McKnight Choreography Fellowship Winners


by John Munger | 9/25/09 • 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.

Monday night, September 21, the Southern Theater hosted a panel discussion with the three choreographers who have most recently been awarded McKnight Fellowships for creating dance. It was a comfortable, well-paced, interesting and largely unscripted evening worth every minute.

going through the movements is the blog of john munger, one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet.

The three choreographers were (in alphabetical order) Emily Johnson, Morgan Thorson and Vanessa Voskuil. Each had a chance to say a few words then five minutes or less of material was shown by video. Following this formal structure the discussion opened up to questions solicited from the audience, posed by the facilitator, and general discussion.  The whole process was handled with masterful soft-spoken authority by Mary Ellen Childs, the administrator of McKnight grants for the Southern Theater.

Why do I feel so old? I love what these folks are doing and I want to do it too. But I don’t know how. Without exception each of the three choreographers answered questions and made statements demonstrating clearly that they are in tune with forces larger than themselves. I envy that. I’m an old-time proscenium theater guy and I stand in awe of the youngsters’ ability to speak honestly from their own lives. They tell the truth. I will now retreat into the shadows, admitting sheepishly that what I know best is how to work a crowd. I think I know show-biz, but I’m still learning about dance. These three are well-awarded, and know about dance.

Morgan spoke of the power of collaboration, especially for her current work, and observed that, “Dance is not just dance.” By that she explained that it is a full-life experience for audiences, artists and performers alike. The experience and the process matter the most.

Vanessa spoke about the gathering of a cast of about 70 people and the sense that developed of a shared vision which evolved only as the work was being created. She was eloquent about being swept away by what emerged . She is a shaper as well as a servant of large forces.

Emily spoke of her youth in northern latitudes as a young woman of Inuit heritage, personal knowledge of what it is like to run through the unspoiled forest, and her clear perception that the land is not just the turf, but also the souls that live upon it. She has a truly beautiful vision.

These are new realms for today’s dance artists to be exploring.  There was a time not too long ago when cutting edge dance was focused on innovative technique, theatrical complexities, and innovative ways of re-combining multiple forms and disciplines. It was very theoretical and academic. What I hear from these three is that they have true-life experiences that they have transformed into artistry. Please do not misunderstand. There is nothing navel-gazing or self-indulgent about the work of these three young women. They have made dances that transcend personal idiosyncrasy. They are speaking from the heart. They have skills and artistry to make work, on that basis, that is worth seeing by anyone. They have listened to their elders, their children, their peers and their fellow villagers. They have their own voices.

It takes a village to make a dance community. Or even an entire city.

John Munger ( has been performing, teaching, choreographing, researching and writing about dance for about 40 years. He teaches at Zenon, day-jobs for Dance/USA, and still hasn’t gotten much of it right.

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