Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 30, 2006
Moving toward the fringe
For first-timers, including a north Minneapolis dance troupe, the Minnesota Fringe Festival offers excitement, anxiety and a chance at wider recognition.
By Jeffrey E. McCants, Staff Writer
With something like the Minnesota Fringe Festival, new is good. The Fringe, which starts its 13th year in the Twin Cities on Thursday, always has been about new shows, emerging artists, unevenness, novelty,
But at a certain point, the nonjuried festival was beginning to see a lot of old familiar faces. The first-come, first-served method of selecting acts favored Fringe veterans who knew to get their applications in early,
leaving newcomers to scramble for remaining spots.
Two years ago, however, the old process was replaced by a lottery. A bingo cage is filled with balls representing each applicant, which totaled about 300 this year, and 165 acts are given a space.
One thing I am excited about is that there are more newcomers than ever before," said Leah Cooper, executive director of the festival, who will be leaving the Fringe after this year.
Fringe newcomers range from a north Minneapolis dance troupe that hopes to raise its profile to a woman who will perform alone for the first time to explore publicly her own psyche.
A date with Destiny
Edna Stevens-Talton was anxious when she learned her Universal Dance Destiny troupe had won a spot via the Fringe Festival's lottery. The 32-year-old dancer and choreographer, who moved to the United States from
Liberia at age 7, started the theater company in 2004 in an effort to bring arts to a community that may not be exposed to them. Basing her organization at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis, Stevens-Talton
began teaching dance classes in conjunction with Plymouth Christian Youth Center. In addition to the classes, she started expanding her company to different forms of dance, such as popping, locking and break-dancing.
She had heard about the Fringe through a friend and decided that the festival would be a way to display the talents of her dancers, drummers and spoken-word artists.
When Stevens-Talton's troupe won a slot at the Fringe, "I was excited, but scared because I was like, 'What did I get myself into?'-" she said.
She got another surprise when she learned that her dancers would be performing at the Southern Theater.
"I think that's the part that excites me the most," said Stevens-Talton. "I've always wanted to perform at the Southern. ... People already love the Southern and I think that will be the best way to get the audience we
With her spot secured, it was time to get organized. Enlisting her most talented choreographers and dancers, Stevens-Talton concocted "African Roads, American Streets," a semi-autobiographical tale of Stevens-Talton's
journey from her homeland, delivered through a series of dances and spoken word. The style changes from scene to scene, from traditional West African dance to modern hip-hop.
A sense of community
Stevens-Talton wants the fusion of styles to connect the hip-hop of the United States to its African roots in an effort to show people that they are not as different from one another as they think. "I have a passion to
connect both worlds," she said. "We are similar in many ways."
Within her own company Stevens-Talton noticed that dancers were connecting on a level that she hadn't seen before.
"I'm feeling like the communities that were once separate are together," said Stevens-Talton. "The breakers are getting exposed to the West African side and the West African side is exposed to the breakers. Now, I feel
like there will be a total respect between the two."
Rehearsals for the performance have been intense. The drums can be felt reverberating through the floor as the group works on getting every step right. The dancers run through each section of the show over and over,
stopping to correct a problem. Stevens-Talton relies on three choreographers to work each part of her story.
Stevens-Talton has picked a few up-and-coming dancers, drummers and poets to participate alongside some of the veterans. Robert Morgan, 18, is one such student. Stevens-Talton saw him at one of her workshops and saw that
he was a skillful drummer. Now he is under the guidance of Christian Adeti, 28, a drummer and dancer from Ghana.
"What you have to know is the tempo," said Adeti to Morgan during one of the rehearsals. "You have to keep it high."
"The rehearsals for us is like doing the real thing," said Morgan. "We go in there, we sweat, and we're happy that we're doing it."
While Stevens-Talton and Morgan will have a small army of dancers and drummers on stage with her, Emily Gunyou will find herself alone.
Jeffrey E. McCants - 612-673-4145