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2014 Year in Review: Dance and Performance Art

Eric Avery

Eric Avery

With its rich catalog of independent choreographers, innovative companies, grand theaters, and intimate spaces, in 2014 the Twin Cities proved itself once again to be a fabulous place to experience dance and performance. Here are a few of our favorites in a year that outdid itself. 

TU Dance

TU Dance turned 10 last spring. The ensemble's athletic dancers are some of the most lyrical and exciting in the Twin Cities, and choreographer Uri Sands has demonstrated profound vision in his recent works. For example, "One," which Sands created in 2013, was performed at both the 10th anniversary concert at the Ordway in May, and for their fall dance concert. Both events had the audience gasping for breath in response to the eloquent power the piece evoked.

For their fall concert, TU Dance also brought in Icelandic choreographer Katrin Hall for a brand-new collaboration. The piece, "Andrými," drew material from the dancers' own stories and personalities while using imagery of Iceland to explore spacial relationships between individuals and groups. The result was an expansive and explosive work. 

We Wait in Darkness by Rosy Simas

This year, Rosy Simas's We Wait in Darkness was shown in Minneapolis both as an installation at All My Relations Gallery and as a full-length work presented at Red Eye Theatre. The piece follows the journeys of Native women past and present in an impactful work that showcased Simas's talents not just in choreography, but in creating visual art. Using the stories of her Seneca grandmother, Simas tracked the trajectory of the wounds of her ancestors as they flowed into the cells of contemporary women. Simas, a riveting performer, showed skill in both the outward, physical moments as well as the more internal, subtle work in this epic solo piece. 
Miranda July at the Walker Art Center

Dancer: Alanna Morris-Van Tassel

Dancer: Alanna Morris-Van Tassel

With a small caveat that Miranda July's new Somebody App was kind of a complete failure, her performance-type thing at the Walker was an event to remember. July is a master manipulator, and her powers were in full force for New Society, which was not so much a performance as a decades-long journey. These days, social practice has become a controversial new art discipline, with varying degrees of success, but anyone interested in figuring out how to make it actually work would be keen to study July's effortless technique in drawing the audience into her world. 
 
Eric Avery at Pillsbury House + Theatre

For his Naked Stages installation piece, Eric Avery took the entirety of Pillsbury House as his canvas, giving audiences an immersive experience into the many facets of a south Minneapolis community center, albeit a distorted version of it. Casting audience members as visitors to various social service and educational programs, Avery painted a nightmarish picture where participants were subjected to arbitrary tests, told to fill out lengthy and invasive forms, and invited to enter portals where they would become one with stuffed animals. Though there were clear threads of Orwellian dystopia, there was plenty of comedy, too, and moments where Avery really challenged his audience to be present, both with the piece itself and with each other. 

Maggie's Brain by Off-Leash Area

This year, Off-Leash Area brought back their wonderful production of Maggie's Brain, exploring the inner life of a person living with mental illness. For the new version, which was presented at the Cowles Center for Performing Arts, the company recast the main character, based on co-artistic director Jennifer Ilse's brother, with Taja Will. Will brought weight and energy to the role that Ilse originated. New cast member Karla Grotting also shined as the therapist, bringing strength, kindness, and compassion to one of the most beautiful scenes created by the company. It was a fine reworking of a deeply moving piece. 

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Choreographers' Evening

The Walker's Choreographers' Evening is always a fun time, bringing in a mix of local choreographers who take the stage of the McGuire Theater to showcase what they can do, try out something new, and celebrate the creativity of Minnesota's dance scene. This year, Kenna-Camara Cottman took the reins as curator, selecting mostly artists of color. The performance -- which took place in the wake of the grand jury verdict clearing Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown -- had an urgency, especially given the content of a number of the pieces. Cottman's curatorial touch emphasized this through a poem she read that had been written by her daughter about Ferguson, and there was also a powerful curtain call where the cast members participated in a "die-in," lying on the floor and then raising their hands in the air as they stood up. It was a powerful moment that capped off an emotional week, and demonstrated not only Cottman's strong vision as a curator, but also the immense talent that lies within the Twin Cities dance community. 
 
Con Vivir
 
For the ambitious Con Vivir, Zorongo Flamenco Dance focused on Spain's Convivencia period, a time in which there was a proliferation of Islamic culture throughout the country, and Christianity, Islam, and Judaism were able to co-exist in relative tolerance of one another. The piece looked at the history of the Convivencia period as well as the era following, when Jews and Muslims were expunged from Spain. Choreographer Susana di Palma contrasted these events with contemporary times, searching through the epic work for answers about the religious intolerance that continues around the world and at home. 

Girlywood by April Sellers 
 
April Sellers Dance Collective provided a joyful evening this fall with two works that put feminism at the forefront, and were accompanied by additional works by Kenna-Camara Cottman and Laurie Van Wieren. Sellers, whose theatrical style and tongue-in-cheek bawdiness are juxtaposed with her proficient choreography and sharply conceived conceptual work, questioned how feminism can survive in the 21st century. Sellers's piece "Big Baby" was especially fun, with its homage of queer icons and its irreverent exploration of gender and identity. 

Ananya Dance Theatre continued its social justice-driven work this year with its premiere of Neel: Blutopias of Radical Dreaming, honoring the extraordinary work of women all over the world who aim to sustain their communities. Riffing on Duke Ellington's concept of an imagined future that's heavy with the blues, choreographer Ananya Chatterjea explored the power of imagination in providing strength to women in the midst of violence. The piece, set in the wake of a massacre, featured a heartbreaking performance by guest artist Shá Cage. The dancers, meanwhile, went through wild roller coasters of emotion as they struggled with the aftermath. As with previous works by the company, the highly charged dancing was supported by an incredible score by Greg Schutte, with powerful text provided by Sharon Bridgforth. 

"Small Dances" by Laura Holway

Independent choreographer Laura Holway took her art into the living room with "Small Dances," a tour designed specifically to be performed in intimate spaces. With support from a Next Step Grant, Holway's aim was to create a sustainable method of presenting pieces where the budget wasn't blown on renting a large venue. It turns out that Holway's quirky and whimsical choreography worked perfectly in a more intimate setting, which ranged from living rooms to artist studios. Her sense of humor rang true, and audiences had the unique experience of seeing a performance up close. It was almost as if they were a part of it as well.