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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 […]

luciana achugar

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).

Loaded, Long-form, Laughable, Lettuce, Love It

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 the opening night of HIJACK at 20. […]

HIJACK at 20

Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon of HIJACK. Photo: Gene Pittman

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 the opening night of HIJACK at 20. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

HIJACK, the beloved dance duo collaboration comprised of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, turns 20. Their newest work, redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye, brings all that experience, and then some, to the Walker stage. It is apparent that the creation period took three years. This is a vast and multi-layered group work that, miraculously, has plenty of room for the imagination to enter, to linger, to just hang around.

After a piano prequel the work officially opens with all the performers onstage executing an adagio. It comes off as grounded and tentative at once. Ballet barres adorn the space, as does a grand piano. The costumes are loose and white with patches of red peeking out. Two of the performers are wearing white horse-head hats and red capes. I’m not sure of the symbolism here, but I know they are decadent and set the tone for the entire piece. The world they create is fractured and fast moving. It shape-shifts with the help of the barres, the perpetual costume changes and the brilliantly compiled and edited soundscore.

The first approximate half is ornate, a splendid array of objects, costumes and spacial divisions. The group is very active and featured. Kristen and Arwen take a backseat as performers to let their craft, the shaping of others and the space, take precedence. I am reminded of Diaghilev-era abundance and busyness. I feel as though I’m in the wings and watching the bones of a production take shape, with half-dressed performers multi-tasking, executing complicated steps then running off to the next order of business.

Morgan Thorson, performatively compelling as ever, has several star turns throughout the work. A longtime HIJACK colleague, she seems to intuit their modus operandi, from inception to open-ended conclusion. Her articulate body and kinesthetic smarts render her a muse of sorts, wild-haired and tough yet vulnerable. She is a medicine-woman, a storyteller.

The piano gets pushed offstage, curtains condense the space and HIJACK, the beloved duo, begins to do what they do best. Perhaps it’s inevitable, that this “best” is in duet form and composed of them specifically. Perhaps it’s my desire to see those 20 years in those two bodies of experience. Whatever it is, I truly fall into the piece here, in this moment of duo-ness and single-minded pursuit.

I recognize the beginning movement material: the slow arching backs, the feet sliding way out in front of their bodies. It’s uncomfortable, under-tempo and because I am familiar with it, I have a satisfied feeling in my gut. My red insides begin to peek out.

For most of the remainder of the piece there is this duet, several duets, versions of versions that repeat in different contexts. It condenses such that for one passage they are forced way downstage. There are awkward partnered manipulations, awkward stool-sitting with home-girl vamping against balletic grand pliéing, awkward non sequitur texts. Repetition satisfyingly seems to mean something new each time around. It is funny, hilarious even, then poignant, then sad. It means everything and nothing. It is significant and meaningless. It is memorable and I have amnesia.

I wonder what didn’t make it into the piece. This work is stuffed. Hijack’s brilliance lies in many arenas not the least of which is editing. I am sure we are seeing a fraction of what we could see. There must be so much more in their archives to display. I look forward to their next long-form work. What a treat.

HIJACK performs redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye December 5–7 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Stay after the performance on Friday, December 6 for a Q & A discussion with Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder moderated by Miriam Must, co-founder of Red Eye Theater.

After the show on Saturday, December 7, all audience members are invited to join a SpeakEasy conversation about the work, facilitated by Walker Tour Guide Mary Dew and local artist Eben Kowler.

HIJACK at 20: Looking Back, Moving Forward, Being Here

Second by second two performers crisply count opening minutes. They mark the passage of time as dancers advance, propelled by the glacial undulation of spines. In slow motion, a minute is excavated, laid open moment by moment. Comically offsetting this gentle unfolding of present into future, the early 1990s are recalled with immediacy, clarity, and […]

HIJACK: Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon. Photo: Gene Pittman

HIJACK: Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon. Photo: Gene Pittman

Second by second two performers crisply count opening minutes. They mark the passage of time as dancers advance, propelled by the glacial undulation of spines. In slow motion, a minute is excavated, laid open moment by moment. Comically offsetting this gentle unfolding of present into future, the early 1990s are recalled with immediacy, clarity, and acoustic guitar-induced nostalgia. We thought we knew the center, but don’t you see? It wasn’t like that at all.

HIJACK’s 20th anniversary performance, redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye, thus begins, aptly co-mingling past, present, and future through their distinct blend of absurdity, pop songs, unexpected juxtapositions, raw edges, task-oriented repetitions, and sustained moments of humble, human beauty. Alongside this mélange of time is the blurring and problematizing of common distinctions — practice/performance, dance/not dance, and high/low culture. HIJACK co-founders and collaborators Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder play with these intersections and in-betweens, all the while maintaining a generous and calm comportment that belies methodical structure, research, and reference.

Macuga

Goshka Macuga’s Redwood Blocks for Carl Andre’s Aisle (1981) installed at the Walker Art Center

Sources
Replete with often-obscured references, backstories, and structures, HIJACK’s work draws from diverse sources to create choreography connected to dense, layered references. These sources are, however, most prominent in the process stage, where they serve as an external starting point — structure, method, or image — used for generating movement. In this manner, they both permeate and stand apart from HIJACK’s work, providing rich material for developing dance that stands alone.

At a recent Walker Art Center Talking Dance lecture, Wilder and Van Loon shared some of the visual artists whose aesthetics, approaches, and methods have informed their work. Providing a telescopic view into this arena behind the scenes, they described how art comes to influence both form and content. Goshka Macuga’s Redwood Blocks for Carl Andre’s Aisle (1981) (Displayed as stored by the Walker Art Center) brought out questions of when an object is or isn’t art. Applied to dance, this opened up nebulous distinctions between warm-up, rehearsal, and performance. Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of water towers were recreated in movement or referenced in their ordered grid. The lines of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings were translated into expansive or constrained trajectories. Inspired by Karinne Kaithley Syres’ Untitled (Perth Dickinson), the hidden activity of the stop motion animation filmmaker was transformed into detached movement sequences, centered by the completion of a series of meticulous, tiny adjustments.

The abundance of these sources and methods may inspire a desire to mine the dance for citations, to dissect movements in search of origins. Wilder and Van Loon’s lecture enabled the audience to participate in this pleasure of knowing, revealing normally hidden processes, inspirations, and histories. But they emphasized as well that direct recognition is not the goal. Indeed, they explicitly reveal references when deemed important, titling past works Amelia Earharts (2000), Hijack’s Yoko Show (2003), and Kristin is Eva Peron/Eva Hesse/Eva Braun; Arwen is Imelda Marcos (2004).

Going beyond a specific focus on the transformation of visual art into movement, HIJACK’s lecture served as an immersion into the broader ambiances, stances, and practices in which their choreography marinates. Surrounding their work are John Baldessari’s numerous attempts as final product, Claes Oldenburg’s aggrandized commonplace objects, Charles Ray’s meticulous reconstruction of a chance event, Robert Rauschenberg’s “combines” of assembled detritus, Richard Serra’s list of verbs as directives for creation, and Andy Warhol’s intentional silkscreened imperfection. Running through these varied artists is a focus on the everyday, a mundane transported, transformed, and seen anew.

Charles Ray sculpture

Charles Ray, Unpainted Sculpture (1997)

Process

HIJACK’s work inhabits the space where the everyday becomes art, performed with a care and focus that pulls apart these divisions between art and being. They are performers and yet they never cease to be also people. Discussing their new Walker commission redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye with Linda Shapiro, Van Loon and Wilder described this tension between the aura of performance and the human who performs, explaining that “Our physical limits are plainly exposed… We invite The Ideal (in your imaginations) to hobnob with The Reality (of our effort).” One may grasp at perfection beyond the self, but there is beauty, too, in the human act of striving.

In this vein, redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye presents multiple avenues for seeing process in the performance. In part this is present in the ballet barres that serve as varied set devices, but also connect the work to technique training and rehearsal spaces. Dance and visual arts are, however, not the sole sources drawn from in developing this work. In an interview with Justin Jones, and a short film for MANCC, Wilder and van Loon discussed their recent research into print media and narrative. Writing exercises became part of their creative process, undergirding movement with the momentum of narrative development – conflict, action, and resolution. Print newspapers reinforced interests in mass-produced disposability while also providing conceptual fodder – how can an error and an editor’s correction co-exist as part of a larger whole?

Process is also present in the welcoming of dialogue in both creation and performance. In this facet of their work, HIJACK invites complexity, explaining: “Our dances embrace juxtaposition. Believing work left in dialogue form opens itself to dialogue with the audience, we present two individuals’ points-of-view, yet un-reconciled.” They allow their distinct viewpoints to converse onstage rather than forcing cohesion, posing the question, “How can two different or contradictory elements (people/values) exist together?”

Looking Back, Moving Forward

redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye draws to a close, echoing across time the beginnings of HIJACK. Two women dance together, each carving into the negative space created by the other, each complementing, contrasting, and reinforcing her partner. Over the years, Van Loon and Wilder have showcased their abilities for humor, energy, grappling bodies, exaggerated costuming, elaborate partnering, and art references with teeth. Here, they present a quiet, intimate scene. Tracing pictures in air, they invite us into their world, where their bodies weave through space together, always in relation to each other, yet always distinct.

After 20 years, HIJACK provides a reminder that every performance is part of a process, a full and all-consuming event within a life of artistic development expansive in its explorations. Like the Sankofa, one strives to look back to move forward and to embrace this process of searching. Between compounded memories and the incertitude of the future, we have the chance to meet here to experience this moment together. At our most vulnerable, joyful, or daring we need only request of those closest, please, “save me a place.”

HIJACK perform the world premiere of redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye December 5–7 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Artists’ Toast: After the opening night performance on Thursday, December 5; join us in the balcony bar for a toast to the artists.

Q&A with HIJACK: Stay after the performance on Friday, December 6 for a discussion with Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, moderated by Miriam Must, co-founder of Red Eye Theater.

SpeakEasy: Join us in the Balcony Bar following the performance on Saturday, December 7, for a conversation about redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye facilitated by Walker Tour Guide Mary Dew and local artist Eben Kowler.

Gilding the Frame: Penelope Freeh on Choreographers’ Evening

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 Saturday’s performance of Choreographers’ Evening. Agree or disagree? […]

pa2013ce_group_W

Photo: Gene Pittman

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 Saturday’s performance of Choreographers’ Evening. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Choreographers’ Evening 2013, curated by Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, was the best such evening I’ve seen. It was framed in a way that provided a semblance of context, giving us viewers something to hang our hats on.

Their idea was to design the evening as though it was a mixed tape. The curators dedicated the evening to a close friend and used that as an imaginative jumping off point for choosing work. They asked the choreographers to likewise dedicate their dances. Like the statement on the exterior of the old Walker wing (bits and pieces put together to create a semblance of a whole), these dedications provided just enough for us to view the work with the confidence of knowing there was something (and someone) specific in mind.

The show started with a bang as six bespangled tweens tap danced their way to center stage and stopped in formation. Clad in white costumes resembling ice-dancing outfits, they proceeded to talk. Together they respectively described their dance, listing their steps specifically and in order, all the way to the bow. “…and then I do a double pirouette…”, “…and I do suzie-q, suzie-q…”, “…and then I…”. When finished they shuffled off one by one. By choreographer Jes Nelson, this disarming dance was about the innocent vocabulary of young performers, alert yet kinda squirmy in front of an audience.

Laurie Van Wieren’s 1964/1994 was a solo-for-self that also made great use of the voice. It began with hurtling semi-classical forms and a long look to the audience, part dare, part declaration. Then a mysterious wig was donned, a microphone taken up and the body’s articulations shifted to the vocal chords. A sentence repeated; words were lingered upon. It was fractured and odd and beautiful.

Juan M Aldape also performed in his smart solo work Cacartels, Cacaffeine and Cucumbia. Literally dark, clad as he was in black fabric that covered his head and arms while the rest of him wore jeans, plaid shirt and cowboy boots, this work did a sharp left turn somewhere in its’ conception. The body, personal identity and politics were inseparable. And it was funny. The movement vocabulary consisted of deep and satisfying back contractions/contortions, scootches, lurches, sauntering and posturing.

Known as a contemporary tap dancing guru, Kaleena Miller’s yes yes no no took place unshod. Four performers spread out in a line danced in deadpan unison. The beat was hot, accommodating the rapid shirt changes that just barely interrupted the movement. Tap-like steps performed barefoot are still specific yet somehow a level more interesting, being that much closer to the ground.

DANCER read the t-shirt of Otto Ramstad for his solo Untitled. Sometimes the simplest statements are the most descriptive which is true here but I would also add SCIENTIST, DAREDEVIL and SMARTASS. Otto’s dancing is a visceral joyride. He truly sources movement from the inside out, so hard to track but if you try you will go deep with this guy. Splendid was my watching experience.

THROB from Anghared Davies utilized sixteen performers clad in utilitarian white jumpsuits. The work led them through organized chaos layered with extreme emotionality. Facial expressions, contortions really, leapt out at us given the neutral backdrop coupled with dramatic spotlights placed in the stage space. Exciting was to see seasoned and raw performers alongside one another.

Morgan Thorson created and performed Dead Swan with the onstage help of Evy Muench and several owls, plastic and stuffed. The physical language of birds was fun to trace in the well-danced movement. Occasional references to Swan Lake choreography were also interwoven. Morgan was perpetually busy while Evy was on and off, placing arrows of tape on the floor, bringing on a table, an owl, even dancing with her during one pass. Another instance of framing: a solo with visitors.

Curtains framed Theresa Madaus in her solo For Cody. A short and funny lullaby, this dance felt sincerely made even though the humor was wry and dry. Well, ok, a little wet. There were fake guns, a mustache, eye rolls, two cowboy hats, and all-around macho physicality. A checked blanket appears and cutout sun and moon pass across the sky in turns. Sweet home on the range.

Still Too Long by Joanne Spencer was a sort of showstopper. Wearing their hearts on their bare arms, the choreographer, Dana Kassel and Judith James Ries recalled the dancing style that brought them together in JAZZDANCE! By Danny Buraczeski. Joanne is most certainly a choreographer in her own right, making lush traveling steps and gestures that were at once fluid and percussive. It was a great pleasure to see these three dancing together again.

The final work of the evening was Salsa Rumba Cubana created and performed by Yeniel “Chini” Perez. A sort of oblique bookend to the opening sextet, this dance satisfied the dancing expectations initially established. It began in a spotlight center stage and took us across the fourth wall into the audience and back. Joyful and sinewy, this solo was the perfect way to end a remarkable evening.

The water of our dance community can be murky. While most of our dances get made in vacuums, placing individual parts into a greater context can makes for a sudden shimmer of clarity. Kudos to Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs for accomplishing the nearly impossible task of capturing an accurate and compelling overview of our current Twin Cities dance scene.

Talk Dance: A Game of Chance with HIJACK

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 local dance duo and longtime Walker favorites HIJACK in aniticipation of HIJACK at 20. Listen to the entire podcast here. I’ve interviewed HIJACK once before, for a […]

hijack blog photo

Photo by Justin Jones

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 local dance duo and longtime Walker favorites HIJACK in aniticipation of HIJACK at 20. Listen to the entire podcast here.

I’ve interviewed HIJACK once before, for a previous incarnation of this podcast (TALK DANCE MPLS) in anticipation of their 2006 show, “HALF.” Even then, I felt that there was something about HIJACK’s resolute dedication to experimentation that required an altered interview format. In that case, the alteration was a portion of the interview where I took my questions out of the picture and let Kristin (Van Loon) and Arwen (Wilder) interview each other. I wanted to continue somehow on that path with this interview and remembered that Kristin and Arwen often use chance devices (a la Cage/Cunningham) in their choreographic process. I wanted to find a way to bring chance into our interview,  so I devised a game that would determine the topic of discussion (e.g. Origin Story, Music/Sound, Job or Hobby) and the duration (30, 60, 90 and 120 seconds) allotted to discuss that topic at random.

HIJACK were totally game, and the pressure of time seemed to have great effect on how they chose to articulate their thoughts. Watching and listening to Kristin and Arwen attempt to fill time, compress ideas, cut to the chase and search for words was fascinating.

The interview ran about 40 minutes, and I’m attempting to make all the TALK DANCE episodes clock in at 20 minutes this season. So I was in a bit of a pickle as to how to edit their words while still honoring the wonderful ways in which they responded to the rules of the game. The answer was obvious, both Kristin and Arwen mentioned that their upcoming Walker commission redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye, features a healthy dose of multi-layered text. Using that idea as a starting place, I decided to keep all (almost) of what they said and stacked it on top of itself while trying to make it as understandable as possible.

If you do listen to the podcast, I suggest listening with headphones. Here’s a smattering of their responses, preceded by the topic they’re responding to.

On Design

Kristin: They [the props onstage] were in a way, a way to approach the question of how to work with narrative. And I like how the objects stay the same and stay in place, left behind after they’ve been useful and used by the dancers, and in that way, express the past while the dance has moved on.

Arwen: Something that I think about design and HIJACK is how often we do our own… partly because we like the Do-It-Yourself, and because we consider [design] so much an intergral part of the composition itself, that it’s weird to outsource it. But also because we’re already collaborating and that is so much to add another voice into [the work].

On Why Dance?

Arwen: We sometimes have fantasies of being other things, like other kinds of artists, but we’re not, and then it’s fun to try to figure out how to get what we would get out of being those other artists, in dance.

Kristin: One reason I’m glad to choose dance is that I think of it as one of the most pathetic art forms, and I feel an affinity with pathetic forms such as print journalism, postal mail, sculpture…but now sculpture’s cool.

On Music/Sound

Arwen: I like to dance in silence. I like to make dances with silence. I like text a lot, and I like to try to figure out how there can be text in dance. And music is very mysterious and manipulative, and sometimes I like that problem….

On Language

Kristin: Not every word [in the show] can be heard because sometimes several layers of language are happening at the same time, and that’s been a real pickle for us to figure out if that’s okay. In general, I’m really into flat composition right now – everything layed out very plainly for everyone to see and hear, and those are some of my favorite parts, when the words are flattened out…

On Appropriation

Arwen: Figuring out what is the line between inspiration and appropriation is massively complicated and interesting.

Kristin: …to make things interesting, it’s nice to have scores for what can I use and what can’t I, and sometimes those aren’t the legal ones.

On Content/Form

Arwen: I’m reminded of being an activist, and everybody always talked about the ends and the means and how they had to match.  And I think that is the same in choreography, the content and the form are the ends and the means.

Kristin: I love it when one slips from one to the other, the material does.

On High Culture/Low Culture

Kristin: There was an early version of this piece … that the sound score toggled back and forth between Stockhausen’s “Mantra” and Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen”…  I was very interested in the phenomenon of being in one of those and craving anything but what you’re listening to.

Arwen: I see the card “High Culture/Low Culture” and I think, oh that’s exactly what we’re interested in… and then I get really bristly at that and at those definitions and start to want to argue with the possibility of anything belonging to either of those categories.

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with Kristin and Arwen on the Walker Channel.

HIJACK at 20 takes place December 5-7 at 8 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

The Mixed Tape Dedications of Choreographers’ Evening

Have you ever made the perfect mixed tape, CD, or playlist, carefully selected with just the right feel, for a special someone?  This year’s curators of Choreographers’ Evening, Taryn Griggs and Chris Yon, aim to do just that this Saturday.  Their mixed tape (which as a whole is dedicated to their long time friend and supporter, Nicki Paraiso) takes form through a group […]

pa2013ce_group_W

Photo by Gene Pittman

Have you ever made the perfect mixed tape, CD, or playlist, carefully selected with just the right feel, for a special someone?  This year’s curators of Choreographers’ Evening, Taryn Griggs and Chris Yon, aim to do just that this Saturday.  Their mixed tape (which as a whole is dedicated to their long time friend and supporter, Nicki Paraiso) takes form through a group of carefully selected choreographers and performers, who in turn will dedicate their own original performances. Below is a selection of 5 such dedications; you’ll have to attend on Saturday to hear about the rest!

Sugar Babies by Jes Nelson

SugarBabies_image2

Photo by Gene Pittman

Jes Nelson: Ballerina by day, punk-rocker by night, I dedicate the Choreographers’ Evening installation of Sugar Babies to my first ballet instructor Rachel Perry.

Void of the typical body motions and sound associated with tap dance, Sugar Babies is filled with language and the physical communication of movement.

Jes Nelson studied at the New York Studio Program in Brooklyn, NY, and received her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2010. She has exhibited work at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Rochester Art Center, Ritz Theater, Southern Theater, and the 2013 Minneapolis Biennial at the Soap Factory. She has published work with Pentagram, the New York Times Magazine and most recently Minneapolis’ contemporary artist publication Location Books.

Cacartels, Cacaffeine and Cucumbia by Juan M Aldape

Juan Aldape

Photo taken from rehearsal video by Juan M Aldape

Juan M AldapeThis particular performance is dedicated to one organization and two people. The organization is Walking Theory (TkH), based in Belgrade, Serbia. The manner in which they foster and encourage independent dance artists is encouraging and contagious. As for the people, one is Svetlana Boym.  Her contribution of the off modern concept is reassuring; we don’t all have to jump on the modern dance legacy. Lastly, I dedicate this to my cousin, Juanito, in Mexico. He, after struggling many years with drugs and its culture, committed suicide in July of last year. He died the night before my arrival to work on my last project in Mexico.

This is a fragmented dance-theatre solo performance. In the first half, I experiment by breaking down Mexican social dance idioms and music.  The second half is a fast-paced, lamenting monolog about the intimate aspects of the Mexico-US relationship.

Juan Aldape recently moved to the Twin Cities after living abroad. He received an MA in International Performance Research from the University of Warwick, in England. His inspiration is the migrant worker who risks everything by leaving behind family and friends, all in hopes of a better future.

Still Too Long by Joanne Spencer

Joanne

Photo by Sean Smuda

Joanne SpencerThe dedication for the piece became a collaborative one.  While we mined material from some deeply personal events in each of our lives, we feel grateful just to have come together to rediscover rhythm, music, weight changes, guts, and each other.  Our program dedication reads as this: This piece is dedicated to Sunday mornings in the studio, friendship, being moved by music and moving to music.

This piece for me was borne out of a kind of obsession with the musical musings of the local hip-hop songstress Dessa.  Her use of rhythm and lyricism, imagery and metaphor got under my skin.  I created a ton of movement and realized that I needed more bodies to inhabit it all.  Dana and Judith agreed to meet me in the studio on Sunday mornings for coffee and conversation and that eventually led to sweat filled hours of collaboration and creation.   We have enough movement for 4 sections of Dessa’s music that we love, but we are presenting the strongest two sections at the Walker.

This is Joanne Spencer’s second year involved in Choreographer’s Evening.  Last year, she presented a solo and this year she ventured out with her two dearest friends into the world of trios.  Judith James Ries, Dana Kassel, and Joanne Spencer danced together for a good share of the 1990’s with the modern jazz company JAZZDANCE! by Danny Buraczeski.  Together they toured the country, taught at dance festivals and colleges, and explored the music and movement that Danny exposed to their9 member troupe.  After many years of raising children and exploring career paths (Judith a dance teacher, Dana an Arts Administrator, and Joanne, advocacy and politics), they found their way back to the studio and to familiar movement.

For Cody by Theresa Madaus

Theresa M

Photo by Theresa Madaus

Theresa Madaus: This piece is called For Cody and that pretty much says it all. It’s dedicated to my hometown and the handful of queers who live there.

My piece is a brief character-driven dance involving a cartoonish cowboy, hints of drag, and a gentle mixture of frustration and nostalgia. I made it as a study for a Mad King Thomas project called The Narrator is Suspect that investigates home, among other things. Then instead of cannibalizing it for Mad King Thomas, I developed it further, and it became its own piece. The character may still show up in The Narrator is Suspect, which will premiere in Minneapolis.

Theresa Madaus is a performer and creator. She primarily makes dances as one-third of the choreographic collaboration Mad King Thomas, but she occasionally makes dances by herself and sometimes moonlights as drag persona Rock Scissors. Born in Milwuakee WI, raised in Cody, Wyoming, she has made the Twin Cities home for the last 11ish years.  Her inspirations include: Mad King Thomas, Judith Howard, Hijack, Emily Johnson, drag, home, Western mythos, genderqueers everywhere, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

THROB by Angharad Davies

THROB

Photo by Sharyn Morrow

Angharad DaviesMy personal dedication goes out to both the sculptor Richard Serra and the now-deceased choreographer Michael Bennett.

The concept for THROB arose from a study of sculptor Richard Serra’s “Investigation of Forms” — in my case, the forms of 16 women and the basement of Los Amigos Supermercado in Minneapolis. It is a piece for a multitude that was further inspired by misogyny, prison showers, marching bands, soccer hooliganism, and A Chorus Line.

Angharad Davies‘s choreography has been presented at venues including Danspace Project (NYC), Radialsystem (Berlin), Bryant Lake Bowl, Red Eye Theater, & Ted Mann Concert Hall (MPLS), and ODC (San Francisco). Outside of Minneapolis, she has performed with Gibney Dance (NYC), Hanna Hegenscheidt (Berlin), and Mariano Pensotti (Buenos Aires), among others. Angharad is a lecturer at the University of Minnesota and is on faculty at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists.

 

Other choreographers/performers include Laurie Van Wieren, Kaleena Miller, Otto Ramstad, Morgan Thorson, and Yeniel “Chini” Perez.

Choreographers’ Evening, curated by Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, takes place on Saturday, November 30th, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

Talk Dance: Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs on Choreographers’ Evening

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 Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, local dance artists known for their witty and precise choreography and curators of this season’s Choreographers’ Evening. Listen to the entire podcast […]

Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

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 Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs, local dance artists known for their witty and precise choreography and curators of this season’s Choreographers’ Evening. Listen to the entire podcast here.

Chris Yon, Taryn Griggs and I go way back.  I first met Mr. Yon in our “C” level ballet class at NYU in the fall of 1998.  I remember Chris was wearing a ripped “Headbanger’s Ball” t-shirt and I thought to myself, I have to know this person.  So, I did.  Not long after, we were collaborating, making duets together.   Shortly after we graduated from NYU, Chris and Taryn met at an audition for a piece Chris was making at the Bessie Shoenberg Individual Choreographers’ Residency at The Yard.  As they described in a recent conversation in their Powderhorn neighborhood  kitchen (with their 20 month old daughter bouncing between the three of us as we talked) it was love, personal and artistic, at first sight, and they’ve been making work together ever since.

I am a huge fan of Chris’ choreography and of Taryn’s dancing of it.  I think at this point I’ve likely seen as many (possibly more) of Chris’ shows as his parents have.   I look forward to any opportunity to see what they’re up to, and I was thrilled when I heard they were curating this year’s Choreographers’ Evening.  Knowing them, I wasn’t surprised that they would find some way to twist their approach to curating.   That twist comes as their imagining the evening as a mix-tape, which they’ve dedicated to curator of The Club at LaMama, and long time friend and supporter, Nicky Paraiso.

In our conversation, I wanted to hear them talk more about their choice to frame the show this way.  I wanted to know what it was like to curate the premier “Mixed Bag” type dance show in the Twin cities and I was also curious if they had any good mix-tape stories.  Presented below is a text-mix-tape of some stuff they said while we sat in their warm kitchen, eating tater tots and sloppy joes (which were delicious).

Chris:  “Nicky Paraiso’s been a figure in our lives since basically the very beginning of our relationship … he gave us our first shot when it felt like no one else would or wanted to, at LaMama  … and he’s successfully cultivated a large dance presence there …  he’s a huge fan of dance.”

Taryn:  “Chris and I often watch things in different ways. I can fall in love with a lot of pieces because of the people in it or the way they’re doing something.

Chris looks at the big picture.  It’s hard for him to love a piece, no matter how good the performers are, if he doesn’t like the choreography or the stage picture.

… I think one of the things we loved about Nicky is that he’s … able to fall in love with pieces because the composition is great, and he’s able to fall in love with pieces because he loves performers.”

Chris:  “The fact that he walks around with such humility and he’s just always aghast and agog at those around him – and I want to feel that way all the time, and I often do here.   And this is an opportunity, when people are like, “why did you move here?” and I feel like this show could be like, “this is why” because these people are here and I get to watch them.”

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with Yon and Griggs on the Walker Channel.

Choreographers’ Evening takes place on Saturday, November 30th, at 7 pm and 9:30 pm at the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

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