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.
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, SuperGroup shares their perspective on Thursday night’s Momentum: New Dance Works, featuring works […]
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, SuperGroupshares their perspective on Thursday night’s Momentum: New Dance Works, featuring works by Pramila Vasudevan and Jennifer Arave.Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in Comments!
Pramila Vasudevan, F6
The stage was crowded with other audience members. I realized their attention was on the seats where several performers sat facing the stage. Kenna wandered through the crowd, finding space for her feet, giving sly looks at the audience.
What spurs discussion? Does just saying what the piece is spur a discussion? Or should we give opinions too?
As the members of SuperGroup we are trying to write an overnight review.
I had an impression of verging on a post-apocalyptic world where a society was being built by these characters that were left in this space, and they had to make a deserted island home out of these seats. They reminded me of characters. One had a ponytail, one had a fascinator; there was dramatic, romantic make-up.
The balance struck me – it seemed like they balanced on smaller and smaller surfaces. The challenge increased.
I wondered if they were going through the motions of a typical audience’s behavior: they laughed, they clapped, and they tried to get comfortable. Abstract, gestural movement punctuated that. It also evolved. There was slow, zig-zaggy movement leading up and down the aisle. I remember that and the image of very slow perching.
Are we supposed to be thinking about levitation?
The performers seemed to have a heightened presence and focus. They forced a close interaction, like when they brushed knees with us, but there must have been some rules of engagement that we were not necessarily let in on. They gazed intensely, but when we gazed back, they were ethereal, impenetrable, and separate. It wasn’t cold, but it felt like creatures checking out a different species.
The rhythms in Kenna’s solo were so precise and satisfying. The acceleration, the stopping and starting were…. Cool. Sharp. Spot on.
I have something else to say about the rules of engagement. The traditional rules were turned on their head, so I felt distracted by my relationship to other audience members. I was distracted by my own comfort and the viewing comfort of others. I was not fully invested in watching the performers because I was balancing that preoccupation.
I had a moment during the solo, where I wondered if something was being whipped up. Meanwhile the formality of the rest, the triangle of light, the other performers’ slow, straight walking, these things were conflicting.
The sound transported me, especially when the slide didgeridoo started. I loved the bells on Kenna’s costume. As the didgeridoo got further and further away, in contrast to the shrinking triangle of light, the space and time were altered. It became vast, constant, expansive, and complex. There were those juicy guttural drones. Her movements were controlled and precise, but the sound had a water-like element: tense with possibilities.
Jennifer Arave, Canon
She came out in a mask. She had those coveted red shoes and that powder blue coat. These vestiges of girlhood, flippantly tossed alongside punk aesthetic – ripped tights, white t-shirt.
In general, I thought there was an awkwardness, from beginning to end, that drew me in. It was tantalizing. I was curious about it from the very start when she was in the corner, rocking, in preparation for this strange performance.
It was loud for sure. I was impressed by how loud it was in the space. I’m glad I used earplugs and I’m proud to admit it.
I didn’t use earplugs.
Good for you.
It was documentation or a representation of a kind of anger. Was she really angry about something? Does it matter what the anger was directed at?
All members of SuperGroup are now admitting that we have never been to a punk show. We speak with no authority when we talk about punk.
One time I was at a sort of ska-punk show. It was not cool.
The disassociation of the punk voice from the punk body made the movement a fascinating mix of aggression and impotency. These scenarios kept getting set up and then would fizzle out before there was a big payoff. It felt like a conscious choice, connected to the omission of the voice.
I wanted to be closer. I wanted to be put upon, to be made weaker in the power dynamic. There’s something so safe about being so far away.
I think that was the point.
Even though the drums were visceral, the distance made me view it as a representation of something. If I had been down there, looking up at her, it would have been different. The experience was still in the realm of a dance concert.
Yeah, that was the point.
The first time she really got to let her voice be loud and clear was when she ate the microphone. There was no constraint, finally, and there was a satisfying synchronicity between body and voice.
She deconstructed and re-contextualized most of the punk experience, leaving only the drummer and the lead singer’s movements.
I have a little more to say. Calling it “Canon” felt like a study, it felt clinical. So, I enjoyed her going into the medical scene. There was something symbolically sterile and exacting that referenced her process. This grand gesture, this surgery, represented the climax of failure, which ultimately satisfied.
We have to talk about the swinging microphone. It sounded like breathing; the image was like captaining a ship, being at the helm – the wind, the sound of the foghorn. The striding beat had dropped out and I was able to step out of the situation and have imaginative play.
I walked in with my homegirl at 7:55 to directions – instructions: Choose a group, follow the movement and try to repeat the words you hear. I kicked off my sandals and got to work – trying to flock and mirror and echo/respond. Being a dancer in this community means it’s not that big a […]
I walked in with my homegirl at 7:55 to directions – instructions: Choose a group, follow the movement and try to repeat the words you hear. I kicked off my sandals and got to work – trying to flock and mirror and echo/respond. Being a dancer in this community means it’s not that big a risk to copy some homies on the Southern stage, so I tried hard to follow my directions. Still, I cannot remember one phrase or word that I repeated. Very challenging activity, but me and my homegirl* appreciated the outlet for anxious energy. I think it was Jeffrey who finally told me “ok have a seat.” We grabbed our stuff that we had flung down and by the time we found a seat, there was more work happening on stage. I realized that the curtain talk was being given and I had no time to read my program or even orient myself. This was a good place to be as I entered the world of it’s [all] highly personal.
SuperGroup has a dance film where I remember them being very tiny. I felt shrunken down to the size needed to build a tiny shelf and then shot inside of the collective mind of the group like InnerSpace. Once inside the mind, I’m getting buffeted from place to place, text firing at me like synapse in the brain. Bits and pieces jump out and stay out “we do what we can,” “sometimes we don’t,” “this is what we do.” I keep bouncing back and forth between following the text thread like a conversation and just letting the cacophony of voices wash over me like a soundscape. Ah white art. My homegirl said the piece felt very white, like culturally white. I’m always searching for the content I can identify within white art, because I have a lot of white dance/art homies. Like white noise though, this is kind of relaxing, but like eavesdropping through the cubicles at work, this is kind of disturbing. I’m trying to grasp what these words are about – are these empty platitudes, like super general astrology readings? Are they deep insights? Or are they just every possible qualified sentence that can exist?
It is the movement that makes people laugh, draws us in. The snarky gossip, the bored housewife, stoner, wanderer, captain. I always say that I don’t like unison too much, so this piece really put that preference to the test. There were so few moments of unified movement , everything was so individualized. (spoiler alert) I dug using my binocs to zero in on one person at a time. The rare moments of sync were strong and well oiled. I used my binocs like a telescope to make everybody tiny. I liked the way the ensemble would seem to click into place and then just as easily break back into themselves – moving independently but not in isolation. There was a kinetic feeling of connection and moving in concert, even though nobody was doing even close to the same thing. And this group was seriously super. They spoke and orated in accord, while moving, singing, dancing – it even got choral at one moment. And the jumpsuits… the jumpsuits are amazing.
Leslie O’Neill‘s Fortress started with a world created for and by kids. Laura Selle Virtucio and Erika Hansen really managed to convince me of their childlike mentality through movement. So much so that I became unnerved by the possibilities. There were more than a few treacherous moments – movement-wise. There were precarious positions and super-charged couplings that spoke to me of violence. There was such a physical sense of foreboding, my homegirl described it as ‘heavy.’ The physicality reminded me of some less embodied people, and also young people who don’t know their own strength, who are hard on their shoes, who are gangly and unsteady on their feet. My homegirl doesn’t like when adults play kids on stage, and I might be with her on this point. Or maybe I was just unnerved by the way Laura and Erika took it to the darkside on so many occasions.
The environment made me uncomfortable to start – two girls whispering inside a tent. These girls’ friendship started to remind me of the friend I had who called me a n—— one time. We were pretty close but she still took it there. There was a dark edge to the way these two girls did everything, and I began to get a sense of the secret world of childhood that grown-ups are not a part of. Now we all know it exists because we were all children once, yet the dark corners get blown out in this work. I was getting the feeling that these girls were powerful in different ways. One girl was more classic – strong and daring and bossy. The other girl was deeper and had complex ideas and twisted emotions, she was subtle with her power. Now why did these girls feel like they were so connected and had to drag each other in and out of dark places? And like all kids, they were attracted to the dark and the light at the same time. They wanted to be scared and comforted all at the same time. There was much unknown in this piece, and I felt like I didn’t get it. Or I thought I was getting something and then something threw me off that track near the end…
*my homegirl: an amalgam of all the homegirls i talked to throughout the night.
On Thursday, the 10th installment of Momentum: New Dance Works premieres at the Southern Theater. Since 2001, the Walker and the Southern have been co-presenting cutting-edge work by local, emerging choreographers. This year’s line up includes SuperGroup + Rachel Jendrzejewski/ Leslie O’Neill (July 11-13) and Pramila Vasudevan/ Jennifer Arave (July 18-20). In preparation for the […]
On Thursday, the 10th installment of Momentum: New Dance Works premieres at the Southern Theater. Since 2001, the Walker and the Southern have been co-presenting cutting-edge work by local, emerging choreographers. This year’s line up includes SuperGroup + Rachel Jendrzejewski/ Leslie O’Neill (July 11-13) and Pramila Vasudevan/ Jennifer Arave (July 18-20). In preparation for the upcoming performances, local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones sat down with this year’s artists in TALK DANCE to discuss their processes, challenges, hopes, and expectations. To shake things up, Jones ventured from his typical question and answer format and had the choreographers interview each other.
Emerging out of a culture of increasingly formalized music and music performance, the punk rock era rejected virtuosity in favor of uninhibited expression. Despite its ultra-modern, progressive philosophies, punk rock was male dominated. In Canon, Jennifer Arave studied gestures from punk rock music videos to generate movement and presents the male-driven experience through a feminist lens.
In this piece, [generating movement is] relatively easy, because I’m taking YouTube videos of punk shows in the 80s and basically stealing the movement and then recontextualizing that movement into a narrative of some sort… We projected video on the wall and basically copy it as much as we could, physically. Sometimes, they’re in the middle of a move and you have to figure out what foot they’re pushing off of or what they’re doing once they’re in the air and we get as much as we can and then we improv with it. So, it’s kind of like what stays is what’s left when things slough away.
SuperGroup + Rachel Jendrzejewski, it’s [all] highly personal
Photo: Gene Pittman
For their newest work, it’s (all) highly personal, trio Erin Search-Wells, Jeffrey Wells, and Sam Johnson team up with playwright Rachel Jendrzejewski to examine the daily events that unnoticeably change and transform us, juxtaposed with our conflicting desire to experience both ritual and risk. When asked by Arave where the line is between a work being a collaboration vs. when people are working collaboratively under the helm of a director, SuperGrouper Sam Johnson explained:
This discussion of collaboration is obviously really interesting to SuperGroup. With each of our processes, we sit down and we ask ourselves how we want to work and work with each other and that changes a lot. So, just because we’ve worked a number of times collaboratively, we don’t have a way that we’ve always worked. There are times when one of us will come forward and say, “What is this? Or, “What are we doing?” Or with those [questions] that kind of stop the process.
Pramila Vasudevan, F6
Photo: Gene Pittman
Part of any artist’s process is recognizing and negotiating the space in which their work will be performed. Whether it’s a site-specific work or a traditional theater arrangement, utilizing the space creatively can add depth and meaning to a work, engaging audiences in exciting new ways. Unlike her Momentum colleagues, and many of her broader choreographic colleagues, Pramila Vasudevan has never created work for a theater. Having presented pieces mostly outdoors and in galleries, the conventional theater dynamic presented Vasudevan with new challenges and opportunities during the creation of F6 and in keeping with her experimental roots, she breaks the fourth wall and reverses the audience and the dancers.
For me, the very first encounter was, “how do I contend with the constraints of the space? And how do I find my voice inside of this space? And how do I also challenge myself?” I’ve never really worked in a traditional dance setting, ever. So, it’s kind of a great challenge, and because of the formality, the physicality of it was so hard to contend with, especially because of the space and the set… It’s not highly conceptual like other pieces in the way that I’ve rendered them in the past. It’s really about the physicality – the smell of it, the sound of it.
Leslie O’Neill, Fortress
Photo: Gene Pittman
For Leslie O’Neill, the creation of Fortress came through her and her dancer’s exploration of the body and memory. O’Neill considers the layered emotions and experiences of children, which can fluctuate on a moment’s notice, without warning. During the piece, the dancers negotiate the parameters of their relationship while simultaneously discovering their individual identity.
I’m trying to portray in the body the way that I see and remember a childlike brain working. So, I’m thinking of the scattered attention and the intense focus one moment and then indifference the next. I’m thinking of the mind like a place that holds many pockets and crevices and… pain and pleasure and all those things that are being stored up constantly. Trying to get at that in the body through movement, so it’s ending up looking like the way you see a child running, limbs akimbo and all that, but then also stops where time seems to expand or shorten.
This year’s participating choreographers come from diverse backgrounds and employ a variety of techniques and processes that enable each of them to create truly unique works. Momentum runs July 11-13 (SuperGroup/O’Neill) and July 18-20 (Vasudevan/Arave) at the Southern Theater.
The next Choreographers’ Evening, November 30, 2013, will be curated by Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs. Update: The audition slots are now full. If you would like to be put on the wait list, please email WalkerArtCE@gmail.com and you will be informed as slots become available. Thank you for your interest! Yon and Griggs are […]
The next Choreographers’ Evening, November 30, 2013, will be curated by Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs.
Update: The audition slots are now full. If you would like to be put on the wait list, please email WalkerArtCE@gmail.com and you will be informed as slots become available. Thank you for your interest!
Yon and Griggs are imagining the performance line up as a selection of songs for a mixed tape, carefully chosen for someone special. They are dedicating this year’s Choreographers’ Evening to Nicky Paraiso, performer and La MaMa Moves! curator in NYC, who in their words “ has an infectious admiration for performers. He puts together programs that are wildly eclectic, thought provoking and moving. We are inspired by his impresario showmanship and ability to tug at your heart strings.” As part of the audition process, the curators would love to know if you were to dedicate your piece to someone or something, who or what would it be?
Auditions will be held at the Walker’s McGuire Theater, 1750 Hennepin Avenue on Thursday, August 15 from 6-10pm; Friday, August 16 from 6-10pm; and Saturday, August 17 from noon – 4pm.
You must email WalkerArtCE@gmail.com to reserve an audition time; auditions are accepted by appointment only.
All forms of dance welcome.
- You will receive a call or email confirming your time slot
- Auditions are in 10 minute intervals
- Pieces are usually 3-6 minutes in length and may not exceed 7 minutes
- DVD submissions are accepted, although live performance is preferred
- Works in progress are accepted for auditions but no pitches please!
For more information and to schedule an audition, please email WalkerArtCE@gmail.com or call the Walker at 612.375.7550.
Uruguayan choreographer luciana achugar believes that dance has the power to do many things. She deliberately chooses to write her name without capital letters in a way to minimize hierarchy. Through her creations and the process of making each one, she deliberately instills philosophies in the dance’s structure and performance qualities to transmit her beliefs. […]
luciana achugar, Franny and Zooey Photo: Alex Escalante
Uruguayan choreographer luciana achugar believes that dance has the power to do many things. She deliberately chooses to write her name without capital letters in a way to minimize hierarchy. Through her creations and the process of making each one, she deliberately instills philosophies in the dance’s structure and performance qualities to transmit her beliefs. When witnessing her work live, one is drawn into a unique experience of sensing the motivations of the dancers within its contemporary theatrical framework. Her values, based in labor equity and post-colonial thinking, infuse the environment with a sense of togetherness and being in the moment that is conscious and inclusive of the audience and every one of the performers. Her works progress with ritualistic repetition and easily engage the audience, while, as the director, achugar possesses the determination to reclaim the uncivilized female body and derive her movement vocabulary from the pelvis, as the root of pleasure. (more…)
When preparing to announce each new performing arts season, part of my job is to write about the upcoming shows and add warnings about adult content or any atmospheric irritations potential audience members might need to know about: violence, nudity, loudness, strobe lights, and fog. But it was the nudity warnings that required the most […]
Eiko & Koma, Naked, 2010 Photo: Cameron Wittig
When preparing to announce each new performing arts season, part of my job is to write about the upcoming shows and add warnings about adult content or any atmospheric irritations potential audience members might need to know about: violence, nudity, loudness, strobe lights, and fog. But it was the nudity warnings that required the most careful wording last season. It may have seemed simple but I have been trying to be transparent, writing cautionary notes as creatively suggestive, with their tone and intentions matching the ultimate exposure in the performances.
My insistence in avoiding the use of generic nudity labels started with the John Jasperse Company’s Walker-commissioned piece Truth, Revised Histories, Wishful Thinking, and Flat Out Lies inMay of 2010, when I wanted the audience to see beyond the nakedness to the themes enumerated in the show’s title. The warning–
(Note: Performance contains nudity and sleight of hand tricks)
–also hints at a section of the performance when the choreographer does a magic act poorly, further emphasizing what the real actions are as opposed to the intended ones.
Later in 2010, Minneapolis-based interdisciplinary choreographic collective SuperGroup performed an innocent although cheeky (in more ways than one) dance work in that year’s Choreographers’ Evening curated by Susana di Palma. Since Choreographers’ Evening is a group show of short pieces, I didn’t want to reveal who was going to be naked and ruin the surprise, and yet I didn’t want audiences anticipating something in-your-face-naked and taint the other works which were so different. SuperGroup’s piece Spring Dance Unrated was inspired by pseudo-classical Isadora Duncan style movements, so the lightness of the choreography needed to be reflected in the spirit of the warning. The language used–
(Note: Performance contains joyous nudity)
–was playful and unassuming–and “joyous” became the baseline office reference for all nudity for years after. I was encouraged by this level of attention to detail and the effect it can have on positioning expectations and dissolving any loaded references.
Young Jean Lee, Untitled Feminist Show, 2012
The ability to boldly underscore the obvious was fun in Young Jean Lee’s Theater Company’s Untitled Feminist Show. The publicity photos never hid the fact that the performers would be naked the entire time so the warning was intentionally redundant–
(Note: performance contains [a lot of] nudity)
–in order to get to the point of what makes gender and where is humanity in the flesh.
The 2012-13 season opened in September with another Walker commission, Miguel Gutierrez and the Powerful People’s And lose the name of action, named after the Shakespearean line in Hamlet. Last summer as we were putting out publicity materials in advance of the performances, the show was still in development and nudity was being explored but was far from confirmed. The research and themes of the piece evoked paranormal phenomena and neuroscience, so having a non-committal note–
(Warning: Some potential nudity)
–worked with the possibility that the nude parts could be cut out of the final production while also playing into the mind games of the superstitious and hallucinatory aspects of the choreography. I covered my bases by having the warning listed and still was able to stay true to the piece.
The BodyCartography Project, Super Nature. Photo: Gene Pittman
October’s premiere of BodyCartography Project’s Super Nature had plenty of nudity but without any sexual references. The piece explored the theme of the uncivilized versus the socialized, so to add to the atmosphere I noted this–
(Warning: Some bodies appear in their natural state)
–as part of the National Geographic-ness of the work.
During Out There, Rude Mechs’ The Method Gun was a theatrical adventure and so having a charged message–
(Warning: Full frontal nudity)
–explaining the naked parts was encouraging, emphasizing the exhilarating ride the play was.
The final exposure of the season was more haphazard in Cecilia Bengolea, François Chaignaud, Marlene Monteiro Freitas, and Trajal Harrell’s two-hour hot mess of a show, (M)imosa/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (M). Also part of Out There, this performance was more of a series of overlapping solos and costume changes, part song-and-dance marathon within a character-based play. The waiting between numbers was as important as the numbers themselves. As such the language–
(Warning: Costume malfunctions. Expect nudity)
–highlighted the anticipation as much as the events.
I am considering adding this newly developed skill to my resume. The innuendos and reveals in each felt like mini works of art. If you have an idea of what to name this talent, let me know. Curator of expectations in adult content?