Picks :: Dancin with myself

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July 2, 2010
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

// In SOLO, six winners of the McKnight Fellowship for dance each get the stage to themselves //

As a dancer, there are many benefits to winning a McKnight Fellowship. You get a $25,000 award. The Southern Theater commissions a solo piece for you, which you get paid to perform. You also get a comfortable stipend to cover all of your travel, live music, costume and prop needs.

But the biggest prize might be the ability to call the shots.

The Southern Theater’s SOLO show, an every-other-year event that features one-off pieces created expressly for each McKnight Fellow from the two previous years, allows dancers carte blanche to hire the choreographers of their dreams. The Southern also provides $3,000 for the commission.

According to Mary Ellen Childs, program director for the McKnight Fellowship at the Southern Theater, that’s a pretty rare luxury.

“We really put the dancers in the driver’s seat, and that’s highly unusual,” she said. “It’s usually the choreographers who are in charge of the whole process.”

As a result, it’s the choreographers who end up feeling blessed and fortunate to be chosen by the dancers, and not the other way around. And that gratitude shows when the choreographers describe their dancer co-creators.

To choreographer Dan Hurlin, dancer Karen Sherman, a 2009 McKnight winner, is “a kind of racing car. Low to the ground, fast and powerful.” Katsura Kan says that McKnight fellow Kats Fukasawa is like “the wind passing through the Eurasian Continent.” And to choreographer Jennifer Hart, dancer Sam Fiepel is “Buddha energy, like walking, breathing poetry.”

Sound over the top? Maybe. But Childs says that’s the type of intimate awe that develops when two people work together on a single performance for a year or two.

“I think it works best when they sort of fall in love with their dancers,” she said. “Shawn McConneloug, who is working with Mary Ann Bradley” — a 2008 fellow and superstar from Zenon Dance Company — “said that one of the things that she does, she needs to spend time with that dancer so that she can memorize her.”

The 2010 SOLO show features six solo performances, each ranging from five to 15 minutes long. The pieces are each “wildly different,” Child says, ranging from the ballet-inflected to the alien and sometimes grotesque sensibilities of Butoh, a radical dance movement from post-WWII Japan, often characterized by a near-nude performer coated in white body paint and contorting into angst-ridden postures.

Dancer Justin Leaf rehearsed in the Park Avenue Armory in New York, which houses a regiment just back from a tour in Iraq, for a piece that explores “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Roxane Wallace-Patterson, having recovered from a severe back injury, performs a “tree trunk” piece about the strength of black women.

Karen Sherman dances through architectural memories of childhood homes.

Kats Fukasawa does the Butoh piece, encouraging the audience to focus on the “noises” that come out of his body from behind the dance technique.

Mary Ann Bradley has been sworn to secrecy about her performance.

Sam Feipel has promised a dance that is physically brutal.

SOLO opens at the Southern Theater Thursday, July 8.

July 8–11
7:30 p.m. Thursday
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
7 p.m. Sunday
Post-show discussion on Saturday