1. The scene
If its the Saturday after Thanksgiving, it must be Choreographers Evening, and the Walker must be humming with dance people. Local choreographers have scant opportunities to command the Walker stage, and the venerable Choreographers Evening (this was the 35th annual performance) is one of the most exciting: all sorts of dance artists audition before a different local curator each year to participate in this one-night event. Choreographers Evening is a great night for viewers too: a chance to see old favorites, find new ones, and check out local trends.
Cut to the ticket lobby: Its standing room only, says a ticket agent, while a woman circulates, covertly handing out little cards (about which more later). And here come the tappers for their pre-show, Ricci Milan and Kaleena Miller in Walker-worthy nude high-heel pumpsmy god, can she tap in those things?
Cut to the bar: Pam Plagge is rolling on the floor wearing a gold lamé dress and roller skates. People sitting under Warhols mad pink Marilyn crane their necks to see. Is it over? No, shes starting again. Do we have time for a martini before the show? Do we have time for two?
Cut to the stage: Anna Marie Shogren is trying to make eye contact with her vague, shifting, still chattering audience. Later, I notice a purple velvet curtain, which I cant recall ever seeing before. Oh, youre here? Oh, youre there. Thanksgiving already completely forgotten, people are scrabbling through their thickly-written programs, curator Emily Johnson disappearing behind the curtain in a splendidly severe dress: rockstar meets pinstripe dominatrix.
And then the curtain opens.
Okay, so you could say this: Choreographers Evening 2007 opens with a multitude of misfits jumping up and down until they wear themselves out. And thats choreography in the Twin Cities for you.
That would be a low blow, but this Choreographers Evening does call into question traditional definitions of choreography. Olive Bieringas Incandescent (see description above about the jumping misfits) is a score, basically. In at least three other pieces, choreographyif by that we mean the composing and directing of dance stepsis largely absent. Improvisation and tradition rule the evening. So, if were going to redefine the term choreographer in accordance with this performance, a choreographer is either a person who creates a score for improvisationa dramatic/theatrical structure in which more often than not individual movements are up to the performer; or a person who arranges traditional dance elements for presentation. Either way, a choreographer is not a movement inventor, and not really even a movement phrase inventor.
Chris Schlictings an exception to this rule. His Example B features two very different performers doing exactly the same movements, in the same sequence. Defined, strict, certain, Example B announces the presence of a single creative mind, where most other pieces exhibit either many separate minds or the mass mind.
3. I didnt quite catch what you were saying/Heaven is a hard row to hoe
Not that I mean to endorse Example B above anything else here. I couldnt make head or tails of it in its limited appearance, sandwiched as it was between disparate works. Example B, Susan Scalf and Dylan Skybrooks Reducted Objectivity Confession, and Joanna Furnanss Deference all feel compressed and, at times, impenetrable. Like chunks of longer works, maybelonger works that well eventually see delivered, I hope. At least Chris Schlicting will have the opportunity to expand on his creation; look for his work in next Julys Momentum series at the Southern.
Along with the avant-garde, Choreographers Evening featured several dances that, at heart, aim for the sublime. Tap, Native American jingle dress and fancy shawl dances, and African dance all try to find the sweet spot, the elevation, the blessing zone. But its hard to be sublime: so awe-inspiringly beautiful as to seem almost heavenly (according to my Microsoft Word dictionary). Any distraction and the glass house shatters. And I have to say I felt distracted. Was it the mixed bill, nervousness in the performers, Kenna Sarges over-busy choreography? Perhaps its just the nature of a showcase like Choreographers Evening: everythings out of context, glimpsed rather than seen.
Lest you think there wasnt a smash hit at Choreographers Evening, let me tell you about Mad King Thomass Fish on Bikes: three girls in string bikinis, nerdy bike helmets, and duct taped-on water bottles rush down from the seats, dragging a stationary bike. They take turns peddling furiously to Queens Bicycle Race, wiggle all over, squirt water on each other, and
Oh, forget it. You had to be there. Perilously close to porn, in terrible taste, and unforgivably funny, Fish on Bikes bowled everyone over.
5. The Curator: Emily Johnson
Without having seen what she rejected, its hard to judge Johnsons curatorial effort here. What we can judge is her composition of an evening of dance, and she certainly gets a ten in this department: nice mix of big groups and solos or duets, nice mix of styles, nice echoes across the evening. I also must commend her for mentioning the Southern email service and for creating an evening which entertains at the same time that it makes one feel the inadequacy of such tiny bites of each style. Johnson is someone to follow in this dance scene. A former Hot Young Artist (but still quite young and quite hot), she is mid-morph into something more interesting and seems to be busy hacking out a new paradigm of performance. Grandiose? Impossible? Sure, but shes trying. Keep an eye on her.
6. Give us more
Some things Im sick of: thrift store t-shirts, the thousand-yard stare, gestures.
Things Im not sick of: big scale; costume drama; ambition; lemons. Joanna Furnanss Deference had all four. Though I mentioned above that Furnanss work felt compressed that night, what a vivid slice it was: Furnan is on a stage littered with lemons, green glass bottles, and white envelopes, wearing a maroon vintage dress, and flashing her two big cocktail rings like a QVC hostess on crack. What a sharp, witty, weird visual, sending out strange vibes in all sorts of directions. Jessica Cresseys post-show parking garage tableau set off some of the same pleasure receptors: Cressey posed in front of a Spam-tastic party spread on the hood of a two-tone Cadillac de Ville, waving a cigarette holder and sinking her chin into a Cruella fur. These works elevate thrift store junk beyond irony and cliché, becoming even tender in their reimagining of past lives.
7. The Missing
With ballet (albeit alt-ballet), tap, African, Native American, avant-garde, and even college modern represented, what went missing? Sincere, emotional, dramatic dance featuring virtuosic technique. Of course its hard to see TU Dance or MDT trying out for Choreographers Evening, but I dont think thats the whole story. Dancey dance, as its sometimes called, isnt cool here. With its reputation for showmanship, the performers superiority to the audience, elitism, and so forthdancey dance raises some hackles among the avant-gardists. But lately Ive noticed some avant-garde choreographers toying with performative dance, most notably Morgan Thorson in her big and lovely Docudrama (April 2007). I hope Thorsons opened a door others will jeté through.
8. Talk to me
Johnson urged us all to contribute to a post-show discussion on the Walker blogs, and a number of people have taken her up on it. Go over there and check it out: thats one fiery discussion. We often hear that dance viewers are afraid to wade in and interpret, but there are no shrinking violets among the (admittedly self-selected) respondents. If anything, the responses indicate just how confident a lot of people are in their own judgment (for better or worse).
Remember the woman handing out the cards back at the beginning? She was protesting the exclusion of Jaime Carreras Olvidame (in which Carrera appears nude, in high heels and a long wig) from the 7 oclock family friendly performance. Everyone has an opinion on this too, to which I can only add that Ive seen Olvidame elsewhere and its a knock-outsmart, disturbing, and seductive.
So thats Choreographers Evening for another year. Next year will be more of the same, but entirely different. See you there!