Before COVID, 2020 was a good year for BRKFST Dance Company. The collaborative ensemble based in St. Paul and rooted in hip-hop had been commissioned by the Minnesota Orchestra for a performance at its new Summer at Orchestra Hall festival. They were on the Southern Theater’s schedule for three nights in June. They had recently completed a DACA-inspired short film, “Dreamers,” with director Maria Juranic. A tour of Ireland was taking shape.
“Everything had been mounting to this great show show SHOW!” said company artistic director Lisa “MonaLisa” Berman earlier this week. “And then, all of a sudden, dead, with no vision of when things would open again or if people would still hire dancers in person again.”
She admits to going through “a pretty dark phase … I didn’t want to make anything. I didn’t want to dance. I was like, nothing matters.
“But then something clicked. I was like – this is my life, and I have to take charge of it again.”
BRKFST had lost its rehearsal space in February. Together with other Twin Cities dancers, with help from a Minnesota State Arts Board grant, Berman rented a co-op rehearsal space. Now BRKFST had room to slide and spin.
Juranic submitted “Dreamers” to several film festivals. It had its world premiere at the Brooklyn Film Festival and started winning awards. (It was also part of MSPIFF 2020.) “Literally, by spring it was blowing up in all of these festivals,” Berman said. “Maria would text me, ‘Dreamers got into another festival!’ These were little joys.”
The Minnesota Orchestra commission was moved to 2022 and turned into two nights, one where BRKFST will dance to Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue” and another with music by Black composer Yaz Lancaster, whose “dis[armed]” was part of the orchestra’s May 14 concert.
Earlier this month, BRKFST was named a finalist for the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) National Dance Project (NDP) Production Grant, a major award in dance that includes $45,000 to create a new dance work and $10,000 in unrestricted general operating support.
Starting tomorrow (Thursday, June 3), BRKFST will reopen the Southern Theater with “60/40,” a work about loss, fragmentation and contradiction, and the need to find wholeness again. It’s what the company planned to perform last June, but between then and now, our losses have compounded and our lives have changed, which can only deepen its resonance.
The first show at the Southern since the pandemic began will follow current COVID guidelines. The audience will be limited to 80. Seating will be distanced, masks will be required and concessions will be closed. The dancers won’t be masked but have all been vaccinated.
Why go? Because BRKFST is thrilling to watch, strong and athletic and surprising. The way they fuse breakdancing with contemporary dance makes you see both differently. Because now is the time to support artists and companies we care about.
“Making this show has brought us back to life,” Berman said. “Our company wouldn’t have lasted if we hadn’t been able to keep going with work. I feel really fortunate to be able to present work again.”
Berman wants people to understand that “artists are still here, we’re still making work and we rely on people seeing our work to make an income. Without the support of the community, live dance doesn’t exist.
“Virtual dance was useful during COVID, but it doesn’t compare to live shows. I want people to experience the visceral experience you get from watching a live dance performance, having emotions with it, connecting it to your own life and all the things that come with the experience of sitting in the theater and watching it happen live.”
Shows are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2 p.m. Thursday is pay as able; Friday through Sunday are $25 general admission, $10 student/child/senior. Friday includes a post-show discussion. FMI and tickets.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Available now: 5 Black Poets Call for Social Justice One Year After George Floyd’s Murder. Rebecca Nichloson, Hawona Sullivan Janzen, Valérie Déus, Wisdom Young and Ty Chapman perform their poems reflecting on events of a little over a year ago. Filmed by TPT as part of “Black Poetic Reflections on George Floyd & the Call for Social Justice,” a collaboration among the Kaleidoscope Project, East Side Freedom Library and Twin Cities PBS.
L Thursday, June 3, 7 p.m.: Walker Art Center: Hillside Jazz; Present Tense: Irreversible Entanglements featuring Moor Mother. Saxophonist Keir Neuringer, bassist Luke Stewart, trumpeter Aquiles Navarro, drummer Tcheser Holmes and poet Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) met at a 2015 rally against police brutality in Philadelphia, where they were all performing separately. They formed the free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements and have released two albums so far. The second, “Who Sent You?” came out in March 2020. Rough Trade called it “another blaze of anti-colonialist anti-capitalist anti-pacifist fire music.” Their self-titled debut earned “Best of 2017” praise from NPR and more. This is the first of three contemporary jazz concerts planned for the summer. Mark your calendar for the other two: Friday, July 2, and Friday, Aug. 6. Free on the Walker’s hillside.
V Friday, June 4, 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.: Walker Art Center: Body Prayers: Choreographers’ Evening Special Edition curated by DejaJoelle. An experience in two parts: a virtual community gathering and conversation (6 p.m.) followed by an online film premiere and watch party (7 p.m.). A tradition at the Walker for more than four decades, the Choreographers’ Evening continues to evolve. Curated by African-centered healing artist, choreographer, director and cultural healing curator DejaJoelle, this year’s program is a celebration of BIPOC choreographers, a prayer and a challenge to manifest the world we want to live in. FMI and tickets (pay-as-you-wish, $20 suggested).
L Fridays and Sundays in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: Summer Tours. Starting now through Sept. 30, the Walker will offer free guided tours of the famous sculpture garden every Friday and Sunday. All you have to do is show up at the Walker’s main entrance (725 Vineland Place) by Friday at 5:30 p.m. or Sunday at 12 noon. Tours are designed for adult audiences, but all ages are welcome. Sunday, June 27, will feature a Father’s Day-themed tour. For now, masks are required; check the guidelines for the latest news.