Plato's Retreat

Got a few questions about love and human desire? Ask a philosophical nine-year-old.

Gabe Pimsler is wearing jeans and a Timberwolves T-shirt to an early-evening rehearsal at the Hennepin Center for the Arts. He's bouncing around, examining all the corners of the dance studio: It's clear his excess energy could probably be harnessed to heat this bare, open space. But then, to be fair, Gabe Pimsler is nine years old—and already kind of a pro when it comes to rehearsing. So he bears down and focuses when he gets his script. This is fortunate, as few of the other performers need to worry about, say, losing TV privileges if the director is dissatisfied with his work.

As the guide in The Ends of Love, a new work by Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater premiering this weekend at the Guthrie, Gabe will need to explain to the audience what's happening to the adult performers. "Misunderstanding, confusion. Before these feelings, when it all started, the first emotion was called, and is still called, Whoa," he reads with gusto. "Although sometimes it comes out as Wow."

Gabe may not have much experience with romantic love himself—not yet, at least. But he knows what it means to grapple with getting what you want—in the form of Manny, his red poodle. Gabe's father, the choreographer, writer, and director Stuart Pimsler, cast him for this reason.

If love is like riding a horse, pardner,  I think we done been throwed
V. Paul Virtucio
If love is like riding a horse, pardner, I think we done been throwed

Pimsler, speaking by phone a few days after the rehearsal, refers to one of his source materials, Plato's Symposium. That book's philosophical debates, he says, "continue to be the same old story these days: What we love is what we desire and what we desire is something we don't have. Thus the question, 'If we do get it, do we still desire it?' I felt like I would have more liberty to play with some of those profound questions with a child's voice, rather than the voice of an adult, which I was afraid would be too heavy-handed. I like the notion that the child is the sage in the piece and the adults are flailing around.... As we get older we complicate things."

And indeed, throughout The Ends of Love, Pimsler and his emotionally and physically agile dancers show just how mixed up things can get. Three high-heeled women—Suzanne Costello (who is Pimsler's wife and artistic co-director), Vanessa Voskuil, and Roxane Wallace—interrogate Pimsler, Jessie Walker, and Cade Holmseth about their habits. The browbeaten men stutter out platitudes like, "You're more important than horses." Not that so lame a line gets them anywhere. And so they're left to teeter in high heels themselves, while railing comically against female tyranny.

In one similarly comic scene, the performers maneuver their way through an opera of made-up personal ads, bellowing about "moose men" and "fox females." Other times, the performers stick to high-energy dancing, emerging together like a restless and often randy Greek chorus. Propelling these scenes is Michelle Kinney's equally vigorous live cello.

As raucous as the first half is, the second is contemplative. "We just flip the journey and have the end be the beginning and the beginning be the end," explains Pimsler. "If you have any longevity in love you keep pursuing it until you get to the end of the chapter or sequence. It then informs the next beginning."

At one point the dancers cradle eggs with the utmost care, evoking the evolution of life and love. Laura Selle quietly wends her way through a delicate solo. Pimsler riffs off a list of phobias, like the unwarranted fear of knees (genuphobia). There's an undercurrent of apprehension in these scenes, but mostly the atmosphere is peaceful, as if Cupid had finally succeeded in shooting down a few of the demons who share his flight path.

The Ends of Love finds Pimsler celebrating 25 years with his namesake company. Yet Pimsler's philosophical streak isn't the lodestar of his newest work. Pimsler summarizes the show, instead, by recalling an excerpt from one of Wallace Shawn's plays. According to Shawn, lovers in the beginning are like two crumbs on a table. Everything's perfect until one of the crumbs falls off the table and then the other one follows.

"That's when the mess begins," Pimsler remarks, adding, "I'm trying to figure out the journey of the crumbs."

 
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