DANCE: 2008 Sage Awards (More Insidery Than Ever)

Dance critic Camille LeFevre plays connect the dots with this year's SAGE Award "Performance" category nominees.


WHEN THE LIST OF NOMINEES FOR THE 2008 SAGE AWARDS for Dance entered my inbox, I immediately thought: hmm, let’s play connect the dots. As it turns out, connections are particularly easy to find in the Performance category. The Sage Awards defines that category as follows: “A show, a work or piece of choreography from the past season. An audience must be present at the performance. Interdisciplinary work can be considered. Award will go to the creator or creators of the performance.” Given the interconnections that show up this year, one might also add: “And, in particular, performances by anyone associated with Stuart Pimsler, the founder and overseer of the Sage Awards; or any work considered postmodern, or post-postmodern, or experimental, or movement-based (or work without much movement whose creator has connections to the Minneapolis postmodern scene)—let’s just call the whole shooting match ‘pomo’ for brevity.”

Case in point: The list of seven Performance nominees includes five pomo works. One of them, Holiday House II by Body Cartography Project, was a remake and resetting of Otto Ramstad and Olive Bieringa’s Holiday House, which in a previous iteration at the Southern Theater was honored with the People’s Choice Award in 2006. Performers in Holiday House II included Karen Sherman, Morgan Thorson (both Sage Award winners in 2006) and Kristin Van Loon.

Another nominee is Justin Jones’s Pinhead Sings Hello Life. Performers included Anna Marie Shogren, Sarah Baumert and Dylan Skybrook. One of Shogren’s first movement forays La Brea (also called I’m a jerk), which was part of the Momentum Series for emerging artists this summer, is another nominee. (Question: Why was Shogren’s work nominated over Chris Schlichting’’s similarly pomo Momentum piece, love songs? Was it because Schlichting’s work had actual, choreographed movement in it?) The last pomo nominee is Premium White Morsels by Mad King Thomas: Tara King, Theresa Madaus and Monica Thomas, who cite as their influences such Twin Cities postmodern mainstays as Karen Sherman, Morgan Thorson and the Hijack duo, Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder.

Eddie Oroyan isn’t, himself, directly associated with the pomo crowd or Pimsler, but his Brown Rocket, also part of this year’s Momentum Series, is a nominee. But he performed the piece with Laura Selle Virtucio, who’s up for the Performer award she received last year; and she is a member of Pimsler’s company, Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater. (In addition to the nomination for Brown Rocket, Oroyan’s also up for a Performer award.)

Also nominated to the Performance category is Pimsler’s very own Ways to Be Hold, which was performed by his company. Another nominee, Technicolor Blues by Leah Nelson, included performer Roxane Wallace, who is also a member of Pimsler’s company and won a Performer award last year.

I’m just pointing out the obvious. And I’m no longer surprised when I hear more and more members of the dance community say they have no interest in attending the Sage Awards ceremony, precisely because the Performance nominees seem unmistakably skewed toward Pimsler and his crew, the pomo crowd and emerging artists.

What about Carl Flink’s Wreck, a harrowing, riveting portrait of humanity? At least Mary Ellen Child’s fantastic original score for the work has been nominated for a Design award. What about Zenon Dance Company’s entire 25th anniversary concert last fall? It encapsulated the vivacity, virtuosity and stylistic diversity of Zenon’s exemplary dancers with a singular outpouring from the stage. Zenon is a nominee for Special Citation, but will undoubtedly lose out to Jeff Bartlett, artistic director and lighting designer (for which he won a Design award in 2005), recently ousted from the Southern Theater. Long-time dancer Greg Waletski is on the list of Performer nominees this year, but what about founding company member and powerhouse performer Christine Maginnis, who was prominently featured in Zenon’s concerts this year and will now retire?

To move away from pure concert dance, why wasn’t Jon Ferguson’s movement-based theater piece, You’re My Kind of Pretty, on the Performance list? His was a sugary valentine, to be sure, but one laced with a finely hued physical humor and movement sensibility. Or how about Live Action Set’s Deviants, a horrifyingly delectable morsel of movement-theater and an audience favorite at this year’s Fringe Festival? (This show even included a Pimsler company dancer, Vanessa Voskuil, who earned a Sage Award for Design in 2006.)

To be fair, this year’s selections for the categories Performer, Educator, Design and Special Citation are more ecumenical than those in the Performance category, and reflect the dedication and hard work many artistic mainstays have invested in our dance community. But to my mind, the current list of Performance nominees raises serious questions, many of which have been bubbling under the surface of previous years’ lists as well, about just how the Sage Awards are juried and selected.

The biases evident in the selections reflect— consciously or not—that only a narrow slice of dancers and choreographers is judged to be deserving of critical consideration and recognition. As a result, fewer people serious about dance in Minnesota are taking the Sage Awards seriously as an accurate reflection of our dance community and the artists shaping it.

What: The 4th Annual Minnesota SAGE Awards for Dance
Where: Walker Art Center (Maguire Theater), Minneapolis, MN
When: September 24, 7:30 pm
Tickets: $12

About the writer: Camille LeFevre has been writing about dance in the Twin Cities for 20 years, and was Sage Awards juror in 2006.

PERFORMER (3 SAGE Awards Given):
Mary Ann Bradley
Jessica Cressey
Stephanie Fellner
Eddie Oroyan
Chitra Vairavan
Laura Selle Virtucio
Greg Waletski

EDUCATOR (1 SAGE Award Given):
Judith Howard
Becky Stanchfield
Erin Thompson

PERFORMANCE (3 SAGE Awards Given):
Brown Rocket – Eddie Oroyan
Holiday House II – The BodyCartography Project
La Brea – Anna Marie Shogren
Pinhead Sings Hello Life – Justin Jones
Premium White Morsels – Mad King Thomas
Technicolor Blues – Leah Nelson
Ways to Be Hold – Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater

DESIGN (2 SAGE Awards Given):
Tacoumba Aiken – set design for Technicolor Blues
Mary Ellen Childs – music score for Wreck
Paul Herwig – set design for Border Crossing
Elliott Durko Lynch – sound scores for love things, I’m So Glad I Beat You, and Jasper Johns, Gray
Kenna Sarge – film in Technicolor Blues and The Foundation

Jeff Bartlett
Marge Maddux
Laurie Van Wieren
Zenon Dance Company