Choreographers Helen Hatch and Berit Ahlgren, are back for another "Live @ the Shed" in a St. Paul parking lot but in a different kind of partnership.
Hatch, director of Hatch Dance, and Ahlgren, founder of HoneyWorks, worked together for the first "Live @ the Shed" performance in 2020 but had never teamed up as co-choreographers until now. Ahlgren had danced with Hatch Dance on a number of pieces and Hatch had performed in a film, "Only Dance Can Save Us," choreographed by Ahlgren. Plus, they are friends.
Before the COVID shutdown two years ago, the two had pondered creating a new piece based on Maurice Ravel's ballet piece "Boléro." Ahlgren loved the music, but felt hesitant about using it because of its popularity. Hatch challenged her: "You should," she said. "We should."
The conversation might have ended there but when the pandemic brought the dance work to a screeching halt, they both felt desperate for a creative project. They drummed up the notion of an outdoor performance featuring a piece they would create together in collaboration with a large cast of dancers. The second half of the evening was then devoted to works-in-progress created by local choreographers.
Hatch and Ahlgren then came back last year with another large-cast work, inspired by the film "La Dolce Vita." They hit on pandemic gold.
Now, they've made a piece with a reference to gold in the title. "Au" gives a nod to the alchemic and transformational possibilities of gold, set to familiar classic music, including "The Goldberg Variations" by J.S. Bach. There will be a total of five shows on Saturday and Sunday of the world premiere.
Hatch and Ahlgren talked about what they've learned since initiating "Live @ the Shed" and where they hope to go from here. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What works about your collaborations?
HH: Berit is the hardest working artist I've ever met. The way we're able to divvy up responsibility and give each other space but then also chime in, it just felt very easy. Just being patient even when we were stuck.
Q: What have you learned from performing outdoors that you can take inside more traditional venues?
BA: The few things that I've done since building these large outdoor productions have also been outdoors and collaborative. It's so exciting to work with a large cast. It also gets really overwhelming. How do I keep my eye on 27 dancers at once, and see the nuance of an angle or a gesture? Are the hip fingers open? Are they closed? I've had to train my eye to see and feel big and sense big. I have two productions for HoneyWorks in the spring that I will be putting on the Southern Theater stage. It's a much more contained space. I'll have a smaller cast and so it will be really exciting to see how that translates.
Q: Where did the title of the series, "Live @ The Shed," come from?
HH: Selecting those specific words at that time was so much about digital and virtual performances. We were really just kind of sick of seeing things and working in that way. So it was important to have that word "live." We're gonna perform live.
Q: What is "Au" all about?
BA: Just like in "Boléro," I had been slowly compiling a playlist of classical music that I found really familiar or comforting. Or it was music that might show up in a movie soundtrack, that you would hear or while waiting on hold with AT&T. It was a playlist of songs that have been choreographed to before or heard often, but it doesn't get to the point of too much. It's almost like a welcoming return.
"Goldberg Variations" became a very prominent piece of music from Day 1 of rehearsals. We were sorting through title ideas, language and this and that. Somehow that led to alchemy and the idea of transforming one thing into another thing. And gold kind of came up.
HH: And a property of gold is that it's able to sustain itself within a lot of factors. That felt interesting in terms of what we were exploring with our coping mechanisms.
BA: Gold can be pulled very, very thin and still retain its strength. We kind of had a discussion with the cast about that and started to build material.
Q: Is it common for you to start with music?
BA: Yeah, I'm really driven by music. I'm so motivated by sound, whether it's classical or otherwise. It's really a huge factor in how I initiate projects.
HH: That's probably something that connects us choreographically. We also hear music very differently and respond to music very differently. That's an interesting layer to the way the music is responded to. And then also within the 26 people in the room that are also offering and contributing.
Q: How do you respond to music differently?
HH: I think we pick up on different accents.
BA: Helen finds intricate rhythms and interprets them through footwork or gestures. I pick up more on the time signature.
Q: Do you think you'll keep doing "Live @ the Shed" every year?
BA: To be honest, it's hard to give my summer away. But it is such a joy to work with the artists that want to do it. That's a treat. I gain so much as a choreographer and in my own artistry as a performer. So yeah, I would love to do it again. But it is a lot of logistics, including the location. If the space is not available for us to use, do we do it somewhere else? I don't know.
HH: We'll have to see.
'Live @ the Shed': 'Au'
When: 5:30 & 8 p.m. Sat.; 3, 5:30 & 8 p.m. Sun.
Where: Parking lot of Case Building, 767 N. Eustis St., St. Paul.
Tickets: $20; eventbrite.com