Movement Forum: Mine Goes to Eleven

Movement Forum, otherwise known as MoFo, celebrated their eleventh year by curating a show of dynamite choreographers and dancers called Mine Goes To 11: THE MOFO SHOW. The company worked with Gabriel Forestieri, Yvonne Meier, Stephen Koester, Miguel Gutierrez, and Ishmael Houston-Jones.


We began the evening being lead around outside the University of Utah’s Marriott Center for Dance–– a big black umbrella showing us the way. We were witnessing U and Leah, choreographed by Gabriel Forestieri. As we walked, we fell upon some dancers sitting on a bench, and then four others standing against a wall. This edifice was a campus building separated from us by a flat, vast concrete space. The dancers ran and walked along the sagittal lines of the concrete, fell into duets, solos, and in and out of a unison phrase. This particular space allowed the audience’s perception of the dancers to change, as they were able to use the long depth between them, drastically changing their size in front of our eyes–– something impossible on a shallower proscenium stage. We were then lead to other areas where the dancers interacted with the architecture and open windows, dumpsters and railings. They went in and out of apparent improvisation and clear choreography. At one point, the audience was stationed above a small grassy hill where the dancers ran up, somersaulted, and rolled down the hill like children, which was a joy to watch from our point of view. In general, this site-specific piece used locations around the MCD Building where I’d never imagined dance occurring. It was a fun, unique and interactive experience for all.

The first stage piece was NYC-based Yvonne Meier’s Gogolorez. The dancers, dressed in black, gold and yellow, entered the stage upon instructions announced by Michael Watkiss, who stood stage-left with a microphone. The entire piece was a live improvisation score coming to life as we watched–– something Meier has played with before. Watkiss instructed on how to move and/or what to imagine. There was twitching, fainting, laughing, bumping, and dying a slow death. Some ideas gradually changed in being repetitively interrupted by another idea, and some ideas abruptly switched over to something completely new. It was incredibly intriguing and entertaining to watch the obedient dancers actively make new decisions over and over again. The process was predictable, but the ideas and movement were unpredictable, bizarre and humorous.

she’s a beautiful man, a collaborative work with Miguel Gutierrez, was completely different than any other piece in the show. The work was “made remotely”. Gutierrez sent MoFo articles, videos, songs, writings of his own, and other inspirations he came across over the course of the summer. The piece seemed to have no beginning, middle or end. There were lots of strange props, costumes, characters, and texts. The speaking seemed to be from stream-of-conscious writings, perhaps inspired by separate situations the audience was unaware of, or by the actual performance as it happened. To me, it was as if Gutierrez’s mind and the minds of the dancers were shaken up and then emptied into a box, and then shaken up a bit more. The audience was given a glimpse into this box of mixed up thoughts and ideas, some of which were hilarious, sad, uncomfortable and confusing.

Personally, I have been waiting to see works like these here in Salt Lake City since I moved here fifteen months ago. It was incredibly refreshing and different, but at the same time comforting to me. Not only were the choreographic ideas incredibly engrossing, but they were very well executed by the performers. I saw a performance and movement range in these dancers that I had not yet seen in them before. They were animated and immensely creative on the spot. They proved they could improvise well alone and with each other, and that they could also execute choreography well together, as in Stephen Koester’s5 and a short 20. This Is How The Story Goes, (As Far As I Can Tell) by Ishmael Houston-Jones, perfectly closed the show. A series of duets moved back and forth across the stage, gradually shifting into trios and even larger groups. With a live guitarist on stage, the piece ended with a trio that featured Sarah Franco telling a story about her grandparents. It was raw, real and in the moment. I left this show completely satisfied, but also with anticipation to see more. I believe that THE MOFO SHOW was a complete success and I couldn’t be more excited to see more from them in the future.

Monica Remes is a member of Tryptic Figures, a local dance group in which she’s joined by Brooklyn Draper and Joshua Mora. She holds a degree in dance from Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Movement Forum aka mofo

below check out the review from Belle Baggs of the 9th & 9th showing by Movement Forum. if you caught them today at Liberty Park feel free to send reviews and make sure to check out their work on stage at the Rose Establishment tomorrow night at 6pm ($5 at the door).

On a Friday summer evening it was refreshing to catch our local dance improv-ers parading in a local outdoor setting.  Movement Forum (aka Mofo) presented The Surreal World on the 9th and 9th intersection, an hour-long improvisational show that interweaved between traffic lights and pedestrians.

I enjoy that ambience of performance art because the craft just lives in the space that one is occupying and is available for viewing at your convenience. You don’t feel obligated to stay focused and ideally present as with staged performances. Instead it feels casual enough to chat with friends and drink some coffee while at the same time reveling in the motions caught by your eye, in this case the silly and purposeful awkward transits of the dancers.

The mobbing of the 7 dancers formed around the perimeter of the intersection as the soundtrack blared a chorus of chirping crickets. They waited for the walk signals and proceeded in clumps with varying types of locomotion:  hopping, skipping, and jumping. It started more low-key and soon became a string of people twitching, jolting, and jerking in a ripple effect as if they had directly been shocked with electrical voltage. Next followed a section of mirroring, as the dancers separated and followed each other in spontaneous movements from their diagonal posts.

I admire this form for the way it almost forces the non-audience members to become involved. Local consumers and traffic are coerced into watching the absurdity taking place in the cross walks. Imagine waiting at the stoplight in your car and witnessing a trio of people walking nonchalantly across the street, yet one of them is being carried inverted with her legs erect in the air.  On the other side you view a group of strangers beboping across the street on their hands and flinging their limbs in the air. While in the corner a soloist is like a proud warrior practicing his balance skills and flowing with strength and peace. You can’t help but laugh as a free will audience member. Watching the onlookers’ reactions was one of my favorite parts of the experience.  Some opted to completely ignore the circumstances (which was even more hilarious) and some decided to react or ask questions.

What I respect about the company is that all of the movers are unique and interesting to watch as individuals. As with any improvised show my inquiring mind always wonders what the score is (if there is one) and how did they make their plan of attack? I found myself waiting and anticipating the drive of the show, especially in the transition moments of waiting for the “walk” signal.  But at the same time it was nice that as a whole the surreal effect was curbed (pun intended) All in all they are a dynamic group of performers and completely likable characters in this performance as they kept their cool while erupting semi-chaos on the 9th & 9th grid.

After the show I saw a family of layman skipping and hopping across the street—that is the power of taking art directly to a public forum. As Erica Womack, dancer and audience member, said, “ I’ll always think “how” I will cross the street and perhaps try something more “creative” or “interesting” next time.

Belle Baggs is an Idaho native & holds her M.F.A. from the University of Utah

a review of Now the Show

I went to Sugar Space this friday night to see Now: The Show. The performance was the culmination of Now Practices, an improvisation and performance workshop for dancers directed by Graham Brown and Brandin Steffensen. Brown, who will move to Maryland later this year for graduate study, directed and co-founded the local improvisation troupe Movement Forum, which will perform at Sugar Space in July. Steffensen is a freelancer in New York, who grew up in Salt Lake and danced for Ririe-Woodbury.

Sitting in the round, the audience watched nine dancers enter the space to stretch, bounce and generally warm up. If the tactic here was to disarm us with their lack of performative guile, they did not succeed, though one did get the sense that they were enjoying each other’s presence. Soon the dancers (who looked like they had been asked to dress “casual professional”) were breaking out of their stretching, pilates and plies into concentrated clusters around suddenly elevated lifts and long suspended falls. This presumably demonstrated trust, physical listening and attenuated awareness. I followed the action on a printed program that looked like an homage to one of John Cage’s musical scores. Time could be traversed down the page against a lateral axis of four columns: THIS, WHAT, ACCOMPANIMENT, and BY. The first few sections (Come As You Are, Audience Arrives…Pentamodal Duet, Ill Spoil) were full of energy, a lot of very earnest dancing and not a lot of focus.

In short, the show was slow to start. It was bogged down by an indirectness of process and mind that has a place in the contact improv jam but that makes a live show drag. Maybe it’s just that I’ve already seen all the walls of formality come down a hundred times and seeing them taken apart brick by brick just gets tiresome. I am willing to admit that the parts that bored me might have served as a good introduction for people less familiar with improvisation.

Things picked up when Repo (a local performer and poet, I later learned) came up next to me and stole my program notes to use as a reference for Steffensen’s solo which was about to ensue. THIS: Solo, WHAT: Brandin happens. But clearly this was something that he had been working on long before the workshop. Steffensen tried, and mostly failed, to balance a water bottle on his head while commenting that he had no trouble with this task earlier that day in rehearsal. The workshop students standing supportively out of his way confirmed this verbally. It’s in my neck… he whispered at least once or twice to himself. As his balancing act devolved into an absurd series of bodily tasks involving the water bottle, I felt like I was intruding on a very private struggle. He suckled the water, lent it to audience members and took it away, and held it with difficulty as he put himself through a painful series of arm balances. There was something very surprising, sad and funny about Repo’s textual and sung interjections, which became a cryptic conversation with what Steffensen had mumbled during the doomed balancing act. She sang a brief and haunting quote from the famous Police song, “I’ll be watching you…” He thrashed, like the virtuoso version of some angry kid’s hotel bed dance, and then we learned cathartically that Steffensen had suffered an injury to his neck from a chiropractor at age 16 (but so what?, the dance seemed to say). The sparse facts of the case hung in the air as he walked off. There was a surprising eloquence to it that I can’t quite tell why I felt.

Another great moment came at the end of an athletic trio by Steffensen, Brown and Sean Keil. Steffensen’s cool-headed body perched with a previously unseen docility on various ledges offered by the assertive, committed Keil. Brown interrupted with his characteristic bombastic tackling and acrobatics, trying to chase Steffensen in a way that seemed to echo moments of vulnerability in the solo. Then, with superb comic timing, one of the women (I wish I knew her by name) walked out and declared, “Boys aren’t even supposed to dance anyway.” Maybe it sounds trite in recapitulation, but there was something funny and very real about the lagging sheepish exit with which the three boys seemed to agree with their colleague’s statement. Sometime after that, a tender duet evolved between Brad T Garner, a boyish charmer from Oregon, and Jordan Wonnacott, a contact dancer, performer and actor from Salt Lake. Wonnacott, a talented U of U dance refugee, cut through Garner’s exuberance with steeliness and a sense of when to be still that was lacking during the rest of the evening.

The evening ended on a hokey note, concluding with a modern dance hoe-down, replete with flocking to the four corners of the stage to Sean Hayes’s folk number “Alabama Chicken.” After the show, Steffensen confided in me that he plans to do the whole project (workshop, show, and Underscore practice, which happened here on Saturday) again in NYC. The evening here in Salt Lake was a reminder of our dance community’s demographic homogeneity (which is much greater than that of the city at large), and I wondered if doing the project with a more diverse group of performers (and/or the act of seeking such a group out) might challenge or add depth to the structures Brown and Steffensen imposed.

That said, all of the performers were engaged in the pursuit of improvisation as a performance practice, which is always a pleasure to see, even when it doesn’t yield the best choreography. And it is encouraging to see risk happening, especially in a city where that value is often so anemic.

Sam Hanson

b sides & rarities

Movement Forum surprised me last weekend at B-Sides and Rarities, a one-night engagement  at Sugar Space. I wish I’d come at seven (they did two shows in one night) and everyone in the cast lamented that I’d missed the earlier show. But I certainly didn’t feel cheated by what I saw, in fact I left feeling encouraged in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

The program notes were printed on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet that the audience was encouraged to write on and throw onstage during the performance. The dancers and three musicians began warming up on stage, the lights and conversation dimmed and everyone adjourned from the middle of the space except for Michael Watkiss, who stood with an unusual presence for several seconds before beginning a gestural solo which seemed to develop the character his costume began: holey dress pants and a too-nice button up.

Watkiss’s dance took a long slow turn for the introspective as he looked at his body up and down, cataloging the possibilities and searching patiently for some unexpected resonance in the folding and unfolding of his joints. The other dancers stood around him like a gang in the shadows out of some dance musical film from the fifties. They began to take turns narrating his solo in a sort of dialectic exquisite corpse. Now he’s a father. But he’s a dead beat dad. Now he’s twenty-six. There’s some kind of mental illness. Now he’s having an affair. Now he’s thirty. I’ve seen this kind of text-based work before, but rarely have I seen it with such tenderness between the performers. The framing and reframing that the other performers provided was excellently timed. It really made me think about truth and fiction and how the artifice of performance was functioning. I can’t tell you how his abstract dancing moved me in a different way that it might have out of context, but I know that it has stayed with me and I’m still digesting it. I’d also like to take the opportunity to comment on how much Watkiss’s dancing has developed since I last saw him perform in May. Something is happening; during his training at the U he managed to preserve a rare sense of interior monologue in his dancing, but now he’s taking it into space with a clarity and humor I didn’t know he was capable of.

The progression of the evening was rambling in a charming way, they didn’t have any real concrete plan, which is not an easy thing to pull off, especially with a cast of almost twenty. There were some impressive interludes of explosive dancing to the amiable music of the live band (Alex Aponte, Trevor Price and Randal Topper), including a bombastic little number that looked a little bit like a Tere O’Connor dance falling out of an airplane (danced by Sherisa Bly, Corrine Penka and Eileen Rojas). The cast also undertook a sort of movement roast of departing and founding director Graham Brown who dived, leapt and tired himself with his usual inimitable athleticism. His dancers barraged him with loving jibes and crumpled airplane’s whose comments from the audience had already been turned into a series of experiments ranging from a hilarious deep lunging routine led by sassy Corinne Penka and an awkwardly funny send up of the late king of pop whose initials are M.J. (danced by Sofia Gorder and Jersey Reo Riemo).

Before it was all over there was a brightly surreal trio with blind-folds and another stunning performance by Watkiss, this time joined by the equally witty Danell Hathaway, who will direct the company when Brown moves to Maryland to pursue graduate school this fall. Watkiss told us of a fantastic encounter with a giant talking spider (a dream? an acid trip?). As Watkiss was disarmed by this invisible figment of his subconscious, Hathaway playfully tried to undress him, he batted her off, much as one might an annoying insect. Here were performers dancing with a real sense of metaphor, and making it up as they went along. Some deep, but very playful investigation was happening that night and I was grateful to be invited inside of it.

Sam Hanson