After having its Out There performance postponed in the beginning of 2022, Big Dance Theater finally brings "The Mood Room" to the Walker Art Center for three performances, starting Thursday.
In the Walker-commissioned piece, BDT artistic director Annie-B Parson finds inspiration from a 1982 script called "Five Sisters" by French-born conceptual artist Guy de Cointet. Based on "Three Sisters" by Anton Chekhov, Cointet's text is layered with Jean Baudrillard, Charles Baudelaire, Romantic poetry,1970s self-help books and soap operas.
Parson looks into notions of despair and regret, and critiques a self-absorbed culture in the piece when five sisters return to their childhood home in 1980s Los Angeles, a year after their parents' deaths. What follows is an exploration of the insular world of sisters, from coded language to systems of communication. The piece mixes dance, text and a re-contextualized score based on music by Holly Herndon.
The interview with the Brooklyn-based choreographer has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Do you have siblings?
A: I have two sisters, or I had two sisters. It's very much about that language of codes and sounds and games and systems that sisters create. I don't know anything about brothers. So maybe they do it, too. But that sisters create in their very insular world, in order to communicate with each other on an almost like a bird level, where they're like chirping to each other.
Q: "The Mood Room" premiered in 2021. Will the work at the Walker be different?
A: It's a somewhat new cast, so that always affects the piece as a whole. It affects the timing, which affects the sound score. It's almost constructed like an opera, where the Holly Herndon music is in very deep relationship to how long things take. The text really reflects a certain perspective or positioning around culture. The text certainly doesn't need to be "updated."
Q: Is there an element of improvisation at all?
A: It's the opposite of improvisation. It's so exact and reiterative. I never work with improvisation, but this piece has very little breath in it intentionally. There's almost no oxygen.
Q: How did you come upon Cointet's script?
A: It was a really cool thing because I had never heard of him and I had made some pieces for the Kitchen [New York City art center dedicated to avant-garde work] over the years. I was having a meeting with Tim Griffin, who was then the head of the Kitchen, and he handed me one of Guy de Cointet's texts and said, "You really should do this."
I think I've never in my life had anybody hand me a text and say you should do this, that I agreed. Because it's so personal, what you choose to do. And it's such a major decision, because it's two years of fundraising and it's so much of your brain. I need to be able to hear the music, I need to be able to find spaces within it, that dance can exist. And I need to have, well simply put, I need to have ideas. But when Tim handed me this script, I was like, Oh, yeah, I need to do it.
Q: Was Herndon in the rehearsal process?
A: It was kind of an interesting process. I was just a fan. I've never met her. What I proposed to her, which she agreed to, which is so cool, is that we have the rights to a certain amount of her songs, which I would select. I came up with this word unless it's been used before — recompose. We did a recomposition of that material. So she gave us all the stems, all the parts, all the cells of those songs. We were allowed to basically do a remix, but remix doesn't even describe it. Because basically the sound person, Mark Degli Antoni, recomposed the material into a new score based on what I was making. He was in rehearsal every day. And that's why I say it's more like an opera, because it's very tied to this free composition of Holly's work. It was an agreement that we made with her, and she never saw it because of COVID.
Q: Maybe she'll come to this one.
A: I think Minneapolis in February, it's really hard. It's a bit counterintuitive to say come here from Berlin. She's been to the Walker, though. [Walker's artistic director and senior curator] Philip [Bither] had her years ago.
Q: The imagery almost looks like a David Hockney painting.
A: I never thought of that, but yes, definitely. Throughout the script, Guy de Cointet, who was from France, talks about the light in Los Angeles as killing him. "The sun is killing me." It's through the whole script.
So Lauren [Machen], the set designer, and I talked about the sun a lot. And it's definitely in the color. In the whole thing we have these peaches and beiges. The way your body feels in Los Angeles versus the way your body feels in Minneapolis — I mean, you've got the choreography right there.
Q: How has it been working with the Walker?
A: The Walker is literally the best place in America to create work hands down because they understand artists. Philip understands the artistic process. I don't even get how he could know as much as he knows without being a choreographer, but their support and their patience with us has been amazing. And their belief in my company, because I think I went there in the '90s. It's very rare that you have such a long relationship with an institution in America. It's really more of a European model.
'The Mood Room'
When: 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat., Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place, Mpls.
Tickets: $25-$35, 612-375-7600.