Meet the Artists of Choreographers' Evening 2017
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Meet the Artists of Choreographers’ Evening 2017

From L to R: Pedro Pablo Lander, Alys Ayumi Ogura, Charles Campbell, Erin Search-Wells, Vie Boheme, Jordan Rosenow, Gabriel Anderson, and Joelle Fernandez. Not Pictured: DaNCEBUMS (Margaret Johnson, Kara Motta, Eben Kowler, Maggie Zepp, and Karen McMenamy), Frankie Hebres, Herbert Johnson III, and Billy Mullaney. Photo: Gene Pittman.

“After the auditions, there were pieces I just kept thinking about; they stuck with me and poked at me, sometimes uncomfortably,” recalls Megan Mayer, curator of Choreographers’ Evening, on auditions for this year’s edition. “I felt these artists particularly were showing me who they were as people, not just in terms of a dance, through a strong, signature ‘voice.’ They also all conveyed some degree of vulnerability, which I admired. I chose work that didn’t fit neatly into a category.”

The 45th installment of this annual performance showcase will take place on Saturday, November 25 in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. For Mayer—a Twin Cities choreographer, photographer, and video artist—it’s a homecoming, of sorts: she first became involved with Choreographers’ Evening as a dancer in 1987. Over the past 30 years, she has choreographed several works and performed in numerous others in the annual evening. More than 70 artists auditioned for this year’s event, and 10 pieces were selected for the program. Reflecting on her curatorial vision and what brings this body of work together, Mayer says:

Without giving away too much, I think the arc of this show mimics our country’s current apocalyptic political trajectory. The early pieces warn us where we’re headed; we ignore the warnings and go there anyway and are devastated and overwhelmed; we try to rebuild from it and redefine ourselves before it’s too late. This might sound dreadful, but it’s not! I see resilience, humor, and inventive movement in these pieces.

In preparation for Saturday’s performance, we asked each participating artist to discuss their work, artistic backgrounds, and thoughts on Choreographers’ Evening. Their responses make evident: the variety in this year’s edition speaks to the diversity, vitality, and breadth of Minnesota’s performing arts scene.

 



 

Alys Ayumi Ogura

Photo: Dave Trayers

 

Q.

Tell me about the work that you’ll be presenting at Choreographers’ Evening.

 

A.

My work is based on something I remember from when I was a high school girl in Japan, and I wanted to mold it into what makes sense to me today, as an adult. When first considering this, I thought: could I be appropriating a tradition? But what if the “tradition” was, in turn, borrowed from yet another source? That thought helped me decide my material and title of the piece—The Appropriation of School Spirit Songs: Guilt and Entitlement.

My choreography is based on my memories and a past longing to join the guys who were able to do what I wanted to do—male-only high school cheerleading—and my journey to do what I can do now as a grown woman.

 

Q.

What do you hope your work conveys to the audience?

 

A.

I hope the audience sees my passion for exploring an activity that is serious but also has a funny side. I am not mocking male cheerleaders: I loved them as a girl. I like people who do something (weird or not) with a lot of passion and charisma. I want to be that person through this work. My performance is a mix of autobiography and my varied interests, and I hope each audience member can come to his or her own conclusion about what kind of “dance life” I may have led till now.

 



 

Erin Search-Wells

 

Q.

Most audiences associate you with the performance trio SuperGroup. Have you presented solo work in the past and how is it different than your collaborative work?

 

A.

I was just reminiscing on how casual things were in my twenties, when friends would just ask each other to show pieces at their living/working lofts. We would just say, “I want to make a piece with you.” I performed a lot of solos, often in the Catch Series, and several duets with Abigail Browde (of 600 Highwaymen, to be featured in Out There 2018). When I moved back here I did one other one-woman show called Masha 3000 at Intermedia Arts (directed by Chantal Pavageaux). Outside of SuperGroup I have also collaborated with Paige Collette (Paige and Erin: 9/11). I find the collaboration model leads me to playing with form and content from the outside, and in conversation with performance as a whole. My solo work is different because I tend to find a character I trust to carry a show, then I let their ticks quirk me along.

 

Q.

How do you think Choreographers’ Evening serves artists and the community?

 

A.

It gives choreographers a chance to show work to people who may not regularly attend the tiny, poor stages and found spaces where dance is happening constantly. It gives the community a celebration of its trends, cycles, diversity, and tradition. The first time SuperGroup was in Choreographer’s Evening was 2008 (curated by Sally Rousse). Our dress rehearsal happened to be viewed by Jon Ferguson who asked us to make a show for The Southern Theater based solely on that six minutes or so. That is a pretty exciting and remarkable thing, to make connections with each other like that.

 



 

KUDETA (Joelle Fernandez, Frankie Herbres, Herb Johnson III)

 

Q.

What was the idea that brought you together for this project?

 

A.

Our piece was originally created for a performance opportunity we had in August 2017 for the World of Dance Live Tour at Mall of America. We were honored to be offered the opportunity to represent the Minnesota dance community as the local crew. We wanted to create something that would hype and uplift the crowd. This piece includes Urban Choreography, Krump, Popping, Social Hip Hop, and Breaking.

 

Q.

Joelle, you teach dance as well as choreograph and perform. How does teaching inform your work?

 

A.

The processes of teaching, choreographing, and directing are just as important to me as the final product. I like to challenge anyone learning from me to add their own flavor, make it their own, and truly understand the intention of what we’re doing and why. Creating a safe, supportive, and fun environment is my standard.

 

Q.

For all three of you, how would you describe your collaborative process?

 

A.

All of us have been dancing together for a handful of years now. We have artistically grown together, are familiar with each other’s styles, and know one another’s strengths. In the Urban Dance choreography culture, it is common for one set (AKA piece) to consist of different songs, each choreographed by an individual so that they may express themselves to the fullest. We all picked the theme of portraying our power, our ability to convey different characters, and energizing a crowd.

 



 

Charles Campbell (with Ted Moore)

 

Q.

Can you tell me about your artistic background and your style of dance?

 

A.

I was trained in theater originally as an actor, went to grad school at the U of M, and co-founded Skewed Visions with two fellow students in 1996. My interest in physical performance informed by space, objects, and the audience increasingly fed my interest in movement and dance.

 

Q.

Tell me about the work that you’ll be presenting at Choreographers’ Evening.

 

A.

This new work, hors d’oeuvres, will be a redeveloped excerpt of a longer piece called APPETITE that Ted and I created for a May 2017 performance at Fresh Oysters Performance Research. APPETITE was an experiment in performance using the principle of feedback as a creative tool made live in collaboration between the two of us.

 



 

Vie Boheme & Maleek Washington

Photo: Alice Gebura

 

Q.

What do you hope your work conveys to the audience?

 

A.

We hope it drives audience members to inquire to seek understanding. We hope that this work will get people to feel a visceral experience that settles into their human bones. With this work, we want people to engage with Black intellectualism. Straight, no chaser. Some people never encounter it, so we wanted to create space for it and allow our ancestor to speak loudly and fully.

We aim to amplify the voice of one of our beloved ancestors. I (Vie) personally don’t think there is anything else to say regarding certain paradigms and realities on the state of Black people in America that hasn’t already been said with eloquence and in great detail. That information is available at our fingertips. I have much to say about other perspectives and paradigms, but we wanted to use this work to bring the brilliance of our ancestors to the forefront. No need to reinvent the wheel!

 

Q.

In years past, the pieces you’ve presented at Choreographers’ Evening have combined vocal work and dance. Is this piece also multidisciplinary?

 

A.

Yes! This work will involve spoken text and live vocalization, again. It’s challenging to dance and create the soundscape at once, but it’s a very different thing to find a balance not only with the spoken text but also with another dancer. That is a challenge that I welcome. I have a strong relationship to the balance of my voice and my movement, but I haven’t shared that with anyone else yet and asked them to also hear my voice vibrate and respond to it.

 



 

Billy Mullaney

Photo: Pics & Jane

 

Q.

Can you tell me about your artistic background and your style of dance?

 

A.

I come to choreography from a theater background. I don’t have a style of dance insofar as I don’t do dance, I do choreography—I mean there is a whole movement within performance as a field that is actively uncoupling choreography and dance as necessarily cause and effect—but maybe that’s becoming a style of dance? If I had to frame myself as a style, it’d be like, Cheap Structural Gimmick.

 

Q.

Many people know you as one half of Fire Drill. How is your solo work different than your collaborative work?

 

A.

Emily Gastineau (the other half of Fire Drill) is a brilliant choreographer, artist, theorist, writer, and curator. When we work together, we try to painstakingly discuss every decision we make, fitting it into a theoretical framework we build together. Over years of working together we have learned how best to disagree with each other, how to productively argue, and how to trust the feeling of being not-yet-decided. We trust each other to push each other, and I’m still surprised when it happens: We reach a place neither of us could have imagined on our own. When I’m working on my own, I need to find the pushback somewhere else. Sometimes it’s from within myself, or from a book I’m reading, or even from Emily and other collaborators. Or I just don’t.

 



 

Pedro Pablo Lander

 

Q.

Tell me about the work that you’ll be presenting at Choreographers’ Evening.

 

A.

Noche Bomba is an exploration of forms and of gender. Movement, expression, drag, social dance. Gender as fiction, socially constructed. Gender as reality, the actual implications. Interweaving forms to construct imagery. The journey within my Latinx gender evolution. Movement and expression for uncontainable images and authentic representation, vibrant, luscious, strong, raw, gritty. Social Venezuelan dance, with Caribbean, Latin-American, Hispanic; all lived, observed, experienced, learned, enjoyed—this is threaded into my identity. And drag—as the ultimate transgression of gender in Venezuelan culture.

Noche Bomba is the reclamation of my body and my power. It is resistance, defiance. Noche—“night.” Bomba— “to have a good (bomb) time.” “Puertorrican style of dance and music.” “Bomb, explosive.” Noche Bomba is facing the complex sadness, desperation, grief, and anger that my gender assimilation and dismantling has brought me, with strong passion, joy, love, compassion, resilience. It is trying to weave several elements of my identity, hoping to find “acceptance” for my “transgressions.”

 

Q.

In your work, you deal a lot with family, relationships, and identity. How have those themes grown and developed since you last performed in Choreographers’ Evening two years ago?

 

A.

I have been investigating Noche Bomba for the past year, as I commenced my drag journey and as I began exploring my identity and the world around me in relation to gender. The process for both pieces I have presented and will present at the Walker are similar in generation and evolution. Like this: I feel something in my body relating to my history and my life. The feeling becomes uncontainable, summons the demons, the trauma. I make a dance, rough and raw. Then I continue to do research, talk with folks, and compare data. I keep molding a dance, then show the dance. Oppression and liberation are still essential to the work I make. Noche Bomba is deep in family, relationships and identity as Maricón (Faggot) was in 2015.

 



 

Gabriel Anderson

 

Q.

Can you tell me about your artistic background and your style of dance?

 

A.

After graduating college and moving to Minneapolis, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to dance in Mathew Janczewski/Peter Rothstein’s Bankrupt City Ballad at the Southern Theater in 2005, and afterwards I was fortunate to continue to work with Mathew consistently for five or so years, remounting repertory works and developing new work.

Wanting some dedicated space and time to develop my own voice, I went to graduate school for my Master of Fine Arts. There I widened my palette of choreographic thinking and drew on a greater number of performative tools and practices, such as improvisation and the use of the voice, as well as my strong background in music and singing, and I integrated those elements into choreography and performance.

In many ways I still identify principally as a performer and not necessarily as a choreographer, but with that said, “style” of dance is hard for me to define, so I will use that loaded terms “Modern” or “Contemporary” as umbrella terms for the work I do, even though each of them may look stylistically different from one another. I guess I let the work and/or idea tell me what it needs in order to be fully realized. In recent years, I have made a lot of work in educational contexts, so I definitely have a sort of pedagogical spin in terms of what might challenge or expand a student’s range performatively and/or physically, so this tends to also factor into what might ultimately manifest on stage.

 

Q.

How do you think Choreographers’ Evening serves artists and the community?

 

A.

Probably one of the most obvious ways in which it serves artists and our community is in providing an outlet and support in showing our work. These days (and in days past, too, of course) it’s really hard to self-produce your own work, so having an institution like the Walker Art Center providing such an annual production is a real gem. For myself, too, having Choreographers’ Evening as an annual event keeps me choreographically productive and motivates me to  keep my personal practice of making, knowing that I could always audition it for CE (hey—sometimes you need a little incentive to get your butt into the studio and create). And if it doesn’t get into that year’s CE production, the worst thing that really happened is that I end up having a working draft of something to continue to think about and develop, if I so choose.. .and not to mention an opportunity to have gotten some feedback from that year’s curator.

In years past when I have performed in CE, I have found the green room and backstage a wonderful time to reconnect with artists, forge stronger connections to artists who I may know only peripherally, and meet new artists that I may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet. And as an audience member, I love not really knowing what to expect on stage, but look forward to the curatorial lens offered.

 



 

Jordan Rosenow

Caitlin Dippo, Jordan Rosenow, Joél Valdez, Katrina Matejcik

 

Q.

Coming from a mostly visual arts background, how do you see your sculpture work connecting to or diverging from your performance work?

 

A.

My practice is rooted in sculpture, but I have always investigated the performative gestures and vulnerabilities of materials. How they touch, bend and lean. Over time I expanded those concepts into movements between bodies, and I continue to be excited by the way performance expands my thinking to incorporate color, time and sound into my work. Trisha Brown’s early work and Merce Cunningham’s collaborations have been influential and a constant point of return. I am deeply interested in exploring the overlap of sculpture and dance through both stillness and repetitive movements. Most recently I have been collaborating with Alex Jullian Leeds and creating house music to pair with my dance. The shifting layers and strong rhythm imply a space full of anticipation. House music is also directly tied to the dance clubs that continue to make space for freedom and expression through movement. The pulsing sound paired with slow performative dance movements has become an exciting combination in my work.

 

Q.

What do you hope your work conveys to the audience?

 

A.

I want the relationships between the six performers to have a palpable intensity. I want the loose narrative to be unusual but simultaneously familiar, keeping the audience curious. As the performers resist the music, I hope those watching/listening also feel a desire to move while remaining seated making it a shared withholding. Mostly, I am hoping to intertwine material, movement, and sound in a way that is absorbing.

 



 

DaNCEBUMS

Photo: Matt Gorrie

 

Q.

Can you tell me about your artistic background and your style of dance?

 

A.

DaNCEBUMS met as students at the University of Minnesota and lived together in a big house on Broadway Street in Northeast Minneapolis. Our style of dance is informed by our training in modern dance, contemporary forms, improvisation, music videos, and other visual and musical culture. Our choreography moves between precise technique and a casual pop sensibility.

Since 2013, DaNCEBUMS has been performing in the Twin Cities. Our collaboration is based on mutual love and respect for each other, systems of support, and togetherness. We have presented work at the Walker Art Center (One-Move-Dance), Red Eye Theater (New Works 4 Weeks 2014, 2015), The Southern Theater, and the Bryant Lake Bowl (WOW, in collaboration with 6ix Families). Our webseries, moves4u2do, allows fans to take their choreography off the stage and into their lives with simple instructional videos.

 

Q.

How would you describe your collaborative process?

 

A.

Non-hierarchical. Filled with digressions. Lots of lists. Lots of jokes. Sometime beers.

 

Q.

How is the work you’re presenting this year different from the piece you performed in Choreographers’ Evening in 2015?

 

A.

2-in-1 is different from One Move Dance in a lot of ways. The cast is much smaller (three not 30), and there are a lot moves. It has a similar spirit of playfulness and zest, but with more edge and virtuosity.

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