Eight Feet Are Better Than Two

Notice to small children reading this article: DO NOT put your head in a plastic bag like dancer Deborah Jinza Thayer!
V. Paul Virtucio

The Best Feet Forward Festival promises bodies mashed against glass, Sesame Street tunes, and demonic little characters who like to squish things with their brand-new shoes. There is also, naturally, a great deal of dancing. Such creative mayhem, according to co-founder Matt Jenson--who paused briefly to chat between sewing costumes and practicing piano--is the practical result of several small companies pooling resources for a longer performance run than any of them could typically afford.

"We thought we could have an impact and be more visible as a larger group," Jenson explains. "You usually work for months and months and then you get a weekend. By the last performance, the dancers say, 'I get it,' but then it's over."

In the three years since Jenson and partners Brad Garner, Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner, Emily Johnson, and Deborah Jinza Thayer first lumped their destinies together their two-week festival has grown to encompass a Fringe Festival-like feeling of nonstop artistic stimulus. This week's performance at the Southern Theater includes up to two different performances a night, a sound sculpture by Philip Blackburn that will transform the lobby into an instrument, an exhibition by visual artist Terrence Payne, and site-specific romps between shows by a small army of local movers.

"We like the idea of having the works next to each other and cross-pollinating audiences," says Jenson. The performers also are seizing an opportunity to bring the dance scene together, following the demise in recent years of Dance Today and Minnesota Dance Alliance, two local service organizations for the field.

In this spirit, and since it is awards season, after all, Best Feet Forward will also include a recognition of choreography eccentric Laurie Van Wieren for "stickin' with it" (Fellow iconoclast Paula Mann received the same honor last weekend).

"We put all this together on like $1.50," says Jenson, "so we thought we should give Laurie and Paula an award for just keeping on [with] this. Of course, it is probably going to be papier-mâché and spray-painted gold, but they were both very flattered."

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