REVIEW: Hijack and Chris Yon at Outlet Performance Festival
Winter has made me more intentional about leaving my house. I know that, in theory, getting out is easy enough. But the temptation to stay on my couch and watch season after season of The Wire has been a real threat to any awareness I have that all I need to do is layer, drive, and park to see some live performance (and real humans!). The stakes feel higher. I was attracted to catching part of the Outlet performance series because I knew it took place in an unlikely venue (a storefront basement). When I go to the Jungle, I have a good idea of what to expect: I sit in a chair and applaud at the end. But I was piqued by not knowing what Outlet would hold. I guessed that it would feel like more of an event than a traditional performance. And it certainly did.
Jaime Carrera is curator and creator of Outlet, a performance festival that takes place in a huge basement space under Los Amigos restaurant at 28th and Blaisdell as part of Artists In Storefronts.
Outlet is a collection of discipline-crossing artists that Carrera loves. He has great taste. I’m a big fan of Carrera’s aesthetic – that’s what drew me to Outlet in the first place. He’s profane, stubborn, and a great people watcher. "What would happen if we tried this? What would this person [often not a trained performer] look like on stage?"
The performers for this event were three modern dance choreographers that I happen to have gigantic crushes on. First, Hijack, a modern dance duo comprised of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder. Hijack’s work thrives in small, intimate spaces; they share the irreverence present in Carrera’s work. And they move with an intention and effort that gives me goosebumps.
The other choreographer was New York transplant Chris Yon. His work usually features his wife, Taryn Griggs, referred to by Yon as his muse. Griggs moves with mesmerizing energy and efficiency, capturing Yon’s vocabulary of detailed gestures and repetitive nuance – a look here and a breath there – in a perfectly articulated manner. (Griggs and her noteworthy hair are included in the crush category.)
Dear Theater Audience:
I’m going to take this opportunity to boldly insist that you view more modern dance. It’s happening everywhere: in art gallery spaces, at the Bryant Lake Bowl, at Patrick’s Cabaret. It’s often inexpensive. You can usually enjoy a beer with it. The modern dance community is actually the home of a lot of the experimental theater in town. A lot of what experimental theater folk are playing with is location. What kinds of spaces can we make work in? How does this change or limit the work? What are the possibilities?
I waited in line to sign a safety waiver and enter the door to the basement steps. The space made the night feel like a community party. The basement was gigantic, clean, and sparse with the expected concrete floor. The only decoration was a spiral of white lights on a wall and a section of silver streamers. Down in the space I saw Carrera himself wandering around with a PBR. He wore an oversized t-shirt showcasing a very large cat and was setting up his camera to shoot the show. I recognized lots of Twin Cities dancers- many of my personal heroes- and their children. Being in the spare room with other audience members, also layered for winter, and finding spaces on the floor together was part of the show. I loved it.
In Hijack’s piece I saw and heard some or all of the following: Van Loon’s muscular arms accented by a fur vest; pink and blue lipstick; a ballet barre; George Harrison and Stevie Nicks; contact improvisation and back bends; a black and white striped unitard; a zombie ballet; a series of walks and poses performed by the cast – and Wilder as a solo – that alternated between feminine model glam and wide-stanced masculine. The title: death drop work shop. I giggled as performers Morgan Thorson and Jennifer Agrave wrestled one another next to the ballet barre, and wondered if the audience wasn’t finding the comedy in seeing these established and recognized members of their community in wedgie-inducing leotards and awkward, flailing movement.
What grabbed me was the experience of being in that space with so many magnetic performers just feet from my face, and the risks they each took. What struck me were the nuances of the night: how the audience followed Carrera’s instructions to close our eyes before Yon’s piece. He asked us to bend our knees a little if we were standing and to breathe, and then began to speak to us in perfect, liquid Spanish (Carrera is originally from Juárez, México).
The second work was Yon’s Perpetual Precipice or AVoidDance. It began with a solo full of Yon’s signature sharp hand gestures to loops of distorted music that abruptly shifted and repeated. Yon and Griggs move with an intention similar to that of Wilder and Van Loon: they don’t emote, but they are acutely aware of every reach and look and gesture; nothing is inconsequential, and it is incredibly satisfying to watch. At one point Yon and Griggs were accompanied by a live bass player. At another point, Yon and the bass player were engaged in a duet that reminded me of the Hijack piece’s wrestling match. Then, curator and choreographer Laurie Van Weiren was sitting at a table removing objects from a bag and then putting them back in with efficiency; Griggs instructed the audience to move closer together so that she could take a photograph.
When I describe all of these elements sandwiched together, I imagine it to be similar to a mushroom trip: emotionally big, satisfying, but in the end not really something that I can adequately describe to someone who wasn’t there. Why the hell was he suddenly speaking in Spanish? And, what was the point of taking things in and out of a bag? I don’t know. Not all of the elements made sense together, and they certainly weren’t linear. But I wasn’t searching for that. What I brought back from Outlet was a certain excitement and an intense feeling of community that made me grateful that I left the safety of my couch. Outlet reminded me that performance in its rawest sense, on a concrete floor, with just an iPad and speakers for music, is really exciting. A feeling of “Anything can happen, things that we couldn’t possibly predict!” And, that one gesture performed over and over with deep intention, even when you aren’t sure what the intention is, has the capability to leave you chewing on its message for the rest of the week.