“Morgan Thorson has a mix-master mind, from which postmodern movement and the detritus of everyday life spin out as hilarious vignettes.” —New York Notebook
Both borrowing from and subverting religious rituals, Minneapolis’ Morgan Thorson, a rising force on the national contemporary dance scene, breaks choreographic conventions in order to uncover the universal allure of Heaven’s holy performance trinity: dance, music, and light. Created as an ensemble dance and vocal piece through a Walker Art Center residency in August 2009, Heaven explores the elusive nature of both corporeal and ecstatic perfection present in religious practices and finds in the ritualistic nature of dance in performance the emotional, physical, and communal power of unity. Commissioned by the Walker, Heaven will have its world premiere in the William and Nadine McGuire Theater on Thursday–Saturday, March 4–6, at 8 pm. Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker will perform the music and vocal orchestration they wrote for the piece.
Thorson commented on the creation of Heaven: “Initially, I was interested in perfection; in religion it’s dangled before worshippers constantly as a carrot—the promise of perfection. I pondered it from a contemporary secular standpoint and came to realize that there are no absolutes. I think Heaven pursues some sort of manifestation of perfection and draws multiple conclusions from that pursuit, one of them being that the body in itself is capable of perfection, and the opposite being that paradise’s perfection only exists in that you can ponder it as an idea.
“One thing I really wanted to convey is a devotional love for space. With simple yet reverential material, the body and space unite in a powerful unison. Another thing is that light has its own presence in this work. And I wanted to show the power of song. Tonal resonance and harmony can spark an energetic or emotional shift in the performer and viewer, and I really wanted to play with this power and juxtapose this kind of material with vigorously moving bodies. I end the piece with shape-note singing, so it’s no longer about the body, but a sonic, communal gesture that elevates Heaven beyond a physical presence, sending it to a new dimension.”
Morgan Thorson was a 2009 fellow at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography and is the recipient of the 2009 McKnight Foundation Fellowship in Choreography. Last season, she was named “Best Choreographer of 2008” by City Pages, and received a 2007 Sage Award for Outstanding Choreography for Docudrama.
In 2006, Thorson was awarded the Music in Motion commission to create No Feeling for Harmony and received a Sage Award for Outstanding Performance for her full-evening work, Faker. She has received fellowships from the Bush and Jerome Foundations, and in 2004 she received The Bessie Schoenberg Memorial Fellowship to support her work at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program in Woodside, CA. Thorson has created many commissioned works for universities, companies, and independent artists, including Lisa D’Amour, Split Britches Theater Company, Barnard College, University of Minnesota, and James Sewell Ballet Company. Thorson’s work has been presented by venues worldwide, including Jacob’s Pillow, The Kitchen (NYC); Performing Arts Group (Seoul, South Korea); LIP (London); and Link/Vostok (Yarislovl, Russia).
Low, a band from Duluth, Minnesota, which formed in 1993, features Alan Sparhawk on vocals and guitar, Mimi Parker on vocals and drums, and Steve Garrington on bass. Low released its first album, I Could Live in Hope, in 1994 (producer by Kramer) on Vernon Yard Records. The group was pegged as “slowcore,” due to the band’s minimalist soundscapes and the beautiful harmonies of Sparhawk and Parker, which stood in stark contrast to the era’s fascination with “grunge.” Low has released critically acclaimed albums (e.g., Long Division, Curtain Hits the Cast, Things We Lost in the Fire), one-offs, collaborations, and a classic Christmas album, aptly titled Low Christmas. Throughout, Low has toured the world in the company of acts such as the Dirty Three, Radiohead, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Sparhawk’s side projects include the dirty punk blues band The Black Eyed Snakes and, most recently, the rock trio The Retribution Gospel Choir. Low’s latest album, The Great Destroyer (produced by Dave Fridmann), was released in 2005 on Sub Pop Records—the Seattle indie label known for bringing Nirvana to the masses.
Tickets to Morgan Thorson/Low’s Heaven are: Thursday, $18 ($15 Walker members); Friday–Saturday, $25 ($21) and are available at walkerart.org/tickets or by calling 612.375.7600. The McGuire Theater’s Balcony Bar will be open at 7:30 pm and after the performances.
Making Music: Alan Sparhawk from Low with choreographer Morgan Thorson
Thursday, February 25, 8 pm
William and Nadine McGuire Theater
Free tickets available at the Hennepin Lobby desk from 7 pm
Morgan Thorson has been collaborating for months with Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker on Heaven, a Walker commission. Local musician and Making Music host James Everest talks to the artists about their work and ways that this new piece breaks both choreographic and musical conventions. Copresented with mnartists.org and the Whole Music Club at the University of Minnesota.
Pre-performance Tour: Heaven and Event Horizon
Thursday, March 4, 7pm, Free with performance ticket
Meet in the Bazinet Garden Lobby
Explore artworks in the Walker collection embodying themes of perfection, paradise, and spirituality.