A Little Something for Nothing


Oops! I forgot that when Tere O’Connor first conceived DTW’s The Nothing Festival, he had a suggested agenda for critics writing about the performances: We weren’t to take notes. Since he planned on having eight selected choreographers enter the rehearsal studio with nothing in mind and make a dance, why shouldn’t we writers refrain from making decisions about what we were seeing until we started to write? To O’Connor, note-taking distracts the critic from what’s really happening onstage. To me it’s a memory jogger. Anyway, it’s too late now. Maybe I won’t look at my notes (will you, dear reader, be able to tell whether I have or not?).

One aspect of the festival makes it especially enticing to dancemakers in these difficult high-rent days. They’re provided with studio space and everything the finished work may turn out to require in the way of lighting, costumes, and sound accompaniment. They don’t have to fundraise, which also means they don’t have to try to make a project appear enticing on an application form before they know for sure what it’s going to be. Whether they all played fair is moot. O’Connor defines “nothing” as no outside sources, no pre-selected music, no “ideas.” However, as he pointed out in an interview, the choreographers selected may each define “nothing” differently.
Even if Douglas Dunn, HIJACK, Sam Kim, and Dean Moss with Ryuto Mishima—whose works premiered during the festival’s first week—adhered to O’Connor’s guidelines, they inevitably brought something with them to the process: their respective aesthetics. It was a given, say, that Dunn would make a dancey dance, and that Dean Moss would not. And a distinct possibility that Kim would venture into eccentricity. The point was not to strive for a masterpiece—just to make something and see where it led. It’s not surprising, then, that most of the pieces look like works-in progress (although only one, Moss and Mishima’s, is so labeled).

Kim’s Cult—choreographed in collaboration with Justine Lynch and performed by the two women—is more a study of possession by a diabolic force than a story about a relationship. We don’t know anything about the women when they begin and by the end have learned mainly that, although they’re occasionally pitiable, we should be wary of inviting them for an overnight visit. Kim and Justine Lynch (who collaborated on the choreography) wear old-fashioned white dresses; they’re barefoot, with unkempt hair, and their fingernails (pink for Kim, dark red for Lynch) are as long as claws. Quaking, rolling their eyes up in their heads, making terrible faces, they scrabble and scamper around. The sound of scissors snipping that creeps in at some point may relate to the women’s habit of pulling themselves and each other up and around by the hair. You expect their heads to spin 360 degrees at any moment.

Kristin Van Loon (left) and Arwen Wilder in their
Colin Rusch and Angelina Jolie.

photo: Julieta Cervantes

Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder of the Minneapolis-based HIJACK are cooler customers, but, in their own way, more enigmatic. Take the title: Colin Rusch and Angelina Jolie. Should we be trying to connect an internationally famed movie star with a noted Minneapolis dancer- choreographer-entrepreneur? A large map of the world on a stand shows population density (Jolie and international adoptions?), and Van Loon and Wilder’s costumes, intricately wrapped and partially covered in plastic, pick up the map’s color scheme (beige, brown, green, and dull blue). The two women execute a series of apparently unrelated tasks that include forming a glum, mechanical kick line; grabbing one another by the shoulders and skittering around; and reciting a series of number in the low thousands (they both skip 6000; relevant?). They don’t relate the pointer they carry on to the map, but they do use it to refer back to Van Loon’s opening out-of-the-blue remark: “How do I make my penis one foot long? Fold it in half” (long pause). They both employ English accents. Colin Rusch and Angelina Jolie reminds me of certain works of the 1960s, in which absurd actions with no apparent cause-and-effect relationships to one another were embedded in meticulous structures.

Dunn’s Zorn’s Lemma, also mysteriously titled, is a perfectly accomplished, zany piece in which all the dancers wear wonderfully bright costumes by Mimi Gross (patchwork is too crude a term to describe the mix of colored shapes), and Carol Mullins renders them even brighter with doses of orange or yellow light. Dunn cavorts like an aging saltimbanque, grasping and punching at solutions to problems that appear to hang in the air beyond his grasp. Liz Filbrun and Alexis Maxwell perform with self-absorbed precision, their legs and feet as active as those of Merce Cunningham’s dancers. They’re peculiar and dainty at the same time, and Gisela Quinteros, who arrives late, is even more dangerously demure. Paul Singh and Christopher Williams are more rough-and-tumble despite their expertise—a couple of rowdy guys. Williams performs like a Douglas-Dunn-in-training—but with a wildly mobile torso. These six quite endearing individuals occasionally help or manhandle one another, but by the end, they’re all thrashing around in separate fits. Their antics are accompanied by composer Marina Rosenfeld, who—busily spinning platters and pushing buttons—creates a magical, often delicate tissue of ringing, chiming sounds.

If Williams and Singh occasionally resemble monkeys in their gambols, Moss and Mishima in their collaborative States and Resemblance, allude to a primal evolutionary state—wandering about naked, their knees bent and their butts protruding slightly. Before long, laughing and chatting quietly together, they don shirts, trousers, and shoes. The performers move and pose in matter-of-fact but dreamy ways, sometimes doing the same thing, sometimes different things. Non sequiturs keep the texture jumpy, even as Caetano Veloso’s sweet, distant singing flows out of a boombox. Mishima has a fit on the floor and then laughs; Moss walks briefly like an old man. Mishima keeps looking intently at Moss. Whatever journey they’re on or whatever they’re investigating, they’re a compelling team.

The Indonesian dancer Restu Kusumaningrum makes two curious appearances. The first time, she moves smoothly and suppley, casting black saucer-sized disks onto a small white floorcloth. For her second appearance, wearing a demonic mask, she dances with a fan. At the end, while the men gaze at the shadows that Shawn King’s lighting throws on the gray back wall, she lies down, and the men, each holding a disk in front of his face, slowly back up. is compelling. I look forward to seeing States and Resemblance completed.

Those attending The Nothing Festival’s second-week program to check out pieces by Luciana Achugar. Walter Dundervill, Jon Kinzel, and Susan Rethorst may find themselves doing a little lobby dancing with a spook. While the installation by Jonah Bokaer and Liubo Borrisov can hardly live up to its optimistic title, A Cure for Surveillance, it prompts questions about how and why we are being watched—often without our knowledge or consent—as we go about our lives.

The process is hinted at by videos of dancers studded with the sensors necessary for motion capture. Projected on a large central area between the two monitors that show the videos is the lobby scene: people entering, chatting, drinking coffee with friends. But someone else is here. A male figure, sketched out in white lines, moves among us, vanishing and reappearing. You can see right through him to his backbone. He doesn’t deviate from his straightforward dance phrase, but his presence is affected by the actions of the people in the lobby, especially by large, sudden moves. Suddenly, he’s almost on your lap, or pointing at the floor when you bend down to pick up your purse. You stir; he’s there. Projected onto one of the building’s windows and viewable from the street, his doppelganger dances amid the cars; traffic turns him on.

The pre-recorded videos sometimes show the dancer wearing the sensors partnered by one who isn’t so equipped and therefore escaped surveillance. Both the ideas and the installation are seductive and very scary. It’s a good thing the spectral guy isn’t taking notes.