A definite pall hung over the first weekend of “Momentum: New Dance Works,” with the sudden “indefinite leave” of Southern Theater artistic director and lighting designer Jeff Bartlett still unexplained to the local dance community.
Nonetheless, Chris Schlichting and cohorts delivered energetic “love songs” full of hilarious, touching and intriguing choreography gleaned from sources as varied as classical ballet, a starlet’s gracious “I love you all and aren’t I fabulous” wide-armed embrace, and everyday movements — delivered with a singular virtuosity. In contrast, Maia Maiden and Ellena Schoop’s “The Foundation, et. cetera” ranged loosely through hip-hop, African dance and various scenarios of street-smart dialogue, Civil Rights terror, and hospital waiting rooms, bracketed by the two choreographers poignantly testing their cultural relevance to each other.
This weekend’s show comes on the heels of an intense meeting Monday between the dance community and the Southern’s board of directors. (See my update below.)
“Really internal personal journeys,” said Michele Steinwald, the Walker Art Center’s project manager for Momentum. First up is Anna Marie Shogren’s trio “I’m a Jerk,” which she described as an exploration of her “interactions between people. I’m such an introvert, and then when I want and need a more social group dynamic, I cope by being such a ham.”
Shogren also regularly performs with other experimental choreographers in town, including Laurie Van Wieren, Justin Jones, Karen Sherman and Morgan Thorson. “Anna has this social awkwardness, but she’s extroverted as a performer,” Steinwald said. “That dichotomy is a tricky balance, but she’s really found it in this work. It’s really revealing, and really tender.”
The second half of the program is “Brown Rocket,” Eddie Oroyan’s duet with Laura Selle-Virtucio. An intensely physical performer with Black Label Movement and Zenon Dance Company, Oroyan created this duet based on a tumultuous romantic relationship that started with him writing a personals ad on Craig’s List.
Who: “Momentum” with Anna Marie Shogren, Eddie Oroyan
When: 8 p.m., Thursday -Sunday (July 24-27)
Where: Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
Southern Theater update
No clear reason for the departure of artistic director Jeff Bartlett emerged after an intense meeting Monday night between the dance community and the Southern’s board members and staff.
Still, there were some revelations about what’s next for the Southern. About 200 people looking for answers packed Studio 100 at the University of Minnesota’s Barbara Barker Center for Dance.
The Southern Theater has been restructured so that a CEO will run the artistic and business sides of the operation. New CEO Patricia Speelman told the gathering that she’s seeking applications for three new curators: one each for dance, music and theater.
The restructuring, or “new organization model,” said board member Cindy Brooks, was “modeled with Jeff’s input” and “envisioned with him as part of the model.”
Another board member, Bryan Fleming, has said that dance will still be the theater’s primary focus.
Bartlett has declined to comment on his departure on the advice of his attorney.
At separate times during the evening, two different artists pointed to statements in paragraph two of a release sent out last week by board chairwoman Susan Lach as evidence of why Bartlett was released:
“Two years ago the Board was confronted with a huge financial deficit, a building badly in need of repair, faulty and problematic accounting practices, personnel issues, low staff morale, and complaints from artists.
The paragraph continued: “After considerable research, thought, evaluation and discussion, the Board determined that in order to preserve the Southern Theater’s mission, including the legacy of Jeff Bartlett, a restructuring of the organizations was essential. All of this was discussed extensively with Jeff Bartlett both by individual Board Members and through his attendance at many of the Board meetings over the past two years. Throughout this process, Jeff Bartlett was given multiple opportunities to give feedback, participate in the discussions, offer solutions, and ultimately embrace the new organizational structure of the Southern Theater by actively participating in harmony with the new organization.”
Among the various concerns raised by attendees were the lack of input from artists about the recent decision-making resulting in Bartlett’s departure and whether the new structure would be more corporate than artistic.
Toward the end of the meeting, dancer Megan McClellan literally jumped into the middle of the room. If the current board hadn’t resolved the issues stated by Lach in the press release, she said, there wouldn’t be a Southern Theater today. She urged the board to make sure Bartlett is “taken care of” for his three decades of service to the theater.