General 11-22-2003

Dance Review: Hijack’s 10th Anniversary Shows

Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder, a.k.a. Hijack, present a decade of duets that can't be pinned down. The Saturday show ( Nov. 22) is at Bedlam Studio, 504 1/2 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis, 612-341-1038. 7 p.m., $10, reservations recommended.

You can tell Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder met at a small liberal arts college. Hijack’s 10th Anniversary Show, now at the Bryant Lake Bowl and Bedlam Studio, is multilayered in that intelligently eclectic student sort of way, drawing inspiration from French lessons, Schubert, and Gertrude Stein. But their work defies the type of theoretical deconstruction also bred by such institutions, and chooses to revel instead in the exuberant joy of movement.

Fresh out of Colorado College, and armed with the desire to make “dance that doesn’t suck,” the duo moved to Minneapolis in 1993 and began to work together as Hijack. This show offers one piece commemorating each year, and culminates in a new work, “Fetish,” the only piece danced by Van Loon and Wilder. The other pieces are presented on new bodies for the first time, performed by a troupe of eighteen accomplished local dancers and two New York imports.

As self-defined “control freaks,” the pair admit that the dances are quite true to their original form, and most of the variation present in the show is in the same spirit they use when adapting any work to a new locale. “We always let venue and context imprint the work; sometimes in how the piece inhabits a new space, also in terms of flavor and attack,” said Van Loon. This is most noticeable at the Bryant Lake Bowl in the use of the stage door. Dancers climb up the door frame, and run out on to the sidewalk; sometimes, in the case of Van Loon in “Fetish,” even pausing to let startled pedestrians walk by.

Van Loon and Wilder have fun with their work, and nowhere is this more evident than in the hilariously heart-wrenching excerpts from “9 Permanent Emotions,” performed here by Judith Howard and Cindy Stevens (attired in hockey pants and puffy down vests). The piece opens with a Barry Manilow ballad, and Howard and Stevens mirror each lyric down to the syllables with exaggerated pantomime gestures. When Manilow croons, “When will our eyes meet?,” Stevens slaps her wrist twice (implying a watch, implying time, implying “when”) and then frantically alternates between touching her eyes and thighs, all the while looking longingly toward Howard, who replies in a like fashion to “When can I touch you?” Despite deep and unceasing laughter from the audience, Howard and Stevens retain the semblance of dramatic desperation that calls to mind a cross between Fatboy Slim’s “Praise You” video and every single eight-year-old backyard choreographer in the nation.

If “9 Permanent Emotions” highlights the childlike passion of this duo, recurring movements in other duets illustrate the push and pull of creative collaboration, particularly the desire to simultaneously meld with and separate from the other. Dancers move in and out of each other’s space and limbs, often connected at one or more points; one moment clinging, one moment trying to escape from the other’s grasp. In “foot-on-foot,” performed by Denise Armstead and Jane Shockley to a particularly piercing Yoko Ono tune, the expression on the dancers’ faces reads as, “Oh you think you can get away from me, do you?” After a decade of collaboration, it is inevitable that these issues come up between Van Loon and Wilder, and I got a sense of eavesdropping while watching it all play out onstage.

My companion at the show remarked how modern dance is so often reminiscent of the physical experiments we undertake as children, and Hijack is not afraid to admit that. In fact, they seem blatantly unapologetic about it. Although their selected works weave together many disparate elements, at the core their dances are really asking, “What happens when I move my arm this direction; when I push you there; when we bounce off one another?” Meaning with a capital “M” is not the point. From the stark white simplicity, sorrow, and fittingly aerodynamic movements of “Amelia Earharts,” to the narrowly contained sense of paranoia and suspicion of “Mr. Khrushchev,” this retrospective stretches beyond any sense of thematic consistency and pulls it off. And I haven’t even touched on what they can do with carrots (imagine Bugs Bunny in a nurse’s uniform with a carrot peeler and a Siamese twin. Enough said).