“Consider stretching.” This short phrase, seen onstage during a piece by the Twin Cities dance troupe Blaq, sums up the first weekend’s program in the annual Momentum: New Dance Works Festival.
This is not just practical advice but also a public service announcement. Keep your mind open to unexpected events on stage.
Two works premiered Thursday night at the Southern Theater, which presents Momentum in collaboration with Cowles Center and Walker Art Center. The first, “Bill: The Musikill,” created by Fire Drill (choreographers Emily Gastineau and Billy Mullaney) in collaboration with Los Angeles-based “sound poetry” specialist Tom Comitta, offers up a dystopian future where perpetual life comes courtesy of cryogenics.
The artists approach their subject through pure comedy at first. Wearing white crushed-velvet bodysuits, the cast members show us fixed smiles and cheesy moves. But happiness is an illusion and the work takes a dark turn, with the dancers pushing themselves to exhaustion. Comitta’s increasingly operatic (and manic) tone includes repeating variations on words and Dr. Seuss-like rhythms that become earworms slam-dancing in your head.
“Bill” effectively frames the tension between order and chaos. We’re all navigating the slippery slope of entropy. The work’s subtexts — climate change and office politics — underscore this truth. As witnesses (and enablers) of our own destruction, the work posits, we can give up or join a kickline and dance our way to the apocalypse.
Blaq shares a similar rebellious attitude. Director/choreographer Deja Stowers blurs the line between the public and performer in “Taneber/Blaq Wall Street,” a celebration of black sisterhood. The work begins organically — it appears the artists are just setting the stage — but soon there’s a bazaar with items for sale, a DJ spinning grooves, snacks, hugs and free-flowing conversation. No one can resist joining in.
The scene is like an Ernie Barnes painting come to life — lively motion, bright colors, communal experience. Some may question whether this work is more party than performance, but Stowers has a clear intention. She wants active participants, not passive viewers. She breaks down the fourth wall in a deliberate way, and shows us that the spontaneous creation of a welcoming space is an art in itself. She’s stretching, and in turn makes it possible for everyone else to do so.
Momentum continues next week with work by Cathedral and Strongmovement.
Caroline Palmer is a Twin Cities dance critic.