You Dance Like a Taxidermist

Hijack will not leave the building: Kristin Van Loon (top) and Arwen Wilder's "Failing to Levitate in the Studio"
Joe Giota

At one time or another, every performer has probably wished she could run directly off the stage and onto the street, never to return. A recent rehearsal finds dancer Sarah Gordon indulging at least half that fantasy on the tiny stage at the Bryant-Lake Bowl. Careering into the upstage door, she knocks it open and almost spills onto the sidewalk outside. Startled passersby stop and stare as she methodically wedges herself into the doorframe and scoots her way to the top--back pressed square on one side, feet on the other. She does a "ta-da!" kind of pose, then crashes to the floor. Choreographer Arwen Wilder gives a little yelp, "Great," while the people outside gasp. "Try it again, only pretend you're figuring out how to climb as you go."

Such "compositional fetishes" are all in a day's work for Wilder and Kristin Van Loon, otherwise known as Hijack. The piece they're rehearsing now, "Amelia Earharts" (2000), is one of the dances that will be performed in their 10th anniversary retrospective this weekend.

"We're presenting 20 dancers doing 10 of the duets and paired solos we've made over the past 10 years, one for every year, in chronological order," says Van Loon, methodically sipping an iced latte. While Wilder and Van Loon watch, Gordon continues her rambunctious tango, flipping desperately across the floor like a fish out of water, then slithering up the wall. Wilder describes the other solo, which will be performed simultaneously by Emily Johnson, as "a wounded animal in a cage, a plane crash, a precarious balance."

This riff, inspired by aviator Earhart, is typical of Hijack's method of bringing tight compositional form to rowdy ideas. While Gordon's movement looks erratic, every spasm and stumble is choreographed. Wilder and Van Loon developed "Amelia Earharts" as they develop all of their work, improvising, strategizing, and then composing. In "Fetish," for instance, their latest duet and the only work they will perform themselves, the two started playing around with a couple of things that interested them at the time--taxidermy and memory-improvement exercises. "In the end, we wound up with a tightly choreographed sequence to a Schubert piano sonata," says Van Loon.

"We're not arbitrary in juxtaposing disparate elements," insists Wilder, "We're trying to show how the imagination really works in finding the connection between unlike things--starting with the two of us." Now in their early 30s, Wilder and Van Loon started working together at Colorado College in the early 1990s. Van Loon, a competitive figure skater, and Wilder, a folk dancer and activist, found that they shared a penchant for conceptual rigor and a kamikaze approach to movement.

The two joined forces and moved to Minneapolis in 1993, where they formed Hijack in response to what Wilder calls the "often boring modern dance concerts" that they encountered. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could leap onstage with a boom box and hijack the performance?'" croons Wilder. "But of course, we would never do anything so mean."

While there is a physical resemblance between the two dancers--they are both small and compact, like gymnasts with ropier muscle--their onstage personalities diverge. Van Loon's coiled delicacy--it often seems as if she could change a tractor tire without ruffling her dress or her composure--contrasts with Wilder's fervent directness. They share a dry, often crusty wit, which Van Loon says they express through "a completely earnest delivery of the material." Ultimately, this retrospective promises to encapsulate the Monty Python quality of their work together--the sense that something wonderfully ridiculous has just been accomplished with supreme gravity and economy.

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