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Reverse Momentum: Reflecting on 10 Celebrations of New Dance

Showcasing New Dance in the Twin Cities

With its 2013 edition—featuring SuperGroup, Leslie O’Neill, Pramila Vasudevan, and Jennifer Arave—Momentum: New Dance Works marks the tenth installment of its showcase of Twin Cities–based dance talent. Copresented by the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater since 2001, the series of commissioned half-evening-length works has featured 48 emerging choreographers. To commemorate this historic milestone, we reached out to each participating artist to hear their recollections of the program. Twenty-six artists offered these quick glimpses into their processes, current projects, and memories of Momentums past.

Rosy Simas & Baraka de Soleil, Residue, 2001

In its first season, Momentum: New Dance Works opened with the collaborative work Residue, a rumination on memory by Rosy Simas and Baraka de Soleil. Still based in the Twin Cities and making work, Simas notes that, “Since 2001, I have created all kinds of dances, inspired by music, politics, war, visual art, philosophy, poetry, [and] nature.”

HIJACK, It took great luck for you to be a winner, 2001

For the past 20 years, Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder have collaborated as HIJACK. In their 2001 work It took great luck for you to be a winner, the duo critiqued creationism and evolution in a performative survival of the fittest. In developing the piece, the pair took part in a residency at Blacklock Nature Sanctuary in Moose Lake, Minn. “Did we ever go batshit crazy there in the woods,” Van Loon recalls. “The first half of each day we spent alone (Arwen got the north, Kristin the south). I nude sunbathed and read Rem Koolhaas’ S,M,L,XL and a meteorology field guide. In the afternoon, we gathered in the barn-turned-makeshift-dance-studio with the aid of James Sewell Ballet’s ‘blubber’ marley, a record player, and a crate of LPs. I remember running in circles, screaming with Richard and Linda Thompson’s Pour Down Like Silver record sleeve over my face, climaxing oddly in our attempt to do an epic two-person Nancy Stark Smith Underscore. Almost all that material ended up on the Southern Theater stage.” Commemorating HIJACK’s two-decade partnership, the Walker has commissioned a new work that will premiere here in December 2013.

Alyce Finwall, Persephone, 2001

Photo: Michael Crouser

Alyce Finwall combined movement, puppetry, sound, and video in her 2001 retelling of the Greek myth, which was performed to live music by guitarist/composer Jindra. “I was just so thrilled to be among the first group of choreographers chosen to be part of Momentum,” she remembers. “I was young and inexperienced, so it was a big deal for me. It was the first time that I had the opportunity to show my work in progress and get feedback from an audience. It was a good experience and taught me an invaluable lesson in how to speak about my work in front of people, something that is required more and more of choreographers today.”

Mathew Janczewski, Honor and Struggle to Nothing, 2001

Mathew Janczewski collaborated with playwright Gregg Bush to present two new works in Momentum’s inaugural season. Janczewski explored his masculinity through the work, while his dancers examined their own identities. “I feel as an artist it is my responsibility to ask questions and incite awakening, both in myself and my collaborators, through the making of work, and in my audience, through their experience of [the] performance,” he says.

Emily Johnson, Plain Old Andrea with a Gun and Undo, 2002

In Momentum’s second year, Emily Johnson presented two new works. In Plain Old Andrea with a Gun, she explored the emotional roller coaster that often accompanies pride and hate; in Undo, she critiqued the daily behaviors that make up one’s identity. “I want to make work that looks at identity and cultural responsibility—that is beautiful and powerful—full of myth and truth at the same time,” she says. “I want to be grounded in my heritage, supported by my community, and giving back—always.”

Deborah Jinza Thayer, My Little Cyborg, 2002

In 2002, Deborah Jinza Thayer‘s My Little Cyborg tackled the topic of techno-infatuation. Using an elaborate set design by Ron Albert, Thayer developed “large abstract props to create altered metaphorical spaces that the dancers must navigate in the same way that we, as individuals, are limited or guided by our own mental models. By rendering these models visible and concrete on stage, my hope is to inspire awareness of, and reflection on, how we interpret and express being in the world.” Asked what drives her to continue making dances, Thayer responds, “I don’t really know why I keep making work. I just do it—it’s probably an affliction of some kind.”

Shouze Ma, The Vertical Ray of the Sun, The View of Tibet, and The Secret of the Fan, 2002

Fresh out of graduate school, Shouze Ma created a trio of new works reflecting on Asian cultural traditions and folklore, expressed through both contemporary and traditional movement. Ma’s work explored, and continues to examine, “the union of East and West … in terms of dance.”

Katsushi Fukasawa, Caffé Madras, 2002

In Caffé Madras, Kats Fukasawa blended bharatanatyam with ballet, modern, jazz, flamenco, and African movements to explore the intersections of spirituality and pop culture. Today, Fukasawa says he’s “training Butoh dancers in the Twin Cities and creating Butoh work as Nenkin Butoh Dan.”

Wynn Fricke, Hungry Ghost, 2002

Exploring the Buddhist idea of the six realms of existence (hell, animal, hungry ghost, human, jealous god, and heavenly), Wynn Fricke presented Hungry Ghost, for a collaboration with composer Carl Witt. Since her Momentum commission, Fricke says her work has “grown more wild, more deeply collaborative.”

Jason Noer, Abomination, 2004

Jason Noer combined hip-hop with tap, ballroom, boogaloo, breaking, and more in his 2004 narrative tale Abomination. For emerging artists, creating a half-evening of work can prove challenging, but as Noer recalls, it can be immensely rewarding. “When the first crowd of attendees congratulated me, I knew that my voice could be heard and I could carve out a niche,” he says. “Pressure isn’t anything new to a b-boy, but it was a new level for me.”

Penelope Freeh, Telephone Joan, 2004

Penelope Freeh’s Telephone Joan examined ways that heroes—particularly Joan of Arc—have been portrayed throughout history. Freeh, who still performs and choreographs in the Twin Cities, reflects on Momentum as a catalyst in her creative journey. “Since my Momentum project, I’ve gained confidence as a choreographer,” she says. “I delve into ideas more directly while also employing strategies I’ve learned along the way to unlock new movement. I recognize discomfort as the moment before a growth spurt.”

Jennifer Hart, The Station and Song, 2005

In The Station and Song, Jennifer Hart used imagery of the “American train station” as a metaphor for the coming together of a nation toward progress while simultaneously suffering the loss of human interaction as a result of a technologically developing culture. “In some ways, my work has stayed very much the same” since her Momentum commission. “I believe there’s a sensibility to the work that reflects my perspective on life. I hope in some ways the work has gotten stronger. My movement vocabulary has evolved and the shape of pieces has gotten more complex. I’m more sensitive to space and how the dance relates to the stage, to other dances, and to the audience.”

Risa Cohen, Two Worlds, 2005

In 2005, aerial artist Risa Cohen presented Two Worlds, using various apparatuses as metaphors. During the creation of the piece, Cohen learned to utilize music as a source of inspiration. “[Momentum] changed the way I listen [to] and hear music,” she shares. “I have more respect for music. I try to see the dance in the music. When I have a block, I go to the music and listen, and allow the music to guide me.”

The BodyCartography Project, Holiday House, 2006

The BodyCartography Project, comprised of collaborators Otto Ramstad and Olive Bieringa, explored the contrasting elements of cause and effect, individualism and unison, history and future uncertainty in its 2006 piece. “Holiday House was our first commissioned work for the stage,” recalls Bieringa. “The majority of our work before that had been site-based and self-produced for all kinds of public spaces.” For its 2012–2013 performance season, the Walker commissioned a second work, the evening-length Super Nature.

Maggie Bergeron, House/Home, 2007

Based on her experiences growing up on a Minnesota farm, Maggie Bergeron’s 2007 work House/Home began with precision movements defined by the dancers’ environments, which unraveled to free-form dance. When asked about memorable moments during the making of the piece, Bergeron recalled when “[then-Performing Arts assistant curator] Michèle Steinwald help[ed] me haul all of my crazy props and sets from one rehearsal space to another. That was amazing.”

Catherine Wright, Return, 2007

For her 2007 piece Return, Cathy Wright composed original music and lyrics to accompany her choreography. Though her multidisciplinary style has not changed since then, Wright’s artistic focus is no longer on dance. “I create visual environments with mixed-media sculptures of found objects in nature and film projections that I interact with in gallery settings and films,” she explains. “The movement is more gestural and repetitive than my proscenium stage choreography in Minneapolis from 2002 to 2012.”

Justin Jones, the SCREEN/the THING, 2007

Since creating 2007’s the SCREEN/the THING, Justin Jones has continued to be an active creator, educator, and commentator in the Twin Cities dance community. His deeply contemplative work explores the how, why, and for whom of dance: “I want to know how we read a dance. What makes one dance more legible than another? What makes one style of dance more desirable than another? Why do we sit down and watch a dance? Why did we decide to take what was once a communal act and transform it into a one-way demonstration? These questions about how dance is perceived and transmitted drive me to continue making dance.”

Anna Marie Shogren, I’m a Jerk, 2008

Drawing on experiences as both an audience member and a performer with the more experimental troupes of the Twin Cities dance community, Anna Marie Shogren developed her 2008 work I’m a Jerk. Through it she explored “over-the-top, cartoonish death imagery” through minimalism combined with campy jazz movements. “Man, oh, man. I had a great group to work with,” she recalls. “Many of the memories read to me now as personal memories, because they were. Thank you to [dancers] Katie Rose McLaughlin O’Neil and Nastalie Bogira. I loved rehearsing at the dusty and sunny upper level of the Soap Factory.”

Chris Schlichting, love things, 2008

Having trained in techniques ranging from breakdancing to modern dance to folk dance, Chris Schlichting used the diversity of his artistic development to investigate the history and evolution of movement as a language in love things. “I think that I have a lot of valuable reference points, both in terms of the successes and failures of the piece,” he says. “One important lesson is that you cannot simply bypass failing, sometimes the best learning is the result of making a lot of mistakes … something I continue to excel at.”

Maia Maiden with Ellena Schoop The Foundation, et cetera, 2008

After tracing her lineage back to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea Bisseau, Maia Maiden set out to create a work that represented the connection between her African heritage, the Civil Rights era, and hip-hop. Her research led to a collaboration with choreographer Ellena Schoop and the development of their 2008 piece The Foundation, et cetera. The project reinforced Maiden’s desire to “create community-conscious work using movements/styles rooted in the African Diaspora. I strive for the work to have a reciprocal relationship between the members onstage and the members of the community.”

Megan Mayer, I Could Not Stand Close Enough to You, 2009

Megan Mayer’s 2009 work I Could Not Stand Close Enough to You investigated the stark contrast between uninhibited childhood fantasy and the self-consciousness we experience as adults. Since her Momentum performance, Mayer says she’s been exploring her “curiosity about performing vs. not performing and where that switch lives in the body. My Momentum piece dabbled in that, and that theme of bringing non-performative moments into a performance has remained a constant in my work.”

Vanessa Voskuil, en masse, 2009

As the title suggests, Vanessa Voskuil’s en masse featured a large cast—80 dancers—moving onstage together. The piece investigated the power of and driving forces behind the masses. Voskuil has been actively making work since her 2009 commission, developing movement specific to each project. “In general,” she notes, “I do not settle on a signature idiom but explore vocabulary that will serve each piece and that speaks in a language unique unto itself.”

Sally Rousse, Paramount to My Footage, 2009

Drawing on her varied training and a broad movement vocabulary, choreographer Sally Rousse brought together a technically diverse cast for Paramount to My Footage, a theatrical telling of historical fiction examining celebrity and privacy. Her Momentum commission took Rousse on a roller coaster of emotion, she explains. “Choosing to work with people I didn’t know or know well was an adventure I just loved. I remember feeling so scared and intimidated and defeated. Each day I would wake up wondering how I was going to tell everyone I was giving up, that I couldn’t do it. Then I would arrive in the studio and people were so present and had such humor and looked at me, and I just had so much fun.”

Sachiko Nishiuchi, The Apple Tree, 2009

Flamenco dancer Sachiko Nishiuchi took the choreographic reins with her own work The Apple Tree, which was loosely based on the 1916 romance novel of the same name. Creating the piece was a tumultuous endeavor, as Nishiuchi recalls. “I remember that the process of making my Momentum project was very slow and painful, with lots of thinking, experimenting, doubting, trying, destructing, and trying again. But now I remember it as a joy of pain in giving birth.”

Kenna Cottman, Shared Language, 2011

In 2011, Momentum: New Dance Works transitioned from an annual to a biennial event. Kenna Cottman opened up that year’s installment with her work Shared Language. In collaboration with storyteller/musician Backa Niang, she explored the cross sections and conflicts of her own identity, brought on by and portrayed through her fusion of West African dance and hip-hop. Asked how her work has evolved in the two years since, Cottman mused, “I’m still looking at ways to engage and throw the audience off guard, I’m still interested in Black movement forms, and I’m still puzzling my way through the world using dance.”

Kaleena Miller, Fleet, 2011

In her 2011 commission, tapper Kaleena Miller created Fleet, a work about her father and his deteriorating condition due to Alzheimer’s disease. “The piece was being created as he was really starting to decline and being transitioned into a nursing home,” she shares. “Experiencing all of that while creating the piece at the same time was really overwhelming, but when all was said and done … really healing. He died earlier this year. I’m thankful that work happened at that time.”