A good day in Minneapolis

kawakubo costume for Cunningham dance piece
Lovely lady lumps? One of the Rei Kawakubo costumes at the Walker Art Center.

At the 7th floor, I stepped off the elevator. Sound greeted me: sounds like I would expect to hear if I were transported into my own bloodstream – and time was running backwards, and my body was presently moving around at a pretty noisy event. That grand re-opening soirée at the very same place, the Walker Art Center, seven years ago, seems about right. Crowds of fancy-dressed –and often wearing noisy shoes– revelers. Excited conversations. Today: liquid whooshes, very little discernible rhythm, gulps by a very big monster, and odd electronic punctuations here and there. It felt dark, and close. And yet there was the bright, sometimes blinding light that is in most spaces at the Walker: near this elevator landing was a floor-to-ceiling window that faced onto Hennepin Avenue, on a very sunny winter day.

The first elements of this “Dance Works III: Merce Cunningham / Rei Kawakubo” that I saw were a few framed photos from the original event (a dance performance). The dress above was in one; my brain tried to put together exactly how a second human body of indeterminate size had gotten into the dress. Ultimately, it failed: the bulge was part of the outfit. Once we (brain and I) got past that, I rushed into the gallery to absorb more of the strangeness and to seek an explanation.

The music got louder; as I turned a corner I was pleased and surprised to see the actual costumes on mannequins, set up on a small stage, somewhat contained in a sub-room in that gallery. When I’d first read about this show, I had trouble visualizing it as an exhibition, even if it were still photos from the original performances: wouldn’t that me missing the point?

Alas, no: the exhibit is about the collaboration, namely between Merce Cunningham and the designer Rei Kawakubo. Also involved was the man behind the music, Takehisa Kosugi. Track 4 in this album was apparently the work that I’d been listening to in the gallery.

Most of the outfits had soft-looking lumps in weird places, though two had none, but seams were awkward & even without a moving dancer within, I could envision how strange his or her movements were likely to appear. Another element that made these costumes particularly interesting for me: I recently reconnected with a friend with a dance background, who related some helpful information about the Cunningham dance style: “it’s all about lines”. I envisioned elegant ballet moves, which seem to elongate already-long arms and legs. And yet the bumps in these costumes would work to break those lines.

Most helpful was a quote screened onto a wall, up high above everything else. From Rei Kawakubo: “After extensive searching for new ideas, just before time ran out, I realized that the clothes could be the body and the body could be the clothes. I then started to design the body….” Suddenly, the work made so much more sense to me. Helpfully, there were also A/V stations with headphones, which allowed me to see parts of the performances. Clips from interviews with the dancers were also at hand.

costume list
Maydelle Fayson’s Costume List

The designer and information architect in me was drawn to some of the supportive documentation (shown at left): slips of paper that indicated, for each dancer, which outfits to don, sequentially through the dance piece. Codified patterns and colors, simple sketches, and high-contrast (low-fi) photos were used to help store and use the costume sets.

Conclusion: lumps before lunch was a good way to handle my recent Sunday. There are plenty of things that can make for good days in St. Paul, on most days. However, when the thing that I wanted to do last weekend was in Minneapolis, and my husband was embroiled in fighting a nasty cold, he sent me off with a blessing, to enjoy my planned adventure on the west side of town. On my agenda: visit the Cindy Sherman and Merce Cunningham shows at the Walker Art Center, and maybe also catch a movie and grab some lunch in uptown.

As may be clear from my story above, the dance-related exhibition was my favorite part of the day spent in mill town. Also exceptional was the “Chicago Style Beef” sandwich that I picked up at Rye Deli, and took to the movie with me. Although this was the day I discovered that attempting to eat a messy sandwich while watching a movie is something more easily done in the confines of your own basement, it was still better cinema gnosh than salty popcorn and a cherry Coke!

The Cindy Sherman show was enlightening, but left me a little cold, if not perhaps a little irritated. My arrival time afforded me the opportunity to take an informative guided tour of the exhibition with a great docent and group of fellow travelers, but   I’m sad to admit that I don’t feel any more attracted to Sherman’s work than I did, prior to the visit.

Along a somewhat similar vein, the movie I picked, Silver Linings Playbook was enjoyable, but a little unsettling. It offered a great story with great performances, though I often found myself worrying that I was laughing at points where, if I were someone with bipolar disorder, or if I was close to someone with it, the funny parts just wouldn’t be funny. More shocking: in the 24 hours that followed the movie, I found myself exhibiting what seemed to be symptoms of the same disorder: normally inconsequential (or at least not worth freaking out about) sounds or events really, really bothered me. Still, I’m a big fan of this director, David O. Russell, and now plan to watch another of his films, The Fighter, very soon.

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