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.
Kara Motta, Maggie Zepp, Eben Kowler, Karen McMenamy, & Margaret Johnson
DaNCEBUMS is a group of five collaborators creating and performing dance works. Their partnership is based on mutual love and respect for each other, systems of support, and togetherness. Their performances reflect their deep technical training in concert dance, interest in experimental performance practice, and popular forms such as music videos and musical theater.
How did you five come to collaborate?
We danced in each other’s pieces for dance composition classes at The University of Minnesota. Karen bought a large three story house with a one car garage where we made several performances in collaboration with musicians. We then rented a studio where we played, improvised, breathed, talked, and eventually started to make our first batch of dances together. The opportunities kept presenting themselves and we kept making dances.
If you could make a dance for one person, who would it be and what would the dance look like?
Our moms. Our moms put us through dance classes and loved to “ooo” and “aahh” over our pointed feet. They didn’t realize their support would give us the confidence to keep dancing FOREVER. It would most likely include grande allegro, triple pirouettes, half up half down pony tails, flowy lyrical costumes, and smiles that make your heart melt.
Kendra ‘Vie Boheme’ Dennard
Photo Credit: Farrington Llewellyn
Vie Boheme is a Detroit native and Pittsburgh blossomed renaissance artist. In addition to being a choreographer, she is a former dance artist with TU Dance in St. Paul, Minnesota, was a founding member of The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, and is a soul, funk, jazz vocalist.
Congratulations on your album release for “Exit.” What parallels do you find between making music and making dances, if any?
Thank you for the “congrats” on my single ‘Exit’! The work I’m creating now is focused on smashing those two experiences together instantaneously without diminishing either one. I’ve been dancing since I was 6 and singing since I can remember. They have both always been with me, side by side. Now, I cannot sing without dancing anymore and I cannot dance without singing anymore so my work is geared toward the marriage of the two for a unique and potent performance experience.
You’ve also been curating a monthly series called “Hit The Step!” – can you tell us more about that?
‘Hit The Step!’ is a quarterly happening that facilitates space, time, and fertile ground for cross genre artistic exploration of the professional dance community of the Twin Cities. It functions as an experimental space for dance artists to test out new ideas without the pressure of being perfect. We all know that the dancers in the Twin Cities work hard to put on superb quality dance performances but this event is a space for us to get comfortable making mistakes while finding our voices. For me, it is where I comfortably experiment with singing and dancing at the same time.
Ea, 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.
Photo Credit: Liz Josheff
Minneapolis-based Fire Drill is comprised of artists Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney. Together, they create performance works that challenge contemporary modes of spectatorship, exploring how internet culture and the attention economy affect the way we watch live performance.
Your trainings are in theater and dance – how do those trainings compliment or inhibit one another as you are creating?
When we started working together, we immediately decided that our research need not result in the making of “theater” or “dance.” At the same time, we find that examining the conventions of both disciplines is hugely generative. Both forms come with ingrained practices and deeply rooted assumptions, and we try to be really specific when we’re working with or against those.
What are the prevailing questions that come up for you when you’re making performances?
The biggest question that has spanned many of our projects is: how do audiences watch live performance? What cultural histories, spatial formats, and power dynamics condition our expectations for viewing performance? How has the internet shifted the way we pay attention, and our experience of digesting information over time? What other qualities of attention or modes of engagement exist beyond an entertainment paradigm? What is capitalism doing to the body, and via what tactics can we intervene?
Kathie Goodale 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.
Photo Credit: Asha Efia
Jes Nelson studied at the New York Studio Program in Brooklyn, NY and received her BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in 2010. She has exhibited work throughout Minneapolis.
What is your background in choreography and performance?
I trained and performed as a competitive studio dancer from 4-18 years old (a watered down version of the Lifetime show Dance Moms is probably the best way to describe it). I was good at turning and won a lot of trophies. Regarding choreography: I’m an only child so I naturally took to bossing my friends and family around at a young age, instructing them to sing/act/dance in some way. In middle school I began choreographing lyrical and jazz dances for competitions.
After high school, I went to art school. My experiences and exploration in school made me realize that dance was a pretty weird medium that people tended to either avoid or put on a pedestal. Both scenarios bummed me out and gave me reason to stop interpreting music via dance and instead start interpreting dance on its’ own terms.
This past year I established jestural to continue this research and document the ways in which we move together in time. It’s my version of owning my own “dance studio” and aims to identify and re-contextualize existing choreography.
You also presented work in Choreographers’ Evening 2013 – is your piece this year related to that one, in content or in inspiration?
Definitely. Both pieces were conceived around the same time and rearrange choreography that already exists. Sugar Babies played with duration, this years’ piece does as well. Sugar Babies asks young dancers to perform, this years’ piece asks their parents to. In both instances there’s a curiosity to see how their movement changes in content and in value within a high theory environment like the Walker Art Center.
Pedro Pablo Lander
Pedro Pablo Lander was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. Feeling constricted in a conservative environment, Pedro moved to Minnesota to attend Winona State University where he got involved with dance. He has worked with Time Track Productions, is currently apprenticing with Eclectic Edge Ensemble, and is an advisor for a non-profit organization that focuses on college success for marginalized students.
What was your first interaction with dance?
Growing up, the only physical activity options for men at my all-male, private, catholic school were sports teams. Due to my fear of being outed in my social circles and family, I did not bring up my desire to dance or do anything related to the arts. Sadly, this meant that I did not get exposed to any kind of performance art in my own country. My first encounter with dance happened at college—after viewing the dancers, I felt an amazing urge to do what they were doing. I have since performed and presented my work at various American College Dance Association festivals and attended the American Dance Festival which was one of the most transformative experiences in my life.
What is the inspiration for your piece in Choreographers’ Evening this year?
For me, performance is a vessel to demonstrate our true humanity and our raw nature. In society there is a stigma to showing anger or sadness, and viewing distress as weakness; I believe that these emotions connect us to other people as much as happier emotions do. Dance truly saved my life; it took me from those horrible experiences and brought me into a creative space. Sharing my story and learning about others’ stories is what keeps me moving.
In March I created an evening-length show, Maricón (Faggot) in collaboration with dancers, music producer, graphic designer, etc. The work that I will be showing at Choreographers’ Evening is the ‘religious’ section of this particular work and is a reaction to my religious experiences through the lens of sexuality.
Angelique Lele & Cary Bittinger
Angelique Lele has been doing theater for most of her life, from school plays to co-founding Toxic Shock Stage—a women’s only theater company based in Los Angeles. Angelique trained in aerial arts on trapeze and silks and performed with Blue Phoenix Circus Troupe and the Kenny Kiser Show. In 2012 she was paralyzed while training on her trapeze. Introduced to the beautiful world of integrative dance with the help of Young Dance, Angelique is excited to be performing again and open to the challenge of exploring a new physicality on stage.
Cary received her master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 and has had the opportunity to share her love of dance and the power of movement with individuals from around the world. Currently, she works as a Dance Therapist at HeadStart in St. Paul and for Young Dance in Minneapolis.
When did the two of you start working together? What are your backgrounds with movement and how do your interests overlap?
AL: Cary and I met while working on the show “Wild Swans” with Young Dance and hit it off. I became a fan and knew that working with her would really help me grow as a dancer. I have so enjoyed collaborating with Cary and I hope to create with her more in the future.
CB: This summer, Gretchen Pick of Young Dance, asked us to perform for the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the ADA (American Disability Act) in front of City Hall. The piece we performed there served as the basis for our piece for the show at the Walker. Our belief that movement has no boundaries and our shared interest in dance and performing make our duo dynamic, exploratory, and innovative.
Congratulations Angelique on becoming Ms. Wheelchair MN 2015, can you describe your work as an advocate for people using wheelchairs?
AL: As Ms. Wheelchair Minnesota I have been trying to create more awareness and visibility for the disabled community. I cofounded a group called Chicks on Wheels which is an informal social group for women. We are a community that tends to be alienated so having a place to go and a group to talk to that really understands is important. We also believe it’s vital for us to be out in public, taking up space and not hidden.
Cary, in what ways does your experience with Dance/Movement Therapy transfer over into creating performances?
CB: While I was pursuing my master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy, I began to approach my choreography with a different intent. Our bodies hold the stories to our past; the body never forgets. There is a psychological component that links to a deeper connection of who we are in relation to ourselves and others. The dance gets to tell these stories through the moments: slowly with a lot of weight, fast with bound muscles, etc. I believe that healing can be facilitated by modulating movement styles from one extreme to another.
Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees
Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees have created four original pieces together: mr. hijack’s devotion chopped and screwed in jockstraps, mr. hijack’s devotion, it asks for forgiveness please, and getting caught in a rainstorm of light.
How did both of you get involved with dance and what about dance gives you a common ground from which to create and choreograph?
In regards to getting involved in dance, the most honest answer for both of our entries into the dance world is through what Tom calls the “Dance Party” and what Craig calls the “Clurrrb.” Really they’re the same thing and where we both truly started dancing. For the two of us, dancing is an excuse for us to hang out when otherwise we might not do so at all. On the other hand, it’s a means for us to have conversations that we simply can’t have in words about a relationship that similarly continues to defy description or labels. Therefore, as Craig says, “it MUST exist on the dance plane.” Feel free to let your imagination go with that one.
Do you have plans to continue collaborating with each other?
Only God knows the answer to that. We promise we’ll listen. #danceplane #godflow #seeyouonthedanceplane #danceplanerealness #isanyonereadingthis?
Dolo McComb is an artist and healer originally from Colorado Springs, CO. She relocated to Minneapolis after earning a degree in dance from the Colorado College and has since worked and toured nationally with BodyCartography Project and Chris Schlicting. Currently, along with Kimberly Lesik and Scott Stafford, Dolo is creating as a collective called //cathedral\\.
In this work, you collaborate with Kimberly Lesik and Scott Stafford, both of whom were in your Works-In-Progress piece at the Red Eye last summer. Is the work you are showing in Choreographers Evening a continuation of the research you did last summer, or does it stem from a new idea?
The piece I have created for Choreographers’ Evening is not a formal continuation of or sequel to my WIP piece. But naturally, discoveries and disruptions were made during the WIP process that propelled me to where I am now. There are certainly some long-term thematic gardens of research that have carried over from that work and will undoubtedly be hanging on for a while.
What do you think is the weirdest thing about dance?
The weirdest thing about dance is that people don’t do it more often. We all have these bodies whose natural states are of motion. Dancing is a tool to lead us to power and healing and magic. And I don’t understand why a body wouldn’t want these things.
Jeffrey Wells 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.