Monday, March 19, 2012

Renovate: A Choreographers' Evening, v. 2012

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For five years, the Ballet of the Dolls and the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis have presented "Renovate," annual dance performances that display the creative outcomes of a dozen different dance makers and the performers they enlist or employ. Bravo to all involved, both for this year's production and for the sustained effort over time!

These presentations help keep dance insiders informed about the creative currents and personalities of their field. They also provide new and independent artists an opportunity to have their work seen by a public. Whether they also help develop a broader audience for the art form, however, is less certain. As a dance insider myself, I knew about this year's performances, but only barely.

"Renovate" • 5th Annual Choreographers' Evening at the Ritz Theater
For sure, enticing an audience in the hope of its engagement can be tough when the daily newspaper in town does not include one's performance in its print calendar listings. However, people with dances to be seen, whether their efforts are emerging or established, can and must do more to help their cause.

At minimum, we must consider how we communicate about what we are doing. Like other sponsors in this city and elsewhere, the Ritz attaches the title of "choreographers' evening" to these performances, even when an evening might be an afternoon. Moreover, for those not familiar with the ways and words of dance, the phrase "choreographers' evening" may evoke either opaque stares of incomprehension or visions of a who's-who cocktail party at which one is probably not welcome. 

If their intent is to introduce a performing product line to new customers, presenting venues and their partners may find it apt to use more vernacular descriptions, something, for example, like "a sampling of dance morsels," and explain how they are like the cheese samples handed out in grocery stores on Saturday mornings. Food, in other words, designed for the heart, mind, and soul.

"Going to the Soirée" • Jim Smith
God lives in the details, and words matter in a hyped-up world. People who cast ballots at the polls and spend dollars in the marketplace are a discerning lot. They pay attention to nuance. They seek value and authenticity. They can appreciate genuine innovation, but not claims of greatness or uniqueness. First, though, they must understand that and how each election, shopping trip, and performance is an occasion worth their participation.

I started this line of musing when a friend and I shared observations about the sparse attendance and performer-specific cheering sections at "Renovate: A Choreographers' Evening" at the Ritz, March 16. It may be bad form or insensitive to say so, but with 12 featured choreographers and many more performers taking the stage, the house, with seating for 240, should have been full and the level of applause more generalized.

Getting to there is no easy task. On the same evening, across the river and a mile away, a dance company celebrated its 20th anniversary with foot-stomping live music and dancing, veteran performers, and a new house built for dance. All 500 seats of the Cowles Center were sold out. With disrespect to no one, one wonders what the Cowles attendance might have been without the explicit sense of anniversary occasion. Often, when looking at standing room only, we consider "a win a win" and move on.

I have learned repeatedly not to trust the hopes and predictions of novice and veteran marketing administrators in the arts. As a friend from a presenting venue in northern Minnesota told me last month, "Ten years ago, I could look like a hero to my board of directors because all my projections came within 1% of plan and budget. Now, nothing that I put on stage is predictable, no matter what I do." 

Ultimately, these issues intertwine with the reality that no performing venue in our state, new or old, suffers from overcapitalization. In that, the allocation and distribution of Legacy Amendment funds by our arts establishment has been disappointing: they gamble too much on projects for the present with too little or no investment for the long term. That is musing for another time, however.

Given all that ballyhoo, how did I like "Renovate: A Choreographers' Evening"? Answer: The first half lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, primarily because the several excerpts from larger works did not fully engage. Overall, the evening provided a chewy and nourishing meal, with a varied selection of novice and experienced dance artists. Featuring fewer works of greater length might be a consideration for the future.

For five years, Lisa Conlin has curated Renovate with a panel of three consultants. This year's panel included Colette Illarde, Jim Lieberthal, and Carol Meyer, one of whom told me that this year's 12 choreographers were selected from an audition field of 21. The program got under way with a late start at 8:07pm.

Sarah LaRose-Holland
Sarah LaRose-Holland is a modern dance choreographer and performer with degrees in finance and dance from the University of Florida. Among other pursuits, she serves as artistic director of the Kinetic Evolutions Dance Company, presenter of the Kinetic Playground series at the Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, and presenter of the Kinetic Kitchen dance series at Patrick's Cabaret. The excerpt offered from "Going to the Soirée," a work she premiered with Kinetic Evolutions at Old Arizona last November, did not stand up particularly well by itself as the program opener. Excerpts can be a gamble that way. It was a colorful work, with red, green, and white dresses, danced competently by Una Setia, Hai Dang Nguyen, Kayla Schiltgen, and Jenny Snug. Set to music by Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

"How to Make a Paper Crane," a solo created and performed by Lindsay M. Anderson, featured a precise, graceful dancer moving with and against the rhythms and images of music composed by Steffen Basho-Junghans and a film edited by Amanda Doerr. The difficulties in starting the film at the beginning of the work were not as unfortunate as if they had occurred during, and the technical crew knows that. Anderson, a modern dancer who has worked and performed with LaRose-Holland and others, holds degrees in dance and English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Conlin, a dancing member of Ballet of the Dolls, staged the Lost Orphans excerpt from her "Blue Heaven," a poetic, seven-movement journey through the stages of grief. The full work had been presented a few weeks earlier at the Ritz and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Four women, Conlin, Leila Awadallah, Raena Smith, and Jennifer Mack, moved to an original score by Mike Hallenback in a segment that worked as a cohesive unit. A question: A couple performers left the stage and moved into the house with lighting that was insufficient for the audience to see them; were they doing something that mattered? If not, why were they there?

Angharad Davies
Angharad Davies earned an MFA in dance from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, has performed throughout the world, and choreographed and taught in the United States and Germany. Currently, she teaches at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and lectures at the University of Minnesota. "Fear," an excerpt from a larger work presented at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, studies the masking and managing of everyday anxieties, and was inspired by silent film images and German expressionist dance. Erin Search-Wells and Sam Johnson, both members of SuperGroup, joined Davies in a vocalized accompaniment to a less than satisfying movement segment. The visuals were striking: all three barefoot, Davies in purple dress, Search-Wells in red dress, and Johnson in white suit. In this setting, the lanky Johnson's expressive – though hirsute – face resembled that of a young Stan Laurel. 

Amanda Leaveck
Amanda Leaveck graduated from the University of St. Thomas with degrees in neuroscience and dance. She choreographed "I Love You," a fascinating solo danced by Christina Omlie to live guitar accompaniment by Tazz Germaine Lindsey. Nice, but I wanted more. We will probably see more with time. Leaveck directs Face Forward, a booking, event planning, and multimedia organization, and serves as artistic director of the Energy Dance Collective.

Christine Maginnis
Christine Maginnis, one of Minnesota's long-reigning dance divas, crafted an original, complex and complete psycho-drama. Throughout "Achtung Bitte!" its characters changed the orientation of set furniture pieces to reflect changing perspectives on three, time-lapse sequences. With Karl Heinzerline/The Butler as a witness, Maginnis/Frau Marquis vied for the attention of Gregory Waletski/Herr Marquis to scratch a particular and insatiable itch. Music of Frankie Yancovic, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, and Sergie Rachmaninoff. Maginnis will perform with Ballet of the Dolls for the first time in May 2012.

Jennifer Mack
Returning from intermission, the stage floor was covered with overlapping sheets of plastic laid wing-to-wing for "Just Within," a solo created and performed by Jennifer Mack. Accompanied by singer/guitarist Matt Marka, Mack moved slowly beneath the plastic from center stage left to upstage center where she emerged, as though from water, in a floor-length white frock and free-flowing long hair. The sound of moving plastic suggested that of rippling wind and water and complemented the distinctive visual imagery. Mack started her dance training in Rochester, Minnesota, and graduated with degrees in dance and arts management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Karen Charles
For her part, Karen Charles holds degrees in ballet and computer science from Texas Christian University, and a Masters in education administration from Georgia State University. In Minnesota, she served leadership roles with the Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins before founding the Threads Dance Project. Four of her company's dancers – Mackenzie Beck-Esmay, Michala Cornell, Karen Gullikson, and Jenny Pennaz – worked with a bench and a long stretch of black veiling fabric in "Childless Mother," set to Sweet Honey in the Rock. The program note told the tale: "A child should not leave the world before its mother. What does a mother do when her identity has been taken from her?" 

Jaime Carrera, a multi-disciplinary artist from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, totally owned his solo, "Residency," with a confidence – a conviction – that I have not seen in some of his earlier performances. Clad only in briefs, with house lights up, he brushed his teeth and danced for himself as one might do before a bathroom mirror when believing no one else was present. Or not caring if they were. Music by The Bad Plus.

Joanie Mix and Jason Lande
Another artist with a foot each in the Rochester and Twin Cities dance worlds has been busy since graduating with a degree from the University of Minnesota. Along with other activities, Joanie Mix co-directs the Rainy Day Cabaret. Roughly half of the eight dancers (Emma Barber, Lindsay Bullock, Sarah David, Emily Hansel, Jennifer Mack, Morgan Olson, Anat Shinar, Ashley Tanberg) in "Promenade Danse la Nuit" are members of that company. They performed to music of CocoRosie and Sneaker Pimps against a black-and-white film projection created by Mix and Jason Lande. From a dance and film with a social message that does not bash, we learn that there are 12,300,000 victims of sex trafficking every year, more than nine million are women, and many are minors. 

If one discounts the summer class sessions I took from a former Broadway hoofer who smoked through kick-ball-changes at the old MacPhail Center for the Arts, then Denise Armstead, another of our divas regnant, was my first get-down-to-business jazz instructor at Zenon Dance Company and School. "Feel My Monkey (WTF)" brought on a pleasant reverie as Armstead and Maginnis danced to Stephanie Lien and The Who with the sound of wind and old-time radio singing voices – Jackie O meets Maria Callas. I want to see these two dancing when both are 70. Armstead will perform at Patrick's Cabaret, Mar. 23-24 and 30-31, and at the Burnsville Center for Performing Arts, June 8.

Carrie Lande
Carrie Lande-Homuth holds a degree in dance from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and moves in dance circles similar to the Rainy Day Cabaret whose ranks provided the six dancers for "Out of my Skin," her second work for a Renovate evening: Emma Barber, Lindsay M. Bullock, Non Edwards, Mackenzie Lewis, Joanie Mix, and Ashley Rose Tanberg. Set in two strong sections to music by Varttina, the first movement, in particular, displays powerful imagery with fists and arms. Parts of the work are strong enough to compete for a SAGE Dance Award. Lande-Homuth will have work represented at Kinetic Kitchen, May 4.

The original of this post was updated to correct the misnamed character portrayed by Gregory Waletski in Christine Maginnis' "Achtung Bitte!"

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