fifty years and understands how he works (he’s the same age as the Walker Art Center, 75).  The two dancers take in the space and move carefully.  Nelson is nimble, articulate, and spritely.  We ask ourselves, almost audibly, “and how old is she?”  Maybe we have traveled time and space.  They move these carpeted flats around stage, creating new rooms and do-si-do-ing smoothly while we watch and listen. The sound is spacious, even sweet at times.  The invitation to observe is clear and generous.  We see them building something and watching each other, as we watch them. This is a gift.

In this beautiful museum we are watching a living exhibit.  It has an exquisite light design by Carol Mullins which was highlighted during my favorite moment in the piece.  It’s what Nelson calls “an event.”  This is one of the few things that Paxton and Nelson expect to happen during the course of the evening.  Even though it may be apparent from the outside as well, its beauty and play allows us to get lost deeper inside their world.  The sound collage morphs and warps through moments of French, whispering and moaning.  It’s nostalgic and ephemeral but sometimes strange and emotional.  Paxton and Nelson never seem in a hurry to show us any one thing.  (Will they get to that box of tissue and five-gallon pail? Who knows.) Their consciousness shifts like a group of children deciding to play a game.

Night Stand transcends narrative.  It allows us to look in from afar or join them on their islands of imagination.  The demeanor of these two performers inspires exploration and curiosity.  They design playfulness, attention, and friendship.  They infuse just enough weird with the beauty.  Images linger in my mind, during and now.  As they are ending, I feel confident and content.  But how do we know this is the end?  They have taught us how to see again.

AFTERWORD: Nelson and Paxton joined the community for: drinks, questions, compliments, laughter, the usual.  I approached and asked for an autograph.  (What else could I do?!)  But instead of handing over the pen I proposed we make a 60-second drawing together.  They obliged.  Each of us with one hand on the pen, waiting, listening, wondering “what the heck is happening?”  In the end, I have two drawings, one by Steve & me, the other by Lisa & me.  They look like memories of the night I saw Night Stand.

Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton continues tonight, November 22, 2014 with Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson’s second performance of  Night Stand in the McGuire Theater.

Potential Energy is the Best Kind: Blake Nellis on Bound by Steve Paxton

  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, dance artist Blake Nellis shares his perspective on Jurij Konjar’s performance of Steve Paxton’s Bound (1982), […]

 

Jurij Konjar in Bound. Photo: Nada Žgank

Jurij Konjar in Bound. Photo: Nada Žgank

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, dance artist Blake Nellis shares his perspective on Jurij Konjar’s performance of Steve Paxton’s Bound (1982), part of Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

The piece begins with sound and darkness.  The lights take their time fading up.  And then we can better see the four 2×4’s strewn (or placed intentionally) about the edges of the black floor.  Against the upstage wall there appears to be a rectangular screen covered in camouflage material.  In walks Jurij Konjar, dressed in red tights, white t-shirt, and suspenders holding a cardboard box around his midsection.  He appears to be a tired a superhero from a lesser known comic book.  His face is expressionless, although intriguing and handsome, as he stands motionless for us to look at him.

Konjar begins to unfold his cardboard box revealing flaps covered with camouflage material.  He is careful in transforming his box, but not too careful.  To complete his persona he donnes a vintage pair of sunglasses and black swim cap.  Now, it appears, we are ready for take off.

I wonder “how would Steve dance this if the year was 1982?” as my eyes dart around the black stage finding wood, camo, and a projector being rolled to center stage.  The back wall becomes an optical illusion, almost.  Konjar places himself in front of the screen, virtually disappearing.  The movements here are accurate, specific, and spell-binding.  We know this is being made up.  We understand the power of improvisation.  We are waiting patiently as this dancer points, stretches, and carves the space without giving us too much to digest at once.  He faces away from us so we can see the projection on his white shirt and find his arms extending ever so slightly from those short sleeves.  It’s time for him to move the projector.  He gathers the chord, pushes it off to its resting place stage left and walks diagonally behind the curtain.  We will see the projector again.  And we will see this piece being composed in front of us.  Konjar takes his time, like Paxton always does, to let us guess what might come next.  The potential energy is palpable, even though in the back of our minds we know this could be the Bound climax.

The dancing flirts with gesture, repetition, and surprise.  The dancer searches the space for another place to almost do something.  It is a pleasure to watch him calculate and observe.  He finds a rocking chair and baby cradle, both wooden and slightly creaky.  This becomes a game of sound, rocking with a few swift pushes from his hand.  Audience members begin coughing, clearing throats, even melodious sneezes add to the sound score.  (My partner and I are distracted and shifting in our seats, hoping that the “coughers” will take a breath.) We see nothing fazes Konjar.  He rocks until his heart’s content.  We know he’s on to something.

My favorite part of the work felt like a dancing dream, complete with costume change (Konjar wears all white for the remainder of the show).  The “White Section” has what we hope every dance piece would have: a person on stage inspiring us, dancing in a way that we cannot, or at least we cannot fully predict.  We can follow the dance like we can follow jazz, best if we close our eyes.

Here I take the time to imagine the Paxton/Konjar journey:

shifting dynamics

energy ascending the spine

playing with gravity

being serious with gravity

listening for rests

[                       ]

looking for the end/beginning

Konjar navigates the stage like a firefly trapped in a man’s body.  He jerks and twists and slides across the floor.  I know these sensations.  His physical intelligence is gripping and still mostly filled with potential energy.  Like a young Steve Paxton, Jurij Konjar invites us to see each move for the first time.  His physical orientation is often mysterious and off-balance.  I enjoy watching as his head whips around to see what is behind him.  It seems to surprise him, too, and his body torques and recovers like a fish out of water for just a moment.  All the while, an expressionless face.  [Could his body possibly express even one more thing without his face finally breaking just a little to reveal some inner secret?]  But we keep watching as the sweat soaks through the white t-shirt.

The effort feels generous.  The spine and signature of Paxton, present just enough.  Konjar unravels a spool of twine as he walks backwards and then forwards.  With his swim cap he makes his way to the finish line.  It is beautiful and poetic.  We remember now the unfolding of the cardboard box as we realize we have seen the unfolding of a master’s piece.  A new piece has been made.  Bound (2014).

Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton continues with Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson’s performance of  Night Stand (2004), Friday–Saturday, November 21–22, 2014 in the McGuire Theater. Writer Blake Nellis is a Twin Cities based dancer, choreographer and educator. This year’s Choreographers’ Evening, curated by Kenna Cottman, will include an improvised work by Nellis and long-time collaborator Taja Will.

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