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Urban Experiment in Concert Form

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia […]

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Tiago Sousa of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Renato Mangolin

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista by Companhia Urbana de Dança. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments! 

Seven faces greet us in the dark. Sitting upstage in a line spread across the space, light allows us to only see this. A dancer emerges, sinewy and dreadlocked. He begins to move in silence, undulating his tallness and extending his limbs. It is a personal exploration, spontaneous, except that when another dancer joins there is unison, and it feels like a miracle.

This passing off of a solo happens several times, and thus we are introduced to the performers of Companhia Urbana de Dança. Seven of eight are in this first work, ID:ENTIDADES, one female and six male. Clad in black and sneakers, they blend hip-hop and contemporary dance. Conceived, directed and choreographed (with members of the Company) by Sonia Destri Lie, this layering of hip-hop, customarily a solo form, with contemporary concert dance sensibilities is visually arresting, surprising at every turn.

I am especially struck by the unison, moves identical save for some personal practicalities that take precedence like the need to sneaker-scootch another quarter turn or an arm response that differs according to a body’s momentum. These subtle differences combined with the dancers’ stunning individual appearances make for a marvelous statement about coexistence: many in body, one in mind.

Music by Rodrigo Marçal leads the dancers through a soundscape that influences but never dominates. Passages of silence elegantly transition dancers from episode to episode. Just when a visceral build occurs, visually and aurally, things break apart and a new scenario begins. It seems that movement is sourced from the dancers’ natural instincts then codified for group learning. Unison is urbanized, tolerant of dancers’ individualities.

Partnering comes into play but is less effective. Moments of contact feel superficial, and one can understand why given the solo nature of hip-hop. But here is where this hybrid experiment could really take flight. If the dancers could access one another’s bodies down to the level of bone, truly pouring their weight deeply into one another, the inherent visceral experience of this work would give birth to yet another new dimension.

Otherwise I am enchanted, inspired. It is structurally smart, lots of witnessing, watching, framing. Every body is loaded, cocked to explode at any moment. Countenances are at once soulful and suspicious. I fall in love with every one of them.

The second piece on the program is Na Pista. The program notes state that this work sources movement and personal experiences from the dancers. They enter wearing radically different attire, reflecting their personalities. They begin with a game of musical chairs, ending up in a line upstage. Water bottles add to the décor and choreography.

Ironically, while this second piece indicates more “personality”, I feel as if I learned more about the dancers in the first work. Fancy clothes and props are distracting more than anything. I prefer a barer context, allowing the dancers and the language singing out of their bodies to speak for themselves.

It is thrilling to see hip-hop dance merge with contemporary dance composition. Hip-hop electrifies the concert stage and tools like layering images, altering tempo, unison and stage picture show off hip-hop to extremely flattering effect.

Companhia Urbana de Dança performs ID:ENTIDADES and Na Pista in the McGuire Theater March 27-29. 

Performing Lives, Dancing Experiences: Companhia Urbana de Dança’s Marvelous Symbiosis

Companhia Urbana de Dança, founder and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie insists, just sort of happened. At the time of its formation, she had just moved back to Brazil from Germany, where she had studied contemporary dance and delved into the world of hip hop. Back in Rio de Janeiro, she began working on a dance […]

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Tiago Sousa, Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Renato Mangolin

Companhia Urbana de Dança, founder and choreographer Sonia Destri Lie insists, just sort of happened. At the time of its formation, she had just moved back to Brazil from Germany, where she had studied contemporary dance and delved into the world of hip hop. Back in Rio de Janeiro, she began working on a dance project for a fashion show, auditioning B-boys and hip hop dancers. Meeting those dancers, she explained, “was the turning point. I saw so many good dancers, and they had no idea how good they were. In Rio, there was no opportunity, no jobs, so I decided to use my contacts in Europe to try to do something.” She started finding some dancers to form a company — or, as she likes to say, they found her. Companhia Urbana de Dança fully came into existence when a festival director took notice of her work and invited her to the Biennale de Lyon, an international dance festival in France. Along with dancer Tiago Sousa, whom she had met at the fashion show, Destri Lie pulled together a group to perform in Lyon in 2006. The company has changed members extensively throughout its existence, growing through three iterations into the critically-acclaimed group it is today.

Destri Lie has two conditions for her dancers: they must be good, respectful people, and their desire to dance must come above all else. For her, big egos have no place in the company, and a good personality is more important than flawless technique. Tiago explained in an interview: “Our desire to dance is greater than any necessity. We are all intelligent and talented. We could be doing anything else, but we chose dance, and we know that it takes a lot of love and dedication.” Indeed, many of the dancers have gone to great lengths to keep dancing. Rafael “Rafa” explained that after his mother told him he couldn’t keep dancing, he sneaked out of the house to go to rehearsal. In the beginning, the only rehearsal slot Destri Lie could get was from 11 pm to 3 am in a studio that was a substantial commute away from many of the dancers’ homes. Nevertheless, the dancers’ passion and dedication have propelled the group to international recognition.

Part of the genius of Companhia Urbana de Dança is the marvelous symbiosis it exhibits, both in terms of the styles of dance performed, and the company itself. Destri Lie and her dancers each contribute something to the company, creating a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts. As she explained in an interview with Time Out NY:

Tiago Sousa said one day during this fashion show rehearsal: “Sonia, you are the only one that can understand our language, and you are the only one that can take us to a different level. If not, we are gonna be the black kids that dance from the favelas. And we are never gonna get respect! We need you, and I think you need us because we will be the reason for you to do something fresh and new. Maybe you will reinvent yourself and do not need to go to Europe again.” [...] I already had two dance companies before. It was hard to get support, money and sponsors, and I did not want to go through this all over again. But I said, “Yes! Let’s try.” And here I am.

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André Feijão, Companhia Urbana de Dança. Photo: Anderson Café

But Destri Lie is aware that the fusion of artists and dance styles that exists in Companhia can be risky, especially given the juxtaposition of her background with those of the dancers. A recent New York Times review addressed this delicate balance:

Companhia Urbana de Dança sounds like a bad idea. It is a Brazilian dance troupe composed of young people, mostly men of African descent, mostly from the favelas, or slums, of Rio. But it is led and choreographed by Sonia Destri Lie, a white woman not from the favelas. She is trained in ballet and American and European contemporary dance, yet the works are based in hip-hop, somehow refined. Exploitation, condescension: Pitfalls abound. And yet [...] Companhia Urbana de Dança is so wonderful that it seems miraculous.

Indeed, pitfalls abound. Companhia Urbana de Dança dances in a delicate space in which issues such as race, poverty, violence, and gender are, through the act of performance, at risk of alternately being exploited or erased. Similarly, there is the balance in their performance between dance and narrative, with the chance that the background stories overpower the dancing.

Indeed, few descriptions of the company fail to mention the dancers’ origins in the favelas and suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Favela is usually translated as “slum,” and denotes an informal urban settlement in Brazil, often associated with poverty, crime, and drug trafficking. Since 2008, the government has worked to decrease the rule of drug lords in favelas through the implementation of UPPs (Police Pacification Units). Recently, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics have increased international scrutiny over crime and violence in these neighborhoods. In discussing some of the challenges of building a professional dance company through the years, Destri Lie does not deny that the dancers’ living situations often made things difficult — some of her dancers were consistently late, or couldn’t leave their neighborhoods for rehearsal because of drug-related violence, or even collapsed during practice because they didn’t have enough money for food. Tiago, when describing how he started dancing, explained, “I realized that, in my neighborhood, the guys who got girlfriends either danced or carried a gun… I chose to dance.”

But while crime, drugs, and violence, remain issues in Brazil’s favelas, the focus of popular narratives on these negative characteristics of the “morros” (“hills,” as they are often called), allows only for a narrow and stigmatizing perspective on them and the people who live there (indeed, discrimination and prejudice towards residents of these neighborhoods often makes it more difficult for them to find employment). In contrast to many prevailing conceptions, visual and performing arts have permeated some of these neighborhoods—for example, the colors of the neighborhood of Santa Marta, or faces and eyes painted on the houses in the Morro da Providência neighborhood. Favelas are where funk carioca music originated, as well as dances such as passinho, which has gained international recognition. In Morro dos Prazeres, a favela near the center of Rio de Janeiro, MTV built a high-quality soccer field to film a Brazilian TV show. There are schools, hospitals, and libraries in the neighborhoods. Cidade de Deus (inspiration for the Academy Award-nominated film of the same name) even has its own form of currency.

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Morro dos Prazeres, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Lydia Brosnahan

Companhia Urbana de Dança cannot erase the influence of its multifaceted background stories. Yet Destri Lie is cautious of creating performances that focus solely on the favela origins of the dancers. As she explained to TimeOut NY, while discussing the second group of dancers she worked with in the company (2006–2008):

I knew that to have a dance company with black dancers that came from the favelas and so on, I should be careful. Not with them, but with others: the media, the press release and so on. I did not want to use them. For me, it was just the place they came from. I wanted respect because they were a good dancers, I wanted respect because the work was good, I wanted respect because we were working hard… I did not want to have FAVELA in bold letters, not the way people use that in their Playbill. First, I wanted to be a dance company and not a social project.

The recent New York Times review concurs: “Ms. Destri Lie, with her artistry, never stresses the obstacles that her dancers have to overcome. But,” the article continues, “that, too, is under the surface.” Companhia Urbana de Dança’s works allow the dancers space to speak for themselves; to masterfully, but subtly, tell their own stories through their dance. While the pieces are choreographed by Destri Lie, each dance is also shaped by the dancers themselves — as she says, “The choreography isn’t mine, I just design it… I take their movement and make it my own, and vice versa.” And as her website describes, “Their social and cultural backgrounds fuel their inspiration and creativity, allowing for intense, genuine, and beautifully expressive movement.”

As the dancers influence the dance, so does the dance influence the dancers. Working with the Companhia dancers helped Destri Lie to revitalize and rethink her work, and through working with a renowned dance company, the dancers gained the respect not only of their families and their peers, but also of the international dance community. On the company website, dancer Feijão explains: “Dancing gave me self-respect, changed everyone’s opinion of me…. It brought up my self-esteem. At rehearsal, I found myself, I knew where to go, when I started to dance… Dance gave me the chance to get to know the world, it gave me direction.” Destri Lie, as well, described how she hopes the company can influence audiences’ perceptions, not only of dance, but of the dancers themselves: “I want them to show the world that being black, poor, Brazilian — third world — and having talent, that they could change the game through dance. And to show them as protagonists of their own transformation.”

Companhia Urbana de Dança exemplifies the innovative potential of 21st-century performance. It seamlessly fuses hip hop and contemporary dance, while simultaneously creating thought-provoking dissonance. It builds global performance with local motivations, encouraging dialogue about both dance and global issues. It is inclusive and inspirational without being exploitative — each piece recognizes the undeniable influence of each company member’s individual story while highlighting, on stage, the power of dance itself.

Companhia Urbana de Dança will perform Na Pista and ID:ENTIDADES Thursday–Saturday, March 27–29, 2014, at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

Dismantling Dance: Penelope Freeh on Trisha Brown Dance Company

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown […]

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I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Friday night’s Proscenium Works 1979-2011 by Trisha Brown Dance Company. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Trisha Brown Dance Company, after this 3-year tour of eight seminal proscenium works is complete, will redefine its mission, which includes dismantling these works. The company’s new direction includes installing interactive archives with as-yet-to-be-announced partner spaces (museums and the like) and will maintain a non-proscenium performing presence along with other modes of audience engagement.

It’s essential to see work live that will never be done again, most especially by longtime practitioners of said work. These dancers bring these works to life in such a special and specific way. There is no ornamentation, no put on style or aesthetic to detract from the ever-changing forms and fluid passages. The aesthetic is in fact bare and almost quotidian if it wasn’t so dancerly. There were four works on this particular program spanning 1983-2011. A fantastic overview though it made for a long evening.

First up was the rather glorious Set and Reset whose flow was only rarely interrupted by an arrested pose or lift, usually in a flex-footed open run position. Robert Rauschenberg created the visual presentation and costumes, which included see-through wings. These were used to great and subtle effect, adding another ephemeral element to an inherently ephemeral form. The flowing costumes were of the same fabric, with silk-screened images in black, white and grey. I assume these echoed the ever-present video installation that hovered above the dancing space, conjuring a sense of time passing, history and dream-like nostalgia. Individually and in groups forms melted away as soon as they were made manifest. The driving score by Laurie Anderson contributed to the sense of never-endingness. Just when a movement would register another would take its place, catapulting into a new flow and another seamless interruption.

While Set and Reset encapsulated many of the company’s overarching qualities and capabilities, Astral Convertible got more specific. With more visual elements from Rauschenberg including towers of light decorating and defining the space, this work was very formed and architectural. Dancers too were used as decorative and space-defining elements as others moved through and over them. Floor-bound bodies folded and unfolded, quietly cueing with the word “go”, adding nicely to the minimalist score by John Cage. In this world there were more moments of isolation for individual or a few dancers. Contact and partnering felt more emotional as connections were attempted and sometimes made awkward with mechanical motions bumping against the organic.

If you couldn’t see me was solo for a female, accomplished entirely with her back to the audience. Performed by Cecily Campbell, the material had room for personal élan and choice-making. Interesting, since we never saw her face. The lighting and costume rendered her back as expressive as a face, her ribs and muscles hyper-articulate.

The last work on the program and in the proscenium repertoire in general was I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours. This was a poignant watch, knowing it’s Brown’s last work of its kind.

Burt Barr, longtime partner of Brown, designed the visual presentation, comprised here of many large industrial fans. The dancers, wearing baggy white tops and pants, begin among them, situated stage left. Clothing gets blown off some, pulled off by others, another nod at ephemera laced with a little bit of danger. With a score by Alvin Curran, it was a great treat to hear and see him live on piano.

In various states of undress for much of the work, the dancers settled into a comfort zone of close calls, forms competing to occupy the same space, gently making contact long enough to leverage a launch away.

For this as in all the works on view, the music served as a landscape and not a specific set of directions. This use of music perhaps defines the work as post modern more than any other element, many of which might be considered classical: the segregated costuming for the sexes; the highly structured nature of the dances; the awareness of front, the audience, indeed, the proscenium. But the use of music is what defamiliarises us with watching this work. Because the dance isn’t bonded, in a traditional sense, to the music, we end up viewing it differently. The steps call out to us of their own accord, asking to be viewed for their own sake. Steps lay atop the sound scores for all these works and we are asked to multitask. The watching and listening are on two tracks, each getting a democratic treatment.

I wish this great and historic company well, on the remainder of this tour and for their future endeavors. It’s a brave thing to dismantle, to leave behind, to let one’s personal ephemera fade away. But as any dancer can attest, it’s simply what we do.

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs Proscenium Works: 1979-2011 in the McGuire Theater March 12-15. 

The ‘Golden Gestalts’ of Alvin Curran and Trisha Brown

The Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances at the Walker this week highlight their namesake’s dedication to the exploration of movement over that last 30 years. The music they move to reveals Brown’s engagement of unique compositional voices in this exploration. Their performances include music from experimental powerhouse Laurie Anderson and the master of chance John […]

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I’m going to toss my arms- if you catch them they’re yours, Trisha Brown Dance Company, with music by Alvin Curran. Photo: Stephanie Berger

The Trisha Brown Dance Company‘s performances at the Walker this week highlight their namesake’s dedication to the exploration of movement over that last 30 years. The music they move to reveals Brown’s engagement of unique compositional voices in this exploration. Their performances include music from experimental powerhouse Laurie Anderson and the master of chance John Cage. Alvin Curran will join the company at the Walker for a rare live accompaniment of Brown’s piece I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours.

Curran has been one of the leading experimental composers of the late 20th and 21st centuries, most known for his incorporation of electronics and found recordings. As a student of Elliot Carter’s at Yale, he received a rigorous education in midcentury avant-garde music. His own works built from and grew beyond this tradition, incorporating improvisation and technology to make a style completely his own. “This is part of the problem, carrying my own work around with me all of these years,” he told NewMusicBox, “because it isn’t all in one bag. It’s a bunch of bags.” His compositions are often as much improvised as they are composed, and electronics, installations, and recordings are common in his work. They call for instruments from flugelhorns to hotplates. Curran notes the uniqueness of our point in history, when composers have a wide range of styles and sounds both new and old at their fingertips, easily reproduced through technology. He calls this great synthesis “the new common practice,” “the direct unmediated embracing of sound, all and any sound, as well as the connecting links between sounds, regardless of their origins, histories or specific meanings.”

In the ’70s, Curran presented his music at the Walker on two occasions. His first visit was in 1977 with Musica Elettronica Viva, a group of electronic improvisors he founded with composers Richard Teitelbaum and Frederic Rzewski. He returned the following year to present a show of his solo work. The centerpiece of the evening was Light Flowers, Dark Flowers, billed as a structural improvisation featuring a tape recording, piano, “a section for ocarina, a monologue about the Trojan wars and a trip to the moon”.

Curran’s music of synthesis lends itself well to experimental dance, and he composes frequently for movement. He believes that “sound and image together create an infinity of meanings, timbres, energies, and emotions that would be impossible to achieve using either alone,” making Brown an ideal collaborator. The two have been working together regularly since 1991, when she called Curran asking for some last-minute music for a piece of hers. In his work with dancers, he strives for a unity of the senses, what he calls “golden gestalts when one ecstatically hears movement and sees sound.” Brown’s natural yet investigative choreography serves this goal well, and Curran has the utmost respect for her and her art. “I’m sure like any angel she has some faults,” he writes. “I’ve just never seen them”.

I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours, accompanied by Curran’s work, premiered in Paris in 2011, and the company has been performing it steadily ever since. The dancers’ movements are natural, comfortable, and rooted as they progress from isolation to contact throughout the piece. Their white costumes are slowly destroyed and blown away by the fans that share the stage, revealing brightly colored swim gear beneath.

Curran’s accompanying piece, Toss and Find, is a reflective sonic backdrop for the movement on stage. Curran, on piano, joins a prerecorded tape with electronics and sounds of everyday life. Beginning well after the dancers have begun, the sound creeps in with drones and static that becomes increasingly shrill. The piano enters with sparse, pointed octaves. Eventually the elemental sound of a horn is heard, its open intervals recalling the creation of the world as told musically by Mahler or Bruckner. As the dancers’ bodies begin to interact and their papery clothes have been shed, children’s voices appear, and Curran introduces an entire scale, creating dissonances with the recording. His score of found sounds and simple motives is engaging alone, but it is made complete by its physical manifestation, the dancers’ movements translating with their bodies.

“The human animal is eminently musical,” wrote Curran in a New York Times editorial. “Human music is a vehicle for personal and collective enjoyment and expression, and a means to transcend time and place.” The synthesis of his music with Brown’s choreography heightens this collective expression. As bodies move through and with his music, we may be moved to transcendence as well.

Alvin Curran will perform with the Trisha Brown Dance Company in the McGuire Theater March 12 – 15 at 8pm. Copresented with Northrop at the University of Minnesota.

A King’s Horizon

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,  filmmaker and writerJustin Schell shares his perspective on Dave King’s Sound Horizon performance Thursday night. Agree or […]

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Dave King. Photo: Justin Schell

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,  filmmaker and writerJustin Schell shares his perspective on Dave King’s Sound Horizon performance Thursday night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Dave King opened this year’s installment of Sound Horizon, the Walker’s amalgamation of music, visual art, and space. This year’s series is curated by Jim Hodges, in conjunction with his Give More Than You Take exhibition. King, a Minneapolis native best known for his work with The Bad Plus and Happy Apple, played three sets in different parts of the gallery, first on drums, second on electronics, and third on a grand piano. (I was only able to stay for the first set.)

In a refreshing change, the first set was in the brightly lit, white-walled Perlman Gallery, as opposed to previous shows in the series, which were often dark and whose lighting went more for atmosphere than definition. The half-hour set was taken up mostly by a single piece, with a little coda at the end. The sounds of King’s drums ricocheted throughout the space, as he used nearly every inch of his Ellis set with his hands and a variety of sticks. As King bounced up and down on his stool,  melodies emerged in scattered time signatures through cymbals, bass, snare, and toms. Soon the toys came out (King mentioned one affinity between himself and Hodges is the creation of art from found objects), including the well-known apple as well as a toy megaphone dragged across the drum heads, all above a squeezing, creaking ostinato made by rubbing the floor tom with a stick. The set’s coda was a short piece that started around a more conventional brush pattern and ended with him pressing down (hard) against the floor tom head, again giving his drums that creaking sound that, this time, sounded like breathing, or perhaps moving joints, the energy and movement from King’s arms and legs transmuted into the drums themselves.

Sculpting Sound: Dave King and Jim Hodges’ Sound Horizon

On March 6, the galleries of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take will be filled with the sounds of renowned local drummer/composer/“restless creator” Dave King. A Twin Cities native, King is perhaps best known for his work with jazz groups Happy Apple (with Michael Lewis and Erik Fratzke) and The Bad Plus (with Ethan […]

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Dave King. Photo courtesy the artist

On March 6, the galleries of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take will be filled with the sounds of renowned local drummer/composer/“restless creatorDave King.

A Twin Cities native, King is perhaps best known for his work with jazz groups Happy Apple (with Michael Lewis and Erik Fratzke) and The Bad Plus (with Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson). But King’s musical scope is broad and his playing versatile; he has performed and recorded with so many bands that the Belles of Skin City wrote a song called “Hey, Dave King, Leave Some for the Rest of Us.” His ubiquity provides seemingly endless fodder for the local music scene, so much so that it prompted this City Pages headline last year: “Happy Apple’s Dave King: I’m not in 99 bands.”

King is no stranger to the Walker. He and fellow members of yet another one of his bands, Golden Valley is Now, were regular attendees at the Walker’s rock and jazz shows in the 1980s. “We were these die-hard kids in the front row,” King said. “That place played a huge role in how I chose what I wanted to do.”

Over the past 15 years or so, King himself has been a source of inspiration for the next wave of Walker audiences. He has played numerous Walker events dating back to the late 1990s (for one of Happy Apple’s earliest gigs) to numerous Music and Movies appearances (in bands like Blood Magnet, Iffy, and Halloween, Alaska) to the Rock the Garden stage in 2003 (when The Bad Plus opened for Wilco). And in 2010, the McGuire Theater was home to King for Two Days, a weekend-long celebration of his work. The mini-festival featured bands Buffalo Collision, The Bad Plus, and Happy Apple, and marked the debut of Golden Valley Is Now and Dave King Trucking Company.

As part of the 2014 Sound Horizon series, King returns this Thursday evening to perform three short sets, each in a different location within the galleries of Give More Than You Take. King says his 30-minute performances will contain “many varying themes and set-ups all inspired by the breadth of Jim’s show.”

Hodges himself curated this year’s Sound Horizon series, which also includes sets by Shelley Hirsch (April 10) and Kevin Beasley (May 8). King has long been a fan of Hodges’ work, but this inspiration became personal when the two met last year after King played in a show with Craig Taborn here at the Walker. The two artists connected immediately, or “had an instantly easy vibe as personalities” (King’s words). Since their introduction, Hodges has attended King’s shows in New York, and King in turn has visited the artist’s studio. This increased familiarity with Hodges’ work has had a real impact on King:

Jim’s imagination, openness, earnestness and keen mind are all things that inspire me. I feel challenged by his ability to do heavy things with the lightest touch. This idea of the multiple possibilities of things is something my work tends to attempt to explore. Also the idea of many varieties of touch and discipline appeals to me greatly and Jim is a great master at this.

Hodges explained that he is equally as inspired by King’s music and process, calling him a “sculptor of sound.” Hodges also cited “an affinity to his energetic broad spectrum and sensitivity” as further reasons why he invited King to take part in Sound Horizon. Sensitivity is a quality these artists share, both creating a subtle balance between hard and soft. This Thursday we’ll get to see just how King’s musical sculptures compare to Hodges’ physical ones around him.

Dave King will perform in the Walker galleries on Thursday, March 6 at 6, 7, and 8 pm. Admission is free.

 

 

The Decorative Raw

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar Agree or disagree? […]

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luciana achugar. Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Thursday night’s OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

An environment establishes itself, a humid one, where humans recline and shed their skins like reptiles.

For a long while there is a lone figure onstage, wearing a sparkling fabric overhead, draping to the knees. The figure circles and chants, and slowly we discern that some, from their seats among us, are joining this incantation. Sympathetic responses emit yawns and stretches, deliberately just louder than usual. There is a meditative quality as the tempo increases. The figure retreats upstage. Against the back wall a new texture takes hold, a rumbling that causes the feet to shimmer, ambulating the figure forward again, toward us.

This episode takes place three times, accumulatively lasting about a half an hour. With each repeat the passage imprints itself more deeply onto the world. It rocks it.

The figure reveals her red-streaked nakedness. This reads like war paint and ties together the notions of primal and ritualized, raw and decorative. She begins a reclining solo, sensuous and curvy. I don’t detect pleasure per se, but a kind of indulgence, a relishing.

Another figure has slowly made its way across the back, also shrouded. The two form a stacked image, a unison squatting with a side-to-side motion that brings them together. They draw upwards and sway in circles, connected and chanting anew.

A woman in street clothes gets drawn into the mix and it feels like an abduction, so incongruous is this new presence compared to the context we’ve come to know. She is manipulated into the space, performing a sleepy, dreamy standing tumble. Eventually she makes her way upstage and frames a corner where floor and wall meet, slowly extending her long legs and shape shifting as she reclines.

Over the course of the rest of this long work performers keep adding in. Bodies, in various states of undress, accumulate to respectively experience for themselves and elaborate upon movement motifs. There’s a walk on all fours: hands slide out, feet slide in, hands release, hands slide out, feet slide in, hands release…There’s “legs against the wall”: either slowly and experimentally extending/lifting/lengthening or releasing and flinging back hard, hips thrusting. There’s an extra-wide second position grande plie gyration. There’s hip thrusting relocation. There’s step leaping into a wall, run back, repeat.

At the height of this visual and aural cacophony a performer sets about unrolling tape onto the back wall. The design has straight and articulate lines traversing the wall’s entire length. As bodies conglomerate into a spread-out pile center stage, tape encroaches upon the floor. Shapes become 3D, portals are formed, entrances or exits.

The house lights come up, there is a brief smattering of applause, and slowly, the audience starts to leave. I stay awhile, watching as many performers add in to the taping of the space. Wall and floor meet, horizontal and vertical. Straight shapes and round bodies intersect, worlds collide. The ecosystem that was this piece bleeds into starts to feel like a post-show moment. Performers release their performativeness and relate in more quotidian ways.

There are all kinds of blurry in this work and the end is no exception. Eventually I make my way away, assured that I witnessed an endpoint of sorts and that the art still goes on, even as the theater clears.

OTRO TEATRO by luciana achugar runs through March 1 in the McGuire Theater.

Talk Dance: luciana achugar on OTRO TEATRO

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the […]

luciana achugar

achugar’s new work is inspired, in part, by the idea of an abandoned, crumbling theater. Photo: Matt Lambros

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Uruguayan/New York-based choreographer luciana achugar, whose Walker-commissioned piece OTRO TEATRO will have its world premiere at the Walker February 27-March 1 . Listen to the entire podcast here.

Talking with luciana achugar was fascinating. Her thinking unravels in layers, one connected to the other, sometimes digging deeper, sometimes sliding sideways, always moving forwards. Editing our hour of conversation about her upcoming premiere, OTRO TEATRO, into a busy-schedule-friendly 20 minutes was a challenge. Each edit made me a little sad.

One interesting detail (especially for Walker Art Geeks like myself), that I had to cut for time, was a connection luciana made between OTRO TEATRO, which she imagines beginning in the rubble of a decrepit and decaying theater, and the work of Argentinian visual artist, Guillermo Kuitca, whose series of paintings, 32 seating plans, incorporates laser printed images of seating plans of famous theaters that have been treated with water. A retrospective of Kuitca’s work entitled, “Everything” was in the Walker Galleries in 2010. As she said, “It speaks to a kind of way of making theater or a history of … the codes that we go by when we put theater or dance in the theater, and I liked this idea of it melting or collapsing or shifting … it relates to the world we’re living in right now and how it feels to me that the system we’re living in, our establishment, doesn’t feel like it can hold. It feels like it needs to soften and be a bit more flexible and shift its structures.”

What struck me most as I edited was how fully luciana integrates her ideas into her dance making process. I have the sense that it is her aim to take the conceptual, theoretical, ideological thinking she has around her work, and put it directly onto her skin, into her blood, bones, fascia. As she writes on her website, “…with a brain that melted down to the skin, the flesh, the bones, the guts, and the crotch… and with eyes that see without naming and see without knowing.”

Hear the rest of Jones’ conversation with achugar on the Walker Channel.

OTRO TEATRO takes place Thursday-Saturday, February 27-March 1, at 8pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater.

An Inspired Translation: Sisyphus’ Take on Jim Hodges

This weekend marked the opening of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of 25 years of work by sculptor/installation artist Jim Hodges. Made using flowers and scarves, chains and denim, his pieces transform everyday objects into quietly emotive reflections on life and love. As a part of the celebration of Hodges’ art, […]

Sufjan Stevens performing with Sisyphus at the Walker, February 14, 2014. All photos by Courtney Perry

Sufjan Stevens performing with Sisyphus at the Walker, February 14, 2014. Photo: Courtney Perry

This weekend marked the opening of Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take, an exhibition of 25 years of work by sculptor/installation artist Jim Hodges. Made using flowers and scarves, chains and denim, his pieces transform everyday objects into quietly emotive reflections on life and love. As a part of the celebration of Hodges’ art, musical group Sisyphus was commissioned to create work inspired by Hodges. And inspired they were: their self-titled LP  — with a cover featuring a piece by Hodges — will be released on March 18.

On Saturday, all voices in the project were brought together for an opening day dialogue. In her introduction, Olga Viso, the Walker’s Executive Director and exhibition co-curator, provided a helpful identification of the many parties involved: artist Jim Hodges, the musicians of Sisyphus (Sufjan Stevens, Son Lux, and Serengeti), their co-commissioners (the Walker and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series), and the host that afternoon, Bill Arning of Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.

In his introduction of the artist, Arning recalled a quote of Hodges’ that framed the Sisyphus collaboration and their discussion that afternoon: “Art without music makes no sense.” Later, Hodges elaborated on this idea and the universality of music. “Music is the primary art source,” he explained, “the connectedness that runs through everyone.” It also serves as a personal inspiration for Hodges. Single artists or tracks (including some by Sufjan Stevens) become a through line in his process, their sound providing continuity within the studio as he works on a piece.

Bill Arning, Jim Hodges, Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, Son Lux

Bill Arning, Jim Hodges, Sufjan Stevens, Serengeti, Son Lux. Photo: Gene Pittman

This collaboration turned this order of inspiration around. Arning asserted that “visual art is a catalyst,” sparking a dialogue by asking questions: “Do you see what I see? Do you get what I get from it?” As the members of Sisyphus meditated on Hodges’ work, this dialogue took a musical form through the melding of their distinct voices. With the creation of this album, these artists’ exchange on Hodges work is made permanent, the album a sonic manifestation of a shared reaction to a set of visual art.

It took a few steps for Sisyphus’ work with Hodges to fall into place; Stevens admitted he didn’t remember exactly how it happened. The Walker approached Hodges about collaborating with a musician, Hodges recommended Stevens, and a friend of his suggested he work on this project with Son Lux and Serengeti. (The three had previously released music as s/s/s). Eventually, Sisyphus found themselves in Hodges’ studio, admiring past and current work. That day, perhaps an auspicious omen, all four men were wearing camouflage, a common motif in Hodges’ pieces.

During the dialogue, the musicians of Sisyphus recalled what they found so compelling about Hodges’ work. Stevens was inspired by a “unique earnestness” and an “absence of irony,” qualities rare in life and art today. Sisyphus set out to emulate this emotional purity in their own work. Ryan Lott (Son Lux) believes that Hodges’ art looks inward without reservations or judgments. By being openly introspective, we also open ourselves up to others, the personal investigation also serving the interpersonal.

This inward reflection unites the work of Hodges and Sisyphus. At their most basic, Sisyphus’ music and Hodges’ art deal with the same questions; the idea of loss (of love, of life, of simplicity) is prevalent in both. As Stevens reminded the audience, “everyone here is going to die.” But, as Lott explained, they are both walking through this loss and fear and looking to the future. The treatment of these “heavy” subjects on the album (addiction, anxiety, alienation) “has a glimmer to it.”

After Hour partiers join Sisyphus on stage in the Walker's Garden Terrace Room.

After Hour partiers join Sisyphus on stage in the Walker’s Garden Terrace Room. Photo: Courtney Perry

These artists are from different generations and work in different media, so this sense of hope takes on very different forms. Hodges’ balance of growth and decay, natural and urban is soft and reflective – a favorite piece of mine consists of a set of flower sketches on napkins. Sisyphus, however, is anything but understated. During their performance as a part of the Walker’s After Hours party, their in-your-face beats dominated the Garden Terrace Room as they invited partygoers to join them onstage. As they sang “Calm It Down,” fists pumped and hips swung as a physical remedy to the mental distress the song describes.

Similarly at odds with the tranquility in Hodges work is Sisyphus’ video “Alcohol,” which opened the dialogue. The video was presented without context, and I’ll admit that I was a little put off when it began. The rapid fire, pixelated pop culture felt uninspired after viewing Hodges’ work. By the end, however, I became wholly engrossed, especially in the juxtaposition of images of life and death that became less subtle as the video went on. While dealing with the same subjects as Hodges, Sisyphus is explicit and brazen in their treatment.

In an interview with Olga Viso, Hodges explained that there is a “problem with interpretation and translation from one form to another, when in fact the form of the original is set and specific. Translating it changes it and can leave it behind.”  In Sisyphus’ interpretation and translation of his work, changes certainly do arise as the volume is turned way, way up. But their shared message ensures that Hodges’ intent is not left completely behind.

luciana achugar: Cultivating Communal Vibrations

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO […]

Photo: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman, Walker Art Center

Focusing on energy and vibrations in space, the Walker-commissioned OTRO TEATRO will extend choreographer luciana achugar‘s philosophies surrounding dance and the female form. The Uruguayan-born, New York–based artist incorporates notions of collective experience and ritualized movement, bringing performer and audience together. A professional dancer and choreographer for nearly two decades, achugar will premiere OTRO TEATRO at the Walker on February 27.

Throughout her career achugar has embraced dance as a means to create a sense of communal awareness. Intentionally spelling her name without capital letters to diminish hierarchical power, her choreography reflects the same passion for equity –her work lacking the traditional, established soloist roles. She told Curator Michèle Steinwald that she believes “everything should be a collective.”


Homogenizer Hybrid, Canada, January 2004

OTRO TEATRO will expand upon the feminist perspective achugar presents in her compositions. She challenges socially constructed standards of beauty and elevates the female form by concentrating on movement from the pelvis. The women in her 2004 piece A Super Natural Return to Love wore blue factory uniform smocks, storing red paint in the pockets that leaked through, and was later spread onto the white set backdrop. Celebrating the female experience, achugar’s work focuses on the sensuality – not sexuality – and pleasure of movement and the body. Her development of feminine expression aims to channel energies and cultivate communal vibrations.

achugar draws on the use of ritualized sound and movement to encourage a social bond between the audience and the performers. Patterned and repetitive sequences strengthen and clarify the dancers’ emotional intent, and empower the audience to actively engage with the performance. Recurring sounds construct an otherworldly, meditative space in which the choreography comes to life.

For her 2010 work PURO DESEO, she composed a dark and haunting duet with long-time collaborator and OTRO TEATRO set designer Michael Mahalchick, utilizing repetition of sound and action to articulate “performance as an incantation.” A spiritual tone resonates through many of her works. In PURO DESEO, both male and female voices alternately sing short, insistent melodies reminiscent of the chants of Tibetan monks. A single bell rings again and again, vibrating like the singing bowls historically used in Eastern meditation and healing practices. As achugar and Mahalchick pace, crawl, and reach upward across the dimly lit stage, a mysterious and dark energy vigorously appears.


PURO DESEO, The Kitchen, May 2010

Integrating a performance’s surroundings also affects the relationship between vibration and energy exchange. Steinwald wrote of achugar’s productions, “Each completed work takes on a ceremonial tone, acknowledging the agreement, we as audiences and artists have together, within the inhabited theatrical experience.” Like attending a church service that allows the congregation to share the same space physically and mentally, achugar endeavors to create an environment that both performer and spectator occupy, transferring energy to one another. OTRO TEATRO, for example, will metaphorically take place “in the ruins of a collapsed theater.” This work will actualize the performance space into which we, the viewers, will enter and participate.

An exploration of movement, sound, and perception, achugar’s OTRO TEATRO will provide a window into feminist expression in a vibratory landscape. Her past works’ engagement of the spiritual mind and imagination has redirected rhythmic and ordinary elements to produce meaningful, provocative exchanges. Continuing in a tradition of experimental and socially aware choreography, the ritualized patterns and communal consciousness that have served achugar so well will lay the foundation for her upcoming world premiere.

luciana achugar’s OTRO TEATRO opens February 27–March 1, 2014 at 8 pm in the McGuire Theater.

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