Momentum celebrates 10 years in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Kenna Cottman, Chris Schlichting and Kaleena Miller
Kenna Cottman, Chris Schlichting and Kaleena Miller
Photo Courtesy the Walker Art Center

As part of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and also in honor of Momentum's 10th season, three up-and-coming Twin Cities-based choreographers -- Kenna Cottman, Chris Schlichting, and Kaleena Miller -- will be presenting new works in the garden as part of August's Free First Saturday. While past anniversaries of the Sculpture Garden have included commissioned work from internationally acclaimed choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and Bill T. Jones, for this occasion the Walker chose to highlight the growth of the Twin Cities dance scene.

Hijack, 2001
Hijack, 2001
Photo courtesy the Walker Art Center

Momentum started in 2001 as a collaborative project of the Walker Art Center, the Southern Theater, and the Minnesota Dance Alliance. The first year included three weekends of performances, showcasing artists such as Rosy Simas and Baraka de Soleil the first weekend, dance duo Brad Garner and Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner the second, and Arena Dances by Mathew Janczewski and Hijack, a collaboration between Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, the third. 

"I was seeing quite a few talented Minnesota-based dance artists emerging, then throwing up their hands because no one was coming to their shows," recalls performing arts curator Philip Bither about why Momentum started. It was a critical moment, as artists could not afford to keep producing shows out of pocket. Momentum served a niche between self-producing and showcasing at events.  

When Momentum first started, it was an equal partnership between the Walker, the Southern Theater, and Dance Alliance. Since then, Dance Alliance has closed, and the Southern has faced financial challenges, making them unable to commit as a full partner.

Professional Development and Support

Upon moving to the Twin Cities Michèle Steinwald, who joined the Walker in 2006, was struck by the quality of conversation around performances from within the dance community, including programs such as 9x22 at the Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Red Eye's New Works series.

"Momentum is part of that landscape," she says. Steinwald implemented program peer group showings of the works into Momentum a couple of months before being presented to the public. This is a way for participants to give non-critical feedback, offering their fellow artists observations about what images resonate. They don't try to shape the pieces, but rather articulate what is rising to the top as they are watching.  

In addition, Steinwald added a technical rehearsal two weeks before the performance where the pieces have to be finished. Often, Steinwald says, self-producing artists can wait until the last minute to have everything in place. In order to give the performance more "legs," the Walker gives the artists a deadline before the show so that they can concentrate on the nuances of design and costuming, and still have time for fine-tuning. 

On her end, Steinwald is able to see the works in the early stages in a performative setting so that she can better talk about the work to the press, as well as to make sure that the performers have the staff and resources to do the show. 

Steinwald has aimed at making the planning "more transparent, so we can understand what we are supporting," she says. The process models what happens at a large institution, like the Walker, for bigger shows. 

When the financial crisis hit, Momentum took a year off, and the Walker took on a larger role. They decided to debut new works every year, giving the artists 9 months to prepare. Now, each artists gets 13 months, which has resulted in the pieces being much more mature. 

In 2011, the Walker also began partnering with Springboard for the Arts, who provides customized workshops for the artists that are available after they do Momentum to help leverage additional opportunities to expand their networks.  

A Critical Step

Dylan Skybrook, 2009
Dylan Skybrook, 2009
Photo courtesy the Walker Art Center

Many of the artists chosen for Momentum have ultimately gone on to have full commissions by the Walker, including Morgan Thorson, BodyCartography Project, Mathew Janczewski, and Emily Johnson. Aparna Ramaswamy and Hijack, who presented at Momentum, will also be featured later this year at the Walker. 

The hope, Bither says, is to encourage artists to stay in Minnesota, rather than move on to greener pastures in New York or other cities. "We want to keep key people influential in the scene," he says.

In the last six or seven years, Bither says he's observed that the Twin Cities could use a step between Momentum and getting a fully commissioned spot at the Walker, so they've invited three artists with diverse aesthetics to create works to be presented in the sculpture garden on its 25th anniversary. 

Traditionally, when celebrating other anniversaries, the Walker has brought in big name choreographers, such as Merce Cunningham when the Sculpture Garden turned 10, and Bill T. Jones when the Sculpture Garden turned 15.

"We could have invited an internationally acclaimed choreographer, but we felt we wanted to highlight the growth of the Twin Cities dance scene," says Bithers. "Many of our artists are touring regularly nationally, and getting awards and recognition more than any other time in the history of Minnesota. We felt it was the appropriate and right thing to do to spend the commissioning money on artists who have graduated out of Momentum, but who we don't have space for in the season."

The artists for this weekend each are distinctive for different reasons. Schlichting has created his own "formal and accessible vocabulary, with a real design sense," says to Bither, with "nuance around how he shapes movement and language." 

Cottman, meanwhile, has "deeply tapped into African and African American roots, but also has a great sense of history of contemporary dance," says Bither. 

Finally, Miller draws from percussive dance and American tap, and puts it into a post-modern and choreographed framework. "She's seeking to advance the tap form using a vocabulary people know and love. It's less improvised and more shaped," Bither says. 

Each of these artists will present a 30-minute work, and Bither hopes each of the pieces will go on to have a larger life. 


MTM @ 10
11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, August 3
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
In case of rain, the performance will take place in the McGuire Theater.

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Walker Art Center

1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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