DANCE: The Momentum Continues

Lightsey Darst assesses two very different "Momentum" performances from the second weekend's line-up of shows--the oblique "La Brea" by Anna Marie Shogren and wildly entertaining "Brown Rocket" by Eddie Oroyan.


WHAT’S FASCINATING ABOUT MOMENTUM is the variety of visions of performative art that you get to see. Brains, beauty, emotion, whatever your flavor, you’ll find it here. “Is that dance?” asked a young male dancer, pointing out one vignette from the Momentum poster hung opposite his ballet class. “It doesn’t even look like dance!” I can only hope he comes to inspect the un-dance for himself. One thing you can’t do at a Momentum performance: stay provincial in your ideas about dance and art.

Anna Marie Shogren’s La Brea is, presumably, transparent to her—in an interview, she calls her work “thoroughly, perhaps to a shameful point” personal—but from the outside it’s more riddle and ritual. Not that that’s a bad thing. Watch another life from one remove, and you do begin to get a hamster-on-a-wheel effect, while decisions and reversals pile weirdly, like humps of nesting material. A lot of artistic work aims to simplify your view, to bring you inside, but it’s Shogren’s peculiar task to highlight the absurdity while hanging on to the human immediacy—to dramatize the oddity of human connection.

Watch another life from one remove, and you begin to get a hamster-on-a-wheel effect—while decisions and reversals pile weirdly, like humps of nesting material.

         The nest of La Brea is replete with the Shogrenisms her viewers have come to rely on: for example, her awkward-chic thrift store aesthetic, which you can join in by shopping at a laden table in the lobby. You can giggle at her ought-to-know-better ’80s nostalgia, complete with nerdy recreations of movie scenes, advertising faces, and dance steps, as she and her two dancers pony-prance around the stage to “Jump (for My Love),” filling out the entire song like girls at a bad slumber party. Shogren has a strange power of setting people off suddenly, so that one minute they’re sitting still, quite sober, maybe not even smiling, and the next minute they’re laughing hysterically. This is partly due to the rockin’ ’80s shtick, but even more to her deadpan stares that shift imperceptibly from geek confusion to erotic longing, and which accompany tentative, yet specific gestures. Watching this sort of thing is like watching someone go crazy while she’s loading a grocery cart with pudding pops. You start laughing to break the tension, and you keep laughing out of relief that you’re not there yet yourself.
         Shogren grounds all this referential mugging in a loving care for the fine-grain detail of each movement. A lazy tiptoe walk by one dancer morphs into a series of slo-mo spring-heels for another. When this second dancer turns the tiptoe bounce into a foot flutter that starts in a crouch and rises, losing momentum, to full height, things get really creepy, because this second dancer is garbed as Death, with long black cape and crossed-out eyes.


It has the feel of a Hieronymus Bosch obscenity, crossed with Monty Python:
Death farts in our general direction.


In the final permutation of this move, Death skitters across the stage on hands and toes, her backside to us, occasionally stopping to bounce and wiggle. This has the feel of a Hieronymus Bosch obscenity, crossed with Monty Python: Death farts in our general direction.
         Death does seem to be the central topic of La Brea. In the staticky soundscape, a man reads off a little story about bugs burrowing into his skin, noting “the incredible grossness of it.” There’s the title, too, and Kristin Abhalter’s black-painted rendition of the kitschy yet curiously effective mammoth death diorama from La Brea, which hangs at the back of the stage. After the slumber party dance-off, one dancer keels over and another makes a furious pantomime of telephone dialing, sirens, and basic wrongness to the other live girl, who just stares off into space. After a while, the gesturing dancer stops: there’s nothing left to do. This makes me think of how little reassuring ritual we have left these days, how there’s really nothing to do when people die.
         It also reminds me of those terrible ads in which old people fake having fallen over and then deliver lines like “Call EMS” or “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” with a total lack of conviction. That emptiness—the emptiness which precedes death or that comes after, or the emptiness of fear—fills up La Brea. In fact, it fills it up a bit too much. I guess I can appreciate how a really slow fade-out, with nothing else going on, gradually tricked my eyes into mistaking a couple of bare mattresses with a cheap throw over them for the couch of Sardanapalus, but what’s that got to do with anything? The conspicuous barrenness at the heart of La Brea seems to go beyond its subject, into the politics of entertainment. Shogren, who has acquired a reputation as a funny girl, doesn’t give us much to laugh at or even to look at here. Instead, she casts us back on our own resources. During one particularly long pause, voices mumble audibly but unintelligibly offstage, as if something’s gone wrong. What’s an audience member to do?
         Clearly, La Brea is not a fun little ride, even if parts are funny. Instead, watching the performance is an unsettling, disquieting experience. Whether that means Shogren’s done well or not so well is up to you.


Put Eddie Oroyan and Laura Selle Virtucio in a space—flying together in gymnastic exuberance, flipping apart in animal fits—and you’ve already got a spectacle.
Add a four-man pick-up rock band, a raucous set, and a zinging sense of humor, and you have an audience in a lather.


And now for something completely different… Eddie Oroyan’s Brown Rocket (ridiculous title intended) is such a fully-fledged, tightly contained dance drama that it’s barely recognizable as a Momentum piece—thus proving that you never know what to expect at this annual dance spectacle. Oroyan–a stellar dancer for Zenon, Shapiro & Smith, Black Label Movement, and other modern companies–teams up with Laura Selle Virtucio, another stellar dancer for most of the same companies, to tell the story of an explosive affair. Oroyan has a physique and a firecracker energy that elicit small, startled noises from audiences; Selle Virtucio’s sheer emotional power makes people moan, while her soaring strength is gasp-worthy. Put those two in a space—flying together in gymnastic exuberance, flipping apart in animal fits—and you’ve already got a spectacle. Add a four-man pick-up rock band, a raucous set (designed by Collin Sherraden and painted by Danny Sigelman), and a zinging sense of humor, and you have an audience in a lather.
         What’s most surprising about Oroyan isn’t his choreographic skill—I saw invention and energy, but nothing I wouldn’t have expected from a dancer of such ability and experience—or even his showmanship: it’s his sure handling of emotion. Brown Rocket goes from zero to sixty, lust to disgust, one character’s perspective to another, sweet to funny, make-up to breakup, without a single seam showing. Oroyan is a born storyteller. Not the scratchy, difficult postmodern kind either—you get the feeling he could write the next Princess Bride, or that George Lucas really ought to have consulted him on the recent Star Wars flicks. He’s that kind of orchestrator.
         Altogether, Brown Rocket is so smoothly and directly delivered to your door that it feels more like a Broadway musical than your usual dance performance. As such, I’m not sure I’m all that interested in it, as in I don’t think I’ll be mulling it over a few weeks from now. But frankly, right now, I’m just too entertained to care.

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.

Lightsey  Darst

Lightsey Darst is a writer and critic based in Durham. She has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts for both literature and dance criticism, as well as a Minnesota Book Award. Her books of poetry are Find the Girl and DANCE (2010 and 2013, both from Coffee House Press). Her criticism is online at,, The Huffington Post, and Bookslut. …   read more