Sally Rousse brings HCA's history (freemasons! bingo parlors! Prince!) to life

The HCA building on Hennepin.

The HCA building on Hennepin. Steve Rice/Star Tribune

How many times have you walked by a historic building without paying any attention to its architecture or occupants, past and present?

ICON SAM: Temple Dances

The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts

Sally Rousse’s fabulous new site-specific performing tour of the Hennepin Center for the Arts in downtown Minneapolis, originally a Masonic Temple, invites guests to see this place anew. Titled Icon Sam: Temple Dances (it’s an anagram for “masonic”), guests are led through the eight-story, historic, 1888 building while an array of Twin Cities performers regale them with stories spoken, written, and danced.

Be not afraid. Yes, Hennepin Center for the Arts, which is part of the Cowles Center for the Performing Arts since the Schubert Theater was wheeled over and linked to the temple, includes lots of arts organizations. And just as the Masons were famous for their secret symbols, rituals, and regalia, so seemingly is the arts world—especially when it comes to dance. Both are revealed here, in a fun and fantastical, informative, and enlightening performance.

As guests are led up stairwells, through secret passageways, into theaters, and across balconies, dancers appear—like statuary—in window wells, on rafters, and in corners. The ever-dynamic and hilarious Megan McClellan wrestles mightily with the furniture, sending herself zooming across a conference table while flinging chairs for Brian Sostek (both are founders of Sossy Mechanics) to stack artfully in a corner during a reading of a manifest for the building’s use. A gorgeous dance work by Judith Howard in the Tek Box showcases many of the area’s most accomplished dancers, from young to experienced, who wear gold lamé body suits overlaid with strategically torn sports jerseys and jackets.

Yes, there’s more dance, including two works by Wynn Fricke set to the hauntingly heartbreaking “Just” by David Lang: Rousse, performing on a balcony with languor and rigor, and an homage to choreographer Bebe Miller (who created a similar work in the building in which Fricke performed) in the sixth floor theater featuring the astonishingly evocative Alanna Morris-Van Tassel.

The 90- to 120-minute production (times vary depending on the group to which you’re assigned) includes HIJACK interacting with hangers, cabinets, and a window; Minnesota Dance Theater performing ballet; and Mistress Ginger (Justin Leaf) serenading guests to the building’s most upper rooms.

Image courtesy Walker Art Center

Image courtesy Walker Art Center Cameron Wittig

Icon Sam also honors such iconic performers as Prince and Mikhail Baryshnikov, who rehearsed in the building. Posters and a timeline allow guests to reminiscence about past performances. History lessons on Masonic lore and legend, past residents (from a beauty salon to a bingo parlor), and other fun facts receive nods in costuming, passing references, and hilarious asides.

This is a show that’s immersive and innovative.

Embedded throughout the work, however, are the ardor and arduousness of creativity, the repetition and ritual of artmaking, the revealing of the behind-the-scenes and often secretive processes of generating a performance (whether theater piece, dance work, or Masonic event) that belies the private work behind the public image. Join in the promenade and you’ll never be inattentive to the building again.


Icon Sam: Temple Dances
6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays.
Through June 24

ICON SAM: Temple Dances

The Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts