At the Walker, art imitates architecture

Choreographer Sarah Michelson finds inspiration in the Walker’s new addition

Katrina Wilber

The lines between the genres of art are often blurred. A singer may use a painting for inspiration, while a theater production might incorporate dance.

In this case, architecture molds the art.

The Walker Art Center opens its season with “Daylight (for Minneapolis)” a commissioned dance performance piece by Sarah Michelson, a New York choreographer.

Michelson created the piece to work within and using the Walker’s new building.

This piece combines the visual and performing arts into a performance that Philip Bither, senior curator of performing arts for the Walker, calls “a beautiful, large-scale art presentation that uses bodies.”

He became interested in having Michelson work with the Walker because she is “one of the most important new voices in contemporary dance.”

“She’s remarkably gifted in using space,” Bither said. “And we wanted an artist who could adequately represent and be inspired by the architecture.”

Michelson first saw the site for the new Walker when she flew to Minneapolis in February 2004. Since then, she has met with the chief designers from the architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron and came back to Minneapolis a handful of times to discover the architects’ concepts.

Most of the performance takes place in the new McGuire Theater, but Michelson also explores other spaces in and outside the Walker.

It’s hard to define Michelson’s work or place her in a specific category – which is how she likes it – and it’s necessary to have no preconceptions regarding her work, Bither said.

He and Michelson are keeping the details of the piece under wraps until it begins.

“This comes from her being misconstrued and incorrectly reviewed,” Bither said. “She creates interdisciplinary performance work and is interested in upending the accepted definitions of performance presentation.”

Michelson’s work fashions an environment where there is no clear sense of a performance versus an installation or performer versus audience.

“Those used to seeing traditional dance performances may find it really fresh or really daunting,” Bither said.

While Michelson comes to Minneapolis from New York, the cast of “Daylight (for Minneapolis)” includes local dancers as well as Michelson’s performers.

Mary Harding, a dance instructor at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley, Minn., will join her 29 students performing in this work.

“The similarity between Sarah and PCAE is that both are based in modern dance, but she has a very particular aesthetic,” she said. “Our students are

exposed to a variety of techniques, but this is a deep exploration of one person’s aesthetic.”

The Walker allows the disciplines of visual and performing arts to sit side-by-side or blend together. Michelson’s production embodies this mixing and meshing of many genres of art.

“It’s not just her movement,” Harding said. “It’s how she views the entire realm of performance.”