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Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States

I am a dancer with Minneapolis based James Sewell Ballet, a small, contemporary ballet company. I also choreograph independently.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

At the Museum: Thoughts on Villa America

Just overheard: “I just did the New York City Ballet Work-Out. I mean ballet’s just as good as Pilates if not better.”

As I sit with my chocolate croissant and mostly decaf coffee, as I embark on this, my second entry for my blog, this is what I hear. Yes, ballet is better than Pilates. Perhaps not for “work-out” purposes but certainly for artistic ones. I know she meant no harm. I am weirdly flattered that my livelihood came up in a random conversation. As always when I come here, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, I have the sense that I am in the right place at the right time.

Coming here on a Wednesday is a rare treat. Usually I am doing the aforementioned b-word, but we just returned from a tour and have the rest of the day off. I’ve been up since 4:15 AM Mpls. time.

I’ve been itching to see this exhibit, Villa America, a portion of Minneapolis native Myron Kunin’s collection of American paintings and sculptures spanning 1900-1950. I am writing not to critique the exhibit so much as to attempt to articulate how I am inspired by it, by art of other mediums in general. Painting and sculpture always come into play in my work, mostly as points of departure. Many times when I am faced with beginning a new piece I come here to gather inspiration around me like a shawl. It always works; I always do.

Today is no exception though as I write I must admit that I am still processing. There were some luminous works in the show. Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Slightly Open Clam Shell” comes to mind. I don’t tend to go for her work though I admire it for it’s saturated, velvety skill. This little painting however transported me with its opalescent translucence. It equally conveyed positive and negative spaces. Her work tends to do that, masterfully. Do we think about that in dance, that negative spaces can spark and inspire us as much as the “positive” elements? William Forsythe’s improvisation techniques come to mind: use of backspace, space below the floor. Ask the body to respond and it will expand and contract in new ways. Pose a new puzzle to yourself.

The first time I came to the museum was within a month or two of my moving to town in 1994. We had a James Sewell Ballet gig in the Pillsbury Auditorium and one day after rehearsal my friend Christian Burns and I stuck around. I got close up to the paintings, concentrating on the texture. Chris is a painter and you can tell that in his choreography. All of his art is layered, messy, mostly abstract (except that there’s always something recognizable: a human face just decipherable below the surface of color or a human interaction amid chaotic movement, that pulls upon the heartstrings.) It seems as though through his paintings he’s gained a certain comfort in layering, in creating a sketch and covering it up, revealing just a tiny part. He employs this in his choreography and to dancers this is a rough concept. We very quickly become accustomed to movement, married to it. We are pained when it is taken away from us, scrapped. But that process is important, vital. Choreographers are indeed painters, with bodies and time and space. It really is all about the process of trial and error until the opalescent translucence emerges.

In this exhibition too I loved “Two Seated Figures”. It was monochromatic and reminiscent of Picasso in its portrayal of larger-than-life female nudes. They were primitive, wearing mask-like faces, their huge eyes kohl-lined. I was reminded of my female duet “Before Words” that I am in the midst of performing with Sally Rousse under the auspices of James Sewell Ballet. Interconnected and primitive.

There was a magnificent work, someone's mother painted after her death. All angles and severity, he must have hated her. He certainly got back at her. Green and black boldness.

What most directly inspired what I think will be my next choreographic project was a work called "Roberto". It was of a circus performer, 1/2 clown and 1/2 himself. I am stuck in perpetual facination with the world of the performer. Though I am one myself it remains a mystery to me and I hope it always will. It keeps me coming back. It is my safe haven, my cocoon. "Roberto" puts me in mind of my work-in-progress "Papier-Mache Cabaret" that is in the lottery to be in this summer's MN Fringe. Shedding, revealing and hiding behind theatrical devices make up the existing piece; I can't wait to delve deeper.

My afternoon here will feed me for awhile. Until soon, P


Blogger Paul Schmelzer said...

i really like the whimsical way you allow the paintings to take you somewhere else, somewhere you are at once trying to go and allowing for the odd chance of not getting there at all, but going in a totally different direction. i love you, jim

12:04 PM  

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