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Walker reveals commissions galore in next year's Performing Arts season

Okwui Okpokwasili: "Poor People's TV Room"

Okwui Okpokwasili: "Poor People's TV Room"

With nine new commissioned performances, the Walker Art Center breaks its own record next season, supporting artists from all over the world as they create new work for Twin Cities audiences. At the Season Reveal party Thursday night, the Walker’s Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither unveiled the exciting lineup, which traverses the spectrum of dance, theater, music, and performance that defies categories.

“It’s more important now than ever, with limited funding nationally, for artists to get resources to make new work,” says Bither. “If artists aren’t making new work, we will have nothing to inspire us and to be able to go and see.”

Among this year’s offerings is the return of French conceptual provocateur Jérôme Bel, a frequent visitor of the Walker Art Center over the years, who will present two works as part of the Jérôme Bel Bookend Festival in November. The festival, which includes his signature minimalist piece “Jérôme Bel,” from 1995, is paired with Bel’s latest large-scale work “GALA,” with a Talking Dance evening of conversation, hosted by Philip Bither, slated for the night between the two performances.

According to Bither, Bel “started as an innovator and an outsider in the dance world, and since that time has become a conceptual art star, and I think one of the most interesting innovative dance makers.”

As happens every year, local choreographers will get a chance to shine at the annual Choreographers' Evening, which is held the weekend of Thanksgiving. Rosy Simas will curate the show this year. Then, in December, Minneapolis-based choreographer Karen Sherman makes her way into the season, with a new piece called “Soft Goods,” offering a behind-the-scenes look at dance performance.

Come January, the celebrated Out There Festival returns, featuring Andrew Schneider’s downtown New York hit “YOUARENOWHERE,” and a piece by Faye Driscoll, who also showed up at the Walker this past February.

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As part of Out There, Nigerian-American performance-movement artist Okwui Okpokwasili, last seen at the museum when she performed in Ralph Lemon’s “Scaffold Room” in 2014, presents a commissioned work about the collective amnesia around women’s resistance movements in Nigeria. The Bessie Award–winning Okpokwasili has a riveting intensity, so it should be a treat to see what she’s come up with for the work that spans Igbo Women’s War of 1929 to the recent Boko Haram kidnappings and #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

Out There finishes up with “La Mélancolie des Dragons” by Philippe Quesne and the Vivarium Studio, drumming up a surreal fantasy with the help of 1980s rock and medieval recorders.

Later in 2017, it’s Cunningham, Cunningham and more Cunningham with a slew of new performances presented in conjunction with the “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” exhibition opening February 7, featuring Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s scenic and costume archive. The artist’s relationship with the Walker began in the early 1960s, and spanned 17 different engagements, including “Ocean,” the outdoor spectacle piece that took place in a quarry outside of St. Cloud, Minnesota, nine months before his passing. “We kept committed to Cunningham because he kept committed to experimentation and to pushing the boundaries of interdisciplinary art and dance,” Bither says. 

In 2011, the Walker became the steward of Cunningham’s massive 4,000-piece archive, and will in 2017 unveil the work in an exhibition that will take up nine galleries. Supplementing that exhibit are three new performance commissions as well as presentations of original Cunningham choreography performed by the final company. Look out especially for Maria Cassabi’s “Staging,” a durational work running 6-10 hours per day in the galleries.

Also in the 2016-17 season, watch for a new work by Israeli-based dance company Batsheva (who drew protests last time they visited Minnesota), which will be co-presented with Northrop Auditorium; Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang; Jazz great Steve Coleman; Italy’s Alessandro Sciarroni; Iraqi American musician and composer Amir Elsaffar; and Kinshasa’s Mbongwana Star. For a trailer of next year’s season, check out the Walker’s website.  See a complete rundown here