DANCE | Modern, post-modern, or post-post-modern? Whatever it was, Megan Mayer and Penelope Freeh did it well

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The burning question on my mind at the moment is: What the heck are the differences among modern dance, post-modern dance, post-post-modern dance, and post-post-post-modern dance? This is in general something I think about on a regular basis, but in particular this week ever since I went to go see Megan Mayer and Penelope Freeh present their choreography at the Southern Theater last Friday. The two artists, who along with BodyCartography Project recently received McKnight grants in choreography, could be seen as living in the modern (Freeh) and post-modern (give or take a post-) worlds—if those labels mean anything to you. Unfortunately, to me they don’t.


I’ll preface all of this by saying that I really should have written about the show on Friday night after I saw it so that if I had anything positive to say it could have helped put people in seats for Saturday night’s show. However, I unfortunately ended up dancing all night to the Brass Messengers and Skoal Kodiak instead and didn’t end up writing anything (back to that in a moment). So you may wonder what the point is of writing a review of a dance show that is no longer available to be seen, but I will say that both of these artists regularly put out work, so soon enough you’ll have your chance to see their stuff again.


In Camille LeFevre’s MinnPost preview of the show, she calls Mayer a “post-post-modern movement person” because “unlike Freeh, who was trained in and performs ballet, Mayer works with more pedestrian and vernacular movement.” But given that Freeh works decidedly in the modern idiom, where does it get us, really, to talk about whether something is modern or post-modern or ballet or what have you? Since Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham, haven’t all bets effectively been off?


To be sure, Freeh’s dancers in We’ll Survive if We Don’t Protect Ourselves are classically trained. In fact, Eddie Oroyan, Christine Maginnis, Stephen Schroeder, and Freeh herself are four of the most technically skilled, expressive, and well, gorgeous dancers this town has to offer. But the dancers wear gorilla masks. They gyrate and hang from the ceiling. This is not The Nutcracker. Meanwhile, Mayer uses non-traditional dancers in We Tried to Throw the Light. (Case in point would be Skewed Visions‘s Charles Campbell, a multidisciplinary artist whose roots are in theater.)


The main difference between the two pieces is tone. Megan Mayer’s piece, set to the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Sergio Mendes, Arthur Lyman, and other 60s musicians (along with the motif of Lawrence Welk’s bubble machine and various other pastiche moments like the notorious scene from Antonioni’s Blow Up where the photographer straddles the model while photographing her) is set in a 60s era party where everyone acts blasé but looks fabulous. A Web cam, which could also possibly double as a mirror, is projected in the back of the stage and displays an emptiness which in her program notes Mayer describes as “the tension between actively living your life vs. watching it online.” For me, the party that Mayers portrayed seemed both fabulous and meaningless, much like most parties I have ever attended. Her cool, intellectual take on social interaction left me cold and pondering the solitude of social life.


Where Meyer’s choreography was cold, Freeh’s was hot. I mean, really hot. I already mentioned how good the dancers were. And they evoke such passionate energy, such emotion. I couldn’t help but be at the edge of my seat as I watched the narrative play out (it was a strange narrative that included gorilla-masked lovers and a death character climbing down a rope from the catwalk and a depiction of the 35W bridge collapse, but it was indeed a narrative).


So is tone the difference between modernism and post-modernism? Or, rather, post-post-modernism? What are your thoughts?


Oh, so I was going to explain why I didn’t write my review on time. I went and danced to the Brass Messengers—which was awesome—and later in the evening danced to Skoal Kodiak, which was probably the most ritualistic experience I’ve ever had. It was one of those occasions where the crowd is dancing but they are pushing each other about and everybody seems to be in some sort of trance. At first I wasn’t really into the idea, but after a while I kind of decided to join in and I thought, this is what dance really is, at the base level. A sort of animalistic movement to music, an ancient dance the spirit of which is in any performative dance worth sitting through, because it is alive.