Choreographers’ Evening 2016 at the Walker Art Center: Dancers at War

Choreographers’ Evening 2016 at the Walker Art Center: Dancers at War

“Make no mistake — we are at war,” wrote curator Rosy Simas in a program note for Saturday’s Choreographers’ Evening at the Walker Art Center. “The white supremacy that is preparing to take power of our country is waging a war on women, on Native Americans, Muslims, GLBTQ, People of Color, and undocumented immigrants in Minnesota. Tonight bodies will be dancing — shaping and conducting space and time. These bodies are a protest of the war that has been waged against us.”

The first protest came right at the evening’s outset, as Simas took the stage wearing a sign that read WATER IS LIFE/ PROTECT THE SACRED. Pebaamibines Dennis Jones gave an Ojibwe blessing, and we were off on a largely somber journey through 11 worlds of dance.

It was appropriate that the evening began with a blessing, since the evening often felt akin to a religious ritual: an observance, a ritual, a meditation, an acknowledgement of care and community. A sense of pained witness pervaded dances like Magnolia YSY’s she can be seen walking alone, in which groups of performers moved slowly together and apart, their faces hidden behind long hair; and Paula Mann’s Invisible, in which women seemed to be alienated from their own hands, which alternately grasped at their bodies and hung limply.

Throughout the evening white men were nowhere to be seen onstage, except as hectoring gawkers as a blue-suited Megan Mayer prostrated herself on a table to the soundtrack of Planned Parenthood’s Cecile Richards testifying under witheringly condescending interrogation by Rep. Jim Jordan (Tenacious C). Under other circumstances the evening might have been called a “celebration” of the groups Donald Trump has vilified, but though some cheeky humor snuck into dances like Akiko’s buoyantly defiant F, the predominant mood was far from celebratory.

The evening’s most direct statement came in the form of White Privilege, a complex piece dramatizing sections from the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “White Privilege II,” created and performed by a large cast of young artists led by choreographers Joelle Fernandez, Frankie Hebres, Iman Siferllah-Griffin, and Khadijah Siferllah-Griffin — with impassioned krumping by Jaime Ramberg. Though some have rolled their eyes at the white rapper’s gestures of woke-ness, Macklemore’s message certainly seemed to resonate with the performers and audience on Saturday night, inspiring shouts of affirmation at lyrics like, “We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?”

Black lives were also powerfully represented in an interlude from BLAQgospel: LAVISH, created and performed by Deja Stowers — BLAQ. A slow-motion solo by Stowers evolved into a dance circle of six women performing to a churning Afrobeat soundtrack, then finally breaking to run out into the audience for a quiet moment of presence.

Four more solo dances ranged from tortured (Her Kind, a dance by Laura Selle Virtucio with Holo Lue Choy, who writhed in the glare of onstage spotlights) to transcendent (Taja Will’s precise and probing Bruja // Fugitive Majesty). Robert Keo all but stole the show with his magical Solo Dolo No Mo, performed under full house lights to a sweet piano theme from Final Fantasy VII; while Erin Drummond brought a feral energy to DEAD LIZARD WOMAN, rising slowly from a crawl while vocalizing wordless anguish.

After all that experimentation, the evening ended on a formal note as Josh Atcheynum and Sheena Cain of Native Pride Dancers performed a courtship ritual. While in a sense it seemed incongruous to see gender roles enacted in such a traditional manner — with the man dancing circles around the woman to signal his interest — the respectful duet also reminded us of how far we’ve fallen to find ourselves inaugurating a proudly “pussy-grabbing” president.

For these performers, the declaration displayed at curtain call summed it up: THE REVOLUTION HAS BEGUN.

Jay Gabler

Photo: Rosy Simas (Gene Pittman/Walker Art Center)