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“Drone, not Drones” Sounds this Weekend at the Cedar

Low’s set at Rock the Garden last summer sparked a surprising amount of controversy for a local music performance; everyone had something to say about the 27-minute, drone-infused rendition of their “Do You Know How to Waltz?” The band received harsh backlash online, was defended ardently, and inspired questions about performers’ responsibility to their audience. […]

Low’s set at Rock the Garden last summer sparked a surprising amount of controversy for a local music performance; everyone had something to say about the 27-minute, drone-infused rendition of their “Do You Know How to Waltz?” The band received harsh backlash online, was defended ardently, and inspired questions about performers’ responsibility to their audience. Philip Bither, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, called it Rock the Garden’s own Rite of Spring.

Something that Low’s Alan Sparhawk said during the show, delivered more calmly and eloquently than any of their naysayers, has had a lasting impact: “Drone, not drones.” Borrowed from his friend and Twin Cities music organizer Luke Heiken, the phrase has become a succinct pro-drone, anti-war statement.

In an interview with the Walker, Heiken detailed his position on drones: “I’m told [drones] are important to track down terrorists and to keep me and my family safe,” he says. “But there is a line crossed when we fly these things into sovereign nations and use explosives to kill people, without a trial, who are believed to be present and write off the loss of life and limb for any people caught in the blast.”  He also described his plans to organize a benefit concert, fueled by the attention his cause has received from the Low set.

After months of organizing, Heiken’s dream is finally coming together in “DRONE NOT DRONES: The Live 28-Hour Drone” this weekend, February 7–8. As the event’s Facebook invite states, “We don’t have the right words to stop ‘targeted killings’ or ‘collateral damages’ or ‘illegal assassinations.’ All we can do is drone on and on about it.” And drone they will.

The drone begins early Friday evening at the Cedar Cultural Center. Proceeds from the event will go to Doctors Without Borders. By the time silence falls late Saturday night, musicians like Paul Metzger, Tim Kaiser, Zak Sally, and Martin Dosh will have contributed to the sound. And of course, after last summer’s events, a drone festival in Minneapolis isn’t complete without Low, scheduled for primetime Friday night. If you loved their RTG set, grab a blanket and pillow and head to the Cedar this weekend.

The Craft of Recovery – Birth in Progress

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 artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their […]

LolaArias

Photo: Amy Fox

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 artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

As we look back on our four weeks of intensive theater-going, we find appropriate the retrospective tone of the Out There Series’ concluding performance. El Año en que nací / The year I was born, a play directed by Argentine director Lola Arias, was created for and with Chilean performers who were born during General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. The piece starts with a birth-year roll-call, delivered with a virile, militant tone from a megaphone. The performers stay seated in school desks until their name is called. They then run in circles, as if on a track, with their birth-year patched on their back. They line up, one by one and deliver succinctly what was happening politically in Chile the year of their birth. Instantly we are hit with some themes of time-travel, order, information, keeping track, and contest.

There are many technical elements used as vehicles of the stories, such as projectors, microphones, photos, lights, and sound-bites. The stage is hemmed in on each side with shelves stacked with props, yet the environment is most dictated by a line of lockers on the back wall–which appear to be holding cells for all of their stories–and a projector screen pulled down and set up center stage. The stage is backlit by neon tube lighting, so a lot of action/mobilizing of props is obscured. Sometimes implements and instruments in the environment are shifted to portray a scene more vividly; desks and guitars become doubly useful as gun imagery, or a ladder becomes a podium, yet the people always stay the same. Lola Arias employs a number of theatrical practices and techniques that help to reproduce, as an address to the audience, some aspects of the original dialogue, action and metaphor that developed during the creation process. Arias collaborates with both trained and untrained performers. The company holds the principle that anyone can act, a theory that is ostensibly in the vein of Theater of the Oppressed, a practice rooted in the belief that people have the capability to act in the “theater” of their own experience. The performers take turns leading us through their historiography, as they unabashedly locate themselves as carriers of their own stories.

Occasionally, however, performers are asked by the current main storyteller to act out a family scene, or that of a shooting. The other performers oblige by assuming choreography, a tableau vivante depiction of the scene that is simultaneously being described in great detail by the narrator. Strangely, the pairing of bodies and words has little effect on the experience for us as viewers, in terms of the potential for emotional impact, for it is done as clinically as any 2D visual aid, to the point that the use of their bodies (or is it the words?) feels completely perfunctory. Perhaps the dissonance lies in that even as the performers are playing out another role for a moment, they remain undeniably themselves, inescapably authentic.

For most of the play, the energy, synchronicities and confrontations of the performers are strictly on a frontal display, projected out towards the audience rather than between themselves. The work, which fixates on historical/personal narratives, articulates itself heavily through verbal delivery, often leaving the bodies of the performers behind. As dancers and choreographers, we (Hiponymous) ached with the desire to see the stories told through the body more. An all-out dance number is installed somewhere in the first third of the show and we are left dumbfounded as to why. It is worrisome to think that maybe the dance (and perhaps the few live songs strewn throughout) was only used for transitional texture, a wash of movement for the sake of a textual break. If there was another meaning, beyond the group replicating a somewhat self-aware, cheesy dance number from Chilean television past, it was lost on us. The performers danced with a variety of expressions on their faces, ranging from pure enjoyment to coyness to self-involved to deadpan. The lack of uniformity would not be so troublesome to us, if we felt those deliveries were intentional or directed that way. Instead, the dance seems inconsequential. Dance is a field dedicated to, and reliant on, metaphor. If we recognize our bodies as sites of history, identity and commentary, and ourselves as viable, poetic story-tellers, then we can sustain the integrity of our personal truths long after our voices give out. For such important subject matter as this piece, we wondered why not imbue the performers’ movement with more agency, whether they decide to use those gestures for satire or sincerity? Why not develop that power?

An interesting tension around authenticity comes to the foreground when the performers are asked to stand in a line that demonstrates a scale of their parents’ political ideologies from leftist to right. They are asked again to make this line from poor to rich, and again, light skin to dark. These moments are exciting as they display raw discussion and uncomfortable categorization. They make problematic conventional archetypes, smashing the binaries of bad guy/good guy, survivor/murderer, resistance/police, as often both extremes reside within one person’s family. Another line is formed in the dark. Each person lights a match and begins to tell where s/he was during the blackouts. One says she was in Mexico City and her match is instantly blown out by the person next to her. We begin to see how, in a quest for the more “authentic” story, those with exile histories are silenced more abruptly. Thus, the front-line survivor story receives platform priority. The sensationalism of the survivor story never fully takes over, however, and while their approach is never self-exploitative, the tailoring of drama reminds us of our particular cultural lens. How big does the story have to be to receive American viewership? Has our need for spectacle become our only entryway into compassion and action?….(“My god, that’s horrible….is anybody doing anything about this?!”)

El Año en que nací winds us through a tormented private and public history. Ultimately we are left in the present with an understanding of the current social climate of Chile and this generation’s hopes and ambitions for their country.

 El Año en que nací / The year I was born by Lola Arias runs through February 1 in the McGuire Theater.

2013: The Year According to Greg Tate

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from photographer JoAnn Verburg and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and spoken word artist Dessa — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                   […]

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from photographer JoAnn Verburg and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and spoken word artist Dessa — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                   .

As subject, field, reference point, or combination of the three, music has been a part of Greg Tate‘s work since the beginning. His 1985 co-founding of the Black Rock Coalition with Vernon Reid and Konda Mason began a journey that would align with the forthcoming New Black Aesthetic and lead to a staff writer position at the Village Voice, multiple books and essays, and his current group, Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. A commonly referenced honorific recognizes Tate as one of the “Godfathers of Hip-Hop Journalism,” but instead of defining his career, this became a jumping off point for promoting black artists in a variety of venues.

In advance of Burnt Sugar’s return to Minneapolis this spring, Tate put together an extensive rundown of his most important moments of 2013. He begins by recognizing the loss of Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris, proceeds to show he is just as—if not more—involved in the music scene as he was in 1985, and ends by looking to the future of social justice through the Dream Defenders.

1

R.I.P. Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris

Butch Morris

The sudden blindside passing of our friend, mentor, artistic conscience, Lawrence D. “Butch” Morris on January 29, one year ago tomorrow.

2

Morris Tribute

Photo: John Taggart, courtesy the Wall Street Journal

The remarkably moving tribute to Butch held at the Angel Orensanz Foundation on February 7, which included testimonials from David Murray, Henry Threadgill, and William Parker.

3

Free Form Funky Freqs in France

Photo courtesy Sons d’hiver Festival

The Free Form Funky Freqs is a completely improvisational trio comprised of Vernon Reid, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, and Grant Calvin Weston. Their unbridled and indefatiguable performance in Paris last February at the Sons d’hiver Festival was dedicated to the memory of Butch and the late guitarist Jef Lee Johnson. I ain’t mad at Burnt Sugar’s two Conductions for the festival either — our live scoring of Oscar Micheaux’s 1925 film Body and Soul, starring Paul Robeson, and “Any World That I’m Welcome To—Burnt Sugar Freaks The Steel Dan Songbooks Most Racially Provocative Under The Direction of Maestro Vernon Reid.”

4

Marc Cary and Go-Go

Marc Cary and Burnt Sugar

Marc Cary’s two night celebration of Abbey Lincoln at Harlem Stage. Cary’s co-creation with the Burnt Sugar Arkestra of The Upper Anacostia Lower Gold Coast Symphonic with DC Go-Go masters Kenny Kwick, D. Floyd, and Go-Go Mickey and poet Thomas Sayers Ellis for two performances at Lincoln Center Atrium and The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. We were later told that was the first time Go-Go had been performed in the halls of the Kennedy Center, though Chuck Brown had once been allowed to play out on the mall. Leadbelly nailed my hometown perfectly when he sang, “It’s a bourgeois town,” as did George Clinton when he declared ”God Bless Chocolate City and Its Vanilla Suburbs” — even if those suburbs are way more chocolate now than in 1976 and nobody would have ever predicted a mo’ vanilla Anacostia back in the day.5

Vijay Iyer Trio

Photo Jimmy Katz

Hearing the Vijay Iyer Trio perform an expansive set in Berlin at The Coltrane Club on the day that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of Trayvon Martin. Truly a balm in Gilead for a brother who felt ready to implement Def Con 3. The Harlen Stage premiere of Vijay and Mike Ladd’s third music theatre collab, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, was also a highlight of the year.6

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Photo: JP Dodel Photography

Hearing the stunning voice of Cécile McLorin Salvant for the first time at the home of Margaret and Quincy Troupe, taking special note of her extra sick suspense-filled, pungent, and effervescent phrasing on Jitterbug Waltz and Nobody.7

Gregory Porter in Blood on the Fields

Photo: Richard Perry, courtesy The New York Times

Gregory Porter turning out the revival of Wynton Marsalis opera Blood on the Fields down at Jazz At Lincoln Center. Shook that hall and those tunes like they’d both been made for him to own.8

HER at Zinc Bar

HER at Zinc Bar
The debut performance of the all-female collective HER at Zinc Bar — an ensemble made of drummer Kim Thompson, harpist Brandee Younger, bassist Mimi Jones, vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, and pianist Courtney Bryan which performs music by all women composers including Alice Coltrane, Nina Simone, and Betty Carter.9

Courtney Bryan

Photo courtesy Columbia University

The very emergent pianist and composer Courtney Bryan, now completing a PhD at Columbia, also debuted a symphonic work at the university alongside fellow orchestra writing compatriot and M-Base alum Andy Milne. Bryan’s gig at the Blue Note with drummer Kim Thompson featuring works for drums and piano and tape loops was a mutha too — especially hearing her accompany snippets of chestnuts by Nat King Cole, Barbara Streisand, and Michael Jackson.10

Spectrum Road at BB King’s

spectrumroad

Photo courtesy Spectrum Road

Catching Spectrum Road at BB King’s—Vernon Reid, Cindy Blackman Santana, and Jack Bruce’s thermo nuking revival of Cream and Tony Williams Lifetime music.

 Honorable Mentions

11. Loving Dave Holland’s new loud and electric band Prism, which sees the return of Kevin Eubanks and Marvin Smitty Smith to the extra-live and very plugged-in Gotham improv battlefield.

12. Craig Harris’ big band convocation at The Apollo with MC Rakim for MAPP International’s year-long resurrection of theatrical works by the late great poet bandleader and performer-playwright Sekou Sundiata.

13. Listening to all 34 CDs in Sony’s Herbie Hancock Box Set yielded a handful of hellified gems I’d missed the first time around — most notably the trio of Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, and Tony Williams performing Herbie’s very Retro Sun RaJungle Futurist romp “Good Question” on his otherwise late-disco leaning Sunlight — a vocoder-centric record which in light of its single “I Thought It Was You” and Daft Punk’s dabbling in the same vocal sounds super au courant right now. Another surprise out the box set was the proto-Detroit techno discovery “Nobu” from Herbie’s 1973 solo album Dedication.

14. Detroit techno producer Theo Parrish’s very organic mix tape of tracks from the Black Jazz catalogue is a must hear if you’re a fan of the work Doug and Jean Carn, Walter Bishop Jr., and Gene Russell and The Awakening did for that valiantly afrocentric indie label in the early 1970s. Their simultaneity with Herbie’s Mwandishi band and continuation of similar explorations thereof are near canonical electronic freedom jazz recordings also.

15. Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s one-man show How I Learned What I Learned exalting the real-life drama of young August Wilson in Pittsburgh. The story of how Wilson first encountered Coltrane’s music on a freezing night outside a bar where folk lacking the $2 admission fee stood in awe — priceless. Even more so how Wilson’s resolute determination not to ever bow down to racists derived from his mother.

16. The advent and political action in Florida of the young activist group the Dream Defenders after the travesty of injustice the world witnessed in the Trayvon Martin murder trial. The Dream Defender’s clarity, resolve, and commitment to take down Florida’s Castle Laws are a rallying cry to get off our asses for social justice in 2014.

2013: The Year According to Dessa

Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from interdisciplinary artist Ralph Lemon and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the […]

Dessa Diamonds photo credit Bill Phelps

Dessa. Photo: Bill Phelps

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from interdisciplinary artist Ralph Lemon and ebook publishers Badlands Unlimited to design firm Experimental Jetset and musician Greg Tate — to share a list of their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 .

As her bio says, Dessa has been described as “Mos Def plus Dorothy Parker.” As her lyrics say, she’s “half Dorothy Parker, half April O’Neil” (a nod to the famed poet and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ truth-seeking sidekick, respectively). However you categorize her — scrappy, rappy, or writerly — the Minneapolis-based emcee, poet, writer, activist, and veteran member of the hip hop collective Doomtree is busy. In the last year, she’s published a chapbook of poetry (launched at the Walker in October), released the solo album Parts of Speech, performed an NPR Tiny Desk concert, performed in the ninth annual Doomtree Blowout, published the “miniature book” Are You Handsome?, conducted some excellent interviews on music and food for the beer magazine The Growler and gave some excellent interviews on topics from homophobia to humanism, toured the country with her band, and got going on a new project, a collaboration with classical composer Jocelyn Hagen: commissioned by Minneapolis Public Schools, it’ll be performed in April by a student choir and orchestra. To name a few.

Given the nature of the work she did last year, Dessa — aka @dessadarling on Twitter — offers a fittingly diverse best-of-2013, covering her favorites in religion and TV, politics and hip hop.

1

Marriage Equality in Minnesota

firstcouple

Margaret Miles and Cathy ten Broeke, the first same-sex couple in Minnesota to marry, with their son Louie and Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak (right), who officiated, on Aug. 1, 2013. Photo: Governor Dayton’s Office, Flickr

I spent much of 2013 in a Ford van nicknamed MOUNTAIN, touring the country with my band. During the long drives, I usually work on my laptop,  Joey plays video games, Aby dons headphones to read her book, and the driver enjoys DJ privileges. On the day that Minnesota announced the official legalization of gay marriage, however, we all leaned forward in our seats to be a bit closer to the pair of working speakers. Everyone stayed still and silent as we listened to a streaming feed of MPR.  I remember wiping my eyes with my sleeve, and making happy eyes at all my friends reflected in the rearview.

2

The “Control” Verse 

Kendrick-lamar-1360479601

Photo: Merlijn Hoek, Wikipedia

Kendrick Lamar wrote a guest verse on a Big Sean track and sent the question “Did you hear it yet?” ringing ’round the world. In this verse Kendrick challenges the rap community, even calling out good friends by name, to up the bar. His contemporaries scrambled to write responses and recorded them before morning; veterans spoke of a healthy jolt to the system. Rap is a contact art.

3

Pope Francis

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Photo: Catholic Church of England and Wales, used under Creative Commons license

I left the Catholic Church pretty early, but it’s been heartening to watch the first few months of Pope Francis’ term. (Term? Appointment? Reign? I dunno. I left early.) He declined the opulent papal apartment, skipped the gold ring, and emphasizes the centrality of mercy, compassion, and humility — big things. (Though of course Pope Francis would not have been with me making ‘happy eyes’ in the van.) Plus, we all got to watch CNN cover smoke signals.

4

Breaking Bad

breakingbad

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad. Photo: AMC

The hype. It’s for real.

5

Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize Nomination

Malala_Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai addresses United Nations Youth Assembly, July 12, 2013. Photo: YouTube

It’s tempting to reduce Malala to an archetype, a Joan of Arc. That archetype is enticing because the weakest societal players (females, children) prove capable of prevailing over the strongest. Most of us identify, at least privately, with the underdog, so it comes as welcome news that the meek might not have to wait until the end of the Earth to inherit it. But try as I might to caution myself against undue romanticism, dammit, this girl is a Joan of Arc. She’s fearless and kind and she makes me want to be a better person.

6

Kanye West BBC  Interview 

He’s a megalomaniac, yes, of course. He also makes some strong, smart arguments about race in America. (The interviewer Zane Lowe, however, may be irredeemable.)

7

Washington Initiative 522 
500x500-Avatar-FoodMichael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, got me by the gills. I started that book with some interest in the environment; I finished it with a lot of interest in how the business of food affects the distribution of power in this country. Since reading it, I’ve interviewed small farmers, market directors, organizers, and activists. It’s complicated stuff, and I’ve reconsidered several long-held positions. My ears perked up in the autumn of 2013 when Washington state held a vote on whether or not companies should be required to label genetically modified food. The initiative did not pass, but I have a feeling that the conversation is just beginning.

8

Lady Lamb the Beekeeper


This recording artist has been active for years, but I only discovered her in 2013. Her song “Between Two Trees” and the one-take video that accompanies it reminds me how well rules can be broken.

9

Mac Miller Settlement with Lord Finesse 
Mac-Miller-Kickin-Incredibly-Dope-Shit-Front-CoverHip hop production has historically been a collage art, at least in part. Producers use snippets of other musical works to assemble a new song, and in doing so they create a a genre with a rich subtext of references and cross-references. Finding a new, unusual context for a particular riff or drum beat is part of the skill of production. So, how do you make room for this recombinant form while still making sure the original, sampled musicians get compensated? We have no blessed idea. And when Mac Miller settled with Lord Finesse last year, it seemed to emphasize how far we are from a solution. The short story: Mac sampled one of Finesse’s songs from the ’90s to create a track that Mac posted online, for free. This was a big deal; most producers thought that free, non-commercial downloads would not be vulnerable to sample suit. Some news sources said the case signaled the death of the mixtape. Congress is now in the midst of reviewing US copyright law.

10

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela (ANC) Addresses Special Committee Against ApartheidRest in peace.

Cue: Human Life and Habitual Endings

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 artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective […]

OT_Public_allege_2014_003_Wcrop

Photo: Karen Linke

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 artists Genevieve Muench and Renée Copeland of Hiponymous share their perspective on Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Public in Private/Clément Layes’ Allege is a humorous, contemplative, and startlingly graceful solo that will leave art-makers excited to explore and reinvest in the mundane richness of everyday objects and surroundings. Completing tasks in unconventionally habitual ways, Layes slumps around the space with a small glass of water balanced on the nape of his neck. He reacts to this burden with a complacent air. His physicality is outlandish, a seemingly cobbled-together body of aesthetic, training, and function: his turned-out walk is clownlike, he stands with an armadillo hunch, and his arms continuously extend from his body like runway carpets gracefully unfurling. He has the dexterity of a primate, certain in his ungainly body. While his face is positioned uncompromisingly to the floor, his fingertips take on the function of expressive eyeballs, making contact with objects with a matter-of-fact touch. We witness his successes and quickly identify him as an expert. His lack of showmanship allows us to normalize the experience and we come to expect his proficiency.

From the very beginning, Layes plays with our expectations. The stage lights come up, we wait tensely for an electric tea kettle to boil. The unpredictable certainty of that moment is comical. Layes enters with a series of actions that evokes and reinforces our tendency to predict. He marks with thick electrical tape an “X” on the floor, which traditionally in performance marks the spot where an event will take place, be it human or prop. The marking of that spot is not only its own event, it signifies that Layes will fulfill a relationship to this place in the future. Thus, before action even begins, we are given markers of expectation. Layes directs starts and stops with the tech booth, cueing spotlights and music (always David Byrne’s “Like Humans Do”) to highlight how a spectrum of scenarios can be executed with the same elements, such as a table, a plant, water bottles, and several low ball glasses.

Layes performs nuanced feats adeptly, sometimes with an earnest, willful physicality, yet mostly with attractively perfunctory efficiency, and upon completion he discards his props with ambivalence. Layes’ sense of detachment in performance mirrors Byrne’s omnipresent lyricism that reminds us that the many anxieties of life can be small when approached with a bird’s eye view. Similarly, it seems Layes’ corporeal successes depend on a calm, objective approach. That physicalization of objectivity reads as a kind of sparse, circus performativity, but that simplicity soon sheds away as he uses gestures that are imaginative and symbolic in nature, albeit born from the logistics of juggling water on his head. While Layes’ elongated use of temporal space is often out of necessity (unruly props!), there are moments in which his environment is more controlled and thus his play with props and time are trivial choices made intentionally to toy with our desires as viewers.

The performance, though delivered by a Frenchman, has the English title of Allege. Though we expect to read the word with an accent and imagine a piece full of light, cheerful themes, the English, especially American, implications of the word “allege” bring us to courtroom lingo, priming us with a lens of incredulity. This is all designed for many great reveals. Especially later in the piece, once he begins to claim and attest to the nature of the things in his environment, we are reminded of the title and its connotation, and yet we are charmed by his language, captivated by his revelatory assertions of what “that” is, as he points to yet another object we have been obsessively watching him move with. We imbibe his labels more than passively–passionately, willingly. His success in stimulating and imprinting lasting meaning in our perceptions is proven when an hour after the show, as we discuss the piece, we still refer to the towel as the “dream,” the bucket as “limitation” and so on. Go see this show if you are in the mood for an intelligent yet humble lecture demonstration on ways to jump-start the performing artist’s sense of wonder while having no illusions about our collective ending: that X, that promised culmination that nobody knows but everybody anticipates. As David Byrne says, “I WORK, I SLEEP, I DANCE, I’M DEAD.”

Clément Layes performs Allege  January 23-25 at 8pm in the McGuire Theater.

2013: The Year According to Ralph Lemon

To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from photographer JoAnn Verburg and design firm Experimental Jetset to writer Greg Allen and “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to     […]

photo (2)To commemorate the year that was, we invited artists, designers, and thinkers across disciplines — from photographer JoAnn Verburg and design firm Experimental Jetset to writer Greg Allen and “conceptual entrepreneur” Martine Syms — to share their most noteworthy ideas, events, and objects of 2013. See the entire series 2013: The Year According to                                 . 

During a 2010 visit to the Walker, Ralph Lemon told us of his future plans: “Going forward, I’m looking at the meaning of being an artist, and what might be my place in that.” The notion of constantly redefining what a performing artist is and does has been consistent throughout Lemon’s nearly 40-year career. Starting out in Minneapolis in the mid-1970s, he danced with Nancy Hauser and helped co-found Mixed Blood Theatre. After a stint working with Meredith Monk in New York, he founded his celebrated eponymous dance company — only to disband it at the height of its critical success. At that point he went “enthusiastically into freefall,” as Marcia Siegal wrote in 2000: “Concerned about the way technology had been reconfiguring American art, he set out to look at alternative practices in other parts of the world; he wanted to see how his own artmaking — as dancer, writer, photographer and graphic artist — would evolve if he played by different rules. Soon he became involved in a web of people and projects that could be easily modified to accommodate his agile and curiously moral imagination.”‘

Lemon’s projects since the have been increasingly more global and interdisciplinary, involving collaborators met during his decade of travel and media including text, dance, video, visual art installations (including a set design by Nari Ward), and music (with artists as diverse as Christian Marclay, Tracy Morris, DJ Spooky, and a group of Chinese folk musicians). Like his ambitious ten-year Geography Trilogy, all three parts of which were presented at the Walker, his more recent works have pushed boundaries of both form and content. In recent years, his diverse activities have ranged from curating a performance series at MoMA to collaborating with Jim Findlay on the two-channel video installation, Meditation (acquired for the Walker collection in 2012)and publishing three books on the Geography Trilogy, among many other projects.

In September 2014, Lemon returns to the Walker for a residency concluding with the world premiere of what may be his boldest experiment yet:  Scaffold Room. Using a two-story structure erected in Burnet Gallery, this live multimedia performance installation will explore ideas of contemporary performance through archetypal black female personae in American culture. 

For his best-of-2013 list, Lemon chooses a fittingly diverse array of works, books, and ideas from across disciplines.

1

Paul McCarthy at Park Avenue Armory

WS, Paul McCarthy

Photo: James Ewing, courtesy Park Avenue Armory

The exhibition WS was emphatic, vast, brilliant, puerile, perverse, beautiful, funny, and, from what I’ve heard, very very expensive to put together.

2

Night Stand

paxton_full_3The US premiere of Lisa Nelson and Steve Paxton’s Night Stand at Dia Art Foundation took me away. The wide wide world of Paxton and Nelson: Beckett, Faulkner, Fassbinder, Ono, Laurel and Hardy, Fred and Ginger…

3

Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument

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Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument. Photo: Andrew Russeth

I thought I would hate it. A very famous (and very good) Swiss artist, who lives and works in Paris, goes to the South Bronx, with major support from Dia Art Foundation and does what? Well, the Monument, its specific functionality, became a vital and inspired gathering place, and a good part of the community bought into it and everyone involved seemed grateful for the life of it. Too bad it was primarily a temporary art piece (Gramsci, who?). From the outside it seemed like it belonged there.

4

Boris Charmatz at MoMA

20131027CHARMATZ-slide-7BIF-articleLarge

Boris, the “prince of French dance,” his exuberant (and privileged) generosity. A kind and generous event, dance. His Levée des conflits extended felt infinite. Perfect in the vastness of the Atrium.

5

Now Dig This!
Installation view of Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 at MoMA PS1, 2012. © MoMA PS1; photo: Matthew Septimus.

Photo: Matthew Septimus, © MoMA PS1

Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, MoMA PS1:  A most elegant curation. (I also had fun at Blues for Smoke at theWhitney Museum of American Art.)

6

Rick Owens’ Spring Show


The video and online buzz of Rick Owens’ Paris Spring 2014 show, with choreography by Lauretta and Leeanet Noble and danced by members of Soul Steps and Momentum, of NYC, and the Washington Divas and the Zetas from the D.C. area: Oh gosh! I loved how little of what I loved about the buzz and the video had to do with fashion.

7

Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave

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Devastating. A true story that couldn’t be true.

8

The Grey Album

the-grey-album-lgKevin Young’s The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness is smart, poetic and vibrantly apocalyptic. Pop culture, a (fantastic) (decorative) snake forever eating its tail.

9

Obamacare

Screen shot 2014-01-14 at 2.42.15 PMAmerica cares.

10

Whistle-blower Edward Snowden

SnowdenEverybody cares. (I hope)

Honorable mentions

 

In memoriam: Sage Cowles. Lou Reed.

valentinaIn birth: My daughter, Valentina Ruth.

Spoiler Alert: Penis Penis Penis

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 artists Hiponymous share their perspective on Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The […]

OT_Penino_TheRoom_2014_002_W

Photo: Shinsuke Suginou

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 artists Hiponymous share their perspective on Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

A wildly entertaining trip written and directed by Kuro Tanino, The Room Nobody Knows, performed by Tokyo-based theater company Niwa Gekidan Penino, is a partially dissected dream, full of blatant and elusive symbolism. The set design is based off of the traditional Japanese Noh stage, but developed as a top/bottom duplex, squeezing the actors and action into comical proportions. The main character, Kenji, explores the dream-like apartment with desire and whimsy, luring the viewers into every nook and cranny of the architecture, which glorifies phallic, masculine forms. A small cannon sits in the corner. The doorknobs, coffeetable, chairs, and erect holders for the Shakuhachi flutes are all shaped like penises. And then there are the handmade penis figurines of Kenji’s beloved older brother in four archetypal renderings: “The avant-garde you, the revolutionary you, the feminine you, the pop you”. Kenji’s idolatry of his brother becomes an obsession and preparing for his older brother’s birthday completely distracts him from his high school studies, which he has been dizzily tending to for 27 years.

The upper room of the duplex is occupied by Kenji’s alter egos, one with hog ears and the other with sheep horns. We meet these characters first as they assist in assembling the penis power room. They move through the tight quarters, revealing tableaus like pieces in a game of chess. They furnish the older brother’s birthday party with erect penises, as gift offerings, and are a comedic presence as the “Elves of Unpaid Labor”. There is nothing subtly phallic, only obvious, graphically polished models of penises with perfect curvature. The mounted room of phallic power is a blatant depiction of what are often subliminally placed markers of a culture’s patriarchal agenda. And yet, as a culture, we also habitually laugh at the sight of penis forms. With a phallic-filled stage and Kenji’s dueling alter egos, Tanino’s psychological fantasy world becomes an environment rich with duality and sexual frustration.

The ways in which gender and sexuality are explored are stimulating…intellectually, that is. On one hand, it is very enjoyable to watch the two brothers express affection, amorously, earnestly pressing their bodies into one another, holding faces in hands, looking into one another’s eyes with declarations of love. On the other hand, the scenes are ripe with taboo (homoerotic sibling love), and the exposed vulnerability that comes along with that keeps the audience from responding too favorably and the performers from going much further than bold verbal and physical insinuations.

While American audiences are used to witnessing theater in which the Asian or Asian-American male body is often thrown into one-dimensional, emasculated roles, the Walker audience becomes privy to refreshingly complex representations of Asian men through Tanino’s direction of these two brothers. This is a play that tells the story of two bodies, full of agency and yet fraught with deviant tendencies that are personal to them and informed by their past accomplishments and future ambitions. Of course, on top of all that, it’s all just a dream. And yet, dreams are linked to subconscious truths. Thus, it’s easy to see that the monumental things in Kenji’s waking life will remain erect.

Niwa Gekidan Penino performs The Room Nobody Knows January 16-18 in the McGuire Theater.

Balancing Act: Clément Layes on Performance, Philosophy, and the Art of Play

Clément Layes’ Allege is based on a simple question: “What can I do, and not do, while balancing a glass of water on my head?” Each performance of Allege is a 45-minute exploration of the possibilities and limitations created by this balancing act. With water bottles, glasses, and other everyday objects, Layes subverts the structures that constrain him by […]

Clément Layes "Allege"

Clément Layes. Photo: Dieter Hartwig

Clément Layes’ Allege is based on a simple question: “What can I do, and not do, while balancing a glass of water on my head?” Each performance of Allege is a 45-minute exploration of the possibilities and limitations created by this balancing act. With water bottles, glasses, and other everyday objects, Layes subverts the structures that constrain him by making a game of them, pushing them to the point of absurdity, merging research and performance, logic and phenomenology. As with the glass of water, he creates a balance with elements from his training in dance, theater, circus, and philosophy, while still refusing to be defined or confined by categories.

Allege is a performance and a question. As Layes writes on his website:

It is not an art for the future nor a culture for now. It is five hundred quotes disguised in few plastic bottles. It is not a geometric demonstration. It is not about Clément Layes, it is not a rock concert although it would be great, it is not only happening, it’s also unhappening, it is not ambivalent.

In advance of his visit to Minneapolis, I had the chance to chat with Layes over Skype to learn a bit more about his eclectic background, the philosophical inquiry in his work, and how Allege came to be.

Allege Clement Layes

Clément Layes in Allege. Photo: Karen Linke

What was your creative process for Allege? How did you come up with the ideas for this piece?

It started with some research I was doing with objects, particularly with glasses and bottles of water. I was working with a few other performers at the time, and we started practicing balancing a glass of water on our heads — which is not so easy to do! But I realized that there was very interesting potential within the structure of the glass. I wanted to explore how I could constrain myself in order to not be able to dance like we would expect a dancer to, but rather to move in a very specific way that would be defined by the constraints we had created — in the first place, the glass of water. So that’s how it developed. It wasn’t something that was planned; it was more ongoing research about these constraints and these objects.

On the topic of constraining structures: you’ve studied philosophy, and it seems to find its way into many of your pieces. How does philosophy figure into your work?

First of all, I am not a philosopher. But I have a great interest in philosophy, and for me, creating a performance is not so much something that is meant to entertain people, but rather to create some thinking in the audience. And not just conventional logical thinking — I see performance as a way to experience the world through the senses as well. I was very influenced by the phenomenological thinkers, the type of philosophy that invites one to come back to the experience of things. The question for me, particularly in performance, is how to find strategies to re-engage with the world, how to rediscover the things we actually know. By rediscovering them we also discover how the inscribed knowledge we have accumulated can be made dynamic again.

I’m also very interested in the creation of systems. This is maybe not so much about philosophy, but it’s something that is very present in bureaucratic systems and so on: we endlessly create systems that constrain us in different manners, being totally ineffective. I was curious to see what is produced on stage if I do this to a kind of extreme absurdity.

You have an eclectic background in circus, dance, theater, and philosophy: how does your background contribute to your work?

It’s a very strange path. I did theater and circus in high school, and later I pursued philosophy and circus. I was a juggler — it was my first specialty. At circus school I also did all kinds of acrobatics and trapeze, but my main interest went very soon to dance. I had been struggling in between circus, philosophy, and dance, and somehow I ended up only doing dance and attending dance school.

What’s interesting for me is that it took me around ten years to finally be able to combine these different elements of my background on stage and to make them play together without excluding elements of one or the other. And because they are so different in terms of form and aesthetics, I feel like part of the creation I’ve been doing in this performance particularly was to find ways to make those interests merge into one specific form that was satisfying for me.

In this sense I think the performance speaks a lot about categories, about how we organize categories — which to me is very complex. I started to reflect really precisely on the category of dance: what does it mean if I, as a creator of dance, place myself in the dance category? Am I not keeping myself within certain boundaries which are defined by the institutions with which I work? So now I try not to think in those terms, not to define myself while I’m working.

That actually was one of my questions—“Do you have a way to describe yourself and the work you do?” It sounds like from what you’re saying, you don’t really describe yourself as doing just dance, or theater, or circus, or art…

Exactly. I cannot escape being defined by others and particularly by institutions, because there is a need from theaters and critics and so on to define something for the audience. But in order to have the chance to create something new, I have to take care not to be defined within these frames. For example, I find that dance and visual art actually have a lot in common, but they are created in two categories that are very strongly socially divided, in terms of the practice and the people involved. In dance, we tend to be dependent on the dance studio and can only access it for a certain number of hours per week or month, and only in relation to a production. That is, dance as a practice is defined by the time frame of the rehearsal schedule. This is the opposite of practice for visual artists: they have the studio, where they can work every day without having to produce something. Now I am trying to create a space where I can work whenever it’s needed, to not only function in order to make a production, but to also be able to try out things, to research without being bound to make a piece.

One of the most important aspects of Allege is “play,” as a way to deal with these categories. I never take a very serious approach, but more a kind of childlike way of working: putting things together and seeing what happens in order to decide the next step to take.

Clément Layes "Allege"

Clément Layes in Allege. Photo: Dieter Hartwig

Your company, Public in Private, also seems pretty uncategorizable. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

Jasna Vinorvski is one of the main members and a co-founder with me. The primary thing we do is create performances, but since it’s a young company, the idea is to also develop it as a collective. We have worked with performers, visual artists, musicians, theater makers, etc., but often just for the creation of a production. The next step for us is to have a group that would be linked to Berlin, or to people passing through there, doing ongoing research and thinking and discussion, on a very playful basis — it doesn’t have to be very serious or academic — about how to position ourselves as artists within the contemporary scene. Because the artistic act is not only on stage, it’s not only something that relates to the stage itself, but it’s also a way to enter into the social context in which it is happening. We are working on a project we call the “Private Theater,” as a way to deal with these questions, and to involve more choreographers and artists in our discussions.

Clément Layes performs Allege at 8 pm January 23–25, 2014, in the McGuire Theater. Stay after the performances for a post-show reception with the artist (Thursday, January 23), a Q & A with the artist (Friday, January 24), and a SpeakEasy discussion with local artists and a Walker tour guide (Saturday, January 25).

Join Clément on Saturday, January 25, 11 am1 pm in the McGuire Theater for Inside Out There. This charmingly philosophical workshop creates theater and choreography with everyday objects. Each participant is asked to bring an object that they use daily to imagine what dreams it might imply, invite, or induce. Open to all. $6 ($4 Walker members).

Building The Room Nobody Knows

As a part of Out There 2014: New World Visions, the Walker presents Japanese performance group Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows, a personal, psychosexual account of the competitive strain between two brothers. The piece is rife with Freudian imagery, with phallic shapes forming much of the set and props, as company director Kuro Tanino intersects […]

As a part of Out There 2014: New World Visions, the Walker presents Japanese performance group Niwa Gekidan Penino’s The Room Nobody Knows, a personal, psychosexual account of the competitive strain between two brothers. The piece is rife with Freudian imagery, with phallic shapes forming much of the set and props, as company director Kuro Tanino intersects his experience as a practicing psychiatrist with his work on the stage. Intricate, surreal sets are a hallmark of Niwa Gekidan Penino’s shows. Works of art on their own, their sets are often opened as miniature exhibits before the narrative or characters that inhabit the space are even conceived. Of course, the process of setting up such a space is equally as detailed as the space itself.

This time-lapse video shows the set’s careful recreation at the show’s North American debut at the Japan Society in New York City. This construction (and deconstruction) will happen a number of times over the next few weeks: the Walker is the second stop on a tour that also hits On the Boards (Seattle, WA), FringeArts (Philadelphia, PA), and the Wexner Center for the Arts (Columbus, Ohio).  Audiences at the Walker will be placed on the McGuire stage with the performers for an intimate look at this symbolic world and its story. (For another chance to interact with director Kuro Tanino, consider Inside Out There: Niwa Gekian Penino, an acting workshop that will perform a surgery in silence.)

In a recent interview with the Walker, Tanino provided some advice for his audience: “Please build a house and have a room in your mind somewhere. Put your secret emotions, curiosities you can’t tell anyone, and your dangerous illusions there. The room will instantly be filled, almost to the point of exploding. Lock your room then, and open the door with the key after you see the show.” This set, bursting with these curiosities and illusions, is such a room, and he has left his door wide open. See how yours compares.

Niwa Gekidan Penino performs The Room Nobody Knows Thursday, January 16, at 8 pm (SOLD OUT) and Friday and Saturday, January 17-18, at 7 and 9:30 pm in the McGuire Theater. Very limited seating.

Wide Scope, Sharp Focus: The Intensive Care of John Malpede

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 artists Hiponymous share their perspective on the opening night of Wunderbaum & LAPD’s […]

John Malpede in Hospital . Photo: Steve Gunther

John Malpede in Hospital . Photo: Steve Gunther

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 artists Hiponymous share their perspective on the opening night of Wunderbaum & LAPD’s Hospital. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

We were all talking about our opinions regarding Obamacare five years ago, and for better or for worse, we are just now beginning to see how Obama’s Affordable Care Act is playing out as a solution to the US healthcare crisis. Hospital kicked off the Walker’s Out There series last night, taking the stage with dance, video, music, and personal narrative, a sensationalized performance about how healthcare is an unpredictable component in the lives of many Americans.

Los Angeles Poverty Department (LAPD) collaborates with Wunderbaum, a Netherlands-based theater collective, and their initial presentation is a disorientating and intensely configured stage set-up. Rows of office desks span the length of the space, a gurney sits in the foreground, and the outside frame is a shuffle of mic stands and video camera tripods. For some time we sit and are reminded of walking through the narrowing hallways of the medical field. The performers independently move about the stage, some with drive and others with a lack of clarity. Two actors hold an intelligible conversation behind a fixed camera, mic and projector, and a woman wades toward the gurney as others pace back and forth assembling tools, putting on hospital coats and pushing papers from one desk to the other. The scope of the stage is broad and the mild-mannered performers steady our points of interest. There is a quiet normalcy about their pace, their tone, raising doubts within our viewership as to when the show has started. Papers are dropped: was it a stage direction? What follows instills that yes, we are witnessing every detail of a performed narrative. The show, in fact has already begun. No, you don’t have time to run to the bathroom.

A sudden chaos erupts in a dramatic, ER-like scene and the audience is brought to the birthplace of an average white American. We meet John Malpede, LAPD’s artistic director, who has been an active recipient of both the US and Netherlands healthcare systems during his lifetime. The chosen protagonist’s identity (straight, white, male) is frustratingly representative of the dominant narrative, which the creators are seemingly aware of; as the play develops, the intensive focus on Malpede becomes more clearly framed as an ironic choice. The story’s perspective, however, inevitably becomes a larger address on the health care issues facing both countries. We predicate Hospital’s intent with buzz words around single payer healthcare, tax payer split agendas, and American individualism; it’s here that the work starts asking probing questions.

Through both fictional and factual presentations, Hospital asks, what kind of political mobilization will it take to achieve a sustainable, national healthcare system? What would that free system look like? The performers never pause to answer these questions, but rather move through embodying an array of characters: medical professionals, lovers, politicians. They nudge the audience through John Malpede’s true life encounters with the healthcare system, taking time to elaborate at junctures where Malpede disputes the voices of debt collectors and insurance representatives. The narrative reveals itself both on- and off-mic, and with the spirit of street theater the performers are generous with their direct, linear storytelling. It’s the rapid changing of characters, camera frames, and pace of performance that become metaphor for how people get lost in the shuffle of the system. With what they’ve coined as a “ficto-mentary” mode of delivery, LAPD and Wunderbaum desire to show us, in many ways, that the main character’s story is interchangeable with others who participate in broken healthcare systems, not once admitting outright Malpede’s evident privileges. The buzz words start up again at “hipster-ism,” Jim Crow, and Skid Row, which the performers use to ask the audience to consider the privilege of claiming individuality and importance within the system. While Hospital asks more questions than it could possibly answer in one hundred minutes, let alone one’s lifetime, the rigor and dynamism of the performers grounds us. They offer us a creative and imaginative contemporary framework, so that relating our personal experience to these systemic issues becomes tangible and devising solutions seems feasible.

Wunderbaum and LAPD perform Hospital January 9-11 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

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