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PREVIEW: ARENA DANCES Returns for 26th Season (Southern Theater)

A promotional for run with me, ARENA DANCES’ return to the interior stage, which runs October 28-29 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Dancers are not known for their professional longevity. The average professional dancer retires from the stage between 35 and 40 years of age. Many do not make it nearly that far, transitioning to teaching and other professions as life demands become incongruent with grueling rehearsal and exercise schedules. Dance companies are not generally known for their long lives, as several pre-pandemic closures in the Twin Cities can attest

For a dance company to make it to 25 years is extraordinary. For ARENA DANCES to hit that milestone during the pandemic and decide to still keep going is certainly noteworthy. The company will open its 26th season with a pair of performances at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis on October 28th and 29th.

A file photo of dancers Doug Hooker and Joe Crook in ARENA DANCES’ hold my hand, which delved into the charged emotional waters of gun violence. Photo by Armour Photography.

One of the things keeping ARENA DANCES going is the boundless energy of artistic director Mathew Janczewski, who founded the company in 1995. Even as he branched out into choreographing for other area companies, Janczewski accumulated a pile of honors: he was named the Bates Festival choreographer in 2001, received the Sage Award for Outstanding Performance in 2005, the same year that he took home a McKnight Choreographers Fellowship. In 2008 – when ARENA DANCES was half its current age – Dance Magazine named Janczewski as to its “25 to Watch” list.

With that sort of pedigree, you’d expect that ARENA DANCES has been doing something to keep things fresh. “Freshly frozen” might be what the dancers thought when they were drafted to model for the ARENA Bikini fundraisers in March 2008 and 2009, which (you guessed it) put them in swimsuits in a nightclub during the Minnesota winter. “Ugly” wasn’t just a piece that Janczewski choreographed for the Walker Art Museum – it was also a theme that the company has dared to explore, tackling destructive relationships, gun violence, and more. 

A file promotional photo for ARENA DANCES. Photo by Galen Higgins.

Never one to shy from innovation, even during the pandemic, ARENA DANCES was one of the first performing arts companies to dive into new ways of engaging and entertaining audiences, letting audiences revisit its 2018 Picture that Day show thorugh a promotion with Red Wagon Pizza. Now, however, the company is heading back indoors with a show entitled run with me, running through some of the company’s greatest hits: Run With Me, One Room, hold my hand, Open Eyes, and quartet(Whatever their on-stage virtues, capitalization consistency and ARENA DANCES do not go hand-in-hand.)

Each of the works being performed at the Southern Theater features an ensemble of different character and composition:

  • Run With Me, for a quartet of men’s dancers, is inspired by the writings of David Wojnarowicz, a multidisciplinary artist who vividly captured his personal battle with AIDS while living in New York City’s East Village in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
  • One Room, exploring collective power and unity, features an all-female sextet. 
  • hold my hand, unfolding to a Requiem written by Joshua Clausen, was inspired in part by a wave of national protests against gun violence.
  • Open Eyes reaches back into the company’s well of institutional history and memory, having begun as a duet created by Mathew Janczewski with dancer-choreographer Amy Behm-Thomson, who joined ARENA DANCES in 1999.
  • quartet is a well-traveled foursome: in 2006, Carleton College’s Semaphore Dance Company took this piece choreographed by Janczewski to the American College Dance Festival Association’s National Festival concerts at the Kennedy Center in May 2006.

The performances will variously feature dancers Tori Casagranda, Rachel Clark, Joe Crook, Non Edwards, Dustin Haug, Doug Hooker, Sarah McCullough, Betsy Schaefer Roob, Elliana Vesely, and Joey Weaver.

run with me runs October 28-29 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Twin Cities Arts Reader