Arts

Giving local artists a platform: ‘Choreographer’s Evening’ at the Walker Art Center

Lights come up at the McGuire Stage at the Walker Art Center. Elizabeth Flinsch crawls with a long, narrow piece of fabric in her mouth. As musician Jordan Lawrence plays ethereal music on a harmonium, Flinsch stands to wrap herself in the fabric.

The seven-minute piece, titled “We shall not want,” seems simple, but is meant to show the connection between music and movement in a “symbiosis of simultaneous expression,” according to Flinsch’s artist statement.

Flinsch is one of 11 choreographers featured in the Walker Art Center’s “Choreographer’s Evening” this year.

“It’s really an opportunity for us to take a temperature of what’s going on. Not just in dance, but I think in our communities and in the world at large,” said Philip Bither, the Walker’s senior curator of performing arts. “Dance often has this wonderful, somewhat abstract ability to reflect the moment that we’re living in.”

Black dancers rehearse on stage

Choreographer Averie Mitchell-Brown (center) rehearses her piece “Choosey” on the Walker Art Center stage in Minneapolis on Tuesday.

Ben Hovland | MPR News

Originally known as the “Young Choreographers,” the Walker began hosting the performance in 1971. The program has evolved over the years. The Walker hires guest curators, who are dancers themselves. In turn, the curators audition choreographers to display their work.

This year’s curators are Judith Howard, Carlton College’s Chair of Theater and Dance, and Alanna Morris, Artistic Director of I A.M. Arts. Both curators have choreographed and performed in previous evenings.

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“You get the inside story when you’re a curator, you know all the elements that it takes to launch the show,” Howard said.

“It is literally a different show, a different concert every year because the curator decides what the vision is,” Morris said.

Three Black women rehearse a dance piece

Jaylen Franklin (from left), Lydia Jones and Rachel Kalema rehearse “Choosey,” choreographed by Averie Mitchell-Brown, on the Walker Art Center stage in Minneapolis on Tuesday.

Ben Hovland | MPR News

The dancers have various backgrounds and experience levels. In its audition notice, the Walker encourages dance makers from a variety of genres to try out.

Howard and Morris said that they purposely went in with an open mind. They wanted to see what the choreographers brought to the table, and what was important to them.

“We did not want to impose at the top any strong limitations on who would show up,” Howard said.

Howard and Morris curate the performances and act as a second set of eyes. In this way, they support the choreographers and shepherd the piece through the design and performance stages.

The artists are also supported by a team of technicians and designers to help them realize the piece that they envision.

“It’s been amazing to work with Alanna and Judith,” Flinsch said. “They have just taken us in and clearly accept what we’re doing and support it.”

Large institutions can be the subject of criticism for not committing to involving lesser-known artists in the community. But Bither argues that is not the case for the Walker.

“We think of ourselves as consistently engaged … not just, ‘oh, we turn this one night over to a local choreographer to curate, and we’re done with it,’” Bither said.

He pointed to the Walker’s history of connecting local dancers with national and international companies. Bither also references work commissioned over the years from local performers, like Morgan Thorson or Ragamala Dance Company.

A Black woman speaks with stage technicians about lighting

Choreographer Averie Mitchell-Brown (center) discusses lighting design with a stage technician during rehearsal at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday.

Ben Hovland | MPR News

Howard said that the event’s long history is a sign of the Walker’s commitment to the community.

“It says a lot about getting behind the independent artists, because it originally started out as an independent artists’ platform,” Howard said.

Morris said that having spaces like the “Choreographers’ Evening” gives dance makers a place to express themselves.

“We are in a practice, hopefully a daily life practice, that projects itself into the art that we create.” Morris said, “And we should always have platforms to do it.”

Walker Art Center’s “50th anniversary Choreographers’ Evening” will be at the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater in Minneapolis at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

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