Happily Ever After
by Matt Peiken
When modern dance wed rock band, nobody expected it to last. But the fine romance between Catalyst and Lateduster proves opposites do, indeed, attract.Couples often form through common friends. Catalyst and Lateduster - a modern dance troupe and ethereal rock band - met through a common fan.
After a whirlwind courtship and quiet elopement, the artists from different corners of the twin Cities arts community are publicly airing their romance.
"Fierce:Whole," this weekend at the Red Eye, is an evening of dance and lice music Catalyst and Lateduster created with, for and through one another. The artists are using the performances to release a DVD with all the trappings of a video wedding album - threaded with interviews, glimpses into their collaborative process and artful footage of their shared performance.
"We both wanted to push ourselves in new directions, but neither of us thought of this direction until we were introduced," says Lateduster guitarist JG Everest. "This was just laid in our laps."
Artists have collaborated across disciplines for decades, but successes are rare. Inevitably, they differ in vision and direction; one artist makes sacrifices for the sake of forward movement, and the process often leads to resentment rather than fulfillment.
Lateduster and Catalyst clicked, as it often happens in romance, when neither party was necessarily in the matchmaking market.
Lateduster, a trio without a vocalist, has made two full-length records and earned a modest following on the Twin Cities club circuit. Emily Johnson, the 27-year-old founding director of Catalyst, is among the young darlings of local dance. The Jerome Foundation, Minnesota State Arts Board and Walker Art Center have supported her early work.
Both groups already had experimented outside the bounds of traditional dance and band life. Lateduster, whose three members use digital samplers in addition to drums, hand percussion and guitars, has performed live to a German silent film during the annual Sound Unseen Film and Music Festival. Johnson choreographed a piece about women's competitiveness to ta taped play-by-play radio broadcast of a high school girls' basketball game.
ARTIST IS MATCHMAKER
A visual artist familiar with both groups recommended they meet. Johnson caught a Lateduster show at the 400 Bar in Minneapolis. The members of Lateduster sat in the audience for a Catalyst show at the Barbara Barker Center at the University of Minnesota, where Johnson had studied.
"I had no idea how to watch or understand dance. It's like listening to jazz for the first time," Everest says. "But it was obvious (Catalyst was) dealing with very real emotions, and they were communicating so clearly to me with their body language."
In Lateduster, Johnson heard "an intellectual reasoning with sound. It was smart music."
Dance doesn't mix easily with live music. Choreographers generally map steps - and dancers rehearse them - to recorded music. Dancers' pacing and timing rely on consistency, and live music in anything but consistent. Even slight changes in dynamics and tempo, let alone blatant mistakes, can throw off a choreographed dance.
From Johnson's perspective, the Catalyst- Lateduster collaboration started from a point of great risk. Johnson asked the group to make music for a piece she had already choreographed without music.
"Plain Old Andrea With a Gun," the subject of the DVD and a cornerstone of "Fierce:Whole," is Johnson's take on violence and women with literal and figurative grips on power.
"The pieces are so intimate, and I had to impart to these musicians that's going on inside me," Johnson says. "It's letting them in on my vulnerability, and that's something a lot of choreographers don't even give to their own dancers. But if I couldn't be honest with these guys, how could I be honest with my audience?"
Despite the inherent challenges for a dance company working with live musicians, the collaboration had a greater impact on Latedusters'' process. The band attended rehearsals for inspiration, them composed music on their own. Lateduster rejoined Catalyst in the dance studio with instruments in hand, playing music through their headphones to see what worked.
"Sometimes we're rehearsing , and we'll ask for some kind of abrupt change or transition, " Johnson says. "We pushed them to collapse their structured thinking and just do something now."
"They had all these ideas they'd been working on for six months, and I was terrified we'd come up with something that wasn't appropriate, " Everest says. "But it was thrilling too, because it gave us a new purpose. Instead of just the music, it was music for this greater cause."
Catalyst and Lateduster debuted "Plain Old Andrea With a Gun" last summer through Walker Art Center's "Momentum" dance series. Both groups felt the one-weekend showcase did only surface justice to the collaboration, chiefly because the series trains audiences to focus on dance.
"This was so special, and it was here and gone in three days. We just felt it wasn't done," Everest says. "Plus, there's definitely a difference between dance audiences and music audiences, and most of our people didn't really catch onto this the first time. But people who want something smart and challenging are the same."
"Plain goLd Andrea With a Gun" meshes Old West and film noir kitsch, to the eye and ear. The action on the floor at times seems impervious to the music. In one moment, dancers are lunging, stomping, thrusting, and grunting against plaintive, atmospheric tones without tempo. Once the music gains a pulse, three dancers move against the beat while two others roll on the floor in lost, naive serenity.
"Fierce:Whole" is a second phase of evolution in the groups' shared venture. Along with the evening's centerpiece, the program features pieces Johnson choreographed to three existing Lateduster songs, and Johnson and the band worked together from scratch on solo danceworks for Johnson.
Lateduster and Catalyst continue working separately, but Johnson has asked the band to take part in her next project, and both groups see their futures entwined. For his part, Everest sees Lateduster's relationship with Catalyst not as two separate groups but rather as nine creative friends working together.
"Not to say we won't keep playing the (7th Street) Entry and the 400 Bar, butyou get tired of having your success dictated by how many are getting wasted," Everestsays. "Once you've expanded your horizons and see the possibilities you wantto keep on exploring."