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Photo: Courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival

Photo: Courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival

When looking through press materials for this year’s Minnesota Fringe Festival performances and trying to determine which performances I would attend, one show description caught my eye in particular. A split bill program inspired by Nietzsche, questions about social interaction, and life’s little pleasures.

You don’t see that every day.

Because both my father and myself are philosophers, I felt personally and professionally bound to seeing what this was all about.

Twin Cities dance ensemble Classical Mechanics presented Sketchbook Dances at the University of Minnesota’s Rarig Center on Saturday, August 2, 2014. The program consisted of three 20-minute works choreographed by Twin Cities-based choreographers: Eternal Return, Othering, and SketchBook Dances. The first and third were choreographed by Margaret Marinoff, who also held the role of producer, and the second by Emily Blacik Jones.

Sometimes, works of art are derived from philosophy, or philosophy from works of art.  If left unacknowledged by the artists and philosophers who established them, these relationships likely go unnoticed by the public.

Eternal Return was a low-lit dance for four women and one man. Alternating between soloist, duet, pas de deux, and ensemble relationships, each dancer repeated a movement phrase of his or her own. At times, the spatial arrangements made for double duets, visual counterpoints, and partnering sequences. There was otherwise little variation or manipulation of the movement..

The philosophical question that interested Marinoff and that Friedrich Nietzsche — along with many before and after him — was, “Would you affirm — that is, accept — the universe, its every moment in succession, whether joyful, painful, or otherwise? In other words, would you affirm that all of this is worth it?”

I’m glad that this philosophical thought experiment influenced Marinoff’s creative efforts and I admire her for openly acknowledging that.

Yet, my overall sense was that Eternal Return did not comprehensibly address the very abstract notion with which it dealt.

Though the extensive repetition of movement phrases and spatial patterns in Eternal Return conveyed a sense of recurrence, the movement made no clear reference to the central puzzle in the thought experiment — whether all of this is worth it, just as it is. Perhaps this complex, multifaceted philosophical question could be explored more satisfactorily using a less literal approach. 

Jones’ Othering was a significant departure from the opening work.

This dance for four women blended contemporary jazz and Horton-based movements to convey images of social inclusion and exclusion.

Gulstrand, Hollenhorst, Sekkran, and Starr looked strong in this piece. Not only are they all quite physically fit, but they seemed composed and comfortable working in a contemporary movement style.

But I would have liked to see a bit more development of the basis for the dancers’ increasingly exclusionist relationship on stage. The spatial arrangements used in Othering consistently isolated one dancer from the other three, though there was no clear indication of what motivated the segregation. I wonder if Jones could clarify this by incorporating additional movement or audio and visual cues.

SketchBook Dances opened with a single female dancer. Six glass vases lined the stage in front of her, each one holding a single, grey flower. Sections of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto” played as she and, eventually, six other dancers swayed, turned, and leapt across the stage, sometimes in unison.

The choreography in SketchBook Dances, and likewise Eternal Return, consisted of movements reminiscent of classical ballet, but lacking specificity and technical accuracy. This may have been per the choreographer’s request. But, more likely, it seemed this was the result of the dancers’ unclear understanding of the positions and movements they had been asked to create.

I’m not sure if this is the result of inadequate ballet training or inadequate demonstration by the choreographer. Maybe the dancers were doing exactly what they were shown — though improperly — as opposed to executing a series of steps poorly?

Whatever the case, for practical and ethical reasons, Marinoff should make sure her choreography, along with her dancers’ technique, are anatomically sound.

Written by Alejandra Iannone

Alejandra is a dancer, philosopher, and educator who lives and works in
New York City. She is a cum laude graduate of the Fordham University/Ailey School
B.F.A. program in New York City, NY, and has had the honor of dancing works by
various choreographers, including Take Ueyama, Jacqulyn Buglisi, Neil Ieremia, and
Donna Salgado. She is a faculty member at The Ailey School—Junior Division, where
she teaches creative movement and ballet and teaches at Astoria Fine Arts Dance + Fitness. Alejandra also holds an M.A. in Philosophy from Temple University, where she did work in the areas of Aesthetics, Philosophy of Dance, and Philosophy of Mind. She is an adjunct lecturer at The City College of New York, where she teaches philosophy.

Whether she is working in philosophy, dance, or some combination of the two, Alejandra
is interested in asking and perhaps answering questions about embodied knowledge.