“Solo: 1 x 2” documentary pre-screening at the Southern


This special pre-screening happened two weeks ago at the Southern Theater, so I’m slow and I’m regretful about being slow. But there were pressing matters. Life is what happens while you had other plans.

First, the nutshell: This is a well-made documentary film presenting a real inside look at the creation of dance.  In various ways with many viewpoints. The subject and the coverage are remarkable and priceless. That said, the film is also in preview/final-edit state and there are some observations to offer.

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

But next, some background info for some dancey and most non-dancey readers alike.

Once a year a panel meets in May or June to award “Dancer Award” McKnight Fellowships. This award honors extraordinary skill and artistry by dancers performing concert dance. This is a program funded by The McKnight Foundation and administered by The Southern Theater.

There are usually five panelists, including one from outside Minnesota and four from the local community. The four Minnesota panelists typically include at least one person who has won this award in the past, plus whoever else makes up a mix of ages, genders, dance genres, and so forth. They attend dance performances throughout the year from summer to late May of the next year, then meet and see video clips for those who didn’t happen to attend performances by specific applicants and also to refresh memories. They receive a modest stipend for their time plus a fund to support ticket prices.

Then they debate, and I can tell you it gets heated. Ultimately they go through an extended, thoughtful, and carefully egalitarian voting process. The final result is three recipients of $25,000 McKnight Dancers’ Fellowships. The recipients also get a chance to perform as a group in alternate years. For example, this coming June in 2010 we will get a performance at The Southern by the six Dancer Fellowship awardees who were honored in June 2008 and June 2009. Plus, they get funding to commission a personalized solo from a choreographer of their own choice. In some cases these choreographers are national or international figures.

What a program!! The money is all thanks to The McKnight Foundation, and may the Higher Power utterly bless them!! I’m not certain that this program is totally unique in the nation for its focus on dancers rather than companies and choreographers, and for its generosity, but if there are comparable others they are damn rare. Maybe there’s one other, or two. Or maybe none that measure up.

Kudos also to The Southern Theater. Six or seven years ago when the Minnesota Dance Alliance (briefly and terminally re-named “Dance Today” or something like that) went under, The Southern stepped up to three crucial Dance Alliance Programs and has preserved and fulfilled them with dignity and first class competence. These have included publication of a regular internet dance newsletter that serves the community as a desperately-needed bulletin board, the administration of the McKnight Choreographers’ Fellowships and the administration of the McKnight Dancers’ Fellowships.

Now back to this pre-release screening of the film entitled “Solo: 1 x 2.” For each of the six dancers, there is one solo created in collaboration with a choreographer. One dance by two artists. Get it?

If you’re already impressed by the nature of this Fellowship program, now wrap your minds around this. The film-makers spent over two years following the six dancers around through the rehearsal and creation processes, then assembling and editing. They travelled to Madrid for Colette Illarde’s rehearsals with a Spanish choreographer, they travelled to New York to interview an impressive list of commentators and for Karla Grotting’s rehearsals, to Florida for Mifa Ko’s rehearsals, plus rehearsals in the Twin Cities. In Minnesota we get to see dancers Abdo Sayegh, Tamara Nadel, and Laura Selle Vertuccio with their respective choreographers. And god knows how much footage the film crew must have shot. Film-maker Robert C. Hammel and his crew have done the dance field in general and Minnesota dance in particular a huge favor by their dedicated and thoughtful commitment to this project.

What we get is a film basically in three parts.

An introductory section features a great many snippets of interviews from a variety of people These include the dancer recipients themselves, their choreographers, plus luminaries of the Minnesota dance community such as Carl Flink (head of dance then and head of performing arts now at the U of MN), Mary Ellen Childs (administrator of the program) and Philip Bither (head of performing arts at The Walker). They also include a mind-boggling list of national and historic-level dance figures, critics and choreographers such as Douglas Dunn, Deborah Jowett, Susan Marshall, Elizabeth Streb and Donna Uchizono.

Next there is an extended series of six segments, one for each of the six dancer/choreographer combinations. We get to see actual rehearsals in progress, the back and forth discussions during rehearsals, and comments on the process by both the dancers and the choreographers.

The third and final section is a swift and exquisitely edited compilation of moments from the tech/dress rehearsals for the 2008 performance of these six works, plus a few moments with a backstage viewpoint of the premiere performance.

Conversations with several people who saw the film lead me to report a universal agreement. The six dancers are utterly compelling. They are a physical and personal presence, exquisitely captured by the film-makers, that leaves you breathless. And, even though none of them are necessarily accustomed to public speaking, they are articulate, moving, vulnerable, inspiring and eloquent in their various interview segments.

“Solo: 1 x 2” is an intelligent, loving, informed and rich mix. So if you’re interested in dance in general, or Minnesota dance in particular, you have to see this documentary film when it is formally released. You have to.

All that said, this was a pre-release advance screening and I understand there is some final editing yet to be done. And that should happen. As it stands now it’s too long. The showing was two hours and 15 minutes. There was a fair amount of structural and conceptual redundancy. Once edited, it will be a killer-documentary at about (imho) 90 minutes. But even if that editing should come to pass, I hope the raw footage and the preview version can both find a home somewhere in serious dance history archives. This is unique and pricelessly rare footage of a creative process that few are privileged to see.