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Talk Dance: Trajal Harrell on The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai

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 Trajal Harrell, whose work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater March 11-13, 2016.  You can listen to […]

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

Photo: © Orpheas Emirzas

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 Trajal Harrell, whose work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater March 11-13, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel 

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Justin Jones: “Where do you call home?”

Trajal Harrell: “… Home for me is in many places I guess would say. I certainly call home where my mother is, my mother is in Douglas, Georgia. One of my homes is New York, and that will probably always be because I spent so many years there. Because I’m touring so much … I do have a place here in Athens that I sublet. And I also spend quite a bit of time in Vienna. … But … when you’re on the road as many weeks as I am you kind of, the internet can be your home too because that’s where you … have your continuity of relationships and friendships. … I don’t have a answer but I know that its certainly not singular for me.”

… 

Jones: “…before we finish our interview. Would you mind just saying your name once.”

Harrell: “No, because, now I’m realizing it’s a funny question because people pronounce my name a lot of different ways you know and I answer to them all. … And you’re the first person to ask me that question … I’m reluctant to have one pronunciation.” 

Something about these two exchanges from my recent interview with Trajal Harrell speaks volumes about his mercurial choreography. Yes, he creates dances, and they are very much located in the body, but the work is as much theater and performance art and runway show and voguing ball as it is proscenium dance. The notion of identity plays strongly in his work. Who is who, Are they runway models or are they dancers? Are they characters from a Greek drama?  Are the performers themselves or are they “themselves”?

Trajal is well-known as the creator of the “Twenty Looks…” series, a collection of dances that imagine a fictional collision between the Harlem voguing balls (watch Paris is Burning now if you haven’t) and the Judson Church postmodern dance scene of the 1960s. As in a fashion collection, each piece was created with a different size (XS, S, M, L, M2M, XL). The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai  takes the idea of size and audience to another place. As he said, “the Twenty Looks… project had this important idea around the sizes of the pieces and how they were […] enlarging the audience through each size […] I really wanted to enlarge the audience even further with Ghost… I wanted to make this for a kind of mainstream audience. And I felt that none of the pieces before had gone that far. I mean mainstream is a strange word, but I’m gonna use it.”

Trajal and I also spoke about what feels new about this piece, which centers around the work of French choreographer Dominique Bagouet and Tatsumi HIjikata, two relatively un-famous artists who died young before their work was done. Trajal went on, “You know we have this fascination with people who died young somehow. But, because they were in very unknown fields, we didn’t have a kind of cultural mourning around them… I didn’t know how you take something that’s tragic or mournful in a way, and by the end get the audience to to sense, to have this great appreciation for life and the joy that we’re here together even though we mourn. And so that was very new for me.”

Though Trajal’s work is about history and springs forth from intense research, what I find fascinating is how that research influences the work. In no way does he attempt to recreate, rather, he uses his research to, as he said, “generate a language on the stage, and a movement practice… informed by operations that may be in those forms.” He went on, “Bagouet was very well-known for his very specific use of the hands and there’s a lot of that in ‘Ghost…’ We don’t try to make Bagouet movement, but there’s this sense of the hands being very important… It’s only a way to generate and get closer to what I want to make as myself.”

Though home for Trajal is not as he said, “singular,” he is an American, and I wanted to hear from him about what it meant to work so closely with the choreography and biography of two non-American artists, working outside of American culture. His response: “American culture has really exported itself into a lot of cultures… and certainly both [Bagouet and Hijikata] have been influenced by American culture and by American artistic creation. And, how do we draw those lines? How we write history and how we think about culture? I’m suspicious of that. In the best sense.”

I look forward to seeing how those suspicions manifest in The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai.

And the Space Will Be Transformed: Erin Search-Wells on Faye Driscoll

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, Erin Search-Wells of SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye […]

Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Photo: Photo: Maria Baranova

Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Photo: Photo: Maria Baranova

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, Erin Search-Wells of SuperGroup shares her perspective on Thank You For Coming: Attendance by Faye Driscoll. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

These are the good times, when your body can do that.  This is what it’s like to go out and know a few people, and kind of arrive deep and known and felt.  This is what it feels like to recognize someone as who they really are.

I think I always look like that at a party, stop-motion video laughing maniacally.  I think the camera would probably catch my multiple chins though; I might not look as glamorous in the outfit I have put together.  I might feel like a real dork in this gold shower cap.  After the party I’ll notice that the shower cap left an indent on my forehead.

Everybody might expect me to join in and dance.

It is nice when you don’t realize a transition is happening.  It is nice to feel like something has gone on for a long time so it probably will start to morph soon, but then it goes on a little longer and you look back and realize it has changed.  It is nice to realize you missed the change again.  This level of transformation between sections takes meticulous crafting.  I was reminded that this type of crafting is not only about saying “no, not that,” but also “yes, yes, yes YES.”  It is nice to see something played long because it is simply so satisfying to watch.

I think I have seen another show recently where I was invited to join in the party at the end.  It was the last BodyCartography show.  And they both circled the space like a folk-dance, and dimmed the lights, and got a little bacchanal.  And I think I’ve been welcomed to a show with a song recently.  And the way clothing came off and naked parts of bodies writhed I was reminded of luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO.  All of these associations are not being recalled for nothing.  In fact is it performance zeitgeist? Is it our job to take the temperature of the audience and provide something that they can’t get from other art forms?  Why does contemporary performance, or dance-theater, still feel like the most necessary form to me?  Well we have to make a list of what it can do that other things cannot do.  Film can certainly create the most realistic bear fight.  So that’s done.  In fact we should probably stop trying to stage naturalistic dinner parties because none of the stage china will make the right sound when it’s broken.  But I digress.  What does this form have?  It has a live, relatively game audience.   It has willing, flexible, multi-disciplinary, practiced performers.  It has lights, props, costume, moveable seats.  It has musical capabilities ranging from acoustic, to voice, to reverberating beats.  It has microphones.  We should use these things but what is the hole in peoples’ lives that we will try to fill?  Communal experience.  Acceptance of personhood, yes.  Recognition of difference, yes.  But definitely communal ritual. Is this why we are seeing these things happen in contemporary performance?  I think mostly artists have their form and their interests and they are whittling away at it.  But it’s not like other forms where you go in a room above a garage and practice strokes.  It is completely in touch with the world.  And that is why I think there is a bigger reason we start to notice patterns in what we are seeing on stage.

The last thing I will say about this piece is that the performers are truly amazing.  I was just plain impressed by how many layers of their experience they were transmitting simultaneously.  Faye’s directions were clearly very specific, and the scores have been drilled rigorously, deeply, shaping their lived experiences so that their presences balanced delicately between alert and comfortable, tense and soft, large and small.  I was reminded of the unearthed possibilities our faces, our bodies, hold within us and right on our surfaces.

Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance  continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater Thursday-Saturday, February 18-20, 2016 at 8pm, and Sunday, February 21 at 7pm.

Talk Dance: Faye Driscoll on Thank You For Coming: Attendance

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 Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the […]

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

Faye Driscoll, Thank You For Coming: Attendance. Photo: Maria Baranova

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 Faye Driscoll, whose work Thank You For Coming: Attendance will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater February 17-21, 2016.  You can listen to the podcast on the Walker Channel 

Right at the start of our conversation, Faye Driscoll refers to Thank You For Coming: Attendance (TYFC:Attendance)  as “quite a live beast.” TYFC: Attendance is the first in a series of three works by Driscoll that, according to her website, “extends the sphere of influence of performance to create a communal space where the co-emergent social moment is questioned, heightened, and palpable.”  Or, as she said it more plainly to me on the phone, “I mean, I hate audience participation, so it was like, ‘Okay, I’m gonna make a work that somehow does this … sneakily’.”

TYFC: Attendance has had a rich touring schedule this past year, including stops in major US cities, Croatia, and Argentina, and I was curious to hear about how the feeling between the performers and the audience shifts from location to location.  As a dancer who has toured a bit, I know each audience (even in the same city) feels a bit different, but I wondered if this particular piece revealed anything particular about the places in which it was being performed.  Driscoll responded “I think because we’re dealing with the sensation of co-creation with the audience so directly […] there is a very palpable difference in each community that we go to.  Like when we were in Zagreb […] they went from cold … to not cold maybe?  But there was a movement in every audience we’ve gone to. […] In Argentina it was like from warm to boiling hot. Like it was almost like they were just gonna start kissing the dancers as soon as they rolled into their laps.”

Like her past work, TYFC: Attendance is a demanding, multidisciplinary work.  Watching a video of the performance in preparation for our conversation, I was astounded by the performers virtuosic abilities – not just dancing, but singing, acting, remembering.  What they do seemed to me extremely rigorous, and somehow new.  I was reminded of something Phillip Glass said talking to Terry Gross on Fresh Air; Gross plays a clip of one of Glass’ early works and then admits that she can’t even imagine what it would be like to perform one of Glass’ demanding compositions.  Glass coolly responds that in order to perform his music he had to develop a new performance practice and then goes on to say “if you think about it, for any music to be really new, there probably has to be a different performance practice to go with it otherwise it wouldn’t be new.  What makes it new is that you have to find a new way to play.”

In TYFC: Attendance, Driscoll is seeking out new performance practices.  She elaborates, “I feel like I’m carving out and discovering new forms through the making of the thing and the more that I make things I feel that I bring lots of practices into the room.”  One of the practices we talked about was what Driscoll referred to as “state work”; I thought her definition of “state work” was particularly revealing to what the incredible performers are attempting in TYFC: Attendance: “I think of it like shifting presence in the body […]  it could be emotional, it could be purely the feeling of the body itself, kind of textural and tonal.  It could be working with image.  It could be more psychological.  But it’s become a huge part of my practice because its about […] shifting the shape and changing the alchemy of the body and almost imagining we can shift the composition of our form.”  In watching documentation of TYFC: Attendance, I found the performers’ adroit ability to shift and transform their performative presence fascinating. and I think it speaks directly to what Driscoll says she’s addressing in her work: “the very performativity of being and the sociality of being and how […] who we are is made by all these little interactions and all of these […] movements of self.”

If, like Driscoll, you’re skittish about audience participation, don’t fretDriscoll assures that the piece and the performers “create an environment where we’re at once commanding and extremely gentle and extremely direct. Where there’s options at every stage and there is this sense of, even if you’ve sat there with your arms crossed the entire time, we’ve sort of wrapped you a little bit in our world.” Thank You for Coming: Attendance will be on the Walker stage, Feb. 17-21, 2016.  And, lucky for us, the Walker will present parts two and three of the Thank you for Coming series over the next few years.

2015: The Year According to Trajal Harrell

To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, theater director Daniel Fish to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year […]

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To commemorate the year that was, we invited an array of artists, writers, designers, and curators—from graphic designer Na Kim to filmmaker Tala Hadid, theater director Daniel Fish to the Black Futures project—to share a list of the most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects they encountered in 2015. See the entire series 2015: The Year According to                                 .

Dubbed “spellbinding” and “the next Martha Graham,” dancemaker  Trajal Harrell has performed all around the globe, including at the Walker for Out There in 2013. In anticipation of the March 2016 US premiere of his Walker-commissioned new work The Ghost of Montpellier Meets the Samurai, we invited him to contribute his perspective on the past year—which he generously did while waiting for a flight out of Delhi.

In addition to the Walker, Harrell’s work has been presented by the Kitchen, New York Live Arts, the TBA Festival, the American Realness Festival, ICA Boston, Danspace Project, the Crossing the Line Festival, the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, LA’s RedCat Theater, Festival d’Automne (Paris), Holland Festival (Amsterdam), Festival d’Avignon, Impulstanz (Vienna), TanzimAugust (Berlin), and Panorama Festival (Rio de Janeiro), among others. He has also shown performance work in visual art contexts at MoMA, the Perfoma Biennial, MoMA PS1, Fondation Cartier (Paris), the New Museum,the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam), Serralves Museum (Porto), Centre Pompidou-Paris and Metz, ICA Boston, and Art Basel-Miami Beach. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and Doris Duke Impact Artist fellowship, among others, he’s currently part working with the Museum of Modern Art on a two-year Annenberg Residency.

2015-0117928722479_f794a5f92a_bWangechi Mutu, She’s got the whole world in her with Forbidden Fruit Picker (both 2015) at the Venice Biennale. Photo: La Biennale di Venezia, Flickr

The 2015 Venice Biennale

Standout works by Sarah Sze, Kerry James Marshall, Sarah Lucas, and Wangechi Mutu, among others.

2015-02

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Sigmar Polke, Untitled 2006, 2006 © The Estate of Sigmar Polke, Cologne / Adagp, Paris. Photo: Grand Palais

I’m late to the Sigmar Polke party, but the MoMA show and a pic in the Picasso.mania show in Paris made me so happy—and frigging better late than frigging never (honk honk!!)

 

2015-03

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The Serena Slam

When asked was she going after the grand slam in 2016 after not making the final grade in 2015, Williams answered in the affirmative, saying it was a goal she had never reached. Now, that’s a champion! You might beat her on that rare occasion, but she’s always setting the pace. (And a major shout out to Venus, who’s back to winning.)

 

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Tangerine

One of my favorite movies of the year, it was made on an iPhone 5s by director Sean S. Baker.

 

2015-05

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Cookie Lyon

Taraji P. Henson is killing us and killing it on Empire. Keep your front row seat because Cookie’s Cookout is still on the way…

 

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Hello? Hello!

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Greek Parliament as seen through a protester’s EU flag. Photo: © Nikos Pilos for the Open Society Foundations

The Greek Crisis

Speaking of front row seats, for about two weeks the imminent fate of Greece was compounded with high interest by political havoc, euro neckwringing, and capital controls on Greek banks that still exist until when? (pause) We don’t know.

 

2015-08

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Agnes Martin, Untitled #1 (1980), in the Walker’s collection

Agnes Martin
Ran into one of her paintings by mistake. She takes no prisoners. I fell so willingly between the lines.

 

2015-09

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Babette Mangolte, Trisha Brown “Roof Piece”, 1973, 53 Wooster Street to 381 Lafayette Street, New York City Photo ©1973 and 2003 Babette Mangolte

Roof Piece
Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece at the re-opening of Le Centre National de la Danse in Paris—a monument if ever there was one.

 

2015-10

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Trajal Harrel with choreographer Jennifer Lacey at the Mona Bismark American Center, October 19, 2015. Photo: © Meredith Mullins

The new team at the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris

Looks like things with edge and aesthetic seriousness are breaking into that bespoke townhouse overlooking the Eiffel Tower. Go Mona! Go Mona! Go Mona!

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.

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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.

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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.

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DaNCEBUMS

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

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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.

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Kendra ‘Vie Boheme’ Dennard

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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.

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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.

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Fire Drill

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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?

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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.

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Jes Nelson

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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.

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Pedro Pablo Lander

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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.

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Angelique Lele & Cary Bittinger

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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.

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Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees

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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?

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Dolo McComb

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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.

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Jeffrey Wells

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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.

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