With a title like "Walking, Singing and Other Habits," it might seem as if Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater's latest work is an anthropological study. And in a way it is, although at the premiere on Friday night at Minneapolis' Cowles Center, it quickly became apparent that this group of wise and witty performers, guided by artistic codirector Pimsler, transformed their field research into a sly accounting of human flaws and frailties.
The work begins and ends with walking, but there is something different about this seemingly mundane act. Backs are hunched over, arms are placed ahead of the body, hands grasp coffee mugs for caffeinated security -- the seven dancers seem to be bracing for a fall or creating a safe space for individual commuting that no one else can disturb. But there are little hints of syncopation to the music by René Aubry. One senses a collective longing to break with conformity.
And the break does come, time and again, via small rebellious acts. Bodies melt and tumble before resuming their relentless march, Roxane Wallace-Patterson rants (hilariously) about ubiquitous baby strollers, Brian Evans (with his calming mellow voice) leads the group in singing the line: "Everyone walks forward most of the time." This may be true, but here it's the missteps, retracing and second-guessing that most interest Pimsler. The work proves in a skillfully direct way that the disrupted journey is the most interesting one.
The program includes two other repertory selections conceived, written and directed by Pimsler. "Total Surrender" (2002) delves into the horror of war. Heather Klopchin, Kari Mosel, Evans and Wallace-Patterson dance this heart-rending and emotionally tumultuous work with a yearning for peace so palpable that it almost hurts to watch their struggle against an external force.
"Tales from the Book of Longing" (2009) returns for a post-Valentine's Day celebration of love and the ache of lingering beauty. Klopchin and Mosel give particularly passionate interpretations of the fluid choreography.
To learn more about this troupe (co-directed by Suzanne Costello) and its 35-year history, visit "Art in the Everyday: Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Retrospective" at the Anita Sue Kolman Gallery (in the Northrup King Building in northeast Minneapolis) to see a collection of sets, costumes and other design elements. The exhibit runs through March 9.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.