MINNEAPOLIS IS, AS PEOPLE SAY, A COOL PLACE. The literal cool, by keeping the cost of living low for a major metropolitan area, attracts the metaphoric cool — artists. Some artists are born here, some roll in from surrounding states, and some fly in at random, like spider hatchlings, but Minneapolis also attracts a disproportionately high number of ex-New Yorkers. The latest to get off the merry-go-round and settle here are choreographer Chris Yon and his muse and partner, Taryn Griggs. Last year Yon had a show at New York’s DTW; this year he’s at the BLB.
Yon’s show, The Infinite Multiverse, begins with the “Ballad of Angry Dad” (originally co-created with Jeff Larson). Let’s start with the movement, since it’s a constant in all Yon’s work I’ve seen. Not pedestrian but not fluid either, Yon’s dance reminds me more of a drill team or a semaphore operator — coordinated arm-slices and shuffle-hops that look precise, but which conform only to their own mysterious codes. There’s a nervous edge to the achievement of each step — something seems to be at stake, but what? (Maybe that’s where I’m getting the drill team from; I’m thinking of the rifleman, who might bayonet himself if he misses his catch.) In “Angry Dad,” the stakes have to do with masculinity. “This is the face I make when I die,” Yon announces after a high-pressure run of steps. “That’s not it,” he says, after a burble of looks come and go on his face.
Not being able to compose his face is one of Angry Dad’s problems. He has others: Western ricochet sound effects, a cascade of doorbells, a gut shot that doubles him over. But I have to admit that my mind wandered away from the angst of this slightly ridiculous person, Angry Dad. In fact, my mind wandered right off the edge, as the piece abruptly ended while I was thinking about something else. Still, I’m impressed by Yon as a performer. Unapologetically average-looking in his ill-fitting pants and wrinkled dress shirt, he’s surprising in his physical finesse and assured performance.
“I Got the Heebies Jeebies,” a new trio, shows us more of what Yon can do. Taryn Griggs’s costumes — random seam and smocking on a severe uniform of army-gray shirts and tuxedo pants or skirts — suggest the way the dancers’ movements disrupt space. An oscillation, a sudden epic gesture in a despair of white light: these moments flair up, abruptly meaningful. I felt like I was watching travelers in a train station or moving through a packed sculpture gallery; I kept seeing scale, distance, difference, the nearly gravitational relation that unrelated people sometimes assume. The “sometimes,” the moments of frieze-like clarity, jumped out with bell-like clarity from a background of white noise, both in the miscellaneous soundtrack and in the obsessively continual motion of the dancers.
At first, I was glad I wasn’t epileptic. Then I started to worry I might develop epilepsy from the visual static.
Griggs, Justin Jones, and Kristin Van Loon perform spectacularly throughout, or Yon choreographs to them spectacularly — probably both. They maintain individual styles (a gangly mix of twitch and wingspan for Jones; Van Loon grinds in the heroic torsion of the Discobolus; Griggs blends a sensuous apprehension of the moment with an expression that’s sometimes startled blank, sometimes ecstatic shock); but each dancer does so without descending into parody and without compromising a common emphasis on the clean spaces between limbs. All this, in a hellishly complex piece that must have just about busted their brains to remember — this is performing.
Appreciating the performance didn’t quite get me through the hellish complexity myself, though. At first, I was glad I wasn’t epileptic; then I started to worry I might develop epilepsy from the visual static. I got worn out spotting moments. I can only think this is what the title’s about. Who’s got the heebie-jeebies? Me! When the performers all slapped their thighs about three-fourths of the way into the piece, I had a visceral reaction: no!
But, if one conclusion you might draw is that “Heebie-Jeebies” goes on a bit too long, or perhaps lacks trackable structure, it’s still interesting that Yon gets such a reaction. He makes me wonder about our rage for design. Do others seize the same moments I do? How do we recognize a moment? What do we look for, and why?
“This is where we are now,” Yon’s scattered flux seemed to say to me. “We’re just here.” Why is that so hard to accept? Now that Yon’s here in Minneapolis, perhaps we’ll learn more.
If you do go, by all means go Saturday to catch a special doubleheader, as New Yorker Neal Medlyn brings The Neal Medlyn Experience Live! to the BLB. A reenactment of a Beyonce concert, Medlyn’s show has been acclaimed by The New York Times. (The previous sentence is so utterly unlikely, yet so entirely true, that you really will have to see this for yourself.)
See below for a clip from a previously staged version of The Neal Medlyn Experience Live!
About the writer: Lightsey Darst writes on dance for Mpls/St Paul magazine and is also a poet who served as the founding coordinator of mnartists.org’s What Light: This Week’s Poem publication project.
THE INFINITE MULTIVERSE — Simul-sequential Movement Serials: “I Got The Heebie Jeebies!”, choreographed by Chris Yon for and with Taryn Griggs, Justin Jones, and Kristin Van Loon, will be on stage in the Bryant Lake Bowl theater the evenings of Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26. Tickets are $10-$15, pay-what-you-can; $18 for the Yon/Medlyn double-feature.
Visit the BLB website to buy tickets or to get specific performance times.