Fashionably dancing: Carl Atiya Swanson reviews the ARENA Bikini fundraiser

ARENA Bikini fundraiser
March 29, 2008
Review by Carl Atiya Swanson

Dance is sexy. Bikinis are sexy. Put the two together and you have ARENA Bikini, a Macy's sponsored fundraiser for ARENA Dances, one of the Twin Cities' premier dance companies. This first-time event, held at the 414 Sound Bar in the warehouse district, was designed to promote ARENA’s upcoming show waterBRIDGE at the Southern Theatre, and to pay their dancers -- something that is always appreciated.

The dances were a wonderful display of physicality and elegance, demonstrating the skill that has made ARENA founder and artistic director Mathew Janczewski one of the most prominent choreographers in Minneapolis and a rising star in the national dance world. Choreography reminiscent of dance-line and Charles Atlas body building poses flitted together as the projectors overhead played clips of Rio de Janeiro and beach parties, with thumping club music tying the whole event together. The dancers interacted with the models, at one point dancing in the corners, acting like guys on the beach trying desperate pick-up lines. The well-heeled patrons cat-called and cheered, many of them wearing leis indicating that they had made additional contributions that night.

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The ARENA bikini fashion show went swimmingly. More photographs by Daniel Corrigan.

Janczewski noted in his after-show thank-yous that it was very strange to go from works commissioned by the Walker Art Center (2007’s Ugly) to a swimwear show. However, fashion and art are not so strange bedfellows. Fashionistas have increasingly turned to dancers to enliven their runway shows. Conceptual designers Viktor & Rolf featured tap dancers as part of their 2000 haute-couture line and artist Vanessa Beecroft paired with Gucci in 1998 to display models in bikinis designed by Tom Ford for her 1998 installations.

In its 12th year, Janczewski wanted the company to expand from one show a year to two, requiring a lot more financial and administrative support. “Small arts organizations will only survive if they have a dedicated board to help drive the mission,” said Paul Kaminski, chair of ARENA’s board of directors. “Job number one for any board is to raise money. Job two is to create and nurture a mission and vision, along with staff of the company, to guide the organization into the future. We have done all of that with ARENA through a strategic planning process.” Furthering that mission meant finding new ways to draw in support and expand the audience for dance in a competitive market.

The collaboration with Macy’s came about almost by chance. ARENA had turned to Jeff Turner, a “brain for hire,” to help them find new ways to increase exposure. Turner had worked for a number of years with Marshall Fields/Dayton’s and still had connections with Laura Schara, Macy’s trend consultant and the brains behind the Glamorama charity event. “We approached Macy’s to see about getting some help and costuming from them and they turned around and one-upped us, offering to sponsor the event,” explained Janczewski in a telephone conversation. Still, he said, the collaboration between Macy’s and ARENA has been loose. “We’ll basically get together and see what happens.”

What happened was a mix of short athletic dances and a traditional runway show with models displaying 2008 swimwear lines. Using the walkway of Sound Bar’s main lounge as a catwalk, ARENA’s dancers performed three excerpts in between the models’ walks. Betsey Johnson’s lingerie-inspired, black lace trimmed line went first, followed by Jessica Simpson’s All-American basic print line.

Despite these high-profile turns, there was still some trepidation at the prospect of the event, and Janzcewski said that the worry of “selling out” had crossed his mind.

Still, Sarah Thompson, the ARENA board vice-chair and head of the benefits committee was extremely pleased with the way the event turned out and was already looking ahead to next year. “I would love to see more of the short dance excerpts. I think it is a great way to show off the work and get people involved with ARENA.”

ARENA has always been a collaborative dance company and is already planning future work with other artists. Their fall ’08 show will feature nationally lauded string quartet ETHEL performing live onstage with dances choreographed by Janczewski. “They are basically the rock stars of the classical world, and I was choreographing to their music and just thought, what the hell, lets see if we can’t get them here to play with us.” With that kind of drive to collaborate for new works and their support structure, expect to see new and exciting works from ARENA for a long time to come. -- Carl Atiya Swanson

waterBRIDGE opens at the Southern Theatre Thursday May 8. For more information, see www.arena-dances.org


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