Push Me, Pull You: Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder of HIJACK

Arwen Wilder and Kristin Van Loon of HIJACK. Photo by Gene Pittman.

This is the seventh entry in Act I of Push Me, Pull You, the Center’s series on (co-)authorship. For a full list of posts in this series, visit the main Push Me, Pull You page.

HIJACK is the choreographic collaboration of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder. The two grew up in Chicago, met at Colorado College, and established their collaboration in Minneapolis in 1993, where they continue to make work and perform. Specializing in the “inappropriate,” HIJACK toys with audience expectations, choosing unconventional projects—notable works include Eulogy for John Kerry (see below), Fetish, and Three Minutes of Pork and Shoving (with Scott Heron)—and performing in unusual venues. The duo is best known for “short-shorts”: pop song-length miniatures designed to deliver a sharp shock, and football field-scaled spectacles for 15–50 performers. HIJACK has taught and performed in Japan, Russia, Central America, Ottawa, Chicago, Colorado, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Austin, and Maine.

The following post chronicles Van Loon and Wilder’s individual remembered experiences during the making of Eulogy for John Kerry. This process-based writing sheds light on their collaborative and individual thinking, as well as questions of memory and blurring of boundaries as they work together.


Eulogy for John Kerry, as performed by HIJACK (Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder) at Colorado College in 2005.

Arwen Wilder on the Making of Eulogy for John Kerry

The text we speak comes from our separate notebook recollections of a week of improvisational duets. I remember Kristin did this. She remembers we did that. Memory is jaded and faded and subject to emotion and interpretation. But we wrote it down and it became fact and directive. We speak it in unison. To execute the dance we must do what those directions tell us to. We each must fulfill not only our own memories, but each other’s. It is both validating and confusing. It is both improvisational and set. After practicing/performing the dance many times, the words themselves come to have more weight than the memories of what they describe. Whose memories they were becomes less discernible, whose moves they were/are also. Authorship? Ownership? Over time? The dance emerges as its own author and director, and yet insists on being undefined. Even those things which sometimes make a dance more tangible—its costumes and sound and title—are peppered with meaning in the form of references to outdated ephemera: The Ramones, Ronald Reagan, John Cage, John Kerry. It is, in itself, a eulogy for the dances that have come before, praise for a week of improvisations. Making them into a dance this way is to value them without objectifying them or making them own-able.

A Story of Collaboration in the Making of HIJACK’s Eulogy for John Kerry (Kristin Van Loon’s version)

Movement Research

We’d just finished Fetish. Like most of our dances, Fetish was made in chunks over a long time—a good year or so. Concept, design, movement research, politics, and cultural commentary were married into little vignettes along the way and then an arc composed of these vignettes emerged/was forced.

To contrast that, for Eulogy, we made all the content in five days. We worked in durations of 10 seconds. Many, many, many throwaway dances were made using our “Real Time Score,” with a timer.

BEEP: Lying still with my eyes closed, I imagine my body, here in this spot, in this room now and what it does for 10 seconds BEEP. Then, BEEP: I do what happened in my mind for 10 seconds BEEP.

The score was a joke; a contrarian response to the popular somatic practice of clearing the mind, slowing it down to body-speed, maybe observing just the breath. In contrast, we observed the whiplash speed of the mind and tried to force the body to imitate its unruliness.

Writing and Intentionality

After many of the 10-seconds-in-the-head, 10-seconds-in-the-body rounds, we’d write. Sometimes automatic writing, sometimes writing aimed at describing what had happened. After a week and dozens of these mini-dances, we made a spontaneous choice to collect all the writings that had been scrawled with no real intention beyond giving ourselves a break from all the concentration. We edited all the writings with a score of selecting every sentence in which we had mentioned each other. We combined our selections and did our best to place them in sequence of occurrence. We did our best to remember the finest details of the actions these words referred to. Conversation and debate: Some sentences were taken at face value because there was no recall between us. With some, we each had contradictory memories. With some, there was a harmonious, shared agreement. With some, it didn’t matter; the writing referred to independent actions/untied events. This was our text score.

For several months, we’d “perform” the dance of this text score “daily.” We’d meet for one hour. Twenty minutes for warm-up: many rounds of throwaway 10 second “Real Time” dances. Twenty minutes to run the dance. Twenty minutes to discuss what happened. We developed a contradictory value system of striving for pure fidelity to the original event that inspired each sentence and to executing each action differently every time (responding to the words at face value, responding to gravity, each other’s idiosyncrasies, new spaces, etc.).

Embellishment

I had been reading obituaries in newspapers. I was influenced by the attempt to sum up the intentions and actions of a life in a brief writing. Truth. Contemporaneity. Etiquette.

Arwen told me she was actively planning to get pregnant. I cried a lot and we talked about that a lot. I feared it would challenge our collaboration. Doubted it should continue.

We called the dance “Eulogy for a Drunk Dog and a Dead Boy.”

We were watching debates for the 2004 presidential election. So dumb. The progressive crowd was so hyped. Hype, hype. Dumb, dumb debates.

I watched and loved a film of John Cage answering 19 questions. Chance operations determined the duration of his soliloquies on topics: 48 seconds on “conversation,” nine seconds on “indeterminacy,” 24 seconds on “Ronald Reagan.”

I watched and loved End of the Century, a documentary about the Ramones. Songs so fast; in their set at CBGB’s, the time between songs was so slight that “you couldn’t squeeze a rolling paper between them.” This inspired thoughts about continuity, contiguity, and the contradiction that is Johnny Ramone—a punk rock icon and Republican activist.

Hmmm…debates
Hmmm…conversation
Hmmm…labels/surface
Hmmm…history

And back to the obituaries. Contemporaneity: The Ramones tour, Ronald Reagan’s heyday, and John Cage’s interview were all at the same time—when Arwen and I were kids.

So we dressed as Dee Dee and Joey Ramone. We recorded the two of us reading our manipulated “Real Time” text sequence in attempted unison. We inserted utterances of “Ronald Reagan” willy-nilly into this text. I wore a red tie; Arwen wore a blue one. This reference to the dopey binaries of the presidential debates was in contrast to the months of intricate debate over the minutia of our moves. Our own debates made us peevish.

We then called it Eulogy for John Kerry. We loved anticipating how dated the title would be as he plunged into relative obscurity soon after the election.

Performance

The dance was whittled down from 15 to five minutes. The first epic performance was bloated with hundreds of “Ronald Reagans” and inspired a Bedlam Romp audience to throw rotten vegetables at us and yell “make it stop!”

It’s been a eulogy for First Avenue (when the nightclub briefly closed).
It was a eulogy for Drew Gordon (at a dear friend’s memorial).
It was a eulogy for Choreographers’ Evening (at a guerilla performance when the series was cancelled one year).

In this video Arwen is pregnant.

Last year, we performed it “cold,” with no rehearsals, at the last romp at Bedlam Theatre.

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