Saturday, June 17, 2017

Offleash Area Presents: Dancing on the Belly of the Beast

Photos by Paul Herwig

Next weekend I have the privilege of performing with 17 other dancers in Offleash Area's newest work Dancing on the Belly of the Beast.  Those of us who are in the show have experienced the grief and loss of one or both parents.  Director/Choreographer Jennifer Ilse (pronounced "iles") calls this Adult Orphanhood.

"Each performer's story is both specific and universal," she says. "It may be about the death of a person's birth parents or adoptive parents, or it could be that a parent left and is no longer in the picture.  It's that place where a person feels cast out into the world and on their own."

She recalls her own parents' passing and how she was faced with her own mortality.  "When my dad died, death felt like this presence in front of my face.  I could smell it.  And my mere existence (and the actual creation of this work) is a defiance of death itself."

The idea for Beast came a few years ago.  She had started working on the concept and then in 2016 she received a grant to study at Earth Dance in Massachusetts.  She worked for 10 days on the project and then was joined for another 10 days by dancers Christine Maginnis and Mariusz Olszewski.  Together they came up with about 40 minutes of raw material which became the bare bones of the show. When they presented it at the workshop one, of the viewers said it was like "watching angels dancing on the belly of the beast." And so, the title of the work was born.

Over the past several months she's held grief and loss workshops in conjunction with Health Partners  and started setting choreography for the show's core performers Karla Grotting, Christine Maginnis, Ray Terrill and herself.  Two other ensemble groups were added later for the larger group sections with performers Thern Anderson, Mike Cohn, Lisa Conlin, Sher Demeter, Erin Ditmarson, Delta Giordano, Katherine Griffis, Becky Heist, Pat McManus, Carla Murphy, Esther Ouray, Carol Oyanagi, Sally Rousse, and Kathleen Sullivan.  

Jennifer says that she used about 90% of the material from her Earth Dance residency in some capacity for the show. One of the big themes of the production has to do with Time - past, present and future which is represented by repeating circular movement patterns within the pieces.  Performers Paul Herwig (Jennifer's husband and Offleash co-director) and Jesse Neumann Peterson will also represent Time as they paint moving sets during the show.  Eight large flats on wheels will have different arrangements and for each performance Herwig and and Neumann Peterson will start from a blank slate.  Some of their motions will be choreographed in unison or with similar energy.  "They can embody emotional connections through the way they paint," says Jennifer.

Another theme, Naming Emotions, came from one of the grief workshops where participants chose words that conveyed their experiences - regret, guilt, loss, gratitude, freedom, nostalgia, release/relief.  These words were written on paper and laid out on the floor.  Each person "honored" a particular word and the "thickness" of it by using improvisational movement to explore their emotions and how the words were layered and inter-related.

Also included is the theme of Inheritance - what we inherit from our parents genetically or physically and behaviors or traits manifested that we hope to either mimic or discard.

"When Mom died," Jennifer recalls, "parts of me - my hands, feet, eyes - took on a whole extra meaning.  Mom had me later in life (age 44), and at my current age of 48, I have become extremely aware that I'm now the same age of my mother when I would have had my earliest memories of her.  I especially think of her hands wrapping around me and holding me."

Jennifer hopes that audience members will find both personal and universal concepts along with beauty that they can relate to in their own grief and loss experiences.

Show Details:

All shows are at 8 p.m.
The Ritz Theater is located at 
345 13th Ave. NE
Mpls., MN 55413

Reservations can be made at Eventbrite:  https://dancingbeast.eventbrite.comTickets can be picked up at will-call and paid at the door on the night of the show. ($10-$30 donation is suggested). Cash, check, or card is accepted.  

Or sign up for the VIP Opening Night Dinner on Friday, June 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ritz Theater - Studio.  This is a celebration and fundraiser for the show.  Cost is $75 for one person, $150 for two, or $500 for a table of eight.  If you register for dinner, you will be contacted for payment info.

If you hurry, you can also participate in the Kickstarter Campaign which includes all sorts of perks.  Entry to the dinner is included in Kickstarter contributions of $100 or more.

We hope to see you at the show!

Offleash Area is an interdisciplinary performance company led by co-artistic directors Paul Herwig, visual and theatre artist, and Jennifer Ilse, director and dance artist.  Established in 1999, their company has conducted numerous workshops and classes and have performed 25 original full-length productions.  They look forward to their next phase – taking more leadership in the community - which will include the construction of a new 80-seat performance and rehearsal space opening in South Minneapolis this September.  

For more information, contact Paul or Jennifer at