2013 Choreographers' Evening at the Walker Art Center: Fleet feet for big brains

JAY GABLER | Updated 12/2/2013

Curators Chris Yon and Taryn Griggs prized conceptual ambition over physical dexterity in this year's edition of the annual choreography roundup.

Choreographers' Evening Walker Art Center
Photo by Gene Pittman, courtesy Walker Art Center

As a snapshot of a community, the Walker Art Center's Choreographers' Evening might be the best annual curated event in Minnesota. It serves a function similar to that of a visual art biennial, and in fact the 2013 incarnation shared a sensibility—for better and for worse—with this fall's Minnesota Biennial at the Soap Factory. Both showcased work that's imaginatively conceived and isn't afraid to have fun, but that's also prone to opacity.

Curators Taryn Griggs and Chris Yon started the evening—which ran in two identical programs on November 30—with this year's best-executed dance, Jes Nelson's "Sugar Babies." Six young girls in dance-recital finery trotted onstage and stood stock still while they recited the choreography they might have executed in those outfits (lots of "Suzie Q"s). They concluded the recital in staggered fashion, dancing offstage one by one until a single girl was left, nervously declaiming her final moves and speaking a bow before happily galloping away to join her peers.

Laurie Van Wieren is always compelling to watch, but her "1964/1994" seemed to end before it began. The piece is dedicated to Van Wieren's first dance teacher Gary Roberts (who died in 1964) and her friend David Lindahl (who died in 1994), but if you don't know much about Roberts or Lindahl, the dancing that began the piece and the singing that ended it were hard to make much of.

Juan M. Aldape's "Cacartels, Cacaffeine and Cucumbia," on the other hand, didn't end soon enough. The first half of the piece, in which Aldape performed a jagged cowboy dance with his face and arms covered in sheer black fabric, was eerie and provocative; the second, in which he held both a hammer and a one-man poetry slam ("I get it, Mexico: America is your Godot") thuddingly broke the spell.

"Yes yes no no," by Kaleena Miller, felt like a sketch rather than a finished piece. Two men (Kevin Iverson, Luke Olson-Elm) and two women (Jessica Fiala, Lizbeth Wawrzonek) performed a busy, breathless series of lockstep moves, between which they quickly changed shirts. Four characters, in search of...something more than this.

After Miller's piece, the house lights went up and we were teased with the promise of a scheduled pause...but no! Out boogied Otto Ramstad, a Practitioner of Body-Mind Centering® (capitals and registration mark taken directly from his bio in the program). Clad in the sort of outfit that John Oates might have worn to Jazzercize, Ramstad athletically rocked out to first the Roots and then Neil Young. For the latter he climbed up into the audience and earned a few giggles with the old duet-with-the-unsuspecting-audience-member trick before retiring and allowing us to actually enjoy a (brief) pause.

Angharad Davies's "THROB" was the biggest piece of the night, enlisting a cast of 15 youngish women in boots and white jumpsuits to alternately preen, stomp, and swoon—with a mass suicide and resurrection at the piece's climax. Themes of adolescence and peer pressure were easy to read, but the piece had enough energy, humor, and visual spark to keep from feeling too didactic.

Theresa Madaus, the "Mad" in Mad King Thomas, took a solo turn with the charming, moving, all-too-brief "Cody," a drag cowboy dance dedicated to "my hometown and the handful of queers who live there."

"Dana [Kessel], Judith [James Ries], and Joanne [Spencer] spent the lion's share of the 1990s dancing together in JAZZDANCE! by Danny Buraczeski. They spent most of the aughts raising children." Spencer's "Still Too Long," continues the program note, "is dedicated to Sunday mornings in the studio, friendship, being moved by music and moving to music." It's a nice story, but unfortunately it's a pretty boring dance. A major miscalculation was setting the second half of the piece to Dessa's "Dixon's Girl," a well-known song with a lyric narrative that's so strong it overwhelms the dance.

The evening closed with the kind of showpiece that's made to end evenings like this: Yeniel "Chini" Perez's "Salsa Rumba Cubana." Perez, clad in a skin-tight sequined shirt the color of egg yolk, performed the piece in a style that might be described as extreme solo salsa. It was the most explicitly virtuosic movement of the evening, which was very exciting to watch but also served as an incongruous coda to this wry, pleasantly thinky evening of homegrown contemporary choreography.