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. […]
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.
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
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.
Goshka Macuga’s Redwood Blocks for Carl Andre’s Aisle (1981) installed at the Walker Art Center
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, Unpainted Sculpture (1997)
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.
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? […]
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!
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’syes 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 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 […]
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 commissionredundant, 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.
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.
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….
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…
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.
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.
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 […]
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
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
Photo taken from rehearsal video by Juan M Aldape
Juan M Aldape: This 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
Photo by Sean Smuda
Joanne Spencer: The 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
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
Photo by Sharyn Morrow
Angharad Davies: My 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 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
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.”
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, local dance artist Jessica Fiala shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Disabled […]
Photo: Michael Bause
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, local dance artist Jessica Fiala shares her perspective on Thursday night’s performance of Disabled Theater by Jérôme Bel/Theater HORA. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
Each actor of Theater HORA is invited to enter the stage alone and stand silently for one minute. Under the crisp, unchanging light, they present themselves before us, allowing our gazes to fall upon them, and looking back at the audience assembled to witness this “Disabled Theater.”
The style is straightforward. When asked in the performance to comment on the piece, one actor stated, “It is direct.” Reaching across a social chasm that leaves individuals deemed “disabled” marginalized and often out of sight, this work places them center stage. Stripping away the conventions of narrative and overt representation, through moments of humor, poignancy, and community, the piece provides a way in to more subtle areas of representation. The actors enter already categorized and marked before we meet them as outside “normalcy.” Rather than directing our attention elsewhere to an alluring world of make-believe, Jérôme Bel situates our unfolding experience in real time. He draws our attention to the labels that set one person apart from another, and in doing so, he perhaps creates a forum for the actors of Theater HORA to go beyond representing “disability.”
While the actors are generally positive about the experience, they speak of relatives distraught over seeing their loved ones placed on display. The work exists on troubled terrain. It creates space for looking outward at the relegation of “disability” to society’s margins and inward at each individual’s relationship to such divisions. I found myself considering the mechanism of theater and the questionable line between agency and objectification. The piece brings out such questions, but it simultaneously reminds us of its own artifice. The actors are “being themselves,” yet they are a professional company and this is a performance that has been repeated in venues across Europe. The narrator explains what we will see; the actors tell us that they are actors. It is direct and yet it blurs the lines between individuals, performers, and the labels affixed to them.
The work raises questions that linger afterwards, but to focus on Bel’s play with theatrical convention alone is to lose the experiential component, the human, intimate quality that the structure allows. The piece traverses the realm of Disabled Theater, crafting a sustained, shared experience both meaningful and fraught, a mixture of emotions and questions that lies at the heart of theater, “disabled” or otherwise.
Jérôme Bel and Theater HORA present Disabled Theater November 21-23, 2013 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.
Q&A with Jérôme Bel
Stay after the performance on Friday, November 22, for a discussion with Jérôme Bel moderated by Sonja Kuftinec, Professor of Theater Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.
Join us in the Balcony Bar following the performance on Saturday, November 23, for a conversation on Disabled Theater facilitated by Walker Art Center Tour Guide Jack Bardon and choreographers Otto Ramstad and Olive Bieringa.
An interview with Jérôme Bel on Disabled Theaterhere.
Local Artist Marcus Young’s reflection on Bel’s work here.
On November 21-23 the Walker will present Disabled Theater, a collaboration between Paris-based choreographer Jérôme Bel and ten actors with disabilities from the Zurich-based company Theater HORA. Formed in 1993, Theater HORA took its name from a character in the company’s first production. The group has performed in numerous festivals around the world, including all […]
Remo Beuggert of Theater HORA performs at Interact. Photo: Lydia Brosnahan
On November 21-23 the Walker will present Disabled Theater, a collaboration between Paris-based choreographer Jérôme Bel and ten actors with disabilities from the Zurich-based company Theater HORA. Formed in 1993, Theater HORA took its name from a character in the company’s first production. The group has performed in numerous festivals around the world, including all over Europe and in South Korea, and has won multiple awards. Theater HORA members have acted for television and performed in a professional dance video, and one HORA actress, Julia Häusermann, was awarded the Alfred Kerr Acting Prize in Berlin last May.
Jérôme Bel was introduced to Theater HORA in 2010, and initially was not interested in working with the company. Nevertheless, he watched some clips of their work and was deeply moved: “The emotion I felt was so strong that I couldn’t think. I realised that I wouldn’t be able to understand this emotion, which is unusual for me. My desire to work with them came from this first experience because I needed to understand what had happened to me the first time I saw them.” The premise of Disabled Theater is simple: it is a staged re-telling of Bel’s first interactions with the theater HORA actors.
While Theater HORA is one-of-a-kind in Switzerland, there are numerous theater companies around the world that include people with disabilities. Last January, Back to Back Theatre, a company based in Australia, came to Minneapolis to perform as part of the Walker’s annual Out There series (for more information on their work, check out this conversation between Back to Back artistic director Bruce Gladwin and Walker Web Editor Paul Schmelzer).
Minneapolis is also home to Interact, a center for visual and performing arts whose mission is “to create art that challenges perceptions of disability.” Founded in 1996, the organization provides theater and studio art opportunities for more than 125 artists with disabilities.
The day after their arrival in Minneapolis, Theater HORA paid a visit to Interact Center, where they took a tour of the studios, galleries, and rehearsal spaces, and met many of the visual and performing artists. Since Interact actors are busy with their current show and will not be able to see Disabled Theater, Gianni and Remo of Theater HORA gave brief, spirited performances of their dances that they will perform at the Walker this weekend.Interact founder and creative director Jeanne Calvit spoke about her organization and fielded questions from the HORA actors, and Interact actors asked questions about Theater HORA, communicating through translators. To wrap up the visit, everyone joined in an energetic dance party that opened up a new realm of communication to easily circumvent the language barrier.
Members of Theater HORA visit the Interact art studios. Photo: Lydia Brosnahan
In addition to exploring their commonalities as theater companies with people with disabilities, the meeting between Interact and Theater HORA was a chance for each group to reflect on the cultural differences surrounding theater and disability. In her travels to theater festivals and events around the world, Interact founder Jeanne Calvit has experienced how perceptions of disability and the language used to describe it vary greatly across cultures. She explained, “[The language of disability] totally depends on the culture you’re in. In America, the convention is to put the person first and the disability second: first of all you’re a theater, and it includes people with disabilities. You’re an actor with a disability, or a painter with a disability, etc. But that’s different in different countries. In Australia, for example, there’s a movement that is all about ‘We are disabled artists’— it’s an important statement that the disability is put first.”
In a prior visit to Interact, I had the chance to interview Calvit about her experiences with theater and disability, and to chat with Ana Maria, John, and Yeon, three actors who have performed in many Interact shows and who have traveled around the world with the company. Creating visual or performing art at Interact is a paid job, providing creative, fulfilling work for people with disabilities who may otherwise have few options for work. As Ana Maria said, “We’re really lucky to have this place. I’ve worked other jobs—I used to sell coffee, I worked in fast food—but this is a really supportive place; everybody cares for each other, and we’re very tight-knit. We’re all creative here—everyone is a little bit of a poet, everyone has some type of gift.” They discussed the powerful impressions Interact shows can have on the audience: “It’s really great to see people with disabilities on stage not looking disabled, but looking like a powerful figure, looking like an artist. When you see someone on stage from Interact, you just see a character that’s powerful and funny and creative and bright… you don’t see a disability.”
Calvit also had much relevant insight to share about creating art with people with disabilities. She told me about Interact’s collaborative process: the actors and staff create their plays through improvisation, allowing everyone in the company a chance to contribute. She explained the effectiveness of working with actors with disabilities through improvisation: “If we did theater in the more traditional way, giving everybody a script and saying ‘this is your role,’ it wouldn’t have the same passion because they’re not invested in it. I think anybody who works through improv is going to have a lot more success with people with disabilities. A lot of them do better when they’re thinking on their feet and they can improvise than if you just give them a piece of paper and say ‘your role is this, you need to memorize that, and I’ll tell you where to move.’” Disabled Theater, in which the actors of Theater HORA play themselves, similarly represents the spirit of honesty and collaboration that underlies the creation of these works.
Actors from Interact and Theater HORA break it down in a dance party at Interact Center. Photo: Lydia Brosnahan
Nevertheless, many audience members have never experienced the creation or performance of theater with people with disabilities, and it is natural that some ethical and moral questions and concerns may arise. In an interview with dramaturg Marcel Bugiel, Jérôme Bel responded to the question of exploitation in Disabled Theater:
Marcel Bugiel: Aren’t you afraid that some in the audience will think you’re staging a freak show, that you’re exploiting these actors and exposing their disabilities, that there’s an element of voyeurism in the show?
Jérôme Bel: That doesn’t worry me. For me theatre is precisely about being able to see what you’re not used to seeing, what’s hidden and concealed from view… The question of performance by people with learning disabilities is complicated because these days it’s highly unthinkable. You don’t know how to react when you’re confronted with them, their presence is hugely embarrassing because they’re not represented in the public domain. And for as long as that is the case, there will continue to be embarrassment and uneasiness. The only method is confrontation… this community has to be given greater visibility.
In its raw, honest fashion, Disabled Theater guarantees greater visibility of people with disabilities by placing them and their life stories on stage, necessitating that audience members confront their own preconceptions and assumptions about disability.
Calvit also shared interesting insights on concerns about exploitation, asserting: “I’m going to give a really different spin on the ‘freak show.’ When people say that, it says more about what they themselves are going into it with. If they believe that a person with a disability is like a freak, then they are going to worry about it being a freak show. But it doesn’t say anything about the people with disabilities. Many people are totally unaware of how intelligent people with developmental disabilities are—they’re just assuming that they’re clueless and that somebody is up there manipulating them like marionettes. But just from looking at Theater HORA and the people in our plays, they’re very cognizant, they’re very intelligent; they have a different type of intelligence. Do they score really high on IQ tests? Probably not. But can they improvise and do they understand theater and art? Absolutely. I know our actors, I’ve worked around the world with people with disabilities—they’re very aware of what they do.”
Jérôme Bel and Theater HORA present Disabled TheaterNovember 21-23, 2013 at 8 PM in the McGuire Theater. Stay after the performances for a postshow reception with the artists (Thursday, November 21), a Q&A with Jérôme Bel(Friday, November 22), and a SpeakEasy discussion with local artists and a Walker tour guide (Saturday, November 23).
Did you see a show at the Walker this past season? Are you wondering which you’d like to see this season? As interns in the department, we had the unique opportunity to see most of the 12-13 season. Taking advantage of this, while hoping to avoid oversimplifying the works too much, we’ve put our heads […]
Did you see a show at the Walker this past season? Are you wondering which you’d like to see this season? As interns in the department, we had the unique opportunity to see most of the 12-13 season. Taking advantage of this, while hoping to avoid oversimplifying the works too much, we’ve put our heads together to find connections between last year’s performances and this year’s. Here’s what we’ve come up with:
(left) The BodyCartography Project. (right) luciana achugar. Photos: Gene Pittman
The Bodycartography Project || luciana achugar
The Bodycartography Project’s Super Nature presented movement inspired by animal impulses and human communication– imagine a nature documentary about people. luciana achugar takes a similar approach in OTRO TEATRO, presenting ritualistic gestures and questioning “civilized” movement.
(left) Laurie Anderson. Photo: courtesy of the artist. (right) CocoRosie. Photo: Rodrigo Jardon
Laurie Anderson || CocoRosie
With Dirtday!, performance artist Laurie Anderson shared personal stories, charismatic narratives, and she was not afraid to raise important questions related to feminism and contemporary politics. If you enjoyed her mix of music with politically-charged commentary, you’re bound to enjoy the fearlessly imaginative CocoRosie.
(left) Zammuto. Photo: Nick Zammuto. (right) Olga Bell. Photo: Eric Lippe
Zammuto + Eluvium || Olga Bell
Last fall, Zammuto brought us an energetic and vibrant music show filled with virtuosic riffs, auto-tuned melodies, and zebra butts. Not only does Olga Bell present an analogous sound, she approaches her performances with a similar creative intensity and playfulness.
(left) Rude Mechs. Photo: Kathi Kacinski. (right) Nature Theater of Oklahoma. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Rude Mechs || Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Both Rude Mechs and Nature Theater of Oklahoma are rethinking what theater and performance are. Rude Mechs did this in The Method Gun by performing theater games, re-doing a classic, and delving into the method of a fictional acting guru. Nature Theater, instead of focusing its lens onto theater itself, looks at the life of one person from birth to the third grade. Performed through song and dance, every “um” or “like” of this woman’s story is left in. Nature Theater takes a look at speech patterns and how one person’s life, no matter how ordinary, can still be mythical and heroic. If you liked the exciting energy of the Method Gun, check out Nature Theater’s Life and Times: Episode 1.
She She Pop || Wunderbaum/LAPD
Where She She Pop tackled the real familial issue of inheritance, the performance collaboration between Wunderbaum and LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department) tackles the real social issue of healthcare. She She Pop’s Testament used Shakespeare’s King Lear as a starting point to talk about their own very real experiences with their fathers (who also acted on stage). Wunderbaum and LAPD’s Hospital moves between live action and film, fantasy and documentary, and actors and residents of Skid Row (some of whom appear as performers). Both combine personal stories with greater, more universal issues.
Bengolea/Chaignaud/Freitas/Harrell || Niwa Gekidan Penino
Raw eggs, drag operettas, and dildo dancers. (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M), from Bengolea/Chaignaud/Freitas/Harrell, was possibly the most provocative and enjoyably confusing performances of the 12-13 season. It embraced a sophisticated cultural sarcasm and challenged notions of sexuality, dance, and pop culture. Like (M)imosa, Niwa Gekidan Penino’s upcoming show, The Room Nobody Knows will likely present a comparable dosage of energetic discomfort, psychological confusion, and unpredictable excitement.
(left) Ben Frost. Photo: Bjarni Grímsson. (right) Tim Hecker/Oneohtrix Point Never. Photo: courtesy the artist
Ben Frost || Tim Hecker/Oneohtrix Point Never
In February, Ben Frost confronted us with a deeply invasive and exhilarating performance filled with incessant rhythms and foreboding sub-bass rumblings. This season presents an equally immersive equivalency: Tim Hecker and Oneohtrix Point Never. Instead of guitar drones, think abstract sound sampling and textural vintage synthesizers. Equally ground-shaking, expect this experience to be hallucinatory, sensory, and body-opening.
(left) Sarah Kirkland Snider and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond). Photo: Murat Eyuboglu. (right) Jherek Bischoff. Photo: Angel Ceballos
My Brightest Diamond || Jherek Bischoff
Last winter, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond mesmerized the audience with her tender serenades and powerful rock ballads. Willfully charismatic and masterfully polished, she performed emotional and colorful songs full of personal and metaphorical anecdotes. Both Worden and next season’s Jherek Bischoff exercise a compelling tension between classical and popular music traditions.
(left) Cynthia Hopkins. Photo: Ian Douglas. (right) Sam Green/Yo La Tengo. Photo: Sam Allison
Cynthia Hopkins || Sam Green/Yo La Tengo
Both Hopkins and Green are storytellers. Where This Clement World presented stories about Hopkins’ own experiences in the arctic, The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fullerbrings a documentary to the live stage. Thematically linked, the environmental tones of Hopkins’ World parallel Green and Yo La Tengo’s exploration of the work of inventor, architect, futurist, and proponent of sustainability, Buckminster Fuller. If you like stories melded with music, pick up tickets for The Love Song.
(left) Kyle Abraham. Photo: Cherylynn Tsushima. Jerome Bel/Theater Hora. Photo: courtesy of the artist
Kyle Abraham || Jerome Bel/Theater Hora
Although Kyle Abraham and Jerome Bel/Theater Hora come from different backgrounds, Live! The Realest MC and Disabled Theater both explore ideas of identity, perception, and acceptance. Both give raw emotional connections between the stage and audience, have a balance between tension and humor, and give a nod to popular culture.
On Dance and Time Look Who’s Looking Now: Perceiving and Measuring Time is the second part of a series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper into the philosophical […]
On Dance and Time
Eiko & Koma performing “Naked,” 2010
Look Who’s Looking Now: Perceiving and Measuring Time is the second part of a series on watching dance. Discussions are divided into sections on the body, space, time, and action/energy. The series aims to give audiences the tools to discuss the elements of dance performance and dig deeper into the philosophical meaning behind the works. Feel free to add to the discussion and share your own insights in the comment section below.
indefinite, unlimited duration in which things are considered as happening in the past, present, or future; every moment there has ever been or ever will be
the period between two events or during which something exists, happens, or acts; measured or measurable interval; any period in the history of man [sic] or of the universe
Time can be measured or immeasurable; represented by a metered rhythm, the duration of an event, or the sequential order of a sequence of events. It can be concrete or abstract, real or perceived. It can be all of these at once.
Human movement takes time. It has natural rhythms in both broad and narrow measurements. In a broad sense, we alternate activity and rest; in narrow terms, there is a rhythm to our breath and heartbeat. The sun and moon move in rhythms that dictate the flow of seasons and seconds. Music is described in time signatures — 4/4, 2/4, 3/4 — which communicate cycles of rhythm. Time can be measured by a clock in seconds, minutes, and hours. A sequence of events involves relationships like before, after, and at once; slower than, faster than, and so on. In dance, time can be measured by the length of music, the duration of a phrase (the amount of time it takes to execute a particular movement), or the amount of time it takes an artist to convey a particular message. It is often said that when we are captivated by what we see, time feels like it goes by faster; if we are bored or uninterested, a few minutes can feel like eternity.
Choreographers work with time in a variety of ways, whether they intentionally consider philosophical aspects of time, address time as a peripheral subject of their work, or work closely and technically with a score’s time signature and duration in the process of choreographing. Discussing a dance work’s timing may be about when a performance occurred, the length of time of the performance, the rhythm of the music or movement, or how the work altered the viewer’s perception of time.
In Trisha Brown’s Man Walking Down the Side of a Building, the performance is the length of time it takes the performer to walk down the side of the building. Rhythm is inherent in the act of walking, which can be sped up if we’re in a hurry or slowed down in caution. A person’s stride and the rhythm of her gait can depend on her height, weight, and leg length, among other factors.
During this performance, the dancer walked vertically down the 110-foot facade of the Walker, held by a harness and ropes, beginning at the roof and ending on the ground. At the Walker, Brown’s work took the performer three and a half minutes to perform. The duration varies depending on several factors, including the performer, the person controlling the tension of the rope, the building, and weather conditions. Every performance has layers of time in it. In this site-specific work, timing reflects the interaction of many factors, and a viewer’s sense of timing reflects factors beyond that. For example, there is a timing to the performer’s stride, which affects the timing and length of the piece. Further, the nature of the piece involves an element of danger, which creates tension, thus affecting the viewer’s sense of timing in the piece. To the performer and the live audience, the stress of the performance can make time feel like it moves slower than a clock would indicate it does. Watching the video, we can see a running clock indicating how much time has gone by and how much is left. For viewers of the video, the clock’s reminder of this consistent rhythm of the flow of time may serve to contrast, and thereby highlight, the effect of emotion on our perception of time’s rhythm.
Just as a dangerous work can affect our perception of time, our subject experience of time can affect how we perceive a work. Choreographer Bill T. Jones played with the subjectivity of time in his most recent Walker commission, Story/Time, an evening-length work comprised of a series of 70, one-minute stories.
Based on John Cage’s work, Indeterminacy, Jones wrote short stories that he performed in a randomly chosen order. The timing and pace of Jones’s storytelling changes depending on the amount of information he tries to get in to a single minute. Sometimes he has so much information to relate in one minute that he speaks so quickly as to cause confusion, while other times he draws out five words to fill an entire minute. As an exercise examining the perception of time, before every performance, he asks people to raise their hands after they believe 60 seconds have gone by.
Bill T. Jones leads the audience through an exercise on the perception of time, 2012
Sound also affects our sense of timing, whether it’s music, text, silence, or ambient sound. The juxtaposition of movement and sound can prove symbiotic or conflicting. The relationship between the two can make us aware of time or forgetful of it; and the result can be unique to every audience member. For example, slow movement or stillness without accompanying music can reveal the variability in the sense of time. Eiko & Koma’s 2008 gallery installation Naked demonstrated this:
Eiko & Koma deliberately create works that address our perception of time. Their work approaches time in both broad and narrow, abstract and concrete ways. The use of slow and calculated movements combined with the engulfing set designs create environments free from the markers that indicate time. In his 2011 contributing essay to their retrospective catalogue, Eiko & Koma: Times Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty, Walker Senior Curator for Performing Arts Philip Bither wrote:
Central to the experience of an Eiko & Koma work is an almost visceral sense of time’s elasticity. Their intensely focused performances – simultaneously ancient and modern, shamanistic and deeply organic, intimate and existential, gorgeous and grueling – unfold at a pace that seems to challenge linear perceptions of time itself.
The quietness of Naked can make us feel as though time is standing still, while the anticipation or the possibility of movement makes minutes go by without noticing. In a broader sense, the environment of Naked provided a sense of timelessness, free from any signs of past or future, with lighting designed to vaguely indicate the time of day. The lack of narrative gives way to the feeling that we are glimpsing into a brief moment that has been stretched out, played in slow motion over hours. Thus, the tension between stillness and anticipation, combined with the tension between the feeling of eternity and the feeling of a fleeting moment engage us, as viewers, revealing nuances and intricacies that further toy with our perception of time.
The relationship between music and movement varies from era to era and artist to artist. Many modern and contemporary choreographers stress the independence of dance from music: the idea is that while the two pair well, dance is not simply a physical illustration of music. Choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage provide an example of movement and music functioning independently of one another. Cunningham described their early collaborative explorations as creating work in which the music “was not dependent upon the dance nor the dance dependent upon the music, but which were separate identities which could, in a sense, coexist… the common denominator between the two arts was time.”
Cunningham & Cage’s working process relied heavily on chance. Cunningham’s phrases or sections would be given a numeric value and then he would throw a dice to determine the order in which sections were performed. Chance operations were also used to decide which costumes would be worn, which music would be played, and which lighting design would be used during a performance. Any connections or similarities that happened between Cunningham’s movement and Cage’s music happened because both were taking place in time, at the same time. While their collaborations were the result of chance and circumstance, many choreographers are more calculated in the relationship to music.
The work and methods of Cunningham and Cage heavily influenced the work of the Judson Dance Theater. Lucinda Childs hails from this theater, and her work, Dance, represents the opposite end of the spectrum as that of Cunningham and Cage. In Dance, Childs deliberately works with the timing and structure of the music to create the movement. In 2011, Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass remounted their collaboration with Sol LeWitt at the Walker. The music was created first, followed by the choreography, and both were then used in LeWitt’s projection.
In an interview with Bither, Childs discusses her creative process and the relationship between music and movement:
Childs: …first of all, I was very much influenced by Philip’s music and how he arrives at variation by reworking the same theme. Rather than going from theme A to theme B, he takes theme A apart and reintroduces it always in a different way. I found that very much exciting. And that’s very much what happens in the choreography and the dancing and the phrasing… It seemed to me that to just illustrate the music in and of itself in terms of the sequences and configurations was not so interesting to illustrate literally, in that sense. Or to ignore it was also, for me, not so interesting; to make a collage where what we were doing had nothing to do with what his structure is. But, in this work, especially in the first dance, we come in and out of his structure in such a way that, for me, creates a tension along with the music.
As Childs noted, her choreography does not mimic the music, but it does reinforce the structure and themes that Glass presents in his music. The timing of the movement is closely related to the timing of the music and the repeating patterns of the visual, musical, and choreographic elements create layers through which Childs reiterates the leitmotif introduced by Glass, without being redundant.
“Dance,” by Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, and Sol LeWitt, 1979/2011
The examples above demonstrate the various ways in which our perception of time can influence and be influenced by our understanding of dance. The timing of a piece can take on a myriad of meanings; the timing of the movement, in relation to the music, the timing an individual step or series of steps, the length of time of a work, or the self-imposed constriction of time that an artist may place on herself. The level of our engagement with a piece can have a positive, negative, or even neutral effect on our perception of time. As viewers, understanding how we view and relate to time can aid in how we analyze and ultimately enjoy a piece. Articulating that information moves the conversation about dance beyond the point of “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” and aids in our understanding of what it is we look for in a piece. The notion of time and our awareness of it functions as another element of dance and performance that we can discuss, deconstruct, and peel away in order to better critique the work presented as well as achieve a better understanding of ourselves and what we find fulfilling as observers.