Transforming the white cube

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January 31, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott

// For the month of February, member artist Camille Gage converts her Form + Content Gallery into a pint-sized cabaret theater //

Of the 13 member artists at Form + Content gallery, who each take a turn curating the Downtown space for a month, Camille Gage is the only one with a performance background. Throughout the 1980s, she played in Minneapolis’ first all-female rock band, Tetes Noir, whose brand of socially conscious folk pop propelled them into the upper crust of the era’s indie scene. (They toured with R.E.M., and if you press Gage on the subject, you might get a story about bowling with front man Michael Stipe.)

So when it became Gage’s turn to program the gallery, she wanted to try something different than the standard paintings-on-a-wall art show. She wanted to produce a performance series.

“It just occurred to me that we have never done that before,” she said.

And true enough, for the first time in the gallery’s four-year history, Form + Content will have nothing on its walls for an entire month. Instead, it will become the home of Wee Cabaret, a weekly mini-sampler of what’s going on in the city’s performance scene. Throughout February, each Friday and Saturday night will feature a three-act performance, with artists given 20 minutes to present their best stuff inside a venue the size of a Loring Park studio apartment.

Some big local names have been booked in the cozy space. Doomtree poetess and rising literary star Dessa Darling will be the most marquee act, and the schedule also includes the popular jazz-fusion, cello-and-tabla quartet Jelloslave, as well as McKnight fellow ballet dancer Justin Leaf.

Leaf will perform a scene from “Cohesion,” a military inspired piece that probes the identity suppression of the recently overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He says he’s working with New York choreographer John Kelly, with whom he originally mapped out the dance in New York’s Park Avenue Armory, on adjusting the piece to the smaller space. “Cohesion” was first performed last summer at the Southern Theater.

“The nature of this solo is very intimate,” he says. “There are moments when I look out into the audience and really see people — as though they are other figures in the drama of the dance. In that way, the gallery space is really suitable for this dance, which is more about story than about technical display.”

“It’s like having a performance in our living room,” Gage quipped, adding that the space only accommodates 50 viewers. Her team has been resourceful in translating the theater experience to the small space — ensuring decent sight lines, installing appropriate lighting, arranging for a tiered seating arrangement that allows the audience to gaze down at the performers. “It’s more work for us, but it’s worth it.”

A good deal of the performers Gage says she had never met before wrangling them for the show — and that’s by design. To keep things fresh and surprising, she spent days trolling the Internet for acts she wasn’t familiar with.

Performance artist Kjellgren Alkire, whose work investigates the evangelical Christian subculture, brings his country preacher persona to the gallery space.

“Go to his website and prepare to have your mind blown,” Gage instructs. “I can’t wait to see this man.”

Asked for other highlights, she brought up Tou Saiko Lee. Lee is a Hmong rapper who teams up with his grandmother for performances. As Fresh Traditions, Lee raps in English while his grandmother performs the Hmong spoken word tradition of kwv txiaj (pronounced gu tieh).

Actors from Frank Theater will perform scenes from their upcoming production of “Cabaret.” And ComedySportz regular Jill Bernard, who performs at improv festivals all over the country, will present her one-woman piece “Drum Machine,” an avant-garde bit of Cockney comedy performed over synthetic beats.

The rest of the line-up includes post-modern dance duo HIJACK; the beat boxing duet of Ill Chemistry (Carnage and Desdamona); Jennifer Isle’s dance and theater company Off-Leash Area; world music performers Laura Harada and Tim O’Keefe; yoga acrobats Swim Team; jazz duo Sophia Shorai and DVRG, the keyboardist from the Heiruspecs; and Gage’s own band, the Truant Lovers.

“Sometimes, friends will say, ‘Well, recommend a night,’” Gage said. “And I look at the line-up, and it’s so hard.”

Wee Cabaret

7:30–9 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights in February.
Check for complete schedule.

Form + Content, 210 N. 2nd St., Suite 104. 436-1151