The show began with the audience milling about MOVO studio in the Ivy Arts Building rather than sitting in chairs like at a typical performance. In the first piece, dancers interacted with a series of window frames and dramatic projections.
The Early Bird series, presented by MOVO and Red Eye Theater, featured short snippets of performance work in early stages of development — works in progress, the beginnings of ideas the artists planned to flesh out over time.
After Sharon Picasso’s installation piece, audience members were asked to read texts by poets and social justice writers as Chitra Vairavan improvised yoga-like movement against a stark white wall.
Finally, A.P. Looze shared a piece of writing about grappling with white supremacy, delivered in complete darkness, and, dressed in a glittery suit, Looze sang a haunting tune while interacting with nature-themed projected images.
Afterward, the audience was invited to talk with each of the artists, ask questions and offer feedback. The Early Bird series, with its setup of dancers showing their work early in the process of creation, continues a long tradition in the Twin Cities dance and performance community, particularly for independent artists. There’s a value placed on artists helping other artists create their work, through feedback, support and encouragement.
Early Bird was one way to take off from 9x22 Dance/Lab, the long-running works-in-progress series held at Bryant-Lake Bowl, curated and hosted by choreographer Laurie Van Wieren, said Valerie Oliveiro, who runs MOVO with choreographer Morgan Thorson. Van Wieren announced the end of the 9x22 program earlier this year, citing a desire to work on other projects. The last 9x22 took place in November, with a final party planned for January.
“9x22 has been a beautiful gift from Laurie Van Wieren to the community,” Oliveiro said.
The program typically featured three choreographers performing a short work, followed by a discussion moderated by Van Wieren.
“9x22 had its importance as a feedback platform but also showcasing shorter works of a choreographer,” said April Sellers, a dancer who has participated in the program. “It really helps people build an audience, helps you get visible, and it’s a great way of introducing yourself.”
The quantity of works-in-progress showings around the Twin Cities is unique.
“We’ve given a great value of process over product,” she said. “People will attend works-in-progress showings, open rehearsals and premieres, but premieres don’t have the same weight as they do in other places.”
Van Wieren originally started 9x22 because she saw a need 17 years ago.
“I looked around at the community, and at the time, there were barely any places to show works in progress and talk about them,” she said. Van Wieren talked then-owner of Bryant-Lake Bowl, Kim Bartmann, into letting her run the regular series.
“My idea was that it should be really broad, that it couldn’t be just the cool kids,” Van Wieren recalled. “I was coming from art school, where blinking your eyes is performance. I think that’s part of the reason it’s kept going, is that I’ve invited everybody in.”
For now, Van Wieren is stepping back and ready to help support whoever in the community steps up to start their own programs.
Many such events happen around town, even as 9x22 ends its run and venues like Patrick’s Cabaret and Intermedia Arts have closed.
“The baton is being passed for us to create new containers — that is going to be our job in the next few years,” said dancer and choreographer Pedro Pablo Lander, one of the performers for Early Bird last weekend. “It’s up to the people making work to continue to develop these spaces. How can we revolutionize and think ahead?”
Other strong platforms that support developmental works include 20% Theatre Company’s Naked I series, Pillsbury House Theatre’s Naked Stages program, the Center for Performing Arts’ artist residencies and Red Eye’s Works-In-Progress program. These are in addition to events such as the Choreographer’s Evening at the Walker Art Center and Maia Maiden’s “Rooted: Hip Hop Choreographers’ Evening” and “Sistah Solo | Being Brothas,” opportunities for emerging choreographers to showcase new work. Many local artists as well are carving out similar programs in art galleries, studios and DIY spaces.
Oftentimes, many in the audience for these events are dancers themselves.
“There’s a joke that we’re all passing the same $10 bill around,” said Emily Gastineau, an independent choreographer who with Oliveiro is one of the artistic directors of Red Eye Theater. “I consider viewing to be part of my practice in a way that is more important than something like taking a class. To me it’s really nonnegotiable because it’s about what the conversations are that are happening in the field.”
Different programs and venues have different formats for how they deliver feedback, with each offering a different way of thinking about the work.
Some diversity in these formats is healthy, Gastineau said.
“There’s a lot of crossover between different artists,” she added. “People who collaborate in one configuration on someone’s project and then maybe bring that person into your rehearsal to be an outside eye seeing the same shows as people. That crossover keeps that thread of conversation going.”
In January, Oliveiro performed in “Weave,” created by Rosy Simas, that played the Ordway and later went on tour. Working on that show, Oliveiro said, helped her respond to the sound of water in a new way.
“Rosy gave me those tools to access that,” she said.
Later, Simas performed in Oliveiro’s own work, presented as part of Red Eye’s New Works Four Weeks series in June. Oliveiro said she brought the sensibility she learned from being in Simas’ work into her own piece.
“Being in each other’s work, we learn how to hold creative spaces for each other,” she said. “Everybody in that work, I’ve worked with them in the past. Some of them I know as artists much more than as friends. There is a different kind of deep intimacy in that kind of relationship. It’s a kind of love.”