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'Tessellate' Choreographers Address Isolation and Collaboration

Jun. 27, 2017
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Photo Credit: The Battery Factory

Each of the premieres in the Battery Factory’s “Tessellate 2017” festival of experimental performance incorporated elements of dance and theater. Two were conceived by dance artists. Joelle Worm is a member of Danceworks Performance Company, director of the process-oriented Field Milwaukee and a performer with the dance and music improvisation group Hyperlocal MKE. Maria Gillespie is co-director of Hyperlocal MKE, of the interdisciplinary performance workshop The Collaboratory and assistant professor of dance at UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts.

The festival required that the works be short, technically simple and responsive to the theme of exile. Day After Night, Anita Diamant’s novel about a Holocaust survivor in a British detainee camp in Israel awaiting placement, inspired the wordless piece by Worm and Milwaukeean Mindy Zarem. One could spend a lifetime trying to embody that experience, but this is a worthy start. Confinement, the loss of all but a suitcase of old items, the waiting and the crazy-making grief—beautifully expressed in Zarem’s emotionalism and Worm’s contrasting mentation—were clearly conveyed in movement. The idea of release, expressed in a game with clothesline and clothes, was less so, and the final use of blank paper to represent stepping stones to a new life, while a nice idea, felt inadequate to the context.

tres historias y…not one love song, created and performed by Gillespie, Nguyễn Nguyên and Eric Speth deserves a long life. If it were a visual artwork at MAM, I’d keep visiting it. Extremely well made, its great strength is its honesty. It’s about being/feeling foreign, and it sticks to the facts of these artists’ lives. It’s also about the ties created by collaboration which it, in fact, beautifully, humbly demonstrates. People with different histories and preoccupations join hearts and minds to make something personal and valuable, then go their separate ways. 

Bachelor Speth spoke of songs that said he were half-human until he coupled; that “whole” meant “two.” Nguyen came to America as a Vietnamese war refugee and had to acculturate. Bicoastal Gillespie spoke in Spanish and twisted into pretzels to meet bicultural stereotypes. Each covered his or her head with a burlap sack at an especially alienated moment. Three platform stages represented homes and floating boats. Films of foreign sites and travel by car and plane played on artfully arranged screens behind. Crawling, slowly sliding, Speth quietly tied the platforms together with ropes, then untied them.

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