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‘The Hollow’: a ‘live music/movement mashup’

ALSO: Theater Latté Da’s “Chicago” extended for second time; “Zafira and the Resistance” at the Guthrie’s Dowling Studio; and more.

Tyler and Emily Michaels King
Tyler and Emily Michaels King in “The Hollow.”
Photo by Dan Norman

Founded in 2016 by Tyler Michaels King, Trademark Theater has mounted three productions. First came “The Boy and Robin Hood” in 2017, an action-packed retelling of the hoary tale. Then “Understood” in 2018, a contemporary relationship drama aimed at healing a divided nation. And now “The Hollow,” described as “a concept album performed live with movement and dance.” Or, more loosely, “a live music/movement mashup.”

One new theater company, three wildly different and ambitious productions. All originals and world premieres. What’s the common link? Trademark’s founder, Tyler Michaels King.

The inhumanly talented Tyler can sing, dance, act, direct and choreograph, as he’s shown in a swath of theaters across the Twin Cities. (Earlier this year, he dazzled in “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” He was tragically underused in the Ordway’s “42nd Street,” though his tap dancing was divine.) Now, thanks to “The Hollow,” we know he’s not only a musical theater dancer but also a modern dancer.

Keeping track of what he’s up to is a full-time job. Last night at Crooners, he sang Frank Sinatra in the Dunsmore Room, accompanied by Louis Berg-Arnold on piano.

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Three years in the making, “The Hollow” began as a work inspired by “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” It evolved over time into something altogether else, though a few hints of Washington Irving’s story remain in the song lyrics (“From a recurring dream, I run/Without my head!”).

In an acoustically perfect setting, you would understand the song lyrics during the performance. The Tek Box at the Cowles, where “The Hollow” takes place, is not an acoustically perfect setting. Plus there’s a lot going on, with four musicians (drums, electric guitar, electric bass, marimba), five singers and two dancers – almost too much to also pay attention to words. The lyrics are printed in a booklet that comes with the program, so you can read them before or after.

The music in “The Hollow” has been called “chamber grunge.” It’s a mix of folk, pop and rock, upbeat tunes and ballads, with arresting moments of atonality. Written by Jenna Wyse and Joey Ford (she’s on bass, he’s on guitar), the 18 songs are poetic and dreamy. Sometimes they’re loud. Bring earplugs or pick some up in the lobby before the show.

Tyler and Emily Michaels King are the dancers, aka movers. Emily has created or co-created Fringe Festival hits including “Hello Stranger” (2013), “Animus” (2017) and “Magic Girl” (2019). Her art encompasses performance, installations and aesthetic curation.

For much of the 70-minute running time, Emily and Tyler dance variations on intimacy, distance, anger, contentment, aggression and tenderness. They curl around and tangle up with each other. They lift each other into the air. They give each other shoves. Sometimes they move in unison. They’re beautiful to watch. Many of their movements are synchronous with the music, as when Tyler’s fingers touching Emily’s leg match precisely with notes on the marimba. This adds another dimension to the experience, a palpable physical connection to the music.

One dance is about almost falling, over and over again. A comment on losing one’s balance in life? In another, the lights strobe and Emily and Tyler’s movements seem fearful. During a song called “Happy Memory,” they jump up and down the whole time. It is not a short song. They make it look easy, as if they’re weightless and could do this forever. Near the end, they embrace and sink slowly to the ground. He lies on his back. She lies on her back on top of him. Together, they turn their heads and look at us. It’s a jolt of electricity.

A few times during the performance, just as Emily and Tyler leap upwards, the lights go out, leaving the theater in almost total blackness. It’s a wonderful effect. You can imagine the two of them rising in the dark, slipping through ceilings and into the sky.

“The Hollow” continues through Oct. 20 at the Tek Box in the Cowles Center. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($20-25; $15 students).

Theater Latté Da’s “Chicago” extended for second time

Originally set to close Nov. 3, Theater Latté Da’s production of “Chicago,” Broadway’s longest-running American musical, will now close on Nov. 17. It’s almost bumping up against “All Is Calm,” which opens at the Ritz on Nov. 27.

Michelle de Joya as Velma Kelly with the cast of "Chicago."
Photo by Dan Norman
Michelle de Joya as Velma Kelly with the cast of "Chicago."
In “Chicago,” nothing is calm. Based on real crimes, set in the Jazz Age, it’s two-plus hours of barely contained energy. The cast is brilliant and fierce. The whole thing feels on edge, a metaphor for our times. Everyone wants to be a celebrity. Systems are corrupt. The public is manipulated. The foreigner is hanged. It’s all razzle-dazzle and nobody’s got no class. When was this written? Yesterday? FMI and tickets (start at $33).

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The picks

Natalie Diaz
University of Minnesota Department of English
Natalie Diaz
Tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 16) at the Walker: “The Lighthouse.” In Robert Eggers’ psychological thriller, Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) are isolated lighthouse keepers on a remote New England island in the 1890s. Eggers filmed his gothic ghost story in a real 70-foot lighthouse using 35mm B&W film and Melvillean dialogue. 2019, 110 min. 7 p.m. FMI including creepy trailer. Free.

Starts Thursday at noon in Landmark Center’s Courtroom 319: the Schubert Club’s 2019-20 Courtroom Concerts series. If you work in downtown St. Paul and you enjoy classical music, you’re in luck. On most Thursdays at noon, you can hear a free concert presented by the Schubert Club. It will last an hour, complimentary coffee will be served, and it’s wise to arrive a bit early if you can, since these concerts often reach capacity. The first performance of the season will feature the Saxophone Quartet. FMI.

Thursday at the U’s McNamara Alumni Center: Natalie Diaz reading. The Fall 2019 UMN English Writers Series begins with poet Natalie Diaz, a 2018 MacArthur Fellow, Mojave language activist, and author of “When My Brother Was an Aztec” (2012) and “Postcolonial Love Poem,” forthcoming from Graywolf in 2020. 7 p.m. Free. Note: The fall series continues with Rivka Galchen at the Weisman on Oct. 22, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at Northrop on Oct. 23, Paul Murray at Lind Hall on Oct. 29 and Danielle Evans at the McNamara Alumni Center on Nov. 4. We’ll also tell you about these events nearer their dates, but if you want to mark your calendar, here they are.

Thursday through Saturday at the Guthrie: “Zafira and the Resistance.” With a despotic leader in power and Islamophobia on the rise, an Arab American teacher and her school are swept into the chaos. New Arab American Theater Works’ production of Minnesota playwright Kathryn Haddad’s play is timely and important. Co-directed by Malek Najjar and Zeina Salame, it’s a story of friendship, solidarity, and the power to stand up to tyranny. You’ll have plenty to talk about after. In the Dowling Studio. FMI and tickets ($25-32). Also next Friday-Sunday, Oct. 25-27.

Friday and Saturday: Border CrosSing: Black Christ of the Andes. Many of us heard Border CrosSing when they sang Osvaldo Golijov’s “La Pasión según San Marcus” at Sommerfest. Led by Ahmed Anzaldúa, they helped save the day when singers from Venezuela couldn’t get the passports and visas they needed. This weekend, they’ll perform a program that includes their own interpretation of Ariel Ramirez’s “Misa Criolla” and selections from jazz composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams’ rarely heard choral masterwork “Black Christ of the Andes.” Friday at Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Paul, Saturday at Church of the Ascension in Minneapolis. 7 p.m. Pre-concert talk by Anzaldúa at 6:30. FMI and tickets ($20/15 seniors/10 students).

Sunday at the Walker: New York Times Panel Discussion: Is Local News Dying? More than 2,000 American newspapers have merged or closed over the last 15 years. Jamie Stockwell, deputy national editor at the New York Times; Richard Fausset, an Atlanta-based correspondent who chronicled the end of a Minnesota weekly, the Warroad Pioneer; former Warroad Pioneer publisher Rebecca Colden; and Suki Dardarian, the Star Tribune’s senior managing editor and VP will talk about local journalism, why it matters and what happens when newspapers close. 2 p.m. Free, but tickets are required and available at the main lobby desk starting at 1 p.m. Stay after for a reception with New York Times journalists and special guests.