Laurie Van Wieren looks back, looks forward

Choreographer Laurie Van Wieren may be 60 years old, but that's not stopping the independent dance maker from having more energy and creativity than most twenty year olds. "I now feel like I'm getting more work again," she says. "I know that's an odd thing to do at 60." 

Next week, Van Wieren is presenting performances and a gallery installation at Studio 206 in the Ivy Building for the Arts. She'll be sharing a work-in-progress piece that takes a look at her past choreography, and is a further exploration of a show she did last December.

When she performed at Studio 206 last winter, she set up six different video monitors showing takes of her work since the 1980s, from solos, to duets to group dances. "Since I've started choreographing, I've never really looked back at my work," she says. "But I had all these video tapes so I thought, 'What am I doing? What was this for? Who did this?'"

Along with the videos, she displayed framed costumes and posters to give some context. Performances included a solo piece that was a collection of works from the past, and a piece called 5 Dancers and a DJ

Last year's reflective piece was so packed that she didn't get a chance to look at the video. This time, she's going to have gallery hours so people can look at the work at times outside of performances.
She's also teaching the solo piece to Sally Rouse, Kristin Van Loon, and Joanna Furnans--three dancers she's never danced with or choreographed. "It's a great process for me," she says, as she looks at her style of movement and codifies it. 

Van Wieren says looking back has helped her to understand how she makes things. "I'm really figuring out my process. When I look at the dance that's going on now, it doesn't seem that different from what I was doing; it's this idiosyncratic downtown mood." 

Van Wieren's dance has always been visual, influenced by her fine arts training. She was trained as a ballet dancer, but ended up focusing on visual art when she went to the Art Institute of Chicago. Then, when she moved to Minneapolis in the late 1970s, she worked at the Walker Art Center as a guard and at the front desk (while writing grants on the sly). "There was a whole group of us there that were artists," Van Wieren recalls. She started to choreograph on her friends who worked at there, and eventually showed her efforts at the Walker's Choreographer's Evening in 1981. 

In 1985, Van Wieren left the Walker when she received a Bush Fellowship for Choreography. But that was only part of the reason. "The Walker said that I would not have a job if I took the five-week fellowship trip that I was about to take," she says. "I had helped in the effort to organize a union, so they really did not want me back."

Though she has worked with various companies, Van Wieren has always been an independent artist. When she's had grant money, she's choreographed dance concerts. Or if  working with a group, she'd perform in a larger hall. She's also done work at places like Patrick's Cabaret, as well as large outdoor pieces with fireworks. "I've kind of moved around," she says. "I think that's why I keep doing it." 

In May, in the wake of its financial difficulties, Van Wieren was laid off from the Southern Theater after working there as dance curator for two seasons. However, she's still maintaining some of the projects she worked on while at the Southern as an independent contractor. She continued to be involved in Momentum even after she left, and she's been working to find a place for SCUBA (previously at the Southern), as well as Tandem. She is also working with Tara King and others to continue the Southern's dance newsletter. "All these pieces; I cannot let these die just because the Southern goes away," she says. "I feel responsible." 

As someone who was part of the Minnesota Dance Alliance, Van Wieren sees there is room for an independent organization to support dance artists. "I've been talking to people about it," she says. "I think it needs to be different than it ever was. How can we all support each other rather than depending on the Southern or other organizations?" 

Meanwhile, Van Wieren is dancing as much as ever, and though she can't jump as high as she once could, "with good body work and yoga and just seeing that older athletes can keep going longer than they thought they could," Van Wieren doesn't plan on slowing down anytime soon. 

Van Wieren's gallery installation will be up at Studio 206 on August 23 and 24 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She'll give a performance, along with Elliott Durko Lynch, from 2 to 3 p.m. The final performances with Van Wieren, Kristin Van Loon, Sally Rousse, Janna Furnans, Tom Carlson, and Michelle Kinney will be on August 25 and 26 at 8 p.m. All events are free, with donations accepted. Email [email protected] for reservations.