Holding the Community You’re In: A Choreographers’ Evening Roundtable
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Holding the Community You’re In: A Choreographers’ Evening Roundtable

Sharon Picasso performs How the "Is" Functions at Choreographers' Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

KAYVA YANG (KY)

What stood out for you about the 13 performances featuring this group of Minnesota choreographers?

 VALERIE OLIVEIRO (VO)

For me, it started when I followed Erika Hansen’s piece [in the lobby]. I saw her coming and I was like, “Okay, her piece started,” and I just followed her. Her performing started this sensation or feeling for me where I had to know where to look or I had to pay attention in a different way. And reaching for the look, I had to follow her because she was going someplace. For me that reaching falling into like, “Oh, where’s the piece, I know there’s going to be another one, where is it?” Then Leah Nelson’s [piece] through the lobby came. That piece was amazing. And then going into Deja [Stower]’s piece [in the theater seat]. For me, there was a really nice way of how Deja started with no color, and the space was very close to the ground and you’re looking at it as if that was some anticipation of some dance that was not Deja’s. And then Deja appearing in the house in this purple [light, which] was just really glorious for me. And looking for and finding that experience. I felt that throughout the evening. Just the moving of the gaze and moving my eyes and my head, my neck, turning in my seat. People coming from around me.

Erika Hansen performs Cover This at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

KRISTIN VAN LOON (KVL)

I appreciate all the labor SuperGroup put into the show and how they held every piece and the transitions in between the pieces ’til it arrived today.

SAMANTHA JOHNS (SJ)

On the tails of that, thinking of systems and crafts for SuperGroup. I fucking love that I feel like it started on time. We were not waiting. We were not holding the house and then it was like, “There’s Deja Stowers,” and I was like, “Yes it has begun.” I mean it began in the lobby. I caught parts of Leah Nelson’s piece in the lobby. I watched from the window above while also watching Erika’s piece in front of me. So that felt like a way of saying, “You’re going to have to watch this show a little differently.” I wasn’t fully ready. There was a lot of noise in some way. But then Deja’s piece in the theater seat just started, and I felt like, “Great, I’m safe. Everything is starting on time. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do.” And Deja was right next to me. That was such a dream. I got the best seat in the house.

Deja Stowers performs Sense Then at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

KVL

I had the best seat in the house because you were so beautifully lit through that.

ARWEN WILDER (AW)

Speaking of beginnings, the beginning of Leah’s [offstage] piece was incredible from where Kristin and I were standing because the reflection of the audience on the glass entrance door was as clear as the visual of them coming in. So, I couldn’t tell how many people were there or who was performing. Then other audience members came through [the door] very, very slowly. And the audience coming in held the door for them. It was such a complicated image.

MARY MOORE EASTER (MME)

I thought it was a very accessible image. I thought it was complicated in that when I first saw Roxane Wallace, I went to wave to her and I went, “Oops. Oh, she’s dancing. Okay. I got it.” As it developed, I thought, “This is a rendition of something I see on the street.” Not exactly like that—I’ve never seen it with a woman in the suitcase being dragged—but it evoked scenes on the street that seemed beautifully theatricalized as they made their way from the lobby and exited the door into the cold. It was chilling to me. I wanted to run out there and give them something. Yeah, beginning and end. There we go.

Leah Nelson’s Street/Life, performed by (from left) Leah Nelson, Stayci Bell, and Roxane Wallace as part of Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

KVL

We talked a lot about transitions between dances and it’s making me think about Piper and Eva’s piece. I love when I feel like what is the thing and what is the transition inverts. I fucking loved that piece. Definitely its sense of flow. Its sense of time. Its beautiful musicality. I loved the break in the show from piped in music. And all the smaller moments such as the shimmying to get one center under your partner before leaning back to lever weight. Zillions of little expressions of that. And that one big moment in the center helped me understand what it was I was loving in that piece.

AW

I agree with so much of what you just said, but I want to bring out how important having no music was at that time [midway through the show].

SJ

We were being talked to a lot. American speaking language piped over speakers was being given to us frequently up to that point.

AW

My sense with them dancing, I almost wondered if they were talking quietly to each other [in which] talking was happening between them… It’s not that I felt in any way excluded or it was private at all, but I wasn’t being talked at, at all. The communication was really between them.

SJ

Yeah. And there was a level of intimacy that they had built so much to the point that when Justin Jones entered to assist Eva out of the wheelchair, it did feel slightly interrupted for me. It was like, “No, you’re not, this isn’t for,” and it’s like, “Okay, I guess this is happening.”

Piper Rolfes and Eva Reed perform Proximity at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

KVL

It was incredibly awkward. I agree.

AW

I thought about how different it would have been if Piper had helped Eva out of the wheelchair and how it might have been wrong. Because then Piper suddenly has a really different role towards Eva that Eva doesn’t have towards Piper. And because Justin stood with Eva out of the chair so that her and Piper’s bodies were similar in height, they made the same shape. And so it kept them in a way still dancing together. But hard.

KVL

Yeah. When I said awkward a moment ago, it was a compliment at the same time.

SJ

I think a lot of it had to do with that a male-identifying body for me, because it was like: I know these people. So maybe that’s part of it. I don’t think there was a presentation of masculinity, but I think this affected my reading of what was happening on stage a little. But what you’re saying makes a lot of sense.

KY

Picking back up the use of language, Emily Gastineau’s piece, Generic Mood. She talks into a mic behind a closed curtain. The audience hears but does not see her.

Behind the theater’s curtain, Emily Gastineau performed Generic Mood (for a black box) at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bill Cameron for Walker Art Center

VO

When I was listening to the whole thing, I could see the breath moving in and out of her body and when she was like, “I told you that,” it was almost like the imagined choreography of the throat. It was just there was something, there were images of her performance of that voice that were coming to me whilst I was trying to measure this time of what she was saying. All the measurements of time.

SJ

Well, because it’s not about Emily. It’s not about seeing her body, it’s about the audience. It’s about Generic Mood. I know Emily, and I think she’s a goddamn genius. So of course, she shouldn’t be visible. We don’t ever want to see that for what she’s telling us. Or at least for parts of it.

AW

I was so aware of that shift from “I” statements to “you” statements. It started with I, and then about two thirds of the way switched to you. I get exactly what you just said. She was turning it.

SJ

Yeah. It’s not about her. The intention was for us to [question]: do I hold my breath when Emily narrates that “13 people need to do this [hold your breath]”?  I did hold that breath. Yeah, language.

MME

Kayla’s piece, the trio [also stood out for me].

Kayla Schiltgen’s Come Go With Me, performed by Kristen Hylenski, Kayla Schiltgen, and Naomi Christenson at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

SJ

Yeah. Denim and legwork. I just looked at the legs. I just watched the legs.

KVL

I just watched the arms. I was trying to take notes at that point in the dark, and I think the only word I got down was “coaching”. That for me was code for, “Did they work out every transition? Whose arm is going on top and whose is going on the bottom when they hugged around each other? Or did they train together in a way that they would just feel it every time? Are they counting steps or are they feeling spatial arcs?” It was wonderful to watch wondering those things.

MME

Those were my thoughts about the number of steps, the breath of the forward and back. I mean, they seem to manage to end up together in a way that was satisfying. I also kept thinking during the dance: what would be the word to describe what they are doing: arcs that go around an axle or fixed point?

KVL

There were so many little beginnings and ends [in the choreography]. The new geometry [for instance] in which two performers become three, three becomes two. Mary and I are both swaying right now as we talk about the piece.

MME

I guess I did think at one point: they must have done it a lot. I thought they seem to be breathing together, but you wondered whether or not they did or not.

KVL

Or they just had good attitudes about how they feel it with each other.

VO

Funny that you were looking at legs. I was looking heads. Because their heads would go forward, then go backward.

SJ

I was sometimes watching their heads too. And then I thought, “knees are moving altogether.” Then the movements were legs move, hinge, turn, legs move. It was fun to watch [the dance] figure itself out. And get to wait to learn how it was going to become itself.

Kristina de Sacramento and Shanan Tolzin perform Rafaela Revealed (with musician Michael Ziegahn) at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

AW

Speaking of legs, I want to talk about the closing piece by Shanan Tolzin and Kristina de Sacramento. I don’t think I’ve ever seen flamenco dancing where I could see the legs.

KVL

That was really exciting.

VO

I also really enjoyed that piece because of what it engendered in the difference in audience response. I love it when audiences become non-monolithic, when there are differences in how somebody responds to different language or art from the same group of people. And I think maybe in the early show there was a young boy who responded to somebody else in the audience and people giggled.

AW

In terms of curation and ending with that piece, I feel for many years there was a Choreographers’ Evening cliché that you have a lot of dramatic solos and then it ends with the big feel-good, maybe tap or a rhythmic-style breaking piece. Send everybody off on a happy group number. And this to end with her taken apart and, and with her knee brace on was a very different kind of a bold ending.

KVL

I’ve also been thinking about and trying to put some words around Margaret’s piece. There was something to that piece that was like looking at a photograph where some of it’s in focus and some of it’s not. And I felt her making this. Everything was very layered, and I felt like things in my eyes and things in my ears and things in my imagination were coming in and out of focus and I could make choices while also felt her making choices throughout the piece.

Margaret Ogas performs Three Marías at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

VO

I am really proud of Sharon’s work on her piece. I think it’s just really hard to navigate that stuff and so much language and how she just went for it. I think it was really brave to do.

MME

I was wowed by that piece. I was totally drawn into it. I loved the moments where other people in the audience laughed at the same time I did. I felt I was not alone in my perception. And I mean it was so text heavy and movement heavy and inventive. I felt this is not true, but this is one of the feelings I thought, “Oh my God, she’s pantomiming Heidegger.” That’s not possible.

SJ

Another thing that’s really beautiful about that piece is the confidence or something. I feel she knew she fucking did it. Something about entering from the house and exiting from the house. And it’s just like, “Thank you for owning it and knowing how good this is and just doing it.” I appreciate all of it while happening on stage.

VO

There are all these little things coming apart for me, just the parsing of—what could I call it?—grammar in dance, and how does that relate to the interview of Judith Butler [in Sharon’s piece]. And, well, I wanted to see it right away again. That’s what I said to her. I would love to see this again.

VO

I also like Julie Warder’s piece. Sometimes you just have to sit back and be like: this is so delightful. I felt really light watching the backward turns with the high legs. They [Julie and Aneka McMullen] look really good together.

Aneka McMullen and Julie Warder perform Warder’s U Don’t C Me at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

MME

I hadn’t seen Aneka dance in a while, and I was delighted for the spark and the way that she was performing this.

KVL

Something I liked was Sharon’s piece and Julie’s piece back to back, too. Sharon’s piece nailed it. That’s also how I felt about Julie’s piece—nailing it.

AW

Before Sharon’s piece was Cecil’s piece. The concentration for Sharon’s was so intense because the [Judith Butler] text is so dense. I really wanted to enjoy every one of those moves. I felt like I was a warmed up for that because Cecil’s piece started with an interview [of him by his mother] and had some mimetic gestures. So, I was training myself to see connections between language, either rhythmic or meaning wise.

SJ

Yeah. I loved the entire color palette of Cecil’s piece. I love the purple light. I love the hair. I love the fucking clothes. They looked so good. I just liked to look at all of it. I wanted to squeeze it. I think we also hadn’t had a lot of color in lighting.

Cecil Neal performs Virgo’s Entity at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

MME

Going to Mathew’s piece, my comment is going to be so generational, and I’m feeling that in the whole discussion. As a matter of fact, for the choreographers that I knew, I could tell which piece was theirs; I couldn’t see, and I knew from the shape of their bodies when they walked out. This is Mathew’s piece, and that is in my world that’s okay. It’s not that it needs to be applied to everybody who’s dancing. But in this particular case, they walked up and I thought, I’m going to enjoy this in the old-fashioned way.

SJ

Define the “old-fashioned way.”

MME

There’s a part of me that is quite a traditionalist. Many of the things that you have talked about, I think it’s interesting, but I can’t say it comes into my consciousness. When I’m watching it, I’m not thinking about those things. I’m interested in hearing you discuss them and often the things that you’re saying do light up something for me. The idea of a dance being on the stage is just not a problem for me. It’s also not a problem for me when the dance flows off the stage.

AW

What I thought was interesting in Mathew’s piece was how the movement stayed constant and the sound score got a little ominous and then really quite ominous.

MME

I was surprised at some of the sound score, given the things I just said about tradition; it did surprise me the fragmentation of it the words chosen and especially the words from grant applications and acknowledgements that choreographers have to make. So that seemed to be a commentary that I didn’t expect from them.

Leslie O’Neill (back) and Sarah Baumert perform Mathew Janczewski’s Dreams of Temporal Disturbances at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

VO

I just saw Mathew’s piece last month. I was remembering during his piece that Mathew was maybe the third dance person I met in town when I moved here. And there is a kind of perseverance of an aesthetic almost. It really worked, but I think I’m relating to what you’re saying that it’s almost like you have a square peg and you’re roaming across the surface and then it suddenly falls into place.  These things are coming at me from different directions. And I felt like the piece was really well placed in the evening.

MME

It’s interesting now that you said that, let me go back. One thing about the pieces coming and going [from] starting [with Deja’s piece] in the audience to coming and going from the stage and the house, I was very aware of audience members who came in and out [of the theater experience] at different times. There was always that first moment of thinking it was part of the piece and then thinking somebody should not allow them to do that out there [off of the stage]. They’re interrupting the flow.

SJ

I was like, this is what happens when you start right on time.

KY

What felt surprising and pleasurable about the curated show and your overall experience?

MME

I love the transitions [between performances, mostly without blackouts]. I love the way each performance began and ended with the next one [without a blackout]. I kept paying attention to that and hoping it would happen in the next piece. And it kept happening. I really did love that.

AW

I didn’t like most of the overlaps. I liked the idea of it, but I didn’t like the way they actually worked. So, I’m curious: what worked for you?

MME

Well, there was not this break, that often happens: this is over, and now we will go back into some other world all together and the lights will come up and we’ll be now in yet another world. So that was a thing that I liked about it.

VO

I felt SuperGroup’s curatorial impression over the length of the evening. I noticed that some of the beginnings and endings of the works were blurred with each other. Sometimes it worked for me, and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes, like in Emily’s piece, it moved from Emily talking into Judy’s dancing. It felt like it went from one piece into the next, and could have been the same piece. As if they had collaborated, not just on the transition, but on the two pieces together. Both pieces were so impactful—narratives overriding.

MME

I actually thought it was. For a long time, I thought it was the same piece. I thought, “Oh, that is interesting.”

VO

I realized towards the end I was interested in the curatorial push breaking down where it was these pieces that were dictating for themselves. Like, this has to be an ending and this has to be a beginning. As the evening went on, especially the last two or three pieces, it was beginning, ending, beginning, ending. I think that was interesting for me how it was like there was a weight that was moving on a scale.

MME

So, I’m interested in how would you have preferred it?

AW

Well, my complaint about it was related to what Val just said. I think endings are so important and beginnings too, and the piece getting to teach the audience how to watch it by how it begins. So, I often felt like I was—

MME

You had no chance to do that.

Judith H. Shuǐ Xiān performs ESTROGENDYSTOPIÆUPHORICDYSPHORIAAAAA/’ASH’ at Choreographers’ Evening 2019. Photo: Bobby Rogers

AW

Right. In particular, I think it was the transition from Judy’s into Mathew’s where there were silhouetted people, and Judy is so vulnerable out there, and they [silouetted people] felt creepy. I thought, “That’s not what Mathew’s piece is about.” So, then they [Judy] had this whole character before they even started that was about the way silouetted performers interrupted Judy, which I didn’t think was their [Judy’s] piece.

MME

But my understanding of that was Judy was gathering their clothes and pretty much the other dancing had stopped. And it was a way not to send a bunch of people out to pick up their clothes. I thought it actually covered what would have been an awkward moment.

SJ

Well, I think it’s also speaking to this thing that is maybe always questioned when it comes to Choreographers’ Evening, which is: how strong is the curatorial hand or how strong does it want to be? Can you invisible it? Isn’t it always there? I think it points out the problem of it or it points out the confusion of it or the excitement of it of, like, “Can you erase that somebody chose to place these things next to each other, and should you try, and doesn’t it all live in the same night anyway? And wouldn’t Emily’s words always fall on Judy’s piece, and wouldn’t they always be exposed to that?” But also a clean beginning and a clean ending does do something for us. But I feel I think about this all the time with Choreographers’ Evening of the way a curator chooses to place art can be as loud or as comfortable or not comfortable as the art wants to be.

AW

The combination of pieces made me think about the difference between breaking down the current roles versus making new rules in a piece. Well, I feel like both of them happened a lot, or maybe not sometimes breaking down the rules or laying bare what the structure is: do you break the structure, do you show the structure? Do you make a new structure? And Deja always pushes us to ask a lot about that. Being in places that are performance venues that say performance: this is performance and holding to the, this is not a performance. And I think I’m right that Deja didn’t bow. Because it’s not a performance. Making a new structure but living near and in conversation with the standard structures is really different than Emily who’s saying: this look here’s the structure here is, look at it. And I felt every piece in relationship to that question.

MME

Yes. I really connect with that comment about Deja’s work because we’ve had an ongoing discussion where we diverged and Deja’s winning. I mean, Deja’s clarifying what used to seem just impossible to me. We argued. I was mentoring Deja through a part of Deja’s life, and Deja started to do more and more work, and there was this period where Deja was really not interested in performing for people and yet people paid money and came to look at it when we had a little bit of a difference of opinion about how that was going to work. But Deja found a way to stay true to that. Another thing I enjoy about Deja’s work is the full bodied-ness of it, all the time. One of the questions is: would I see that tonight? And I was just the row behind Deja, and I had just spoken to Deja. I said, “What are you doing? You’re supposed to be back there.” And Deja said, “Oh, I’m watching the first dance from out here.” I mean Deja didn’t say it, and then started to move, and I watched it. I just enjoy it so much that Deja has won the argument. Deja gets up and when Deja is standing on the thing, and just going at it full steam and letting them down and legs over people’s heads and resting in their laps and all of that. And then there’s that last moment, which I don’t think I imagined, where Deja takes a step towards the stage, turns and walks away from it. I saw that works. And I thought, you win Deja.

MME

Once I realized Deja was moving, I never looked at the stage again.

Artists (back row, left to right): Kristina de Sacramento, Michael Ziegahn, Sharon Picasso, Sarah Baumert, Mathew Janczewski, Kristen Hylenski, Emily Gastineau, Sam Johnson, Deja Stowers, Justin Jones, Roxane Wallace, Stayci Bell, and Erin Search-Wells. Artists (middle row): Jeffrey Wells, Shanan Tolzin, Cecil Neal, Julie Warder, Naomi Christenson, Kayla Schiltgen, and Erika Hansen. Artists (front row): Aneka McMullen, Judith Shuǐ Xiān, Leslie O’Neill, Margaret Ogas, Piper Rolfes, and Eva Reed. Photo: Bobby Rogers

KY

Choreographers’ Evening has showcased local choreographers for 47 years. What did this show spark for you about Minnesota dance?

SJ

I’m always asking, is Choreographers’ Evening for dancers? Is it for the curator? Is it for the Walker, or is it for the community? I know that it can be all of these things for all people. I get that, but part of me is always like, who’s most winning? Is this an opportunity for local artists to present their work? Is this an opportunity for a choreographer to showcase their curatorial tastes? Is this a tradition and that’s why we keep it? And if so, where are the values? How does it improve a community? What is it doing for the community? Okay Choreographers’ Evening happened again, and I always wonder, of course, if there’s value. I’m curious where it is and what it is and why it is.

VO

I do feel that SuperGroup does understand the community they’re in and they are able to hold it. They held it for me. I felt very held. I felt like they weren’t on top of a 12-foot ladder going like, you, you, you; it wasn’t like that. It felt like their curatorial impression was that they put their arms under and sort of lifted up some people. I felt that that would be for me a very interesting approach because it really showed me who they felt their community was and could be. Even though it came from the lens of their own practices.

KVL

I’m just feeling lucky that we have this Choreographers’ Evening. Wow, we’re pretty lucky that dance has this thing that feels of the community and of the Walker and recurring for many years. Lucky us.

SJ

It’s nice to hear all of you thinking.

KY

What a pleasure to hear all of your reflections of the show together. Thank you.

VO

Get ready for the comment thread.

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