SOLO: Celebrating the McKnight Foundation's 2012 and 2013 Dance Fellows

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Since its establishment in 1953, Minnesota’s McKnight Foundation has sought to “improve the quality of life for present and future generations through grant making, collaboration, and encouragement of strategic policy reform.” One of the ways that McKnight works to realize this mission is through its Artist Fellowships Program, which grants yearly Fellowship Awards of $25,000 plus additional forms of support, to selected Minnesota artists in 12 disciplines, including Dance and Choreography.

Dancers and choreographers who have established a significant body of work and are at a stage in their career beyond “emerging” are considered for an award only after completing an extensive application process. Receiving the Dance Fellowship seems particularly exciting because awardees are granted the opportunity to commission a solo work from the choreographer of their choice.

2014 McKnight Choreography Fellow, Joanie Smith. Photo © Tim Rummelhoff.

2014 McKnight Choreography Fellow, Joanie Smith.
Photo © Tim Rummelhoff.

On Sunday, October 5, 2014, solos by the 2012 and 2013 awardees were performed at the Northorp Auditorium in Minneapolis. Interspersed between the dances were videos offering glimpses at each dancers’ reactions to receiving the award and memories of the rehearsal process, along with the choreographers’ interpretations of the solos they created.

Aswini Ramaswmy (2012 Dance Fellow) performed Sankara Sri Giri choreographed by Alarm él Valli.  With bells around her ankles, jewels in her hair, and costumed in shimmering golds, purples, and pinks, Ramaswamy danced to live percussion and vocal accompaniment.  She mostly faced the audience, alternating between intricate finger and eye motions, theatrical and devotional poses to exuberant jumping and stamping.

Next up was The Entertainment, choreographed by D.J. Mendel for Tamara Ober (2013 Dance Fellow).  This humorous mix of dance and speech was set to sections of Pachebel’s “Canon in D” layered with the deep voice of an unseen Choreographer who spoke to Ober throughout the solo.  After the booming voice was ultimately silenced, The Entertainment closed as Ober danced unaccompanied and un-criticized. It was a superficially satisfying conclusion, and sort of unrealistic, but Ober’s suddenly expansive and luxurious movement quality made up for that.

Stephen Schroeder (2012 Dance Fellow) closed the first act with I met the soul walking along the path, choreographed by James Morrow. Much of the dance involved flinging and retracting the forearms, deep lunging motions of the legs, and sweeping, circular glides across the floor. Schroeder’s abrupt, regular shifts in energy—from wild and unchecked to restrained and self-aware—created moments of transition in what seemed like a stream of consciousness series of movement.

The second act opened with Taryn Griggs (2012 Dance Fellow) in Jodi Melnick’s soloscape. Griggs flopped to the floor,  lifted and dropped her limbs, and whipped around in forceful turns. My favorite part of soloscape came after a change in lighting about three-quarters of the way through. Suddenly, Griggs’ shadow—now giant-sized—moved about on the scrim behind her, as if it were the silhouette of an enormous partner who matched Griggs’ every move.

Greg Waletski (2013 Dance Fellow) followed with Gut Renovations with Greg Waletski, by Karen Sherman. Though Waletski’s performance was theatrical and his body played a central role in the work, though some might be hesitant to call his solo a dance. Mostly, Waletski stood onstage in a moderate fourth position and spoke to the audience. Eventually, he also swept his arm and vigorously lunged from side to side. The piece concluded with Waletski dragging a large chandelier on the diagonal from the upstage left corner and leaving it onstage—dust floating up from its frame— as he exited downstage right. Waletski has great comedic timing and the text he delivered was clever and engaging. Because of the nature of Gut Renovations with Greg Waletski, I can’t say very much about his skill as a dancer in the conventional sense, which strikes me as a bit odd, given the circumstances of this event.

Closing the program was Striptease, the solo commissioned from choreographer Lane Gifford performed by Kari Mosel (2013 Dance Fellow). Mosel’s movements ranged from acts requiring extreme physical exertion, to queenly stage presence, and to sultry,  seductive gestures and postures.

At the opening of the piece, she wore a long red, bustled skirt and a black leather top with holes that revealed skin on her chest, back, and side body. A third of the way through, Mosel unceremoniously slid out of the long red skirt and revealed a second layer—a black tulle, calf-length petticoat. Eventually, she wriggled out of the petticoat to reveal a black wrap skirt. I saw a flash of red beneath her black skirt and assumed that there was one more layer she’d remove before the piece concluded. But, I was wrong.

Watching SOLO made me reflect on my own experiences performing, commissioning, and rehearsing solos. There is something transformative and very vulnerable about the process. It also made me wonder—if I could choose anyone to se a solo on me who would I choose?

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