Remembering John Munger: The best of his writing for the Twin Cities Daily Planet

Video by 3 Minute Egg, 2008

Along with the rest of the Twin Cities arts community, I was saddened this week to learn of the death of John Munger, a great talent, enthusiastic supporter, and vibrant presence on the Minnesota dance scene for decades.

Throughout his life—including up until very recently—John was active as a dancer, choreographer, impresario, and scholar. I had the good fortune to see John perform twice: at the Walker Art Center's Choreographers' Evening in 2010, and, the previous year, at the Bryant-Lake Bowl when he presented his shocking, darkly funny solo show Nutbuster!!—a reimagination of The Nutcracker that presented the classic story as a bizarre fantasy in the head of a lonely man in a small room.

John also wrote extensively about dance and theater—including as a blogger for the Twin Cities Daily Planet. With Matthew Everett, Wendy Gennaula, Kate Hoff, and Phillip Andrew Bennett Low, John was one of the "Fringe bloggers" who came to us en masse in 2008. The five had formerly blogged on the Fringe site, and coming to the Daily Planet—at the Fringe's encouragement—was a way for them all to continue blogging together while keeping a safer editorial distance from the Fringe itself. Those five were later joined by Rachel Reiva, Morgan Halaska, and me.

Over the five years he wrote for us, John had a lot to say—Fringewise and otherwise. Here are just a few excerpts demonstrating the range and strength of his voice.

"After over 40 years in the professional dance business you’d think someone would get tired of doing this arduous and monetarily unrewarding work. But somehow I keep needing to do this much as I need to continue breathing." ("Another opening," July 2009)

"One of the things I love so dearly about The Fringe is that it reflects real life on so many levels. The good, the bad, the ugly, and the fabulous. That’s how art should be. It should be real. I won’t sit still for any snotty patronization on this subject from anyone, including published authors, established critics with bylines, or MPR weekly interview personalities who don’t mingle with the rabble. We have to take all levels. We have to grow up and take ALL levels, just as a parent who raises children takes all levels as they come along. All levels. That's our world, like it or not. Celebrate the fabulous, comment on the imperfect, encourage the youthful, despise the rip-offs, help the newcomers, just plain effing be a community." ("Fringe fried," August 2009)

"It takes a village to make...a dance community. And it takes a dance community (among other things) to make a village worth living in." ("McKnight Choreography Fellowship Winners," September 2009)

"You can't transfer to other dancers through teaching the steps, showing a video, or other forms of commodification. You have to transfer it from one living human being to another, else the nuance, the humanity, the dancing itself is in danger of being lost or corrupted." ("This is my world: On Zenon Dance Company's 2009 season," December 2009)

"Last night I was sitting backstage at The Lab Theatre waiting for my next cue. There’s an area at the foot of the stairs that extends under what is a sort of side-view balcony, and also the tech booth, above. That’s where I was. I had usurped an easy chair being used as a prop by a different show, and I know which one, and was being quiet while other dancers delivered the goods out front under the lights. Bad me. Bad, bad me. But if I had never written this they would never know. It was in storage and I usurped it, respectfully.

"It was quite dark. Reflected light from the stage gave a ghostly quality to girders and other simply useful and necessary items. A fellow cast member stood several feet away with her arms crossed, watching the stage action as it could be seen from the side. Except for what was happening on stage it was very quiet.

"It occurred to me that I was privileged. Audiences who are not themselves performers as well don’t sit where I was sitting, seeing what I was seeing, experiencing what I was experiencing. I don’t own the backstage. Only divas of either gender think they do. But I know that as a performer in this show, and as a long-standing performer in many shows, I know my way around in the dark back there. I’m allowed.

"I became very grateful. I realized that this is exactly where I want to be. I know this backstage world, and I know the onstage world as well. I am very, very comfortable in these worlds. At my age and in my declining physical condition (I’m 66) I am grateful that I am still welcome here.

"The darkness around me was quiet, respecting the work onstage. Reflected sound and audience responses came back to me. I knew where my cue to enter would come. I was at peace. This is my life now, and has been my life for many decades. I hope it lasts a while longer." ("Alone in the Dark," August 2011)

  • Well worth watching Matt Peiken's 3 Minute Egg video which profiles John Munger. You get to see and hear John in his passion. - by Rebecca Frost on Wed, 05/08/2013 - 12:14pm
  • Thanks, Jay. John really wrote the way he spoke...with great intention, clarity and intelligence. - by Camille LeFevre on Fri, 05/03/2013 - 12:41pm
  • John Munger, has been frequently in my thoughts lately. I'm saddened to hear of his passing. Beyond just being a wonderful person, dance needs such advocates as John. May a new generation rise up to fill his shoes and more. - by Erica Pinigis on Mon, 05/06/2013 - 9:19am
  • Great job, Jay. You capture John in his own inimitable words, and in yours. - by Linda Shapiro on Fri, 05/03/2013 - 11:13am
  • Nice write-up of John. This news saddens me. John was a fun and talented colleague at Dance USA. - by Leslie Zucker on Wed, 05/01/2013 - 3:51pm

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Jay Gabler's picture
Jay Gabler

Jay Gabler (@JayGabler) is a digital producer at The Current and Classical MPR.

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John Munger's passing

We just heard of John's passing the other night: Linda Andrews shared the news from the Cowles stage just before Zenon's Sunday performance. I knew John some twenty years. He was a kindly advisor to me from the start, and a wonderfully genial colleague ever since. I'll miss him. Dave (& Leni) Moore