DANCE: For the Love of “Questionable” Art

Lightsey Darst reports back on the new ensemble performance presented by Mad King Thomas, "Love Me, Love My Questionable Art," a rollicking mix of new dance work which features some of the scene's brightest stars.


AFTER WATCHING A MAD KING THOMAS SHOW, I FEEL BUBBLY, silly, confessional, fleshy, young, cheeky, amused, and a little tired. I don’t feel particularly analytical or critical. Love Me, Love My Questionable Art, in which the trio (Theresa Madaus, Tara King, and Monica Thomas) show solos for themselves and works created with a few guest artists, strikes me as good dirty fun, instantly accessible to anyone with a certain taste or tolerance for irreverence, and not really in need of second viewings or second thoughts. But it’s my job to analyze, so here goes.

MKT is funny. They make people laugh and hoot and occasionally lose it. They are funny every which way, in goofy Pythonesque absurdity, in slow-burning irony, in flat-out vaudevillian jokes; they are funny in their writing and their writhing. Most of all, they’re funny performers, with the chutzpah for just about anything. And their guest artists —Sally Rousse, Hijack (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder), Galen Treuer —have the same crazy charisma. All these people can make you laugh just by standing still on stage; Treuer’s blank innocence, Rousse’s staged insecurity, Madaus’s sullen deadpan all provoke immediate giggles. But, in general, they don’t just stand still. They’re more likely to be stuffing as much hard candy into their mouths as possible, or spinning in a circle, shouting “I have sparkles in my underpants!”

MKT knows the importance of detail. The show’s lo-fi, let’s-play-dress-up feel belies this, but look closely and you’ll see their talent for the perfect note or prop. King sets the tone for her “Redneck Nostalgia” with a plastic-and-metal fold-up beach lounger, sunflower seeds, and a Kum-and-Go cup she spits the hulls into. Madaus binges on not just any hard candy, but on Starlite Mints —those crinkly-wrapped restaurant freebies, instantly recognizable with its green stripes, that are hard to imagine anyone voluntarily eating. Madaus hands Treuer a doughnut (cream-filled, of course) that must have come from the SuperAmerica across the street; later, Treuer frolics in a brown slick that looks like a lot of things, but which gives off the unmistakable sick-sweet smell of chocolate glaze.


Another thing I noticed about MKT—and it’s their weak spot—is a bit of self-effacement, of modesty. And this is a strange word to use for a trio of women who sashay around topless, with only cardboard signs over their breasts.

How MKT whipped up such a huge amount of the stuff, where they found the perfect recipe (shiny, sticky, stinky), or what possessed them to do this in the first place, I can’t answer. But it’s a great detail.

One more thing I noticed about MKT doesn’t fit with the other two—it’s their weak spot: a bit of self-effacement, of modesty. This is a strange word to use for a trio of women who sashay around topless, with only cardboard signs over their breasts. But I see it in their title (why “questionable”?). I see it particularly in their work with their guest artists. Hijack’s piece is witty and complex, with visual quotes from here and there, sly political references, and its faint suggestion of interspecies mating; but it looks like vintage Hijack. This is never a bad thing, but it makes you wonder where MKT fits in. The trio seems to have fallen under the spell of Sally Rousse, as well. I like Rousse’s magisterial art quotes (“It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art”—Oscar Wilde) and her funny reaction faces (framed by MKT’s synch-swimming legs); but the whole never goes far, never pushes Rousse into something new. Only Treuer, auctioning off a doughnut (and appreciating all schools of art, apparently), really gets into MKT’s world.

My favorite piece of the evening, a solo for Thomas, shows MKT at their boldest (in several ways). In spite of the voiceover confession that the two halves of this dance don’t go together (again with the modesty), they do. MKT flips from dream/sex/exhibitionism/gender politics to nightmare/violence/vulnerability/personal life in a sexy, funny, creepy, and ultimately affecting work. Thomas (MKT’s resident sexpot) starts off showing off to Blondie in a red bra and Marie Antoinette wig; she goes out trembling, cloaked, pelted with snow, to Orff’s famous chorus from Carmina Burana. The voiceover, sharing various “horrible truths” about Thomas, offers the curiously moving, horrible truth that “she looks like a woman”; She looks most like a woman, most revealed, not when she whips through a panty-free cartwheel, but when, at the end of the piece, her own hair comes loose from her wig and skull cap.

I get the feeling MKT doesn’t know how good this piece is. No matter; they’re not starved for good work in this rollicking concert. But this piece shows a direction that, in the future, I hope they’ll be bold in pursuing.

About the writer: Lightsey Darst writes on dance for Mpls/St Paul magazine and is also a poet and editor of’s What Light: This Week’s Poem publication project.

What: Mad King Thomas presents Love Me, Love My Questionable Art with Galen Treuer, Sally Rousse, and Hijack (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder)
Where: Bryant Lake Bowl, Minneapolis, MN
When: Performances January 7, 11, 14 at 7 pm
Tickets: $8-$12 (sliding scale)