DANCE | Tamara Ober presents “PIPA” and exciting new work at Red Eye Theater


Friday night, while the Twin Cities were reeling from a monsoon downpour that closed I-35W and stalled dozens of cars in instant lakes, an audience of dance aficionados were visibly pleased to be high and dry in the cozy confines of the Red Eye Theater. “The rain is so beautiful!” exclaimed Tamara Ober, standing onstage after a performance of her solo dance PIPA.

“It’s about setting the destination,” writes Ober in the program notes, “and then figuring out how in the world you might be able to get there.” It’s been quite a journey for PIPA, which debuted as a work in progress at last year’s New Works 4 Weeks series at the Red Eye and then visited a number of fringe festivals, finally settling back in Minneapolis where it is playing as the climax of this year’s New Works 4 Weeks festival. The entire process is on scrapbook-style display in the gallery at Red Eye, where Ober has filled the room with photos, props, and handwritten descriptions. A short collection of film clips documenting Ober’s creative process screens at the evening’s conclusion, and runs on loop in the gallery. Further, pieces of PIPA can be yours in the forms of books (PIPA: The Cutting Room Floor), photos, and inscribed scrolls of cloth. If you still find modern dance inaccessible, that is not Ober’s fault.

pipa & other new work, presented through june 27 at red eye theater. for information and tickets ($15), see

Ober, a longtime member of Zenon Dance Company, is one of the area’s top dancers, and her skill is on full display in PIPA. The title character is physically clumsy but lithe of spirit, and Ober renders both elements of the character with total precision and an astonishing sense of space. The piece’s props consist solely of a microphone with stand, a long bench, and a stool, and Ober moves over, around, through, and under them so fluidly it’s like she has a sixth sense. With elegance and power, she twists her body into a remarkably varied succession of positions as she describes her character’s journey of self-discovery; the piece’s conclusion features a very nice moment with a projector and a tiny shadow of a dancer, depicting a metaphor that identifies Pipa with a butterfly.

Some will identify strongly with the themes and narrative of the piece (written by Ober), others will find it mystical and vague. Whether or not you find yourself moved by PIPA, if you’re a fan of modern dance you will not regret taking the opportunity to see this amazing performer pouring her heart into what is evidently a very personal labor of love.

Even if you caught PIPA at its Fringe appearance or, in nascent form, at Red Eye last year, it’s worth your time to return to the theater and see Myself and I, a tight and thrilling duet between Ober and her fellow Zenon dancer Leslie O’Neill—created by the two dancers with input from Dominique Serrand. Moving in perfect tandem, in tight embrace, and momentarily in opposition, Ober and O’Neill dramatize an internal struggle that’s fleet, absorbing, and over long before you want it to be.

That piece is followed by Me, a one-woman showcase for O’Neill—again, created with Ober—that’s billed as “introductory material for a solo work titled The Sin Eater.” Dancing, often with deliberately stilted mechanical movements, alone in a spotlight, O’Neill is darkly enthralling. On Friday night in particular, it was far better to have one’s sins eaten than washed away.