If you think art is supposed to be apolitical, you aren’t paying attention. The Walker Art Center’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, Philip Bither, seems to throw down the gauntlet with his 2019-2020 season, commissioning artists who seek to improve the world.

Sometimes eccentric, sometimes tantalizing or vulnerable, the works include a mix of music, dance and theater for adventurous audiences. Most performances take place at the Walker’s McGuire Theater (unless otherwise noted).

One noteworthy commission brings dance/performance artist Faye Driscoll for the final installment in her audience-participatory trilogy, “Thank You for Coming: Space” (March 10-15, 2020). Another highlight is the 12-song suite “Live Things” by Los Angeles composer Ted Hearne, known for bringing a political edge to his contemporary chamber music (Nov. 21-22). The world premiere song cycle is co-commissioned and co-presented by Liquid Music Series during its final year with St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.

Another Walker commission brings self-described “beat scientist” Makaya McCraven for “In These Times,” a world premiere musical suite (co-presented with First Avenue) blending jazz, hip-hop and a video collage made from archival footage of black activists and influential musicians (Oct. 18).

Two more commissions feature into the Walker’s “Out There” experimental performance series. Movement artist Miguel Gutierrez channels a mix of feminism, Latinx clichés and telenovelas for “This Bridge Called My Ass” (Jan. 16-18, 2020). Berlin-based choreographer Ligia Lewis promises to plumb gothic melodrama and dystopian fantasy for “Water Will (In Melody)” (Jan. 23-25, 2020).

“Out There” also brings Tina Satter/Half Straddle’s “Is This a Room: Reality Winner Verbatim Transcription,” based on the transcript of the FBI interrogating former American intelligence specialist Reality Winner (Jan. 9-11, 2020). And artists with disabilities tackle artificial intelligence with Back to Back Theatre’s “The Shadow Whose Prey the Hunter Becomes” (Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 2020).

Another world premiere comes from Minnesota’s own Danez Smith, the black nonbinary poet and multidisciplinary artist. The National Book Award finalist will perform alongside local and national artists including Chicago singer/composer Jamila Woods and poet/filmmaker Fatimah Asghar for “Danez and the Homies” (May 15-16, 2020).

As with past seasons, 2019-2020 features a number of global troupes. That includes the Congolese music collective Kokoko, whose members construct their own electronic instruments from typewriters, machine parts and other found objects (Sept. 20, Cedar Cultural Center). Also on the calendar is the seven-piece Afropunk collective Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (May 7, 2020, Cedar Cultural Center).

Slovenian dance company EN-KNAP Group works with New York’s Nature Theater of Oklahoma to ponder the Declaration of Independence with “Pursuit of Happiness” (Sept. 13-14, Walker Art Center). A co-presentation with Northrop brings “Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)” by Ireland’s Teac Damsa, a version of the Tchaikovsky classic set to Irish mythology (Oct. 24-27). Then comes the Brazilian dance group Bruno Beltrão/Grupo de Rua with its deconstructed hip-hop piece “Inoah” (Nov. 8-9).

Other noteworthy dance events include Northrop’s co-presentation of MacArthur “Genius” Kyle Abraham and his genre-bending A.I.M dance company (Feb. 29, 2020, Northrop). Liquid Music co-presents a collaborative piece by two Seattle artists: choreographer Kate Wallich and pop/electronic master Perfume Genius (Dec. 5-7, 2020). And the two-part 9/11 requiem “The Day” was created by an all-star crew: cellist Maya Beiser, postmodern choreographer Lucinda Childs, contemporary composer David Lang and New York City Ballet Co-Artistic Director Wendy Whelan (April 7, 2020, O’Shaughnessy).

Known for his transcendent sounds, Alabama-born musician Lonnie Hollie works with multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily and trombone duo Nelson Patton for a piercing lyrical perspective on race (Oct. 5). And avant-garde jazz guitarist, improviser and composer Mary Halvorson performs with her bands Code Girl and Thumbscrew (Feb. 8, 2020).

Things gets futuristic when director and theater artist Annie Dorsen brings her multimedia “Yesterday Tomorrow,” a concert built from algorithms and artificial intelligence (March 27-28, 2020). And finally, the Walker and MPR mark the 85th birthday of minimalist guru Terry Riley with Kronos Quartet and Riley’s son, guitarist Gyan Riley (April 25, 2020, Fitzgerald Theater).

Tickets are available via walkerart.org/tickets or 612-375-7600.


Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis critic and arts journalist.