Walker Art Center announces 2011-2012 performing arts season

Lisa Boudreau in Merce Cunningham Dance Company's Rainforest

Lisa Boudreau in Merce Cunningham Dance Company's Rainforest

This morning the Walker Art Center officially announced its 2011-2012 performing arts season. The schedule includes six commissioned works, a 10-day festival celebrating Merce Cunningham before the Merce Cunningham Dance Company disbands, the annual Out There series featuring artists from all corners of the globe, a two-part mini-festival of new Congolese music, and more.  

Merce Cunningham died in July of 2009, and as part of his wishes MCDC will disband at the end of this year. The Walker Art Center has had a long ongoing relationship spanning 45 years with the choreographer and dance company. The museum has recently acquired the sets, props, and costumes designed by Robert Rauschenberg in the '50s and '60s for Cunningham's company, and will exhibit them from November 3, 2011 to April 8, 2012.

Concurrent with the opening of that exhibition will be a 10-day festival from October 28 to November 6 featuring dance, talks, and workshops celebrating the life and work of one of the most important influences on dance in both the 20th and 21st centuries. The festival includes the final performances of the MCDC, as well as a piece by Jérôme Bel created for Cédric Andrieux, who has danced with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the Lyon Opera Ballet.
The Walker's six new works include Big Dance Theater's Supernatural Wife (November 17-19), an adaptation of Euripides' Alkestis by poet Ann Carson, the world premiere of Young Jean Lee's Theater Company's Untitled Feminist Multimedia Technology Show, Lebanese performance/visual artist Rabih Mroué's Hussein (January 14), Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company's Story/Time (February 16-19), and spoken-word/hip-hop/theater artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph's red, black and GREEN: a blues (March 15-17) which he created in collaboration with visual artist Theaster Gates.  

The season opens with Despair Be Damned: New Music and Dance from the Congo, a two-part mini-festival featuring Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula performing more, more, more ... future, a collaboration with Kinshasa-based guitarist Flamme Kapaya (September 23-24), and the U.S. debut tour of the Congolese soukous/rumba innovators Staff Benda Bilili (September 27). 
"It may seem unlikely," says Walker curator Philip Bither about having a mini festival focused on music and dance from the Congo in Minnesota, "but we have such a large resettled population from different parts of Africa, and contemporary African work is often under-recognized. People in the United State think of Africa as a great source of traditional dance and music, but I think some of the most exciting contemporary forms of expression are coming out of the continent right now." Bither hopes that bringing in artists like Linyekula and Bilili will change people's notions about what they think of as African. "This is really about what the artists of today are making. I find the work tremendously inspiring."

Last year, the ever-popular Out There festival featured European artists. This year's series presents artists from all around the word, including the work of Young Jean Lee from New York, Rabih Mroué from Beirut, chelfitisch and Toshika Okada from Tokyo, and Mariano Pensotti from Buenos Aires (January 5-28).

Music highlights include a two-day festival of bands led by critically acclaimed jazz composer/pianist Vijay Iyer (March 1-2); the 802 Tour (March 22-23) featuring Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon, Doveman, and Nadia Sarota; and a show by Chicago indie band Tortoise, who will play with yet-to-be-named Twin Cities musicians.  

There will also be a number of opportunities to see local artists on the McGuire Stage; the most notable being the annual Choreographers' Evening, curated this year by Chris Schlichting, to be performed the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Also, this summer the Walker will co-present Momentum (July 14-23) at the Southern Theater, which features Mad King Thomas, Kaleena Miller, Kenna Sarge, and Chris Yon. 

City Pages recently met with curator Philip Bither to discuss highlights of the upcoming season, and to take a tour of the McGuire Theater. Below are a few segments from the afternoon. 

Phillip Bither discusses the 2011-2012 season:

Take a tour of the McGuire Theater, from the stage to the dressing room:

The legacy of Merce Cunningham and his troupe's final performance:

Bill T. Jones: