On a bleak January afternoon, the Bryant-Lake Bowl's tiny theater looks like exactly what it is: the back room of a bar/bowling alley.
"It's a perfect mix of social, intimate, and funky, but with formal touches like a real proscenium arch and a red velvet curtain," says the BLB's new managing artistic director Kristin Van Loon, whose "Saturday Is the New Monday" series offers dance and performance every Saturday night through February. "People can eat and drink at clubby little tables while experiencing cutting-edge performance," she says. What more do you need besides the ketchup?
The series' title might sound a touch nightmarish to weekend-focused nine-to-fivers, but the name should have different connotations for theater types. Monday is the night that most theaters are dark and performers can mingle with one another and test out new ideas. Van Loon wants the series to capture "the sense of mystery and suspense of Monday as the off night when anything might happen," and maybe in the process diminish the cultural inflation that goes along with Saturday night at the theater. "Let's bump the blockbuster event notion of Saturday night up against the sneaky, alternative feel of Monday," she says.
So, for instance, this weekend's "Open and Leashed" features Jennifer Allen, a veteran of the New York downtown dance scene, in a new work that includes a guide to do-it-yourself peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich preparation, and Deke Weaver, a Minnetonka born writer/performer/video artist who has been hailed on both coasts as a kind of mixed-media wild child. On February 18, New York transplant Justin Jones and collaborator Chris Yan incorporate 13 high school students and Jones's mom in a modern vaudevillian tragicomedy. And the "Free Radicals" program on February 25 unites local alt-luminaries Susan Scalf, Emily Johnson, Jane Shockley, and Krista Langberg.
While Van Loon admits that her new series pays homage to Walker Art Center's annual "Out There" performances, she sees SITNM as providing something that's currently lacking in the Twin Cities. "I love that series, but I miss a local presence in 'Out There.' I'm making a political statement by mixing in- and out-of-town artists," she says.
"It's so important to open up the borders. Otherwise local artists become isolated in their own scene," says Langberg, who left here in the 1990s to dance in New York and has recently returned. In fact, the impetus for the series came from Van Loon's experiences touring various U.S. cities with Arwen Wilder as the duo Hijack. "We met artists we loved in various cities, and we wanted to bring them back here," says Van Loon, who moved to Minneapolis 12 years ago because of the city's reputation for independent, artist-driven work presented in artist-run venues, including Patrick's Cabaret and the now defunct SpaceSpace.
Arguably the most politically motivated performance of the series is "In the Buff: A Naked Choreographer's Evening" (February 11), which choreographer April Sellers organized partly in response to the nudity-aversion she's encountered from local venues. "I was told by Walker Art Center representatives that programming my work, which incorporates nude bodies, would present a problem in the context of work by other choreographers. So I wanted to gather together artists who were working with that element in an alternative choreographer's evening to the one Walker sponsors." Philip Bither, Walker's curator of performing arts, counters that the museum "shows dance and performance work that incorporates nudity on a regular basis, so it is wrong for anyone to imply that we are afraid of such work. We make our choices based on the quality of the artists' work and the clarity of their vision."
Maybe it's a sign of our increasingly repressive times that getting naked onstage has once again become controversial. "There aren't new and radical things happening onstage," insists Van Loon. "The edges that were pushed in the 1960s are not there. We're starting over."
And what better place for art that's off-kilter than a stage enlivened by the spill of sound from balls rolling and pins dropping?