Nic Lincoln in "Dressage," by choreographer Judith Howard. Photo provided by Nic Lincoln.
POST BY CAROLINE PALMER | SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Nic Lincoln is known to many in the dance community as a longtime member of James Sewell Ballet but lately he's taken on another role -- muse. And he's not just providing inspiration for one choreographer but several. This weekend he will perform "YES," an evening of five solos created for him by local dance makers.
"I don't think of them as solos but as duets," said Lincoln, during a recent interview at Gigi's Cafe near Uptown Minneapolis. "I don't feel like I'm alone. It's like we're 'Thelma & Louise' -- I couldn't do it without them." Penelope Freeh, Wynn Fricke, Judith Howard, Megan Meyer and Kristin Van Loon have teamed up with Lincoln, and while some find it noteworthy that they are all women, he is quick to explain that this was not a specific choice. Instead, these are all artists he has admired and wanted to work with over the years.
And the feeling is mutual. "He has a combination of vulnerability and star power," said Howard, while Fricke "was curious about the many flavors in his body." Meyer admitted to a bit of intimidation. "At first I felt all this pressure to use all his skills as a ballet dancer and eventually I calmed down." Freeh, who performed often with Lincoln during her career at Sewell, observed that he "has really evolved as a dancer. He has a great sense of humor. There's an inner smile and knowing." And Van Loon said, "He's so smart as a dancer, he absorbs so much detail."
"YES" celebrates healing on a physical and emotional level. Lincoln has endured six ankle and foot surgeries in recent years and recovery has taken an "Olympic effort." Many months in bed provoked the Michigan native to consider his future as a dancer. "You only have so much time. With each surgery you wonder, 'Is this the last party?' Human bodies are not like clocks." But now that his strength has returned, Lincoln has other goals in mind. The evening celebrates who he is as a gay man, dancer, performance artist, visual artist, social/political activist, drag diva and so much more.
Venus DeMars, lead singer for All the Pretty Horses, will open the evening, a dramatic twist for a dance concert. Videos will fill in the spaces while Lincoln changes costumes between pieces. A portion of the proceeds will go to support OutFront MN, a cause near to Lincoln's heart for its efforts to fight homophobia, support the transgender community and, in particular, give voice to LGBT youth. "I had a tumultuous childhood," said Lincoln. He was bullied for being gay. "My universal hurt and pain come from that, it's what I want to confront the most." He is particularly thankful for being "sistered and mothered in the process of healing."
The works on the program lead Lincoln in many different directions. Freeh's "Paper Nautilus" takes inspiration from ballets like Jerome Robbins' "Fancy Free" and the 1940's film "On the Town." Lincoln, dressed in a sailor's suit, "nails the sweet sincerity of the work," she said, but there is a darker aspect to the piece, something a bit more ominous that suggests a distant war. Meyer's "You Might Be Expecting Me" draws upon Lincoln's work experience in retail to supplement his dance career.
Fricke's "Into the White" explores the process of death. Music by Ben Frost evokes the clinical atmosphere of a hospital, said Fricke, and evokes the "gritty, strange psychic space of somebody dying, the struggling of body and mind. I'm imagining a tempestuous journey." Van Loon's "More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid -- 1987" meshes several influences including 1980s pop music and the work of legendary New York Times style photographer Bill Cunningham. "Nic and I have a shared interest in fashion," she said. "I've clipped every single Cunningham column for the past two years" in service of the work, spreading them across the floor in search of ideas to fuel a piece with a unique perspective on glamor.
Finally Howard's "Dressage" plunges Lincoln into a world of sensual fantasy that combines aspects of drag with equine imagery, a fabulous headdress and extra high heels. It "was the kind of piece where he came out to the dance world," said Howard. "This concert extends that, he's making a declaration."
Performing a full evening of solo works is a challenge but Lincoln is up for the task. "It's given me permission to differentiate between pieces, to honor the intention of the work and the trust involved with the choreographers." He added that he is also "conquering fear, my fear of the characters bleeding together and self-doubt" not to mention all the long hours that go into self-producing a show
"It's a lot to take on physically, you're holding everything up," said Fricke. "I appreciate his courage."
"It's the right thing to do," said Howard. "He's versatile, he's a beautiful performer, he took on different choreographers, and when I saw it all together, I thought this is correct, this is him."
8 p.m. Thu.-Sat. 2 p.m. Sun. JSB TEK BOX, 528 Hennepin Av., Mpls. $20. (612) 206-3600. www.thecowlescenter.org. For more information go to www.niclincoln.com/yes.
Here's a review of a recent performance by Sewell Ballet that featured Lincoln in a solo piece by choreographer Larry Keigwin.