Blogs The Green Room Walker Dance

Conceptualizing Dance: Deneane Richburg on Choreographers’ Evening 2015

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to attend the 7pm performance of the Walker Art Center’s 2015 Choreographers’ Evening. Seated in a full house, and only being familiar with a couple of the choreographers/performers presenting work that evening, I was excited to experience the show and its relationship to Justin Jones’ curatorial agenda to examine […]

This past Saturday, I was fortunate to attend the 7pm performance of the Walker Art Center’s 2015 Choreographers’ Evening. Seated in a full house, and only being familiar with a couple of the choreographers/performers presenting work that evening, I was excited to experience the show and its relationship to Justin Jones’ curatorial agenda to examine the breadth of the Twin Cities dance community, to create a space that was accessible, and to seek out “work that spoke plainly and directly.”

Jeffrey Wells. Photo by Alice Gebura.

The evening opened with Jeffrey Wells, Monotone #3. This dance was comprised equally of Wells’ powerful exploration of the voice (featuring his ability to create different tones) and his physical movements. There was a definitive sound and movement narrative arc as we saw Wells’ body move from shape to shape while his voice emitted different tones. The fullness of his voice seemed to mimic how he positioned his body as it moved from a neutral stance to more powerful shapes–there were a couple of warrior one positions, creating very full and robust vocals. His body then moved to a more playful, almost cheeky, stance with his voice following, creating a tone that was bit thinner and higher pitched. The work resolved itself as Wells returned to his neutral position while his tone became softer and seemingly peaceful.

The second work was created and performed by Tom Lloyd and Craig VanTrees, entitled getting caught in a rainstorm of light. The work opened with a large square special, illuminating the majority of the stage. Throughout the piece, Lloyd and VanTrees deliberately move around and through the center of the square. Stripping down to nothing but jockstraps, Lloyd and VanTrees open the work by performing movements that are rigid, symmetrical, and—with the exception of a gesture of a fluttering hand—seemingly robotic. The feel of the work changes as the music shifts from a heavy and somber track to picks such as “The Finer Things” by Steve Winwood and “OK Pal” by M83. The movement accompanies this musical shift becoming lighter and moving close to a feeling of playful exuberance. A moment of stillness with Lloyd and VanTrees, spent, lying on top of one another signaled the beginning of another shift in overall feel. The work then closed by returning to the heavy and robotic movement.

A fun and complex piece, I found myself tempted to view these two male bodies in the same commodified lens that popular ideology often views the bodies of those that exist on the peripheries of mainstream consciousness: individuals of color, women, and those that simply do not share the same stories/histories that occupy standards/norms that dominate mainstream North American culture. Whether or not playing with this temptation was an intention of Lloyd and VanTrees seems secondary to the reality that this work—similar to their own observations on the role dancing plays amidst their relationship—“def[ies] description or labels.”

The next work was macarena.zip by Jes Nelson (jestural). This work examined a still and deconstructed version of the Macarena performed by a large group of movers. Each mover seemed to select a signature position from the dance, held that position for a few moments then exited the stage. This scene was followed by an abstracted version of the song, in which the rhythmic base was changed from a syncopated clave rhythm to a waltz rhythm, played over an empty stage. I was a bit confused by this work and wondered why Nelson chose to use a version of the song in a waltz rhythmic pattern. The Macarena’s clave rhythmic base is an important component of Afro-Cuban rhythmic traditions. This rhythmic pattern is rooted in Sub-Saharan African musical traditions and can be seen in Haitian vodou drumming, Afro-Brazilian music and Afro-Uruguayan music (“Part II: Understanding the Music.”) Stripping the song of the syncopated clave rhythm and thereby uprooting it from its diasporic beginnings by moving it to a European waltz felt a bit jarring for me. This, coupled with an empty stage, left me feeling excluded from the work and pondering why the song was stripped of this rich and essential heritage. In addition, it left me wanting additional clarity regarding the extremely pared down (dare I say minimalist) approach to a piece that was to examine groups “moving together in time.”

In the following piece, Tai Chi Bird, choreographer/performer Katherine Goodale began with the beautiful soundscape, “Piano Songs #2” by Meredith Monk. With Goodale sitting center stage, her back to the audience, the focus shifted to the meditative gestural movement of her arms and hands. This work also became a dance of the costume, as the light danced across the burgundy velvet of Goodale’s shirt which moved as much as the movement of her arms.

Ea Eckwall’s Something About Meow took place in silence with the exception of a single “meow” heard midway through the work. Max Wirsing performed primary movement while holding the self-assured cat, Buster Kitten, for the first third of the work. A box was placed center stage with a small piece of fabric covering it. Twice during the work, Wirsing tried to place the cat in the box and cover it over with the fabric, only to have the cat poke its head out, and, as only a cat can do, confidently attempt to exit upstage right, only to be picked up by Wirsing and returned to the box. In a successful second attempt, Buster Kitten exited diagonally upstage left, leaving Wirsing alone to continue dancing in a manner that seemingly mimics Buster’s smooth, deliberate, and graceful movements.

What seemed compelling about this work was the relationship between Buster and Wirsing as he attempted to both mimic and contain Buster. This relationship brought to light a truth that the audience’s chuckles confirmed—no matter how hard and creatively one tries, cats are their own beings with their own agendas, frequently leaving humans in service to them. Such a fun work to watch!

Fire Drill. Photo by Alice Gebura.

Fire Drill’s Novelty Shots: A Political Fantasy (Excerpt) is comprised of a group of artists competing for the audience’s attention by running, screaming, exposing themselves, flirting, cajoling, leaping, and engaging in any and every attention-getting behavior imaginable. These antics seemed to be a commentary on an increasing desire and need for constant stimulation. Making a very powerful statement, the fervor with which the artists on stage worked to get attention brought home the insanity of North America’s insatiable quest to always be either engaged in this stimulation or to be in the spotlight; both quests affecting how we process information, our critical analysis capabilities, as well as our ability to hold healthy self-perceptions not based on external validation.

Following Fire Drill, This Is Where I Stand by Cary Bittinger and Angelique Lele was a powerful duet that left me focusing on the expansive movement potential of both artists, in lieu of the limitations many may perceive accompany being in a wheelchair. The true joy of moving was very apparent in how the choreography was performed by both Bittinger and Lele. Their movement relationship seemed to be magnetic—many moments of being drawn into one another as well as moments of being repelled. The most provocative part of the work came midway, during a musical transition, accompanied by a moment of stillness and silence. Both Lele and Bittinger stopped and looked directly at the audience, fully present. This pause incited a sense of tension and anticipation.

Pedro Pablo Lander’s Marcón (Faggot) (Excerpt) took the audience on a journey of struggle, self-hate, and at times, despair. The struggle to reconcile faith and sexuality were powerfully displayed through Lander’s ability to wed emotional, mental, and spiritual trauma with physical performance in a sincere and focused manner. Reminiscent of spiritual traditions where practitioners become possessed, his narrative of lack of acceptance, affirmation, and condemnation was wholly embodied in a sincere, non-manufactured, performative, and inspiring manner.

Next in the lineup, Dolo McComb’s Tyrannysaurus Wench (part 1/3), was a trio rooted in a space of magical realism. It seemed to simultaneously take place in the past and the present. The phrasing, which consisted of deliberate pauses coupled with frenzied movement, created an air of anticipation and surrealism. The work featured exaggerated facial expressions and frenetic hair moments. The three artists were all costumed in velvet and moved to an eclectic mix of music ranging from jazz (Duke Ellington) to the sound bending musical styling of Frankie Lane (“3:10 to Yuma”). This work effectively created a feeling of other-worldliness.

vieboheme

Vie Boheme. Photo by Alice Gebura.

Vie Boheme’s A Study of Performance Boundaries (and much more) began with a long narrow diagonal light emanating from upstage right and cascading downstage left. Singing “Good Morning Heartache” a capella, Boheme slowly began moving within this narrow corridor of light. Upon reaching center stage, the corridor of light morphed into a circular special. Bathed in this center stage special, Boheme reached the refrain “here we go again.” She sang this line repeatedly as she appeared stuck at this point of the stage and song, as the circular special grew smaller and began closing in on her.

This moment in light, sound, and movement was a timely reference to the repetition of recent race-based violence, religious-based threats and attacks worldwide, and a general sense of unrest accompanied by a lack of progress that currently characterizes many cultures and spaces the world over. This work left me wondering: when will we as a civilization begin to learn from our history so as not to repeat the errors of our past? The work resolves by the long narrow corridor of light returning and Boheme regressing into it. She again returns center stage on the line “good morning heartache, sit down,” at which point, resigned, she slowly sits down on stage, contained in the bounds of the center stage special.

dancebums

DaNCEBUMS. Photo by Bill Cameron.

Closing the evening was DaNCEBUMSOne-Move-Dance. This work had a cast of 29 movers of all walks of life, age range, movement ability, and perspective. The movement and formations of the 29 artists completely filled the stage. Set to “Time Will Tell” by Blood Orange, this work had a lively and celebratory feel, it seemed to epitomize Justin Jones’ sentiments that “the infinite complexities of physical expression belong not just to the specially trained and professionally experienced… Every Body is welcome. [Whether it is] your first dance, or your 100th.”

The evening’s performances pushed the boundaries of popular conception, questioning who is a dancer and what exactly is dance—encouraging audiences to explore dance beyond bodies/entities moving in a space. I left reflecting: who and/or what else can dance?

Meet the Artists of Choreographers’ Evening 2015

On Saturday, November 28th the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening will take place at the Walker Art Center. Choreographers’ Evening celebrates the vibrant, experimental, and intelligent performance creators that inhabit the Twin Cities. This years’ curator is Justin Jones—who sought to develop an evening that represented the diversity of the Twin Cities dance community while highlighting his own convictions […]

On Saturday, November 28th the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening will take place at the Walker Art Center. Choreographers’ Evening celebrates the vibrant, experimental, and intelligent performance creators that inhabit the Twin Cities. This years’ curator is Justin Jones—who sought to develop an evening that represented the diversity of the Twin Cities dance community while highlighting his own convictions about the accessibility of dance.

“For the original announcement I wrote, ‘I believe that the infinite complexities of physical expression belong not just to the specially trained and professionally experienced. In my work with young people, I have seen incredible dances made and performed by 7 year olds… everyone is welcome, Every Body is welcome. If it’s your first dance, or your 100th, please come and share it, I can’t wait to see it.’ I didn’t know when I wrote that if I’d be able to fulfill my pet desire to see this range of work/experience represented on stage. I’m thrilled that the night features choreographers ages 10 to mid-eighties, there’s even a preschooler dancing in one of the works.

Approaching the actual curation, I was looking for work that spoke plainly and directly. In my own work and recent dancing with BodyCartography Project, I’ve been investigating simplicity – what is dance’s clearest communication, or how can you make direct impact so that feeling is the audiences first response. That was certainly on my mind when considering the work, and all the works I selected gave me feelings…”

Over 80 choreographic works auditioned, and Jones had the difficult task of selecting just 11 to be presented this year. These artists represent a dynamic group of new and experienced dance makers. I sent them some questions about their work and lives – below are their responses.

___

DaNCEBUMS

Kara Motta, Maggie Zepp, Eben Kowler, Karen McMenamy, & Margaret Johnson

dancebums4emmabarber (2)

DaNCEBUMS is a group of five collaborators creating and performing dance works. Their partnership is based on mutual love and respect for each other, systems of support, and togetherness. Their performances reflect their deep technical training in concert dance, interest in experimental performance practice, and popular forms such as music videos and musical theater.

How did you five come to collaborate?

We danced in each other’s pieces for dance composition classes at The University of Minnesota. Karen bought a large three story house with a one car garage where we made several performances in collaboration with musicians. We then rented a studio where we played, improvised, breathed, talked, and eventually started to make our first batch of dances together. The opportunities kept presenting themselves and we kept making dances.

If you could make a dance for one person, who would it be and what would the dance look like?

Our moms. Our moms put us through dance classes and loved to “ooo” and “aahh” over our pointed feet. They didn’t realize their support would give us the confidence to keep dancing FOREVER. It would most likely include grande allegro, triple pirouettes, half up half down pony tails, flowy lyrical costumes, and smiles that make your heart melt.

___

Kendra ‘Vie Boheme’ Dennard

PhotoCredit Farrington Llewellyn 1 (2)

Photo Credit: Farrington Llewellyn

Vie Boheme is a Detroit native and Pittsburgh blossomed renaissance artist. In addition to being a choreographer, she is a former dance artist with TU Dance in St. Paul, Minnesota, was a founding member of The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and is a soul, funk, jazz vocalist.

Congratulations on your album release for “Exit.” What parallels do you find between making music and making dances, if any?

Thank you for the “congrats” on my single ‘Exit’! The work I’m creating now is focused on smashing those two experiences together instantaneously without diminishing either one. I’ve been dancing since I was 6 and singing since I can remember. They have both always been with me, side by side. Now, I cannot sing without dancing anymore and I cannot dance without singing anymore so my work is geared toward the marriage of the two for a unique and potent performance experience.

You’ve also been curating a monthly series called “Hit The Step!” – can you tell us more about that?

‘Hit The Step!’ is a quarterly happening that facilitates space, time, and fertile ground for cross genre artistic exploration of the professional dance community of the Twin Cities. It functions as an experimental space for dance artists to test out new ideas without the pressure of being perfect. We all know that the dancers in the Twin Cities work hard to put on superb quality dance performances but this event is a space for us to get comfortable making mistakes while finding our voices. For me, it is where I comfortably experiment with singing and dancing at the same time.

___

Ea Eckwall

Ea, in collaboration with her house full of artists, has made two shows in her garage. She has been performing in the Barebones Halloween show for 9 1/2 years and dances with the Young Dance Company. This dance came out of a joke that dancer Max Wirsing would commission Ea to make his McKnight solo.

Both of your parents are artists—do you ever ask them for feedback? Is your work inspired by their work?

Sometimes I ask my mother, Arwen Wilder, for feedback but I don’t usually take her suggestions. By watching [Wilder’s and Heidi Eckwall’s] work, I have seen new ways of dancing but I don’t feel like their work necessarily is what I base my work on. My work comes straight from my imagination.

What about making dances is exciting for you? Do you think you’ll make more?

I like when I get to watch the dancer work on it and try it and I like when the dancer finally does it how I imagined it. If I say something like “dance like a volcano,” I like seeing what the dancer thinks that would be. I will probably make more dances.

___

Fire Drill

Fire Drill THaJ Web 2

Photo Credit: Liz Josheff

Minneapolis-based Fire Drill  is comprised of artists Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney. Together, they create performance works that challenge contemporary modes of spectatorship, exploring how internet culture and the attention economy affect the way we watch live performance.

Your trainings are in theater and dance – how do those trainings compliment or inhibit one another as you are creating?

When we started working together, we immediately decided that our research need not result in the making of “theater” or “dance.” At the same time, we find that examining the conventions of both disciplines is hugely generative. Both forms come with ingrained practices and deeply rooted assumptions, and we try to be really specific when we’re working with or against those.

What are the prevailing questions that come up for you when you’re making performances?

The biggest question that has spanned many of our projects is: how do audiences watch live performance? What cultural histories, spatial formats, and power dynamics condition our expectations for viewing performance? How has the internet shifted the way we pay attention, and our experience of digesting information over time? What other qualities of attention or modes of engagement exist beyond an entertainment paradigm? What is capitalism doing to the body, and via what tactics can we intervene?

___

Kathie Goodale

Kathie Goodale and her late husband, Robert Goodale, have been instrumental figures in the Twin Cities dance community for years as philanthropists and advocates of the form. In addition, Kathie has an extensive career as a ballet instructor and was a founder of Ballet Arts Minnesota.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your involvement with dance?

I have an AA in Dance and a BA in French and Spanish.  I have studied at Jacob’s Pillow and Connecticut College in summers and did summer stock as a student.  I have taught at MDT and Ballet Arts (which I founded with Bonnie Mathis, Marcia Chapman, and Julia Sutter in 1989) for 40 years.  I have taught two improvisation sessions in Ibaragi, Japan with Mako Okatake, and have taught and performed with Link Vostok in Yaroslavl, Russia for 6 summers.

Can you share with us what the inspiration is for the piece you will be presenting at Choreographers Evening?

My piece is based on Tai Chi.  I do plan to do more based on Tai Chi, hopefully with dance students. Being a part of Choreographers’ Evening is a special community involvement.

___

Jes Nelson

jesnelson1

Photo Credit: Asha Efia

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 throughout Minneapolis.

What is your background in choreography and performance?

I trained and performed as a competitive studio dancer from 4-18 years old (a watered down version of the Lifetime show Dance Moms is probably the best way to describe it). I was good at turning and won a lot of trophies. Regarding choreography: I’m an only child so I naturally took to bossing my friends and family around at a young age, instructing them to sing/act/dance in some way. In middle school I began choreographing lyrical and jazz dances for competitions.

After high school, I went to art school. My experiences and exploration in school made me realize that dance was a pretty weird medium that people tended to either avoid or put on a pedestal. Both scenarios bummed me out and gave me reason to stop interpreting music via dance and instead start interpreting dance on its’ own terms.

This past year I established jestural to continue this research and document the ways in which we move together in time. It’s my version of owning my own “dance studio” and aims to identify and re-contextualize existing choreography.

You also presented work in Choreographers’ Evening 2013 – is your piece this year related to that one, in content or in inspiration?

Definitely. Both pieces were conceived around the same time and rearrange choreography that already exists. Sugar Babies played with duration, this years’ piece does as well. Sugar Babies asks young dancers to perform, this years’ piece asks their parents to. In both instances there’s a curiosity to see how their movement changes in content and in value within a high theory environment like the Walker Art Center.

___

Pedro Pablo Lander

644448_10155309767070363_1428738668938079061_n (2)

Pedro Pablo Lander was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Feeling constricted in a conservative environment, Pedro moved to Minnesota to attend Winona State University where he got involved with dance. He has worked with Time Track Productions, is currently apprenticing with Eclectic Edge Ensemble, and is an advisor for a non-profit organization that focuses on college success for marginalized students.

What was your first interaction with dance?

Growing up, the only physical activity options for men at my all-male, private, catholic school were sports teams. Due to my fear of being outed in my social circles and family, I did not bring up my desire to dance or do anything related to the arts. Sadly, this meant that I did not get exposed to any kind of performance art in my own country. My first encounter with dance happened at college—after viewing the dancers, I felt an amazing urge to do what they were doing. I have since performed and presented my work at various American College Dance Association festivals and attended the American Dance Festival which was one of the most transformative experiences in my life.

What is the inspiration for your piece in Choreographers’ Evening this year?

For me, performance is a vessel to demonstrate our true humanity and our raw nature. In society there is a stigma to showing anger or sadness, and viewing distress as weakness; I believe that these emotions connect us to other people as much as happier emotions do. Dance truly saved my life; it took me from those horrible experiences and brought me into a creative space. Sharing my story and learning about others’ stories is what keeps me moving.

In March I created an evening-length show, Maricón (Faggot) in collaboration with dancers, music producer, graphic designer, etc. The work that I will be showing at Choreographers’ Evening is the ‘religious’ section of this particular work and is a reaction to my religious experiences through the lens of sexuality.

___

Angelique Lele & Cary Bittinger

angie shots 039 (533x800)cary

Angelique Lele has been doing theater for most of her life, from school plays to co-founding Toxic Shock Stage—a women’s only theater company based in Los Angeles. Angelique trained in aerial arts on trapeze and silks and performed with Blue Phoenix Circus Troupe and the Kenny Kiser Show. In 2012 she was paralyzed while training on her trapeze. Introduced to the beautiful world of integrative dance with the help of Young Dance, Angelique is excited to be performing again and open to the challenge of exploring a new physicality on stage.

Cary received her master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 and has had the opportunity to share her love of dance and the power of movement with individuals from around the world. Currently, she works as a Dance Therapist at HeadStart in St. Paul and for Young Dance in Minneapolis.

When did the two of you start working together? What are your backgrounds with movement and how do your interests overlap?

AL: Cary and I met while working on the show “Wild Swans” with Young Dance and hit it off.  I became a fan and knew that working with her would really help me grow as a dancer. I have so enjoyed collaborating with Cary and I hope to create with her more in the future.

CB:  This summer, Gretchen Pick of Young Dance, asked us to perform for the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the ADA (American Disability Act) in front of City Hall. The piece we performed there served as the basis for our piece for the show at the Walker. Our belief that movement has no boundaries and our shared interest in dance and performing make our duo dynamic, exploratory, and innovative.

Congratulations Angelique on becoming Ms. Wheelchair MN 2015, can you describe your work as an advocate for people using wheelchairs?

AL: As Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota I have been trying to create more awareness and visibility for the disabled community.  I cofounded a group called Chicks on Wheels which is an informal social group for women.  We are a community that tends to be alienated so having a place to go and a group to talk to that really understands is important.  We also believe it’s vital for us to be out in public, taking up space and not hidden.

Cary, in what ways does your experience with Dance/Movement Therapy transfer over into creating performances?

CB: While I was pursuing my master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy, I began to approach my choreography with a different intent. Our bodies hold the stories to our past; the body never forgets. There is a psychological component that links to a deeper connection of who we are in relation to ourselves and others. The dance gets to tell these stories through the moments: slowly with a lot of weight, fast with bound muscles, etc. I believe that healing can be facilitated by modulating movement styles from one extreme to another.

___

Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees

tomcraig

Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees have created four original pieces together: mr. hijack’s devotion chopped and screwed in jockstraps, mr. hijack’s devotion, it asks for forgiveness please, and getting caught in a rainstorm of light.

How did both of you get involved with dance and what about dance gives you a common ground from which to create and choreograph?

In regards to getting involved in dance, the most honest answer for both of our entries into the dance world is through what Tom calls the “Dance Party” and what Craig calls the “Clurrrb.” Really they’re the same thing and where we both truly started dancing. For the two of us, dancing is an excuse for us to hang out when otherwise we might not do so at all. On the other hand, it’s a means for us to have conversations that we simply can’t have in words about a relationship that similarly continues to defy description or labels. Therefore, as Craig says, “it MUST exist on the dance plane.” Feel free to let your imagination go with that one.

Do you have plans to continue collaborating with each other?

Only God knows the answer to that. We promise we’ll listen. #danceplane #godflow #seeyouonthedanceplane #danceplanerealness #isanyonereadingthis?

___

Dolo McComb

dolo_north (2)

Dolo McComb is an artist and healer originally from Colorado Springs, CO. She relocated to Minneapolis after earning a degree in dance from the Colorado College and has since worked and toured nationally with BodyCartography Project and Chris Schlicting. Currently, along with Kimberly Lesik and Scott Stafford, Dolo is creating as a collective called //cathedral\\.

In this work, you collaborate with Kimberly Lesik and Scott Stafford, both of whom were in your Works-In-Progress piece at the Red Eye last summer. Is the work you are showing in Choreographers Evening a continuation of the research you did last summer, or does it stem from a new idea?

The piece I have created for Choreographers’ Evening is not a formal continuation of or sequel to my WIP piece. But naturally, discoveries and disruptions were made during the WIP process that propelled me to where I am now. There are certainly some long-term thematic gardens of research that have carried over from that work and will undoubtedly be hanging on for a while.

What do you think is the weirdest thing about dance?

The weirdest thing about dance is that people don’t do it more often. We all have these bodies whose natural states are of motion. Dancing is a tool to lead us to power and healing and magic. And I don’t understand why a body wouldn’t want these things.

___

Jeffrey Wells

11109027_10153289002314339_4763767276614714427_o

Jeffrey Wells is a performer and performance maker from Minneapolis. He works primarily with the performance ensemble SuperGroup but has also performed with Fire Drill, Karen Sherman, Chris Schlichting, Chantal Pavageaux and others around town.

I hear you have a background in musical theater, but switched your major to dance while in college. Why did you decide to switch to dance? Does your musical theater background influence your choreographic process?

Actually I started in musical theater and transferred to experimental theater, but honestly these days I’m not that interested in these terms and distinctions. Both my musical and experimental theater training had a lot of emphasis on dance and the body, though at different ends of the spectrum. Musical theater was really concerned with ballet, tap, and jazz. With specific technique, learning to execute specific “moves” or “steps,” and with really “selling it.” My experimental training was much more concerned with discovering movement and systems specific to my body, improvisation, etc. It was there where I really was introduced to BMC and the fluid systems, developmental movement, contact improvisation, Mary Overlie’s Viewpoints, etc. Certainly all these modalities and experiences help shape my process today. I would say my musical theater training primed me to be interested in singing and dancing simultaneously, which certainly is happening in my Choreographers’ Evening solo, as well as my work with SuperGroup, albeit very different from Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In this work for Choreographers Evening, you experiment with your voice. What was your inspiration for pursuing that exploration?

I’m really dealing with monotone. I was feeling overwhelmed with the variables available in using my voice. I would sit and sing and I kept having this impulse to sing one long sustained note. So I did. I suppose in some ways I’m interested in stripping away melodic and lyric variation (which are very tempting in music) in order to uncover other qualitative variations. I also had a colleague once who referred to the vocal apparatus as a mini body within the larger body—in terms of complexity of parts, range of articulation, and I like thinking about that. I mean I don’t like thinking about that in the way that it creates this false separation of the vocal apparatus as being other than the rest of the body, but I do like thinking about it in terms of how the vocal apparatus is responsible for and able to make (with the support of the rest of the body) this incredibly diverse range of sound (perhaps like the range of movement the body is capable of). I also like thinking about and feeling the intense micro movements that happen internally as vocal sound is made. It’s like a small hidden dance.

 

Choreographers’ Evening 2015 will be presented on Saturday, November 28, 2015 at 7 pm & 9:30 pm.

All at Once a Paradox: Theo Langason on johnbrown

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, Minneapolis-based theater artist Theo Langason shares his perspective on johnbrown by Dean […]

Photo: Ryutaro Mishima

johnbrown premiere performances at The Kitchen, 2014. Photo: Ryutaro Mishima

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, Minneapolis-based theater artist Theo Langason shares his perspective on johnbrown by Dean Moss. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

johnbrown, a dance/multimedia performance by Dean Moss, is a meditation on the white abolitionist John Brown that uses the historical figure to examine the contradictions past, present, future and their interconnectedness.

John Brown: white man, abolitionist, trigger-happy.  He believed that the only way to end slavery would be through an armed insurrection.  Many scholars disagree on whether he is a hero or a terrorist.  Either way, John Brown was right about the need for a bloody end to the ownership of black flesh. After the failed raid of an armory, Brown was captured and later hanged.  His death is considered to have played a significant role in the start of the Civil War.  For more context read this piece written by Emma Barber, it’s informative and she’s dope.

The stage is set, a white square on the ground: a canvas to be painted upon with bodies and chalk and foam board and deflated kick balls.  A large wall with thick horizontal black and white stripes, slightly askew, looms in the background.  In silence the piece begins as a single white dancer dressed in white does a slow and mesmerizing balletic balancing act.  Flowing and slightly contorted, the dancer moves across the stage conjuring a sense of landscape.  “Now.”  A young woman of color runs out to assist with the balance, then disappears as quickly she appeared.  “Now.”  Another young woman of color, another assist.  “Now.” Again.  “Now.” A reminder that America was built on the backs of black, brown, yellow, and red people.  A reminder that history is held up by those who come after, the younger generations.

Moss, a black man, enters (un)dressed as Uncle Tom/Jesus.  Casting Uncle Tom as a savior is a hard pill to swallow.  John Brown, as white savior and benevolent catalyst that sparked the Civil War, is a hard pill to swallow.  But that’s the paradoxical “yes…and” history that Moss is investigating.  Yes, John Brown was a prominent instigator of the Civil War and gave his life to the cause of ending slavery.  And, he was a mad man with poor judgment and a too-young wife. Yes, ‘Uncle Tom’ is an insult hurled at black people too concerned with the whims of whiteness.  And, the popularity of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel was instrumental in the humanization of blackness in the eyes of many white people.  Yes…and.  Hard pills.

Recordings of Moss’ father Harold G. Moss play.  He speaks with a wit and frankness that are common of older black folk who have lived and survived Jim Crow.  His voice is familiar and warm.  He speaks of interaction with white folk.  His words ache with the wisdom of a life lived with purpose.  The audience begins to understand some of Dean Moss’ personal history and what’s shaped the lens(es) through which he looks back at historical figures and forward to future generations.

John Brown strikes a distinctly different figure than the subversive-clandestine-cloak-and-dagger-underground-railroad abolitionist that is most prevalent in middle school textbooks.  Moss highlights the tendency in society’s collective memory to boil down historical figures to their actions and ideas: He lived here, did a thing, thought thoughts and died.  Historical figures were living and breathing people with neuroses and eccentricities.  Video of fictional conversations between John Brown and Fredrick Douglass illuminates their differing opinions on the best tactics to bring about an end to slavery and also Brown’s taste for too-young women.  The two are projected as massive shirtless busts.  They bicker, their voices are distorted slightly and they’re funny.  Hilarious actually, like a sketch from Key and Peele, and it makes both of them feel more like real people.

Throughout most of the piece the young women of color from the beginning interact with the mostly white ensemble of dancers in a multitude of ways. Observing, supporting, framing, and interrupting the action.  The role of younger (darker) generations in the telling and examining of history is on display: the power to manipulate, the desire to witness and ultimately the ability to disregard it.  They transition seamlessly from being stagehands to cheering on a live performance of a song, reminiscent of vintage Cat Power deep cuts.  They use live-streaming video to show the audience their take on the performance then quickly turn the camera to themselves for selfies, complete with duck-faces. The final image of the piece is the young woman in a circle talking as John Brown ‘hangs’ over them.  The young women are uninterested, unfazed or unaware of his presence as they chat and titter about things of little consequence.  Brown fades away and the audience watches the young women as the lights dim, witnessing the future.

johnbrown is the past, present, and future simultaneously.  All at once a paradox: chaotic and precise, patient and hurried, historical and futuristic, connected and disparate. Dean Moss has created an exciting, varied work that is greater than the sum of its paradoxical parts.

Black Market Reads: Resisting and Rebelling with Dean Moss

In this episode, BLACK MARKET READS interviews the quixotic and brilliant multidisciplinary artist Dean Moss who is presenting his work, johnbrown, at the Walker Art Center this weekend. He is also a speaker at Convening: Resistance and Rebellion, a day-long international convening exploring the role of art in revolution on Saturday, October 17, presented by the Givens Foundation for African […]

Moss_Dean_johnbrown_2015-16_06_PP (2560x1707)

In this episode, BLACK MARKET READS interviews the quixotic and brilliant multidisciplinary artist Dean Moss who is presenting his work, johnbrown, at the Walker Art Center this weekend. He is also a speaker at Convening: Resistance and Rebellion, a day-long international convening exploring the role of art in revolution on Saturday, October 17, presented by the Givens Foundation for African American Literature in partnership with Million Artist Movement.

Check out minute 13:04 to hear the interview from the beginning in its entirety.

BLACK MARKET READS is a podcast produced by The Givens Foundation for African American Literature and hosted by Erin Sharkey and Junauda Petrus of Free Black Dirt, who are also the Givens Foundation’s Cultural Producers in Residence.

johnbrown will be performed at 8pm, October 15-17, 2015 in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. johnbrown is copresented by the Givens Foundation and in conjunction with the Resistance and Rebellion Convening

A Preamble to a Performance: Dean Moss’ johnbrown

Today through Saturday, multimedia and dance artist Dean Moss will perform his work johnbrown in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Moss has been creating transcultural and multidisciplinary performances for over 15 years. Noted for his experimentation with performance styles, Moss continues his exploration of form in johnbrown, which was first presented at The Kitchen in 2014. Through the story […]

Dean Moss, johnbrown. Photo: Mark Simpson

Dean Moss, johnbrown. Photo: Mark Simpson

Today through Saturday, multimedia and dance artist Dean Moss will perform his work johnbrown in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. Moss has been creating transcultural and multidisciplinary performances for over 15 years. Noted for his experimentation with performance styles, Moss continues his exploration of form in johnbrown, which was first presented at The Kitchen in 2014.

Through the story of John Brown, Moss draws parallels between civil rights and the political climate of today. In the 19th century, Brown, a white man who vehemently opposed slavery, was an instrumental figure of the abolitionist movement. He was, however, possibly as controversial as he was instrumental. Brown believed that change would not be possible through peaceful tactics, so he led violent insurrections–involving the death of multiple slave owners–in the hopes of triggering a slave revolution. Indeed his mission also led to his death: execution by hanging as punishment for his failed attempt to raid the federal armory at Harpers Ferry. Many of his contemporaries and many scholars today credit Brown with inciting the Civil War.

In johnbrown, Moss looks into the sociopolitical history of Brown’s legacy to unravel tensions that still exist today. Race, gender, and generational responsibility are pervasive themes, as visualized through the performance of Moss, the dancers, musician, and teen production assistants. Rather than historically reenact the narrative of John Brown, Moss uses movement, text, media projection, and music to present an exploration on identity, politics, history, and change. Moss weaves together stories old and new, personal and political, to present a myriad of contemplations on these topics.

Inspired by the notion of a pre-performance installation, Moss and his collaborators created a short video “500 Words for John Brown: A Preamble,” which introduces each performer as they recite excerpts of Henry David Thoreau’s response to the death of John Brown.

Also an abolitionist and a contemporary of Brown’s, Thoreau wrote “A Plea for Captain John Brown” shortly after Brown’s failed raid on the armory and presented it to the public multiple times before Brown’s execution. Thoreau articulates a position contrary to media sources and then-common beliefs of Brown, calling for recognition of Brown’s dedication to justice and his commitment to action instead of passively wishing and waiting for change.

The video “500 Words” is a preamble for the audience of johnbrown, inviting us to contemplate our ideas of radical behavior, social justice, and racial relationships.

johnbrown will be performed at 8pm, October 15-17, 2015 in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. johnbrown is copresented by the Givens Foundation and in conjunction with the Resistance and Rebellion Convening.

Talk Dance: Momentum 2015

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 Hiponymous, Angharad Davies, and Nic Lincoln, whose works will premiere in Momentum: New Dance Works July 9-18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.  You can find the podcasts […]

pa2015_momentum_final-1

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 Hiponymous, Angharad Davies, and Nic Lincoln, whose works will premiere in Momentum: New Dance Works July 9-18, 2015 at the Southern Theater.  You can find the podcasts on the Walker Channel 

Momentum: New Dance Works is a big deal.  Many emerging choreographers apply and a panel reviews and selects just 4 applicants to participate.  If your work is chosen, three major performance venues (Cowles Center for Dance/ Southern Theater/ Walker Art Center) and one major funding organization (Jerome Foundation) enthusiastically support your work with time, space, money, expertise, production, feedback, career development opportunities, and publicity.  Many choreographers who’ve come through Momentum have gone on to become major voices in the dance community locally and nationally.  When interviewing the Momentum choreographers about their upcoming shows I asked them what being a part of the program means to them.

Angharad Davies: “I just feel really so excited that I was invited to be a part of this, the support has been great. I’ve been making this work since I got here and to get Momentum was kind of a big deal because it felt like the support for my aesthetic or my artistic vision was there, and I feel really excited and proud that I’m part of this group.”

Hiponymous (Evie Muench and Renée Copeland):  “It means that we got a place to do this project idea that we had in our brains, that I don’t think would have been produced at the scale that it is going to be produced for this show…I was really trying to figure out how we would have done this piece had we not gotten this grant. It’s an incredible opportunity… and we took it!”

Nic Lincoln:  “I view Momentum as being a stepping stone. I really like the idea of being pushed forward.  This process, with all the feedback, has pushed me.  In the last couple years, I’ve been able to work on shedding any kind of ego that has to relate to my work so I can actually take in the corrections or feedback I’m getting.  I believe that because of that process, that’s part of the reason why the work is so strong.”

Interviewing these artists about their upcoming shows at the Southern Theater was great fun.  What was most exciting to me was learning that each of the artists are exploring new territory in their work.  Hiponymous expanded their collaboration to include two composers, a costume designer and a host of voice actors.  Nic Lincoln is creating his first choreography for an all male cast, and Angharad Davies is making a dance that is more, “internally driven and focused” than her previous work.

Making new work for an opportunity that is as big a deal as Momentum is, it might be easy to “do what you know.”  I commend the choreographers for going beyond and taking the generous support of the Cowles, Jerome, the Southern, and the Walker to explore new territory.   If you missed the first weekend, go now and get your tickets for week two.

Momentum: New Dance Works 2015 continues this Thursday through Saturday, July 16-18, at the Southern Theater.

In the Dark in 5… Megan Mayer on Momentum Week 1

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, choreographer Megan Mayer shares her perspective on State of the […]

Hiponymous (Renée Copeland and Genevieve Muench). Photo: Gene Pittman

Hiponymous (Renée Copeland and Genevieve Muench). 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, choreographer Megan Mayer shares her perspective on State of the Moon Address by Hiponymous and Broken by Luke Olson-Elm. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Momentum: New Dance Works Festival! This series is one of my favorites, as it generously funds dancemakers venturing into new territories, cushioned by institutional support and a whole team of folks rooting for them and their work. I was thinking about how related yet distinct the skill sets of choreography and dance are; so I feel it’s important to note that in addition to directing these original dances, the choreographers featured in the first weekend of the festival gave stellar performances as dancers in their own work. If you don’t already know how challenging it is to be at once inside a work while keeping a fresh outside eye on its development, please trust that it requires extreme rigor and selflessness. Congratulations to these artists on multiple jobs well done.

Hiponymous’ set consisted of a green astroturf mound (reminding me simultaneously of the Nutcracker’s Mother Ginger, a golf course, Teletubbies, and the construction of the new I-can’t-see-downtown-anymore Minneapolis stadium), set up against one side of the Southern Theater’s arch. A lichen mini-mound adhered itself to the opposite side.

State of the Moon Address begins with a brief applause loop, serving as a preemptive favor on the audience’s behalf (more on this bit later). Evy Muench emerges on the side of the stage, shivering off a silvery tether as Renee Copeland shoots out from under the mound, and the two tilt-a-whirl and frantically spin around one another until connecting, and soften into a koala embrace. The pair scouted and explored their apparently new, foreign surroundings, working well as a team, using each other’s limbs, joints and kneepads as legos to build and compound strength and range. They seemed to be researching and building a language using the body and movement phrases to interpret their findings. The choreography was dense with clever, gestural material: a quick listening to the ground, scratching twitches, precise hands near the face, forearms sticking to the ground as if they were magnetized in a curious manner, bent forward at the waist and traversing backwards on deliberately placed hands and feet in unison, laying on their sides with their backs to us in quivering lumps.

The work’s tone fluctuated in and out of concern and anxiety. At times the choreography seemed too buoyant to be troubling in the way that seemed to interest them; leaps were at odds with the implied danger that was supposedly tethering them. The intriguing way they hung their heads, revealing only the crown to the audience, while slowly wheeling the light stands across the space, as a janitor pushes a mop bucket down a deserted hallway at night, was in stark contrast to the frontal eye contact held at other times. Their faces, side-lit by Heidi Eckwall’s evocative design during a stationary section, echoed the solitary, vulnerable time one waits in a doctor’s office on the exam table. During a slick commercial portion of the soundscore, they were able to morph their expressions in a matter of seconds: I saw Jane Fonda’s Barbarella’s confident stare, the spasmic grin of Max Headroom, Betty Boop’s smooshy pout and, Wile E Coyote’s predatory sideways glance.

After a quick blackout, the lights came up to reveal them holding large, shiny, silver gardening tools. They didn’t so much use the tools as animate them; Evy reluctantly overextended her arms and pretended to groom the astroturf mound and Renee slowly grazed the rake along her leg without actually touching the skin. Was this commentary on our culture’s disdain for women’s body hair? Or a reference to Bruce Dern’s gardener in Silent Running? The tools’ performance was short-lived.

The dominating soundscore overpowered the dance at times. There were moments when cacophony was the clear intention; there were others when the vibration was so loud I couldn’t distinguish the words and I missed hearing key clues. A few times the sound cues were late for the movement (the antennae section in particular). I questioned the choice of an initial authoritative male voiceover; it seemed to undercut the specific female strength that the performers had established with their movement. Overall I wanted more stillness, more time to settle in with these strong performers.

The piece “ended” when the stage crew walked on stiffly and immediately began dismantling the astroturf mound as Renee and Evy began a fast, tightly woven partnering section of winding torsos and furious legwork, twisting and careening their way upstage. The house lights came up and the audience shuffled in their seats. The sound bumped off early which was odd but that’s when the stage action of the strike crew got more interesting: I felt they dropped their “we had to be talked into this surprise fake ending but now that’s over and we’re really getting some shit done” personae and seemed less self-conscious, their bodies calmer and more at ease. I could also hear the drill, which helped me appreciate the work that went into the set. We didn’t get to applaud for the performers, but I grinned, remembering how they’d already snuck that in for us back at the beginning. After the mound had been completely removed I was hoping to catch one more glimpse of Hiponymous to know that they’d been just out of our sight this entire time, still spinning wildly and intricately working their way into the ether, but they were gone.

Luke Olson-Elm. Photo: Gene Pittman

Luke Olson-Elm. Photo: Gene Pittman

Luke Olson-Elm’s Broken started before it began by filling the space with a golden haze that accentuated the brick and rough texture of the Southern’s walls and invited my eye upwards. The lighting by Heidi Eckwall was gorgeous: expansive, raw, intimate with a dusty, dystopian edge and served the choreography well. The dance began with a row of downstage spotlights. The dancers walked dramatically in and out of the delineations on the floor and took turns showcasing in the spots. The movement material was a mostly frontal, aggressive mix of isolations, supple torsos, and articulate limbs with a hard edge. The choreography moved the dancers in diagonal pathways, fluidly finding the floor, falling in and out of unison to reveal solos and forming trios and duets.

The dancers were all tenacious and accomplished but I felt little connection among them as a group and didn’t learn much of anything about them as individual dancers. I’m not sure if this was a directorial choice or a missed opportunity. My eyes kept landing on Luke. You can always pick out the choreographer if they are one of the dancers because the material reads more clearly on their body. He owns this movement, it’s from within, and it pours out of him like water. I noticed his humility, his choice to not put himself center stage, to generously give the limelight to the other dancers, but he was ultimately the reluctant star of this piece. His performance was imbued with a grief not shared by the others and internalized in an intriguing way. His head bobbed at the neck, his hands reaching but never quite grasping, his eyes cast downward for much of the piece. Leaning against the archway under a light, his head hanging, I thought of Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, broken in his own way. Luke has a curious, evocative way of articulating his hands, implying that whatever he tries to touch has already dissolved.

The soundscore was percussive, aggressive, repetitive, electronic, machinic. A factory with bits similar to the Six Million Dollar Man bionic jumping sound peppered throughout. Audible breath cues among the dancers were superfluous when the music provided a structure. At times the partnered lifts with pointed toes and outstretched limbs seemed incongruous with the rest of the material and the soundscore; virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake was not a viable currency in the world he had created.

Towards the end Luke used the spotlights in a clever way by walking straight across and through all of the spots. I then thought of him as a sort of ghost, someone who lives in-between alongside the grief and fading memories which broke my heart a little as it was such a successful way to express displacement/isolation/loss. This was a delicate, haunting image and I thought the piece could have ended there. 2 other dancers eventually walked through the spots in the same way which lessened the impact of the image for me. In the program notes Luke mentions that he’s not sure why he’s inspired by themes of community and identity. I don’t know if his intention was to isolate himself from the rest of the cast, but I found that to be the most interesting aspect.

Megan Mayer is performing this weekend in The Scraps by Angharad Davies as part of Momentum: New Dance Works 2015, Thursday through Saturday, July 16-18, at the Southern Theater.

Choreographers’ Evening 2015 Auditions Announcement!

The Walker Art Center and Guest Curator Justin Jones are seeking choreographers to be presented as part of the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening. All forms of dance are welcome! Justin Jones is a widely respected local dancer/choreographer/sound designer/teacher and all-around innovator. For this year’s showcase, Jones is drawing on his experience working with dancers of […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman

The Walker Art Center and Guest Curator Justin Jones are seeking choreographers to be presented as part of the 43rd Annual Choreographers’ Evening. All forms of dance are welcome!

Justin Jones is a widely respected local dancer/choreographer/sound designer/teacher and all-around innovator. For this year’s showcase, Jones is drawing on his experience working with dancers of all ages and all abilities. Auditions are open to all artists utilizing the performance medium, trained and untrained, who use space, time, and the body to take risks and explore their ideas. Jones elaborates:

I believe that the infinite complexities of physical expression belong not just to the specially trained and professionally experienced. In my work with young people, I have seen incredible dances made and performed by 7 year old students. So, my curatorial position is, everyone is welcome, Every Body is welcome. If it’s your first dance, or your 100th, please come and share it, I can’t wait to see it.

Choreographers’ Evening will take place on Saturday, November 28, 2015 at 7:00pm and 9:30pm. If your piece is selected, you must be available the week of November 23rd (excluding Thanksgiving), as well as from noon through the performances on Saturday, November 28, 2015.

Audition Information:

WHERE:    The Walker’s McGuire Theater, 1750 Hennepin Ave, Mpls 55403

WHEN:      Wednesday, August 5 from 6–10pm

     Friday, August 7 from 2–6pm

     Saturday, August 8 from 12noon–4pm.

– You will receive a call or email confirming your time slot

– Auditions are in 10 minute intervals

– Pieces are usually 3-6 minutes in length and may not exceed 7 minutes

– DVD submissions are accepted, although live performance is preferred

– Works in progress are accepted

– Choreographers must live in Minnesota

For more information and to schedule an audition, please email performingarts@walkerart.org or call the Walker at 612.375.7550.

Additional questions may be directed to Anat Shinar at anat.shinar@walkerart.org

Dance in the Future: Emmanuel Iduma on Danspace Project’s Platform 2015

As the Walker’s senior curator of Performing Arts, I have followed with great interest Danspace Project’s distinctive curatorial approach to building dance/research Platforms. These rich—and, at times, provocative—multi-week guest-curated structures mix dance presentations, discussions, and related events centered around a single curatorial inquiry and accompanied by a print catalogue. In a few short years, the Platform […]

Emily Coates, Yvonne Rainer's Trio A, Part 1 Workshop. Danspace Project, March 13, 2015. Photo: Ian Douglas

Emily Coates, Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A, Part 1 Workshop. Danspace Project, March 13, 2015. Photo: Ian Douglas

As the Walker’s senior curator of Performing Arts, I have followed with great interest Danspace Project’s distinctive curatorial approach to building dance/research Platforms. These rich—and, at times, provocative—multi-week guest-curated structures mix dance presentations, discussions, and related events centered around a single curatorial inquiry and accompanied by a print catalogue. In a few short years, the Platform series has added such vitality and spirit, scholarship and debate to the dance scene of New York City, which despite its challenges, continues to be the urban nexus of movement art and critical discourse in the United States. Two longtime colleagues I respect greatly, Judy Hussie-Taylor (Danspace’s executive director and instigator of its Platform structure) and poet, critic, and now curator Claudia La Rocco, teamed up to create the ninth installment of the series, Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets, which ran from February 14 to March 28, 2015. La Rocco’s sources of inspiration for her Platform were the writings of Edwin Denby and the poet-as-critic tradition; the overlapping dance lineages of George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Judson Dance Theater; and the ways these traditions are relevant today. While I was so pleased to attend the kick-off event—a memorable evening of Denby-inspired readings, hosted by La Rocco and featuring a number of great poets (and a few dancers)—I was not able to return for the rest of the series.  Instead, I got the next best thing: written reflections from this Platform’s writer–in-residence, Emmanuel Iduma, one of which we are lucky enough (thanks to Claudia and our friends at Danspace Project), to share with you below, in a post exclusive to the Walker website.

—Philip Bither, Senior Curator of Performing Arts

. . . . .

I remember glancing repeatedly at Yvonne Rainer while she watched one of the Dance Dialogues at Danspace Project’s ongoing Platform. She had a notebook open on her lap, which she occasionally wrote in, leaving what seemed to me like giant scrawls. It struck me that each note-taking was preceded by a confirmatory nod. But since I could only see her through the corner of my eyes, her notes might have contradicted her gestures. I do not recall seeing her smile, although audience members were sometimes upbeat and sanguine—she might have, when I wasn’t watching. She seemed at once serious and dedicated to her seriousness. In her manner of observation, in the repeated nods and scribbling, she became one who scrutinized appearances within a stage or outside it.

I imagine from afar. I reflect on the workshops I have observed—Adrian Daching-Waring on Cunningham technique and composition, Kaitlyn Gilliland on Balanchine’s Serenade, and Emily Coates on Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A—aware of a distance created by non-participation. Amateurs (like me) could benefit from an opportunity to be taught a dance that would never be presented before a live audience. Yet I maintain a distance in order to write about what I observe. It’s a posture of criticality: but this could fail me. Is the mind put to work by the body? Are there insights I have missed by the stiffness of my muscle?

Each workshop, like a story without plot, could unfold as an occurrence with manifold motions. While Emily Coates taught hers, she said, “I’m going to talk you through the dance.” But the responses to this, during the course of three hours, were various attempts to subvert the difficulty and rigor of Trio A. I remember a black woman. When she spoke, her accent was as thick as mine. When there was a pause, I noticed she was dancing to something else, perhaps a song she recalled suddenly. She saw me looking, and then we smiled as if we had shared the same thoughts: the workshop brought to mind extraneous rhythms, other forms of grace.

One woman complained of dizziness. Coates responded, “It will start to get better as it gets into your body.” “Maybe,” the woman replied. Echoing Rainer, Coates emphasized a rigor of minds as well as bodies. In 1966, The Mind is a Muscle was the title of the series of dances Trio A was included in. “If you stare at anyone watching,” the dancers were told, “you are wrong. It is important to know where your gaze is at every moment.” As they progressed in learning the dance, they were asked to stand with their sides to the audience, and were taught moves that required gazing to the ceiling, towards clasped palms, and with closed eyes.

These motions, with certain variations, have been repeated since 1966 by dancers and non-dancers alike. There were up to 22 dancers being taught by Coates at St. Mark’s Church. They had been asked to sign waivers, following an instruction by Rainer, in order to control the proliferation of Trio A. On many occasions, we were told, she had the videos of the performance taken down from YouTube. In the intervening time between its first and subsequent iterations, certain motions might have been altered. The present form of the dance is one chiseled to specificity. New dancers would learn to add their individual flourishes, building on their instructor’s muscle memory. I am not inclined to believe Rainer gives a handful of people license to teach Trio A because of an overprotective instinct, nor from an obsession with a scrupulous performance. But a question: how does the passage of time affect the marriage of mind and muscle?

Each workshop in Platform 2015 wrestled with the evolution of the dance being taught. A performance, unlike a photograph, has a less tenuous relationship with its original. Those who argue, for instance, that today’s Serenade is infused with newer variations, hold on to a vision of how the ballet was performed before Balanchine’s death. Yet a performance is not a reproducible object. It has a being, and this suggests a movement toward mastery, as well as meaning. The three workshop tutors confessed to a renewed love for the dances they taught.

One of the first things Emily Coates said to the workshop class was: “I’m expecting.” A congratulatory cheer followed, her pregnancy already beginning to show. When Trio A required the dancer to lie with the belly on the floor, she simply sat, talking others through the motion. There was an unborn child in the room, feeling its mother teach a dance, dancing in the future.

Read more of Emmanuel Iduma’s reflections on Platform 2015 on Danspace Project’s Tumblr.

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. 

Previous
Next