Almost monthly, I make my way to the Bryant Lake Bowl– a Minneapolis restaurant that has a bowling alley. It also has a small, cabaret-style theatre, where you can see local dance, theatre, and comedy. Tickets are cheap ($6-15, depending on the event, with good portion going directly to the performers), and you can sit and drink a beer or eat a grass-fed burger and watch the entertainment taking place on the small stage. 9 feet by 22 feet, to be exact. From the front row of the audience, you can touch the stage. I like this intimacy: being a little too close to the person sitting next to me, and reacting together over the performance.
Once a month, local choreographer Laurie Van Weiren hosts a choreographer’s laboratory on this stage, aptly called 9 x 22. She chooses three choreographers to show work, and the choreographers usually span from emerging to established artists. This month it included Elsie Martin- a first-time presenter-, local favorite Justin Jones, and Angharad Davies, who moved to the Twin Cities two years ago (and is quickly becoming established).
I could write about the pieces shown, but that’s almost beside the point: regardless of the presenters, the night has the same charm. This month, the performance sold out, and the audience was crammed together (mostly familiar faces, plus the couple of handfuls of people who had come to 9 x 22 for the first time to see a specific performer) and full of babies. Yes, babies. Small children, too. The dance community is procreating these days, and they bring their kids to shows, and I love it. I love that the kids are taught to view dance, I love that there’s the occasional squawk or inappropriate laughter (I do that, too, sometimes). After each performance, the choreographer comes out onstage with their performers and answers audience questions: Why did you make this piece? How did you make this piece? And then the audience is questioned: Did you stay engaged? What did you see? What did you care about?
I love this event, because it is teaching us how to view dance, and it is reminding choreographers to consider an audience. It develops a relationship between performer and viewer. And, every viewer’s opinion matters, not just the people who have been watching dance for years. I love this event, because each piece is just 10 minutes, and if I find limited interest in it, I can enjoy my beer and the experience of viewing a work up close and personal, and appreciate the artist’s intentions.
There is a time and place for seeing art in a big theatre space, paying $30 a ticket, and sitting straight in your chair, kids left at home. But, I find that there are few times I get back from one of those performances and want to call up my friends (the ones who don’t frequently see performance) and beg them to spend the money for a night like this. I’d rather convince these buddies to spend $6 to see work from three different choreographers we known little about. It’s certainly not just about the performance, but much more about the community created around figuring out how to view it.