Striving for Perfection

The CFA and the Dance Department were interested in having the Breaking Ground Dance Series acknowledge for the first time the truly innovative work happening in Minneapolis, a hotbed of creative work in dance. After months of planning, we are delighted to welcome Morgan Thorson and her company to campus this weekend. Thanks to support from the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation we were able to connect her work, HEAVEN, to faculty and students in Religion and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and a number of activities are going on this week (see below) in conjunction with the performances of her work at the CFA Theater.

Morgan is a creative researcher… the movement and music in her work comes out of deep exploration and experimentation. In HEAVEN, she researches perfection: What is the nature of both corporeal and ecstatic perfection present in religious practices, and how does it manifest itself? When I saw the piece at P.S. 122 last November, I was struck by the power of her dancers and the sense of ensemble that she creates onstage, particularly integrating the musicians from the indie rock band, Low, with her company. While Morgan is exploring religious practices, she is also showing us the ritualistic power of dance and the emotional, physical and communal power of what a group of performers can achieve together.

Lydia Bell, ’07, wrote to me after she saw the work and said, “I felt like the piece was asking, if we don’t believe in X, what do we believe in? There is a sort of activism in this question that I like–re-framing things in the positive and of course, I felt like Morgan’s answer to this question was clear–everyone can take solace in art-making and being part of a community, which have always been core parts of any religious or spiritual practice.”

When I spoke with Morgan about the work she commented: “In this piece I try to communicate my devotion to space. With extremely simple material, the body and space unite in a powerful unison where temporal shifts underscore this relationship. For example, a quick acceleration leaves a ghostly residue, of what just was. The departure is the gesture. …The presence of various body types is very important. I purposely wanted to blend groups of variously gendered people—not to just convey the power of drag (creating your gender the way you want to), but to approach an all new manifestation of gender identity, a roving, third gender. We modeled this idea after angelic shape-shifters, which often play an important role in the Bible. I also wanted to convey the power of the voice and song. Tonal resonance and harmony can spark an energetic or emotional shift in the performer and viewer, and I really wanted to play with this power in HEAVEN, and juxtapose this kind of material to vigorously moving bodies. I intentionally complete the piece with shape-note singing, so that the focus is no longer corporeal, but sonic and vocal. The communal gesture of singing elevates HEAVEN beyond a physical presence, sending the piece off to a new expressive dimension, and revealing the essence of pure group intension. “

Many choreographers, including many on our series, have explored dancing with live music onstage, but few have succeeded in so fully integrating the musicians as Morgan has. When I asked her how she came to work with Low, she said she was introduced to them by one of her dancers: “We talked about religion in general and ideas of god, and performance structures for this piece. They are known for working the edges, for initiating delicate, soft tones or loud and abrasive gestures, and I was interested in those edges– that restriction– and what it forced me to do choreographically.”

You’ll have the opportunity to meet Morgan and discuss her work following each of the performances, and on Friday night, she’ll be joined by Nicole Stanton, Chair of the Dance Department and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, Assistant Professor of Religion and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, who will both share their perspectives on the work.

Morgan Thorson & Company
Featuring live music by the indie rock group Low

Friday & Saturday, January 29 & 30, 8pm 
CFA Theater

Pre-performance talk by Debra Cash on Friday, January 29, at 7:15pm, CFA Hall (formerly CFA Cinema)

Related Events: January 27 at 7pm at Usdan Daniel Family Commons: A Dinner/Discussion about Queer and Transgender Themes in HEAVEN; January 29 at 6:15pm at the Bayit: Aaron Freedman ’10 leads a movement ritual Shabbat.

For complete listing of activities, visit