MINNEAPOLIS, MN — Opus Skyscraper
Original score composed for the site by Miriam Gerberg.
Dancers (by floor): 25 – Rebecca Frost, Bernadette Knaeble, Kitsy Olson, Su Smallen, and Kay Tani. 23 – Alice Bloch, Cheryl Bye, Marcela Kingman, Timothy Maxwell-Smith, Cynthia Stevens, and Sheree Thomsen. 21 – Karen Chalom, Colleen Day, Tamara L. Halbritter, Cindy Katz, Heidi Opheim, Bev Sonen, and Regina Marie Williams.
The title of this performance tells it all: it is a work/opus about the concept of May Day, where baskets of flowers were delivered at dawn. In olden times, a May Pole was erected in the town square and dancers held long fabrics attached to the top of the pole, moving over and under each other as they braided the pole with colorful feminine streamers. The tree trunk was brought into town after a long night with bonfires on the hilltops and merry-making in the woods.
The play on the word “Opus” derives from the name of the skyscraper in downtown Minneapolis. I made an appointment to talk to the architect and asked him to review with me the main architectural ingredients of the 21st, 23rd, and 25th floor balconies and what visual aspects he would draw out if he could. In the end, the dance highlighted the horizontal lines of the balconies and the vertical connection between the three balconies and the roof.
The first part of the performance depicted the flames of the bonfires, which started on the 21st floor and went up to the roof. A friend who was a mountain climber helped out with a strong webbing that made sure the fabric did not rip as it was hauled up to the roof. The dancers wove the streamers reminiscent of the maypole dance. The finale depicted sun beams descending from the roof to the lowest balcony, which in the story of Beltane and May Day, is where the fire magically attracts the sun to rise and shine in the crops.
The Setting and Music
The original piece of music was commissioned especially for this dance and composed by Miriam Gerberg. She and I went over the sections of the dance, with her symbolic meaning, and then she composed the piece, which involved the May Pole dancing and the sun descending at the end.
Other aspects of the performance were bringing to mind the connection between the three balconies, the fabrics growing in length as does the spring days and surrounding greenery. In another section, each of the dancers holds a disk that represents the rising sun.
A local radio station broadcast the music so that everybody, no matter how far apart, could hear the same beat at the exact same moment. Audience members were invited to stand on the plaza a few blocks away and bring their own transistor radios, while the dancers on the balconies tuned into boom boxes spaced apart.
Getting permission to place dancers on these three balconies entailed contacting the CEO of the company. What was extremely helpful in receiving their permission was the fact that I already had indemnification documents created by the US Army Corps of Engineers; these documents were created for my 1985 dance on the Mississippi river. All I had to do was replace the Army Corps with the name of the business, and the lawyers seemed satisfied.
We had two performances: one at 6 AM in honor of this May Day dawn, and one at noon so that people could come see it during their lunch break. One of the audience members, after seeing the performance said, “I no longer see downtown Minneapolis as so unfriendly.”
There were 18 dancers who were auditioned and came from dance companies, the university dance department, as well as independent choreographers. We were not allowed that many site rehearsals, except in the early morning before the office opened. I remember walking on the roof with the head maintenance guy to take a look at how we might handle the fabric from the roof; he was puzzled and asked why I was doing this. I said one word: “art“, and that seemed to satisfy him.