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Mad King Thomas: "We have a lot of integrity but very little dignity"

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Monica Thomas, Tara King, and Theresa Madaus met at Macalester College, where they formed the wildly innovative performing group Mad King Thomas. For their 10th anniversary they’re presenting “Unearthing the Family Jewels,” an evening of signature dance works re-imagined and recast.

As women negotiating the third and fourth waves of feminism while simultaneously paying homage to its history, MKT has been assiduously self-conscious and self-reflexive. As experimentalists with a lot of performance savvy, they have kept that inner Riot Grrrl thing going while addressing some fairly serious stuff.

“We have a lot of integrity but very little dignity,” says Thomas during an interview in a busy hallway of the Ivy Building, where MKT is rehearsing. “We aim to keep working toward who we are, who we could be, and how we are evolving. Onstage, all of our idiosyncrasies can be rehearsed.“

They begin each new work by experimenting with something they’ve never done before. Their outré assemblages of movement, text, images, and a bizarre assortment of props and costumes have made them very popular with audiences interested in dance, theater, and contemporary performance.

“We have a shared sense of the ridiculous,” adds King. “We can take the silliest and most embarrassing ‘what if?’ and make it more and more ridiculous.”

 

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In 2010, one male reviewer posited that MKT are their work, and that they could not successfully set their pieces on any other woman. So for their concert this weekend, MKT decided to set five of their works on 15 of the area’s most accomplished and entertaining male dancers. The “binary flip” was not to demean or satirize masculinity, but rather to infect their work with the rich lives of dancers they admire.

“Plus, they look so great in our costumes,” croons Madaus.

At a recent rehearsal, Gabe Anderson, Nic Lincoln, and Jeff Wells were being put through the paces of MKT’s 2007 work “I Almost Really Like You, or Not Someone To Pin Your Dreams On Irrationally.” Originally, the women created the piece to grapple with the very different experiences they have had in relationships. “Our histories in terms of love and sex have varied widely,” says King.

The men perform what looks like a cross between club dancing and a mating ritual. There’s a lot of smutty chatter about degrees of hardness and masturbation. At one point Anderson reads from a series of love letters, piling up clichés, non-sequiturs, fervent pleas, and rejections (e.g. “The best things in life are always best” and “Like Eminem says: chickens they come, chickens they go”). MKT text often has a way of simultaneously sounding really smart and really dopey, not unlike the dialogue in the HBO series Girls

And like Lena Dunham, the creator of Girls, MKT’s madness is always methodical. During the rehearsal King directs Wells, who plays her part, on how to eat a bunch of stuff in a very particular order: “First the chocolate, then the sausages in order of size, then the rose. Oh, and you can wash it down with the wine any time you need to.”

Later, the three talk about their wary relationship to feminism in language that could be incorporated into one of their pieces:

Thomas: “We’re obsessed with feminism. Our work is overtly about feminism.”

King: “But sometimes it’s, like, damn it, it’s irrelevant to us.”

Madaus: “It’s always part of our investigation of how our identities fit in the world.”

Thomas: “Take the idea of hysteria. Maybe it’s not me, maybe it’s because the world fucking sucks and you have to scream sometimes. Anyway, we work at the intersection of messy things like class, race, gender, and sexuality.”

If not quite Panglossian, their worldview does seem cautiously optimistic.

“We are not nihilists. Our job is to make the world better,” says Thomas. In fact, all three insist that this concert is a celebration of the Minneapolis dance community that has nurtured them.

With that in mind, the second half of the show will feature dances created and performed by four of their mentors, commissioned by MKT. These include HIJACK (Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon), Judith Howard, and Emily Johnson, visiting choreographers who cast King, Madaus, and Thomas in dances when they were students at Macalester.

“It was at Macalester that I first realized dance could be both an intellectual exercise and a way of getting to the nitty-gritty of life,” says King.

MKT put this show together long distance. King had moved to LA where she currently designs websites, and Thomas to Boston where she’s attending grad school to become a dance therapist. Madaus has been holding down the fort in Minneapolis, making things work through what she terms “a miracle of Skype and email.”

That they have managed to create a new work for themselves from far-flung places testifies to the grit and resolve of these intrepid women. “10 is For The Rumble” will top off a show that mixes the mundane, the marvelous, and the just plain silly.

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IF YOU GO:

"Unearthing the Family Jewels"

$14-$24 sliding scale

7 p.m. Thursday through Sunday

JSB Tek Box, Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

528 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-206-3600