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A tension between irony and grief marks choreographer and designer Valerie Oliveiro's new work at the Red Eye Theater, called "Vastnessess."

The Red Eye is not a particularly large space, but it feels that way for the nine-day show. The floor painted with the color of the sunset by Jess Kiel-Wornson and Oliveiro's lighting design evoke cycles of the sun and moon, and create a feeling of being in an expansive landscape.

The ensemble of dancers, who have all choreographed works around town, deconstructs popular culture and dance traditions, even as it searches for a greater meaning in life's chaos.

Created during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the piece carries with it a number of markers of that time, such as uncertainty, loss, awe, cycles of life and death, and an openness to profound emotion.

There's even reference to new outdoor hobbies that many people picked up during times of isolation.

In an opening monologue, Oliveiro shares her newfound obsession with birding. The dancers at times embody bird movements and gestures. One dancer, Jennifer Monson, stands on one leg like a crane as she reaches her arms toward the light. In other moments, the dancers flock, nestle or murmurate like starlings.

That monologue, accompanied by a slideshow of various birds while dancers walk in slow motion, reveals the choreographer's struggle with the death of her mother. Throughout the work, Oliveiro employs motifs of longing for that relationship. Touch enters the piece with small gestures of care, like Pramila Vasudevan's head gently placed on Sam Johnson's arm. There are also moments of full embrace, as bodies wrap around each other on the floor.

Life's beginnings also appear in the work. Emily Gastineau, performing nude, evokes the image of a newborn baby as she squirms on top of a large box. A cable protruding from the box doubles as an umbilical cord.

TikTok dance trends and classical Indian dance are folded into the choreography. In the case of the former, moves are performed by individual dancers — Judith H. Shuǐ Xiān moves like she might be at a club or a party — and also as groups, with multiple artists performing together.

The popular steps help set the work in time, signifying the cultural landscape in which the artistic journey takes place. As Oliveiro and the dancers layer these details into the work, they do so with an erudite approach. This "Vastnessess" is meant to be observed at a distance.


When: 7:30 p.m. Thu., Fri., & Sat., Red Eye Theater, 2213 Snelling Av. S., Mpls.

Tickets: $25,

Correction: Previous versions of this story had an incorrect title. It is "Vastnessess."