‘Momentum’ explores fantasy and identity

'The Foundation, et.cetera': A portrait of African dance and hip-hop.
Photo by Cameron Witting
‘The Foundation, et.cetera’: A portrait of African dance and hip-hop.

Chris Schlichting and Maia Maiden couldn’t be more different. Schlichting is tall, Caucasian and a frequent performer/collaborator with the experimental, post-postmodern movers in town. Maiden is a slight, African-American dancer who performs West African and hip-hop dance with a variety of multidisciplinary groups around town. Both also have day jobs away from the world of dance: He’s an academic adviser in the University of Minnesota’s College of Design; she’s a scientist and diagnostic supervisor at a health clinic.
 
Both, however, are emerging choreographers premiering works this weekend as part of “Momentum: New Dance Works,” a program of the Walker Art Center and Southern Theater. And both are “integrating their very personal experiences in dance to comment on the world around them,” says Michele Steinwald, the Walker’s project manager for Momentum. (For more eligibility requirements, check out the request for proposals.)
 
 For Schlichting, who also used to perform with Ethnic Dance Theater, his new work “love songs” is “a dialogue about dance. We’re working with movement, the language of the body.” Joining him in the work are such downtown-dance performers as Justin Jones, Morgan Thorson and Jessica Cressey.

“Initially we came up with fantasy scenarios of what we might want — but don’t give ourselves permission — to do. I came up with a list — making a ballet, or a jazz dance, or a chaotic mess — which became part of my excitement about the dance. Then I had to find a pathway that was my own conversation with others about their experiences with dance. My hope is that compositionally ‘love songs’ has a logic to it that makes sense to other, but that’s part of the gamble. You hope the order that’s logical to you resonates with others.”
 
Influences of pop culture, entertainment …
According to Steinwald, “Chris’ fantasy environment draws on the influences of pop culture, entertainment and popular dance seen through the media. You feel in some moments an homage or tribute to some of his early encounters with dance. There’s also lots of everyday pedestrian gesture, but done in a dancerly way. It’s abstracted, but he has a postmodern approach to dance with a lot technical training behind it, so that his choreography reveals the mechanics and geometry behind doing a gesture and how that plays in space.”
 
Maiden’s work, “The Foundation, et. cetera,” which she’s created in collaboration with Ellena Schoop, is about “exploring self and identity through different generations as an African-American in this time and place,” she explained. What spurred the work were the results of her DNA test. “I wanted to find out what regions of Africa I’m from,” she said. The test revealed Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Chris Schlichting offers a postmodern pop-culture take on movement.
Photo by Cameron Witting
Chris Schlichting offers a postmodern pop-culture take on movement.

While Maiden had studied West African dance, she asked Schoop to join her in making the work, “because Ellena has a West African dance background and is from a different generation: the Civil Rights era.”
 
“Three generations lay our foundations,” Maiden explained. “The generation that came straight from Africa, the Civil Rights generation and the hip-hop era. So we’re exploring those aspects, as African Americans, through generations of movement and people. What are the similarities and differences? Younger people like myself tend to not look back; we’re here. The Civil Rights people tend to give homage and respect to the previous generations. So we’re looking at how everyone has had people who came before them, and can relate to generational differences.”
 
Steinwald calls “The Foundation” a blend of “movement theater, spoken word and narrative. It’s cinematic in the way it flashes back through scenes. And African dance is sequenced into the piece to show a relationship to time, history and heritage. Both Chris, and Maia and Ellena, have made works with personal reference points that comments on the culture around them.”
 
Who: “Momentum” Chris Schlichting; Maia Maiden and Ellena Schoop
When: 8 p.m., Thursday-Sunday
Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis
Tickets: $14-$18
Phone: 612-375-7600
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