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Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance

Karen Sherman's "One with Others" 
Karen Sherman's "One with Others" 
Photo by Aaron Rosenblum
The Twin Cities is a great place for dance and experimental performance (the two forms often blur into one another), and there are many independent choreographers, performance artists, and experimental theater makers who constantly push into new directions to create smart, engaging work. Here's a few of the pieces that we liked best this year. 
Photo by Gene Pittman
Photo by Gene Pittman

"Hijack at 20" at the Walker Art Center

As one of the most highly anticipated shows of the year, "Hijack at 20" at the Walker Art Center did not disappoint. The wigs and lavish costumes, magnificent stage pictures, and stagehands that were a part of the show made it a performance that the Twin Cities will remember for a long time. Featuring an ensemble of dancers, the evening-length performance was a full-on sensory overload, giving us a delicious assortment of music that worked in tandem with the theatrical choreography. Best of all, the event gave us plenty of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder moving together as no other two dancers can, shifting and balancing as two parts to the same whole, born out of more than 20 years dancing together. 

 

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance


Ananya Dance Theatre's "Dance of a Thousand Water Dreams" at Northern Spark

One of the highlights of this year's Northern Spark festival was Ananya Dance Theatre's "Dance of a Thousand Water Dreams," a ritualistic dance piece that journeyed from Lambert's Landing on the Mississippi River to St. Paul's Union Depot. Collaborating with a group of Native women, including Sharon Day, Ananya Chatterjea's magical piece brought audience members into the procession, creating a joyful and ethereal experience.

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance

"Underpass," BodyCartography Project

As part of Secret City, the one-day event in Minneapolis that acted as a kind of alternative to Northern Spark, which was in St. Paul this year, BodyCartography Project presented a bewitching piece underneath the I-94 underpass near the Basilica. That evening, the show began as a solo performed by Timmy Wagner, who wormed his body in creature-like movements when he was not lying on the concrete as if dead. The performance gradually grew to include an ensemble of dancers flocking about, enveloping Wagner in their wings before disappearing again. The gritty industrial setting provided some cool lighting effects, and the performance ended with an audience participation section where the onlookers (including R.T. Rybak, who was at the event), joined the dancers in holding up the freeway pillars as an gesture of gratitude. 

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance
Photo by Bruce Silcox 

Zainab Musa's Habeas Corpus at Naked Stages

While performance artists exploring identity isn't anything new, Zainab Musa's Habeas Corpus felt surprising and inventive. Integrating dance, text, and vocalizations, Musa presented a work that was both funny, erotic, and in a non-linear format. Along with director Sam Johnson, Musa created an unforgettable piece, and displayed her incredible magnetism as a performer.

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance
Photo by Gene Pittman 

Jes Nelson

Jes Nelson cleverly turned choreography inside out in a piece that featured about a half-dozen tweens decked out like Vegas showgirls, complete with feathers, thick makeup, and coifed hair. Performed at Ritz Monday Live Arts, with other iterations at the Choreographers' Evening at the Walker and at the Rochester Art Center, the work began with the girls tap dancing onto the stage and then speaking their intricate steps rather than dancing them. The steps were spoken on their own time by each girl instead of simultaneously, and the girls falap ball changed off one by one until one girl remained getting through to the end. A commentary, perhaps, on the over-sexualization of young girls in dance as well as an illustration of just how much brain power it takes to remember all the steps, the piece was both charming and delightful. 

 

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance
Photo Jon Ferguson 

The Brutes, Theatre Forever
 

Jon Ferguson set up shop in a rough warehouse space on Minnehaha Avenue for The Brutes, a searing original production by Ferguson's company, Theatre Forever. An investigation of war and violence, the piece took place in an undefined time period in a country no bigger than the palettes that made up the set. Sometime terrifying, sometimes darkly funny, the actors, with the help of Tim Cameron and Wu Chen Khoo, the sound and lighting designers who aided in transforming the space into another place and time, mined the worst qualities of humanity in an oddly beautiful and poetic fashion, thanks to Dominic Orlando's Beckett-ish text. 

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance
Photo by Megan Mayer 

"You're Soaking in It," Megan Mayer

Sometimes, it's nice to be able to just enjoy the pleasure of a performance without worrying too much about how deep it is. Though Megan Mayer's "You're Soaking in It," performed at Bryant-Lake Bowl, certainly had a lot of layers of meaning going on, and plenty of juicy bits to pick apart afterwards, it succeeded at what post-modern dance and performance art sometimes forgets about: not being boring. Filled with over-the-top emotions, silliness, and a soundtrack that had folks swinging in their seat, "You're Soaking in It" was a delight. Featuring Mayer's goofy sense of humor and the unparalleled talents of the Greg Waletski, Mayer created a wonderful evening that entertained as much as it made you think. 

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance
Photo courtesy Voice of Culture 

"Voice of Culture" at Outlet Performance Festival

A very special performance took place this summer in the basement of Los Amigos grocery store as part of the Jaime Carrera-curated Outlet Performance Festival. Kenna Cottman's "Voice of Culture," which fused African drumming and dance with black American styles, was a jubilant performance featuring talents as young as four and five years old, and eventually got the audience up on its feet. Cottman, herself a dynamic and skilled performer, orchestrated this lively and spirited event.  
 
Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance

Between the Worlds, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre

This year, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre brought back its Winter Solstice song cycle, an all-female production of Between the Worlds. First created in 1992 by Esther Ouray and Laurie Witzkowski, the piece features beautiful harmonies and incredible puppetry while celebrating multiple generations of women in a fun, spiritual evening. 

Year in Review 2013: Dance and Experimental Performance
Photo by Karen Sherman 

Karen Sherman's One with Others at Red Eye Theater

With costumes made out of mechanical and wooden forms, Karen Sherman's "One With Others," at Red Eye Theater, felt more like a moving sculptural installation than a straight-up dance piece, though there was plenty of movement in the work as well, along with a section where the three performers -- Karen Sherman, Joanna Furnans, and Jeffrey Wells -- practiced improvisational acting. There was some really powerful imagery in the show, both through the contraptions that the dancers "wore" as well as other sculptural set pieces that enlivened the space. The work also felt very personal, with Sherman revealing her vulnerabilities as an artist with humor and a dash of snark. 

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