Minnesota Original

S4 E9 | FULL EPISODE

JoAnn Verburg and Rhythmic Circus

JoAnn Verburg is an internationally known photographer whose large-scale work deals with concepts of time and perspective. Inspired by his experience as an immigrant, Chilean-born Alonso Sierralta combines natural and man-made materials in his sculptures. Four percussive dancers backed by a seven-piece band, Rhythmic Circus explores musical genres like Minneapolis funk, beat box and salsa.

AIRED: January 20, 2013 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

(man) "Minnesota Original"

is made possible by

The State Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,

and the citizens of Minnesota.

(female narrator) On this 100th edition of "Minnesota Original"--

JoAnn Verburg is an internationally known photographer

who's large-scale work deals

with concepts of time and perspective.

Inspired by his experience as an immigrant,

Chilean-born Alonso Sierralta

mixes natural and man-made materials in his sculptures.

Percussive dancers, backed by a 7-piece band,

Rhythmic Circus explores musical genres

like Minneapolis funk, beat box, and salsa.

♪ Hit the ground ♪

♪ ♪

♪ Hit the ground ♪

[electronic music plays]

♪ ♪

[synthesizer plays softly]

(JoAnn Verburg) When you're born,

you pop out as a unique individual.

No one looks at the world the way you do.

You go through life, you learn your skills,

you're challenged, it's really hard sometimes,

and you're not alone; we're all in it together.

And yet at the same time,

you're the only one that looks at it that way.

And I think everything else I'm doing sort of comes out of that.

The fact that we're alone, and we're not alone.

♪ ♪

When I was 6, Santa gave me a camera. [laughs]

We visited my grandmother in Baltimore for Christmas,

and I photographed Splash,

the big polar bear at the Baltimore Zoo.

That was my first roll of film.

It was a lot of fun to see the transformation of experience

into this little rectangle, and it still is.

The first pictures that I did

that felt like they were justifying

using all the materials and the time and everything else,

were pictures that I was doing underwater

with an underwater camera, and then I made blueprints,

which were done by taking a piece of watercolor paper,

coating it with an emulsion, then exposing it to sunlight.

How I turned a corner with this work

was that I realized

that I was not just

trying to describe reality,

but that photography creates an alternate reality.

This isn't stuff I was thinking about

when I was underwater with the camera,

but afterward, looking at these pictures,

there was something I saw in them

that I think I would say ah, was smarter than me,

and I think art does that.

Art takes you places you didn't mean to go.

I don't think we need two of everything.

I don't think we need to have the woods

and the picture of the woods.

That to me is totally boring.

But if you let your materials

lead you into something you don't know,

oftentimes what will happen is

you'll be dealing with things differently than

just what you could experience walking through the woods.

And it's that transformation that art can create that is,

you know, the sort of "why bother" factor.

When I was in graduate school,

I had the opportunity to buy a 5 x 7 camera.

It was big enough for me to be able to see really well

at what I was shooting, and use what are called

the swings and tilts of the camera

that throws certain things in focus

and others out of focus, you know

the very, very narrow range of focus

on just his eye, and a little bit on his fingertips,

and then this central part of the trees behind him.

I don't want you to look at this and think about the techniques.

I don't want you to know any of that, consciously.

It's all about seducing the viewer

into um, I want to say

an inappropriately intimate relationship

to the person that you're imagining.

(woman) Because she almost always frames things

in a way with multiple focus,

and puts us in an unconventional space,

where we're not quite sure what our perspective is,

the works have this living, breathing quality.

Her work is much more comparable

to the way we live in a space in the world.

And so somehow through photography,

which tends to capture a moment,

she keeps that moment alive and organic.

If the picture feels like everything kind of makes sense,

then it's, it's not interesting.

Right now I'm photographing the City of Spoleto,

which is a very old hill town in Umbria, in Italy.

There's a way in which in Italy

I feel like I will never understand

how to do it correctly, and that's very freeing.

As an artist, if I think I can do it correctly,

that's in my way, whereas in Italy

I know everything I'm doing is incorrect,

the way I speak Italian is dreadful,

so I can be incorrect and not worry about it.

What it means as an artist is there's no right way

and I can just keep trying different things.

And that's what I need to be able to do.

I would love to find another way to work

other than photography, and I keep coming back to it.

It has to do with the relationship to reality

that a photograph implies.

It seems to be scientific; it seems to be real;

it seems to be authentic; it seems to be repeatable,

and yet it is so ephemeral.

It's just light; it's nothing.

And I think these things, really to me,

speak to the human condition.

You know, you have, there's a corporeal side,

but what's a person without a spirit,

without the personality,

without all the things that are so ephemeral?

And it feels a little bit like that, you know, it's--

on the one hand it's this object-- there's this lens

that says this is the way it is right now, period.

And yet, the imagination makes it

an infinite number of things. It's magical!

[bass & drums play in bright rhythm]

I believe that every good piece of art

should have a form of visual tension, you know,

it draws you in, it captivates you

as a viewer and also as a maker.

I mean, that's one of the things I really enjoy

about making art is trying to make it work

The process is very, very important.

♪ ♪

As you can see, this is a tree trunk.

I chose this particular piece right here

because of its curvature.

It's a really unusual bend, and you don't normally

see something like that in a tree, in a tree branch.

I use the fiberglass cloth, which is very common.

You can get it at any store, any hardware store,

then some gel with hardener, then I just brush it on.

The goal is to make a series of casts that uh,

that end up looking something like that.

And so I'll end up with this really unusual

curvy, gnarly-looking root that I can't really identify.

The reason I like this type of material is because it um,

it has these visual connections to other things,

honey, skin, you know,

it has this really unusual amber color that uh,

is really inviting and, uh, a little bit confusing too,

because it may become perhaps a little repulsive to someone,

but at the same time it becomes sort of attractive and familiar.

I'm not 100% sure if this will work, but I'm hoping

that I can connect these 4 limbs in an interesting way.

The intrigue is, is very much part of the, the game, I guess.

I try to utilize

natural materials in my work, but I prefer to juxtapose

the natural elements of these things

next to things that are more synthetic, man-made if you will.

So with this one, I have the basis

for the material itself, which is a root ball.

This is a mulberry tree, and I trimmed it a little bit.

And so my goal is to add a more synthetic-looking,

plastic-looking paint, blue or something,

you know, bright orange or something like that.

And so the goal is for this thing,

once it's displayed on the wall, it will look sort of synthetic,

but you can still see that it's a natural element.

I like that tension that's being created

by positioning these two things side-by-side,

or integrated in different ways.

I'm trying to make these materials,

these elements, have a conversation.

The use of these natural elements,

it's already strange enough,

because it's a little bit unconventional.

When you think of sculpture, you think of

metal and stone, you know, public sculpture,

but there's also an element of delicacy that's lost,

you know, the finesse that is somewhat underappreciated,

I guess, in 3-dimensional work, and I try to utilize that

in my work as well.

I like delicate things,

things that are kind of fragile that could perhaps break.

♪ ♪

I am originally from Valparaiso, Chile.

There's always a connection to where you came from, so for me,

one of the things that I really treasured

was my relationship with my grandfather,

because he was the one that sort of took me under his wing.

He, he was a civil engineer, and so he had lots of tools,

and he taught me how to use many of them.

He taught me how to weld when I was 10.

I could barely lift the thing, you know, "C'mon kid,

you need to learn how to do this," so, you know,

he showed me a bunch of stuff.

The majority of my work

revolves around the idea of emigration.

The visual metaphors that I continue

to utilize in my work refer to emigration.

This is why I choose to use

natural materials-- seeds, roots, branches, mud--

these things relate to this idea of transplantation

and um, literally taking an object, a living object

from one place to another really,

I think, started the whole thing for me.

There is a piece at the, the American Craft Council

and it's entitled "Bastones Para Rob."

Literally it means canes, like a walking cane for Rob.

And Rob works at a quarry,

and he pulled these roots out of the ground,

and they are very organic, lot of movement,

lots of twists and turns.

I made these structures that are two pieces of wood,

one at the end and another one on the top

so the root itself is somewhere in the middle.

Then in the transitional areas, where the new wood

joins the root, there's a band of copper.

The copper is a material that resonates with me a lot

because my country of origin, Chile, is

the number one producer of copper in the world.

So the thought that maybe there is a piece of my land

in this particular piece of copper is, you know,

it's a way for me to utilize my own--

a piece of my land, if you will.

(man) The American Craft Council

is a nonprofit organization that champions craft in America.

At the American Craft Council

we deal with a lot of artists

who are working in a lot of traditional media.

One of the things that's been exciting to me

about Alonso's work is the way

that he pretty easily moves in between a variety

of different materials in the creation of his sculptures.

His work kind of transcends a media-specific approach.

(woman) Alonso's a very thoughtful artist.

Every piece that he has tells a story,

and so our challenge to him

was to take these materials from a gym which was relocating,

they were just going to discard materials,

and sort of upcycle that material into a new piece.

And so this "Samothrace" represents a woman's figure,

and the body and this whole idea of fitness,

and the bottom of it you can see represents movement,

also resembles the bottom of a shoe.

And so he really internalized this whole process

and what those materials meant to make them into something new.

(Alonso) With age comes wisdom, as you know,

and so all the mistakes that I've made in the studio

have paid off, [laughs] 'cause you learn from those mistakes

and you, you make 'em work.

There's also a sense of patience that develops with, with age.

And so I think the work has evolved in a positive way.

I consider myself a very lucky man, because I've always

known what I wanted to do, ever since I can remember,

so it's always been making something.

[tuba plays deep bass tones]

[snare drum plays in syncopated rhythm]

♪ The main event the main attraction ♪

♪ Destination satisfaction ♪

♪ Purist kind of interaction ♪

♪ Marching Running Reaching Grabbing ♪

♪ Hit the ground running with a supersonic game plan ♪

♪ Love is like a circus in the middle of a play land ♪

♪ Hit the ground ♪

(man) We are Rhythmic Circus and we're basically a group

of performing artists, musicians, and dancers

who wanted to find something different and new and exciting

and we ran away to the circus,

which was this group of each other.

That was great, how do you feel about that?

Good, I feel good.

♪ It's a tightrope act and your bound to fall in ♪

♪ Again and again when the circus calls ♪

♪ Hit the ground running ♪

There's 4 tap dancers and a 7-piece horn band.

It's a huge payoff for a lot of us that have spent.

the past 10, 15, 20 years, you know, perfecting our craft.

(man) Rhythmic Circus is a touring dance and music act

that does all kinds of crazy stuff.

(2nd man) You gotta see it to really get what it is.

A bunch of dudes and me! [all laugh]

Very good. Rhythmic Circus is a group of uh, 4 tap dancers

and a 7-piece funk band that goes around and performs

a little show they put together for people with a smile. [all laugh]

[band plays lazily]

Attention!

Turn left!

Lights!

The group started when me, Nick and Kaleena were rehearsing

and we were always spending our Wednesdays

here at Gluek's watching The Root City band.

Root City horn band plays a rhythmic, funky tune]

Root City is a band that I started in high school that's been

long-time friends with the tap dancers of Rhythmic Circus.

We're like, what if we had the greatest band

in the history of time with us?

So we asked them, and they said yes.

Henceforth, history.

When Ricci asked them, would you like to try to put together

a show with us, they said yeah,

and we started working towards

combining our talents to create "Feet Don't Fail Me Now,"

which premiered at the Ritz Theater in 2008,

and we've just been taking it around

and performing it for as many people as will see it.

(Rhythmic Circus) ♪ Feet don't fail me now! ♪

♪ ♪

"Feet Don't Fail Me Now," is... rapid-fire tap.

Rapid-fire tap. Sensational music and dance.

Sensational music and dance. Costume changes.

Inspirational dance-music-comedy show. Yeah.

(Alex) I think a continuing theme in "Feet Don't Fail Me Now"

is that there's a lot of faith and a lot of love

that goes behind anything that you do in your life

that's positive or comes from the heart,

and you know, you rely on yourself

uh, not give up, rely on your friends, to, you know,

when they need help and just stay on your feet

keep movin' type thing, you know.

I've said it a million times,

I've heard it in songs or whatever,

"Feet Don't Fail Me Now"-- you know what it means--

take that risk, take that chance, go for it, go for the top.

And that's kind of the point of the show,

underlying message throughout is reach for your dreams,

find your bliss, look for your circus sort of thing.

You do so much work to get prepared

for the thing that you want to do in your life.

For us it was putting the show together.

All of the work that goes into writing the songs,

making the choreography, preparing it, rehearsing it,

getting it ready for an audience,

but it comes down to that moment when you step on stage

and as a tap dancer, "Feet Don't Fail Me Now,"

has been such a motto my whole life, like here I go,

I put everything into it to get here, let me hit the steps

right tonight, let me make the best of this moment.

(man) The first time we'd taken what we've made

to people who didn't know us and didn't really care about us.

We generated this crazy buzz

the first time we ever did it for strangers, it just went off

100% better than we would have even imagined.

We had a celebration that night too because that was

the first time we realized maybe we had lightening in a bottle.

So then progressively as we've gone every new group of people

that have never seen us, don't know what to expect,

we give 'em the show, and they just go crazy.

(man) We cover all styles, blues, rock, funk, R&B, salsa, reggae,

and get some juggling in there,

dancing in a number or two.

It's really a variety show; it kind of covers all bases.

Funny for your grandkids and your grandma,

which I don't think is that easy to do.

We don't curse, and we're very nice. [all laugh]

Damn straight.

(man) "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" is a show of all my best friends

that I've grown up playing music with,

and these amazing dancers

that we have watched for a long time

and who also have watched us play music, and so

to come together as a group with not only your best friends,

but the people you looked up to and worked with,

all of a sudden we're doing it together

and it's just the greatest show because the energy is natural,

it's organic and, I had to throw that in there.

Amen. [all laugh] Organic!

♪ There was boogie monster dancing in the back of my head ♪

♪ Only when I gave him music would he go to bed ♪

♪ So I worked every day just to keep him fed ♪

♪ But the boogie fell into my feet ♪

[tapping in bright, syncopated rhythm]

♪ Hmm mmm mmm mmm ♪

♪ I hear him running yea he's coming ♪

♪ I think he's hungry sing la la la ♪

♪ I hear him running yea he's coming ♪

♪ I think he's hungry sing la la la ♪

(Ricci) The play on words maybe the "boogie" monster

that spirit of just letting it out, gotta boogie

and let that kind of spirit free

may just be a little bit more adventurous

your decisions, or choices that you make, and you know,

feel free to feel free.

♪ La la la la ♪

♪ I can see all the monsters around me ♪

♪ I know it gets hard when you're by yourself ♪

♪ I can feel all the music inside me ♪

♪ And I got friends and I know that my friends can help ♪

(Nick) And then at the same time,

it's about how we feel free together when we are jamming.

So we let the boogie monster out, and here we all are

as a group of friends who are performing

and traveling around the country.

And it's about the friendship that we feel

and how we feel the most at home playing music

and making music together.

♪ Together we work to find the groove ♪

♪ Together we work to fill the pocket ♪

♪ Together is better than all alone ♪

(Ricci) You talk to anyone in this group and about life and the choice

to be a musician or a dancer, and a lot of days you wake up

and it's not the easiest job,

it's not the easiest life choice.

There's not security, there's not the regular things you get,

you know, moving into your adult years.

But when you get to perform,

when you get to let your monster out,

it all makes sense why you do what you do.

(Nick) When you have each other,

when you have a community of monsters,

when you can get that together, people understand that.

You look at your life, it's easy to find a lot of monsters

that are biting at you, taking you down, trying to pull you under,

boogie monsters like your floating on, just trying to pull you up.

♪ Um ba-ba ba-ba um ba-ba ba-ba um ba-ba ba-ba um ♪

♪ Now groove your feet tonight ♪

♪ Satisfy that rhythmic appetite ♪

♪ You gotta groove your feet tonight ♪

♪ Satisfy that rhythmic appetite ♪

(Ricci) When people hear tap dancing, they immediately think

of their 5th birthday and when they had those patent leather

little slip-on shoes, you know,

and they have the big bow on them,

or they think of their sister who had those shoes, and um,

due to that, I have been like on a mission personally

to put some "umph" in some tap shoes, you know what I mean?

You can use the instrument of a piece of metal on the floor

and do something musical with it.

You can do something emotional with it,

you can do something with that instrument.

People are always saying oh what a dying art form.

I say are you kidding me? This isn't dying, it didn't go anywhere.

I mean, look at all the people who know about tap dancing

and people who feel connected to tap dancing.

I think that's part of the reason why Rhythmic Circus works so well

and why people connect with it so well,

is that they feel that they are a part of it.

What this project gets to do is bring that to more people.

It get to say tap dance isn't necessarily Fred Astaire.

Yeah, yeah, exactly, it's not you know this and hands.

It's a very raw and in-your-face art form,

and it conveys a lot of emotion, a broad spectrum of emotion.

I think of the dance community, I don't want to say

there's necessarily like a stigma about tap dancing,

but there's certainly a different understanding about it,

where some people kind of see that tap dancing

might only be a form of entertainment,

and that's just really not true, if you understand that tap dancing

is like a form of communication, that if you're watching two tap dancers trade off,

they're speaking with one another and having a conversation,

I think that adds a lot of value to it.

Plus dancers that say tap dance isn't art, can't tap dance.

[all laugh]

♪ Don't cha wanna la-la la-la ♪

♪ La-la la-la ♪

♪ La-la la-la la-la la-la ♪

♪ La-la la-la la-la la-la ♪

♪ La-la la-la la-la la ♪

♪ There's a boogie monster dancing in the back of my head ♪

♪ Only when I gave him music would he go to bed ♪

♪ So I worked every day just to keep him fed ♪

♪ But that boogie fell into my feet ♪

Ahhhhh!

♪ Hit the ground running with a supersonic game plan. ♪

♪ Love is like a circus in the middle of a play land. ♪

♪ Hit the ground ♪

♪ ♪

♪ Hit the ground ♪

♪ ♪

♪ The main event. The main attraction. ♪

♪ Destination satisfaction. ♪

♪ Purist kind of interaction. ♪

♪ Marching Running Reaching Grabbing ♪

♪ Obstacles you know they come in courses ♪

♪ It's hard to put a saddle on some wild horses ♪

[trumpet imitates the whinny of a horse]

♪ Come one come all ♪

♪ It's what you've all been waiting for ♪

♪ ♪

(man) "Minnesota Original" is made possible by

The State Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,

and the citizens of Minnesota.

[orchestral fanfare]

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