After celebrating 25 years of the Out There theater festival in 2013, Walker Art Center's senior curator of performing arts Philip Bither was looking for something new when he began putting together this year's lineup.
"There's a new generation of artists," Bither said. "We're looking for a mix, with a spectrum of new approaches to theater."
To that end, the four works in Out There 2014: New World Visions represent a considerable breadth of styles, material, and creators.
OUT THERE 2014: NEW WORLD VISIONS Walker Art Center 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis Jan. 9-Feb. 1; 612-375-7600
"It both rewards the deeply committed theatergoer and the sort of serious thinkers out there, as well as the casual attendee," Bither said. "Sometimes people get the wrong impression the shows will be tremendously hard work and a tough slog. I think people who have given it a chance are often surprised that the artists can combine rigor with delight. Innovation does not mean it has to be impenetrable or unenjoyable."
Up first is Hospital (January 9-11), a work by Dutch company Wunderbaum and California's LAPD (Los Angeles Poverty Department). The Dutch group connected with LAPD, a three-decade-old activist company, in Los Angeles, where the team-up produced "funny, weird, and powerful content," said Bither. "The different aesthetic styles — it is evocative how it comes together."
The piece, a new Walker commission, delves into the horrors of modern health care using a variety of theatrical styles, including onstage performers and video, and featuring creative input from the residents of L.A.'s Skid Row. "I had seen a couple of works by Wunderbaum. They had a real European sensibility and a pop joyfulness," Bither said. "The whole thing is so current and relevant."
The second work is The Room Nobody Knows (January 16-18), crafted by Japanese artist (and psychotherapist) Kuro Tanino of the company Niwa Gekidan Penino. The piece centers on the troubled relationship between a pair of brothers, but it is the staging that is the centerpiece here. The playing area (the set and seating are both on the theater's stage) is tiny and cramped, without enough room for the actors to stand up.
The whole work is "inspired by not just surrealism, but also by physical and standup comedy. There's a dark comic thread that runs throughout it," Bither said. "I saw this piece in Finland. It is such a stunning visual theater work. You come into this insular, obsessive visual art cave. The two brothers have an interesting power dynamic."
The third week features Public in Private/Clement Layes's Allege (January 23-25), a deft piece of physical theater that, like the other works in the festival, engages various theatrical styles. "[Layes] weaves all of these elements into an utterly surprising and ultimately memorable piece of solo performance art," Bither said. "It's a philosophical piece, about society in an abstract way, and turns into a beautiful meditation."
The festival ends with The Year I Was Born (January 30-February 1), a work exploring the Pinochet years in Chile via the experiences of 11 artists born in the aftermath of the regime. The creators from Lola Arias have delved into their own pasts to discover what roles their families played during this dark era in Chile's history.
"It is a series of vignettes and also involves live video. There is a range of storytelling. I found it so cleverly organized," Bither said. "It's a big production, with 16 people on the tour and a complex array of props and set pieces. It's a great conclusion."