Aby Wolf, K'naan, and P.O.S. top Artists of the Year '09

Paying homage to those who speak the language of creativity

Theater of Operations was first presented in the historic Allen Theatre in Cleveland. Throughout the vacant theater space, Szyhalski, an MCAD media arts professor, created a sonic installation that capitalized on the rich, cavernous lobby space, mining its aura of anticipation (as the entryway to the other world of the theater) and its utter emptiness. The sound piece, based on Erik Satie's composition for a theater lobby, pushes the unreal, or maybe the surreal, character of war, and it's a gateway to the video piece inside the theater itself. Installed behind barely raised curtains, the images on the screens placed on the stage floor were obscured from full view, drawing viewers to peek beneath the curtains.

As is his usual practice, Szyhalski used found images from the media, in this case movies of military operations produced by U.S. soldiers now available on YouTube. The soundtrack is a transcript of the videos read by a series of "actors," including the artist's colleagues, wife, and daughter. These non-soldier-like voices only add to the strangeness of the experience. At MCAD, Szyhalski seized on the tightness and coldness of the small gallery space to interrogate yet another ubiquitous and controversial image of war—the returning casket of the fallen warrior. He aligned a series of box-like video monitors alluding to a coffin and turned them face to the floor, forcing viewers to slide beneath the coffin/screens to watch the videos.

Szyhalski's work always fascinates—the seemingly endless layers draw us in and turn us around. If you missed his latest Twin Cities installation, you can make up for it next summer when he unveils his next work in the MCAD/McKnight Fellowship exhibition. It is sure to be eye-opening.

Diane Mullin is associate curator at the Weisman Art Museum.

Sally Rousse

By Linda Shapiro

A rogue ballerina who exposes her nerve endings to the world every time she performs, Sally Rousse floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. Her tiny body contains multitudes. She can deploy her pointe shoes as weapons, attacking movement like a commando, or flit with the protean grace and vulnerability of a wild forest creature. The speed and boldness of her dancing are matched only by her elegance and wit.

Rousse's voracious curiosity has led her to study aerial work, achieve accreditation in Brain Gym and reiki, and explore alternative dance forms like contact improvisation. A co-founder, artistic associate, and dancer with the James Sewell Ballet, this year she has also produced two major works of choreography, performed with the outré dance collective Mad King Thomas, improvised to poetry by Garrison Keillor, restaged a duet with cellist Laura Sewell for JSB, and hosted the 2009 Sage Awards.

Her Paramount to My Footage, commissioned by Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater, was a foray into audacious autobiography. An airborne Rousse slammed herself repeatedly into a movie screen, which later featured video footage from her life behind sumptuous dancing. Fueled by a Fellini-like mix of fantasy, farce, and intimate revelation, Paramount was smart, gutsy, and hugely entertaining. Her ballet Petrouchka for JSB, a re-imagining of Mikhail Fokine's 1911 production for the Ballet Russes, enhanced the tragic puppet's emotional range by strapping him into an aerial harness that sent him literally flying, crumbling, plunging into despair.

Rousse, a multitasking mother of two, also writes about dance with intelligence and enthusiasm. An introspective artist with celebrity allure, she is forging a style of her own while launching (and sometimes hurtling) classical ballet into the 21st century.

Linda Shapiro is a freelance writer who writes about dance and performance.

Chad Daniels

By Bryan Miller

The crowd goes quiet, eking out a few begrudging chuckles when comedian Chad Daniels asserts, "I don't think fat people should get to use wheelchairs." Undeterred by the cold reaction, he adds, "Stare all you want—I'm not taking it back."

This exchange, captured on his sharp new album, Busy Being Awesome (recorded at Acme Comedy Co. and released by Minneapolis's own Stand Up! Records), perfectly encapsulates Daniels's take-no-prisoners style of comedy. The Fergus Falls native is not interested in Minnesota Nice. With his onstage swagger and arsenal of incisive, uproarious material, he practically bullies the audience into loving him.

"With the crowd and me, it's an 'I'm not going to take your shit, you're not going to take mine' deal," he says. "Let's just agree that we're going to hate each other a few times during this show."

Daniels's aggressive comedy has earned him some of the most coveted achievements in the industry—not only a major-label CD but his own Comedy Central half-hour special and, most recently, a spot on The Tonight Show, the big brass ring of the standup world. His set on Conan O'Brien's show was a prime example of what sets Daniels apart from the pack: Plenty of comics have jokes about marriage and children, but few speak about the experience with such uncompromising honesty. "My dad abandoned our family when I was 15 and my sister was 10, and now that I have a boy and girl of my own, I look at them every day and I think, 'How in the hell...did it take him that long?'"

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