The 2015–2016 global, multidisciplinary season of Walker Performing Arts, conveying the force of individual imagination and the power of collective art-making, was one of the most popularly received and artistically successful seasons in recent history.
The year opened with an ambitiously scaled, rigorously executed third Walker commission of influential dancemaker Sarah Michelson, who turned the McGuire Theater into an arena for an intensive four-day, real-time performance competition, a collaboration between her remarkably dedicated New York dancers and designers, along with vigorously trained students from Perpich Arts High School and Bard College.
Michelson’s performance led directly into a successful national conference co-conceived and coproduced by the Walker’s Performing Arts and Visual Arts departments. New Circuits: Curating Contemporary Performance, supported by a curatorial fellowship from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, featured presentations by leading curators and artists and was attended by more than 100 professionals from around the world. The conference also included an evening “memory refraction” by Ralph Lemon, who presented his landmark Scaffold Room (2014), which previously premiered at the Walker, as a solo performance work that also included a poetic afterword by Museum of Modern Art curator Thomas J. Lax.
Other Walker-commissioned works featured in the season included the American premiere of a major new commission by performance/dance creator/philosopher Trajal Harrell; a concert of new music by electro-acoustic composer William Brittelle, working with indie rock duo Wye Oak; the world premiere of a stunningly beautiful new music-theatrical work called Aging Magician by composer Paola Prestini, singer/writer Rinde Eckert, and director Julian Crouch, featuring the Brooklyn Youth Choir; and the concluding event of Summer Music & Movies, which featured an all-star ensemble led by Mark McGee aka MAKR, who joined forces to present a live Walker-commissioned score for German animator Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed.
The season also offered a new platform Immerse Yourself, which transformed the McGuire into an intimate performance art-surround space, one that shifted focus from long to short and offered an ideal frame for highly successful, immersive new performance works by Faye Driscoll (the first work of a Driscoll trilogy to be supported by the Walker in future years) and actor/new vaudevillian Geoff Sobelle.
The annual Out There festival of alternative performance featured thoughtful, moving new work by Lebanese theater/visual artist Rabih Mroué, two works by New York theater auteur Daniel Fish, and a popular and intriguing Western road trip send-up by NYC creative collective the TEAM. Memorably completing Out There 2016 was the wildly inventive and sold-out Germinal by French collaborators Halory Goerger and Antoine Defoort, a work that built a new utopian world from scratch onstage and through which audiences discovered, as theater scholar Kate Bredeson wrote for the Walker Green Room blog, that “direct communication and harmony are the keys to creation, and that all of us contain the capacity to build a new world.”
The season also featured an impressive range of iconoclastic female music innovators, which included concerts by legendary figures Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson—icons long championed by the Walker—and vanguard voices that the Walker introduced to Minnesota from around the world: Japan’s OOIOO, Nunavut’s Tanya Tagaq, and Mauritania’s Noura Mint Seymali. All of these concerts combined ritual, intellectual rigor, spirituality, and song in diverse but deeply humanistic ways, and each was met with ecstatic responses from Minnesota audiences. The Monk concert, celebrating her work as an interdisciplinary artist for 50 years, was accompanied by both a full evening talk between the artist and McGuire Senior Curator Philip Bither and the inclusion of Monk’s milestone installation 16 Millimeter Earrings (1966/1998) in the exhibition Less Than One.
The season concluded with Wind Mind Grove Alone: Devendra Banhart & Friends—a successful two-day festival (sold out many months in advance) of groundbreaking composer-musician-artists from around the world. Co-curated by vanguard indie folk artist Banhart and featuring nine separate music artists/engagements over two days, the festival concluded with a rare appearance by classical-ambient master Harold Budd, whose hushed, transcendent performance offered the perfect closing notes.
Summer Music & Movies, a collaboration between Walker’s Moving Image and Performing Arts departments, brought its signature mix of innovative rock/folk/hip-hop bands plus outdoor films to Loring Park for four Mondays in August 2015, with support from the Bentson Foundation and the McKnight Foundation, sponsorship from BoomChickaPop and Caribou Coffee, and media partners 89.3 The Current and City Pages. In the galleries, the interdisciplinary music series Sound Horizon featured a trio of free, experimental music experiences curated intriguingly into exhibition spaces across three Thursdays in spring 2016.
Closing the year was another highly popular edition of Rock the Garden, which was seamlessly moved away from the Walker to Boom Island Park in Northeast Minneapolis due to construction of the new campus and renovation of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Shifting from a two-day program to one daylong fest, the event boasted two main stages with an eight-band lineup headlined by the rising indie hip-hop star Chance the Rapper fronting a full band (with horn player Donny Trumpet) and the magical, psychedelic surrealism of the Flaming Lips. With a Walker all-time single-day attendance record of 16,000 fans, Rock the Garden was a smashing success and continues our longstanding partnerships with Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board. We are grateful to the many sponsors that helped make the event possible, including lead sponsors Chipotle Mexican Grill, Polaroid, and the University of Minnesota; media partner Star Tribune; official beer sponsor Summit Brewing; supporting sponsors Etix and Prairie Organic Spirits; VIP sponsor Thomson Reuters; and onsite sponsors Pepsi and Minnesota United FC.
We want to give our heartfelt thanks to our Walker Performing Arts season supporters, including the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duke Performing Arts Fund, the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. We are also pleased to acknowledge generous support from Chamber Music America’s Presenter Consortium for Jazz, the Engaging Dance Audiences program administered by Dance/USA, FACE Contemporary Theater Fund, the National Performance Network, the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project and National Theater Project, and the Unity Avenue Foundation in memory of Sage and John Cowles. Members of the Producers’ Council also provide critical support for programs and commissions, including Kathie Goodale; Nor Hall and Roger Hale; King’s Fountain/Barbara Watson Pillsbury and Henry Pillsbury; Emily Maltz; Dr. William W. and Nadine M. McGuire; Leni and David Moore, Jr./The David and Leni Moore Family Foundation; Mike and Elizabeth Sweeney; and Frances and Frank Wilkinson. We are also grateful to our music season media partners 89.3 The Current and Star Tribune.
In addition, we thank our copresenting partners this season, including SPCO’s Liquid Music Series (Laurie Anderson, Devendra Banhart, William Brittelle/Wye Oak, and Vicky Chow and Tristan Perich); the Cedar (Noura Mint Seymali, Tanya Tagaq); the O’Shaughnessy (Meredith Monk), MPR Live Events (Laurie Anderson), and 89.3 The Current (Rock the Garden). Finally, sincere thanks to the dozens of community and educational partners we work with year round, and both loyal and new audiences.