Out There 2012 at the Walker

Young Jean Lee's Untitled Feminist Show
Blaine Davis

The idea of the auteur in theater—where collaboration is the name of the game—may feel a bit off, but Philip Bither, the curator of the Walker Art Center's Out There 2012, its annual festival of experimental theater, sees that as a unifying theme. "It's not just in New York or Europe. It's really happening around the world."

In selecting the artists for this year's festival, Bither says,"It's a unique moment, and we wanted to offer a glance at the global theater landscape and what each of these four distinctly individual auteurs were doing with their work. For each of these creators, you know their work within a few minutes of it starting. Their voices are so strong and striking."

"Young Jean Lee is one of the most exciting theater workers today, and this is a brand-new Walker commission that delves into feminism, its history, its current role in society, and notions of gender and how sexism has pervaded in the culture," Bither says.

The piece, which is still being forged into its final form, uses movement and visual imagery as a main storytelling element. The work "involves fine, really strong performers of all different body shapes and sizes," Bither says. "We're not quite sure what it will be, but it should be something that really challenges us and makes us uncomfortable." (January 5-7)

Rabih Mroue merges a multimedia staging with the traditional art of storytelling in this look at daily life in his native Beirut. Mroue, on his debut United States tour, builds the piece throughout the show, starting onstage and then moving into the audience. His narration is illustrated on three screens onstage.

The artist has been a rising star in the Middle East, and Bither is excited to feature him at the Walker. (January 12-14)

Bither compares Toshiki Okada and his group, Cheltfish, to David Byrne and the early Talking Heads. "He's outside of the mainstream theater scene in Japan, and he uses a very physical language with his actors," he says.

This trio of connected works centers on disenfranchised temp workers who pass their time with inane conversations and meaningless routines.

There's a lot of dark humor, and lighting and sound become characters, using John Coltrane, John Cage, and Stereolab.

When Bither saw the work at a festival, "it had the audience in stitches," he says. "It's funny and appealing and has a very odd quality about it." (January 19-21)

Mariano Pensotti uses an onstage turntable in a novel way: telling the story of four sets of young people through a tumultuous decade in Buenos Aires, when the economy collapsed and forced the characters to reexamine their dreams and lives.

"It's beautifully written," Bither says. "Viewed from the surface, it's like a soap opera, but there's a lot of dry humor, and the actors are terrific." (January 26-28)

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