Watching a sport you don't understand can be a bit frustrating. Say you don't know the first thing about football, but one day decide to sit down and watch a Vikings game on TV. Surely, you'd have a difficult time following the complicated rules of the game, not to mention the lingo used by the announcers to describe the action.
That's kind of like what happens in "tournamento," Sarah Michelson's new commissioned work at Walker Art Center, which had its premiere Thursday night. The athletes compete in a made-up sport whose rules are never made apparent throughout the performance/tournament. Evoking some kind of obscure Olympic game, the competitors approximate gymnastics-like movements while shouting out numbers, letters and words.
You get the shtick after about 20 minutes, which means you have to endure another 100 minutes of a game you don't understand. The result is a bit torturous. You're probably better off coming to the show in the afternoon, when onstage tickets are only $1, or watching from the back of the auditorium, which is free in the afternoon and the evening, and allows an easier escape when you've reached your tolerance level.
The competitors, who are referred to by their state of origin, are supported by their teammates, whose job it is to stand on the sidelines rocking back and forth on their bended knees, or to stand near their teammate in ready position, sending all of their energy toward the person playing the game.
Meanwhile, there are judges scoring the proceedings, announcers (led by Michelson herself) commenting on the action, a young woman with a clipboard running back and forth across the floor at various intervals and a little girl who comes out between games to do a cartwheel, shouting the name of the color she's wearing, which changes multiple times.
There's also disco music that plays occasionally, and snippets of what looks like modern dance, performed by the extras.
The commentary ends up being the best part of the show, as Michelson analyzes the players and the action with the other announcers/judges. Their back-and-forth illuminates an investigation Michelson makes in language itself, and how desperate we can become for meaning to words we don't understand.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer.