There’s always a certain conceptual flavor to the Choreographers’ Evening — this is the Walker Art Center, after all — but this year’s collection of dances were, even more than usual, about freeing your body by freeing your mind. In some of the pieces, in fact, there was hardly any movement at all.
Curated, with a warm eye towards absurdity, by Justin Jones, the 43rd annual November classic demonstrated just how much local talent is chafing at the bit of traditional genres and formats, suggesting that cross-pollination among the performing arts is accelerating at a rapid — and welcome — pace.
It was apt that the evening was bookended by Jeffrey Wells of SuperGroup, at the opening; and DaNCEBUMS, at the conclusion. Both SuperGroup and DaNCEBUMS have built devoted followings by melding intellectual ambition with an unflagging sense of humor and an embrace of simple fun.
Wells’s Monotone #3 is an amusingly minimalist take on vocal performance, with the dancer contorting himself into increasingly strained positions while singing a single note. DaNCEBUMS’ One-Move-Dance enlists a cast of seemingly thousands (actually, 29) in a progression of simple but jubilant steps, celebrating the diversity of human movement.
Humor was strongly present throughout the evening, notably in the one-two punch of the young Ea Eckwall’s Something About Meow, which costars Max Wirsing and an appalled-looking kitten; and Fire Drill’s excerpt from Novelty Shots: A Political Fantasy. In the latter, eight performers compete to outdo each other in attracting audience members’ attention; tits came out, Adele was sung, and there was a lot of screaming.
A note of absurdity was struck by Dolo McComb’s Tyrannysaurus Wench (part 1/3), in which three dancers clad in shabby-elegant loungewear visited “the year 1942 at a diner on Mars via Wyoming” (via a program note). Another way to describe the setting of this surreal dance, set to a mid-century soundtrack, would be a cocktail bar in Twin Peaks by way of India.
It wasn’t all fun and games: Pedro Pablo Lander brought hearts into throats with an excerpt from his self-flagellating Maricón (Faggot), and Vie Boheme (Kendra Dennard) performed an achingly resonant Study of Performance Boundaries (and much more). First dancing proudly into a spotlight, Dennard ultimately became trapped within that spotlight as she repeatedly, desperately sang the words “here we go again.”
A couple of the pieces took big risks, going far outside the boundaries of conventional dance performance. I was moved by the humble Tai Chi Bird, in which Katherine Goodale sat still with her back to the audience and slowly stretched her arms amidst a warm glow of light.
On the other hand, I was irritated by Jes Nelson’s gimmicky and uninteresting macarena.zip. In that piece, 16 dancers (identified in the program as only the numerals 1-16) each — simultaneously and silently — make one movement from the Macarena, after which the audience is forced to stare at an empty stage while sitting through a recording of Los Del Rio’s “Macarena” that’s been manipulated into waltz time.
Perhaps the two most poignant dances were duets, each about simple human connection. Tom Lloyd and Craig VanTrees performed getting caught in a rainstorm of light, which portrays love as a sort of emotional sumo wrestling set to a jukebox soundtrack; that’s spot-on, in my experience.
The audience’s warmest reception was reserved for This Is Where I Stand by Cary Bittinger and Angelique Lele; Lele performed in a wheelchair, having been paralyzed while trapeze-training in 2012. The dance, in which the two women at first seem to be alter egos and then make eye contact and find one another, was the evening’s most straightforward — but sometimes, even at Walker, simplest is best.