About 20 years ago, Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon, two friends who had met in class at Colorado College, performed for the first time as Hijack. They came up with the name at Ruby's Café, where they'd stop on their way to contact improv class. This weekend, Hijack will celebrate their 20th anniversary at the Walker Art Center, the institution that has supported them since the beginning. Now, for the first time, the museum is presenting them as part of the main season in a fully commissioned work, titled "redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye."
Hijack press photo for Momentum, 2001
Photo Courtesy Walker Art Center
From the beginning, they were an unlikely pair -- Van Loon had been a competitive figure skater, while Wilder's background was mostly in Eastern European and Israeli folk dancing -- but they were drawn to each other immediately. "Her dances were what I was interested in," Wilder says. "She was all the things she is now: smart and interested in a lot of detail and specifics, and inventive."
When they met each other in a three and a half week intensive class, it was their first formal training in composition. Colorado College is "a weird place in that it's one of only two schools in the country that's on the block plan," says Van Loon. "I kind of describe the school as a good way to explain how we are wired in a similar way."
The block plan "is an extremely intense thing to do in a way," Wilder says. "Within three days, you've gone through all your clichés, and have to make another dance. It lays you bare pretty fast." On the first day, their teacher had them go to the library and listen to music they'd never heard, look at visual art they'd never seen, and books and newspapers they'd never read. "All of this stuff informs the dances," Wilder says. Later, they both took a class with Martin Esslin, who literally wrote the book on absurdist theater. The class informed their work in years to come.
When they graduated, Wilder convinced Van Loon to move with her to Minneapolis, which was teeming with arts and cultural life while also having a robust activist scene. Van Loon, who was planning to go back to graduate school for geology, planned to stay only for a short while. "I thought I'd go to Minneapolis with my college buddy for a year," Van Loon says.
'Fetish", by Hijack, performed in 2005 for the McGuire Theater opening
Photo by Sean Smuda
They arrived in Minneapolis in the summer of 1993, and started taking classes at Zenon and SpaceSpace with people like Jane Shockley, one of the founding members of Zenon. Although they were gaining momentum right away, Van Loon says they were at risk of becoming "just dancers." They decided to support each other, and make a dance "to convince ourselves and other people that we were choreographers," she says.
They auditioned for the Choreographers' Evening. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with the Walker. Throughout the years, they have performed, choreographed, and curated at the event. They also performed at the first Momentum, at Dyke Night, and at the opening of the McGuire Theater.
"We came to Minneapolis from the middle of nowhere," Van Loon says. "A lot of our awareness of context of contemporary art is in the fact that we can walk to this amazing place. [The Walker] gives us access to the cutting edge of contemporary art, and it's our local venue. We're treating it as both special and everyday in this piece."
Since its creation, Hijack has always been a part of the dance and arts ecosystem of the Twin Cities. They moved here when the Minnesota Dance Alliance was still going strong and fostering independent choreographers. They have also had long relationships with other venues such as Bedlam, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Red Eye, and Zenon. "We are very much at home in the alternative venue," says Wilder. "Bedlam, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Red Eye -- both as homage and to give ourselves comfort -- we have all of those places in this current piece. Zenon, too."
Early on in their career, Wilder and Van Loon would often choreograph solos for each other. In 1996, they made their first duet that they both performed in and worked on together. "That was huge for us," she says. "We spent almost a full year making a five-minute piece. That felt like a perfectly fine balance of product and process to us and how seriously we thought that challenge was."
It also solidified their ratio of process to product. "The process was super convoluted," Van Loon says. "There were rabbit holes of improvising and writing and reading and responding getting movement out of that. It was several months of conversation, and it would give us the color of our costumes. That really set the stage for us going forward."
Photo by Gene Pittman
For a long time they were roommates, and even shared a bed at one point, although were never lovers. Rooming together allowed them to live on a small amount of money. Around 2006, they moved apart, and took that and expressed it in choreography. They created two duets, each choreographing the other with one other person. In some ways, it was similar to how they first began when they choreographed each other separately.
Wilder says she sees through lines in Hijack's aesthetic as it has progressed over the years. "Certainly our work is very different -- I hope better and more mature than it was," she says. "We definitely had a love affair with contact improvisation in the mid 1990s, and moved here in the midst of a love affair with absurdism."
In "redundant, ready, reading, radish, Red Eye,"Van Loon says she's happy they figured out pretty early on that they didn't want to do a deliberate retrospective. "We hope it looks like classic Hijack and rises to the occasion at the same time," she says.