By Andy Mannix
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The truck is an Ford F-Series flatbed, 24 feet long and 7 feet wide with a gross weight capacity of some 26,000 pounds. Over 18 days in August and September the five women of the Minneapolis-based Concrete Farm dance collective will perform on the back of this truck in 17 cities across the state. They will also dance under the truck hanging from the axle. They will fit themselves entirely inside the tire rims. They will roll off the bulbous cab and drop blindly, back-first off the side. They will interact with the truck in ways that no preposition can quite describe and they will wound themselves repeatedly in the process.
In Red Lake Falls, under a blinding sun, Susan will kick Arwen in the head. Rehearsing in Ely, Winona's thumb will catch on the edge of the truck and it will turn blue. In Grand Marais, Morgan will drop Arwen on her back. In Duluth, Susan will bang her left knee on the flatbed's metal rail, and wince with each step for hours afterward (though the next day she'll dance again, swearing by the restorative powers of simple ice). And Kristin--well, after an intensive sauna session, Kristin will scrape her knees bloody skinny dipping in Lake Vermillion. Along Minnesota's rural highways, these women will gain an expert medical knowledge of the nuances of the following words: scrape, skin, cut, bruise, abrasion, contusion. Climbing on and off the truck, they will hurt their pubic bones in ways that they did not know they could hurt their pubic bones.
The audiences will come to Stockyard Days in New Brighton, to the first day of elementary school in Dawson, to a community for the developmentally disabled in Sauk Center, and to the Divine Providence rest home in Sleepy Eye. They will respond in manners ranging from infatuation to indifference while offering many theories to explain Concrete Farm's curious presence. Some are convinced the dancers are high school students touring from Europe. That two of the women are in fact boys. That they are all Russian, or African. Chambers of commerce will treat them to lavish dinners. Churlish teens with nothing better to do will jeer. Some will embrace them over post-show lemonade. Others will leave mid-performance. In Duluth, audiences will barely show up at all.
Susan Scalf, Winona Sorensen, Morgan Thorson, Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder have danced together under the name Concrete Farm since 1994; they arrived at the high-concept idea of the Flatbed tour while watching a Bjork video during a summer residency in St. Cloud. With backgrounds ranging from intensive ballet training to cheerleading, diving, and competitive figure skating, the dancers' current work reflects a common interest in contact improvisation and that great, messy genre known as modern dance.
After the ground thaws in April, condos shoot up around here like weeds. We pass clusters of them on the short ride from 35W to the covered concrete pavilion that serves as the locus for Stockyard Days. On the fairgrounds are antique cars, kiddie rides and American Legion near-beer. Surly carnies man the usual games of chance, their grim faces reflected in funhouse distortions by imitation Zippos and Led Zeppelin mirrors. Stuffed animals hang above fake rifles like prize polyester pelts, six-to-a-string. A man with two young daughters in tow wears a shirt featuring the Playboy bunny logo and the word "Zeitgeist." Everywhere smells like minidonuts.
Concrete Farm is not the only one here with a transportational gimmick. An eco-friendly juggler performs in front of the bicycle he rides from show to show--2,000 miles logged this year. On a hill below the pavilion, a military helicopter whirs its rotors while the grass around it undulates like an overgrown crew cut in a stiff wind. Teenage boys watch with their families: Summer is over and high school is history and college didn't happen this year--enlisting with the helicopter pilots may not be the worst option, drab Mickey Mouse earmuffs aside. The crowd waves as the chopper flies away.
Concrete Farm performs behind an orange mesh fence. American flags flap overhead. Soundman Karl, who has signed on for the Farm's entire tour, wears a blood red Che Guevara t-shirt. The musical score--which includes Victor Borge, Herb Alpert, and Louis Prima--echoes through the gazebo, along with the louder sounds of children wailing and parents demanding immediate compliance. Most of the crowd watches without watching.
"I thought they were modern dancers," an older woman tells me after the show. Her husband said gymnastics, but he was wrong and she was right. "We did modern dance in high school--I won't tell you how many years ago--but we were never that limber. I should start that again and lose some weight."
The Concrete Farmers have gathered under the shade of the truck to eat peanut butter sandwiches made with bartered bread. Everything about the tour is low budget: The sub-wreck rental car, the free use of the truck for rehearsals, the program design, and the videographer, Heidi, who will shoot eight shows at bargain rates and offer her parent's summer spread for a weekend stay. The dancers segue effortlessly from commiseration--what went wrong--into a group pep talk for the next show. Meanwhile, the Twin Town Twirlers (a.k.a. Triple-T) have replaced them on the other side of the picnic tables: Women with rhinestone name-tags and fancy Grand Ole Opry outfits and men with beards but no moustaches. The square dance caller intones his c&w rap over looping 45s:
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