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Eiko and Koma in ‘Hunger’; reaching a verdict on ‘The Jury’

Eiko and Koma from a version of "Hunger" at American Dance Festival
Copyright 2007ADF/Gregory Georges
Eiko and Koma from a version of “Hunger” at American Dance Festival.

For more than 30 years, the Japanese-born, New York-dwelling dance artists Eiko and Koma have performed exclusively in their own signature works: Duets that intertwine the physical intensity, slow pace and meditative aura of butoh with a raw sense of the human condition stripped to its primal essence.

In 1983, they began performing one of those works, “Grain,” which the two have described as “a dance about how our lives — bodies, spirits, and death — relate to an essential food (in Asia it is rice).” While in residence at the Reyum Art School in Phnom Penh in 2004, they performed a portion of the work in the schoolyard. The children were enraptured. A work that incorporated those students — including two older students who are also visual artists — ensued: “Cambodian Stories: An Offering of Painting and Dance.” To see a clip, visit here.

This weekend, Eiko and Koma premiere their newest endeavor, “Hunger,” commissioned by the Walker Art Center, which includes the two students, Charian (Chakreya So) and Peace (Setheap Sorn), who dance and paint during the performance. The choreographers created the quartet after setting “Grain” on Charian and Peace during the 2007 American Dance Festival. “It was the first time anyone else performed a dance we made for ourselves,” they’ve said.

“Hunger” expands the themes of “Grain” on a more global scale, but through the intimacy of four—instead of two—articulate performing bodies. Such a performance requires audience members to take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and then drift attentively into a wordless expression of need and desire, stillness and motion, and spare fullness.

When: 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday
Where: McGuire Theater, Walker Art Center,1750 Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
Tickets: $25-$15 online
Phone: 612-375-7600

Karla Grotting, left, and Jennifer Ilse in "The Jury."
Photo by Mike Neuharth
Karla Grotting, left, and Jennifer Ilse in “The Jury.”

“The Jury”
More than halfway through Off Leash Area’s new movement-theater piece, “The Jury,” I wondered: How did she get this way? “She” being a young woman, a member of the non-working poor, on trial for manslaughter (for bringing her drug-dealer sex partner to a party, where he shot her boyfriend), as portrayed by choreographer and co-artistic director Jennifer Ilse. The work continues this weekend in Ilse and co-artistic director Paul Herwig’s former two-car garage, which they’ve converted into an intimate performance space.

Ilse recently served on the jury for such a case. “The Jury” seems (in part) Ilse’s attempt to share her responsibility as a juror by giving the audience the opportunity to reach their own verdict as Ilse (here’s the other part) performatively examines the background of the reckless, angry, drug-addled woman that she and her real-life cohorts convicted.

The action takes place inside a brown-paper cave (Herwig designed the set) in which the character of the young woman — here she’s called Sheri Brown — is slowly excavated. Elena Giannetti, as the pinstripe-suited prosecutor, periodically digs through boxes of sand and extracts objects that lead — as the hourlong show progresses — deeper toward the truth. Tiny cutoffs and a teeny T-shirt are the first items out of the box, and Ilse promptly trades her skirt and blouse for this outfit and lots of bad attitude.

The answer to my question came after Ilse and Karla Grotting enacted a sometimes-awkward expressionist portrait of desire (they didn’t have exacting control of their bodies in the small performance space); after a harrowing, book-tearing altercation between a teacher (Grotting) and the young woman; and Ilse’s rope solo, in which her movements illuminate the lift, the suspension and the inevitable slump of a drug trip.

It was during the vignette of the loving, then abusive/neglectful, then drug-addicted mother (Grotting) that I sighed with both acknowledgement and dismay. No question: As the mother inducts the daughter into the life with exhausted desperation and raw surrender, we see witness how violence to self and society can be transmitted through the most primal of nature/nurture bonds. Grotting and Ilse are riveting in their generational mirroring of dead-end behavior.

But blaming the mother is also ultimately a dead end. I longed for some social, cultural or political context in which to better understand the origins and lives of the non-working poor, like this Sheri Brown and her mother. Instead we’re left with stereotypes: passionately embodied stereotypes alive with gesture, facial expression and movement. But one-dimensional characters all the same.

When: 7 p.m., Friday-Sunday, Oct. 10-12
Where: Our Garage (address released with advanced registration)
Tickets: $10-$15; call 612-724-7372.

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