Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Wilderness performs Zoo, Thursday at seven, PRHS FAA.

(From the Pelican Rapids Press, June 15, 2005 by Joanie Ellison)

Wednesday evening, June 22, the dancers from Wilderness, a Twin Cities based contemporary dance company will conduct a movement and dance workshop for all ages and all skill levels at the cafeteria in Pelican Rapids High School at 7 pm. This workshop will teach dance improvisation skills. No previous dance experience is necessary. Laughter is guaranteed. The workshop is free and open to the public.

Thursday evening, June 23, the dancers of Wilderness will perform "Zoo" at 7 pm in the High School Fine Arts Auditorium. Watch dances of flirtation, captivity and joy as three foot poles swing through the air and dancers catapult off of each other. Watch carefully, you might even see a polka. This performance is also free and open to the public.

Wilderness is a dance company co-directed by former Pelican Rapids resident Amber Ellison and her partner Jesse Walker. As a child, Amber took dance lessons from Darla Kratzke, a local teacher. She also studied with eighth street Studio of Dance in Fargo and spent her junior and senior years of high school at the Perpich Center for Performing Arts in Minneapolis. Amber minored in Dance at Macalister College and received a MFA in choreography at the University of Utah. Now she is back in town to share her dancing and her dancing friends with her home town.

The programs put on by Wilderness are sponsored by the Friends of the Pelican Rapids Library and paid for in part by a grant from Lake Region Arts Council through an appropriation from the Minnesota State Legislature.

From Knot Magazine

Amber Ellison

by Amanda Vail
My Own Two Eyes

My first encounter with Amber Ellison was last spring. During an alumni performance at the Perpich Center for Arts Education, Ellison stepped smoothly onto the stage and smiled encouragingly at the small audience. She has sweet eyes, a soft voice, and a charming manner that form an immediate bond between her and the audience. What followed that evening can only be described as a dialogue. Ellison stepped and swayed, bent and stretched to the sound of a crackling recording of her grandmother's voice. In this spontaneous dance, entitled "Conversation with My Grandmother," Ellison sparked a connection between the audience, her movements, and the empty chair and voice that echoed of her deceased grandmother. I remember the audience being oddly hushed and still as we watched and listened and existed in the space she created.

I'm not a stranger to dance, but neither am I overly familiar with it. Modern dance is a part of my schooling that has been conspicuously absent, and I immediately wished to talk with Ellison in order to begin to understand it. At this point, I certainly cannot claim to understand it all, but I enjoy it immensely and have a deep and abiding respect for Ellison herself. When we got to talk one summer evening at a favorite coffee shops of hers deep in south Minneapolis, her sheer love and enthusiasm both for her own work and for mine simply bowled me over. Our conversations since have covered a variety of topics; her interests range far and wide, which only serves to make her dances all the more interesting and multifaceted. Like many artists, Ellison wishes to show people something they've seen before, but in a new manner. She broadens both her own horizons and those of her audience by exploring simple subjects, like the body, and presenting them in a new form. Everyone knows what the human body looks like, but do we know everything it can do?

I found out that Ellison even choreographed a dance on chaos theory and cellular automata while she was in high school at the Perpich Center. Later in the fall I got to watch some of it on video and was, unsurprisingly, astounded. While the moves seem simple, they were in fact based upon a complex series of numbers and required the dancers to count continuously during the piece. I came out of my viewing trance slightly confused but definitely fascinated. The intrusion of "cold" and "abstract" mathematics into the blatant warmth of the human spirit and creativity still leaves me with an occasional grin of sheer wonder at life. If I remembered any of my algebra and calculus from high school, I could probably tell you more about it, but I'm a fine arts major -- my brain doesn't work like that anymore. I certainly understood it on a gut level while watching Ellison's piece, though.

"Conversation..." is still one of my favorite pieces by Ellison, despite viewing snippets of others on tapes. Perhaps I like it because it is blatantly personal, perhaps because it utilizes what Ellison told me is called "spontaneous choreography," a fascinating concept. Basically, the dance itself is an improvisation, but the challenge is to present it as a complete piece. Therefore, she has a set of moves, a language, established beforehand so that the piece can be both scripted and impromptu. The spontaneous nature lends it a dynamism that refuses to become static and the language of movements allows it some measure of stability. In a way, the "words" permit a greater threshold of creativity -- working within a system instead of completely outside of one, bending it to produce different results.

Ellison's talent doesn't stop at choreographing dance. She has also become interested in "dance for camera," or, to put it less elegantly, making videos of dances. The dynamic changes, however, when the audience is removed from the dance through the intervention of the camera, and Ellison is not only aware of this but also uses it to her advantage. She does not merely tape her dances, but makes films whose creation is a goal in and of itself. Music, camera tricks and, as always, the movement of the human body and the dance inherent within it feature in many of her films. I was privileged last fall to watch part of a work in progress, the content of which I shall not reveal in order to leave you in anticipation. Suffice it to say that, even incomplete, it is a work of harmony and power. Ellison places her beautiful soul, and body, into the film, creating as much for herself as for her audience. The dialogue that ensues between herself, the camera, and the viewer does not have words to go with it, but the meaning is nevertheless made clear.

If you miss Amber and Jesse Thursday night, book your tickets for July 9th in St.Paul here.

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