Selective Focus: Laura Goodman and Karen Owsley Nease

On Oct. 19 and 20, Laura Goodman’s sensuous and powerful new ballet, “Curl, Uncurl and…” will be performed as part of the Minnesota Ballet’s fall performance, The Rite of Spring and Other Dances. Basing her choreography on the wave paintings of Karen Owsley Nease, Laura explores the elemental and generative forces depicted in Karen’s artwork. Karen’s paintings will be projected as the back drop during the performance.

On Friday, Oct. 26, 6 p.m., at Joseph Nease Gallery, Laura and Karen will present an artist’s talk discussing their work during a mini-exhibition of the paintings that were included in the performance. “Elemental Forces and Other Work” is the mini-exhibition of Karen’s paintings and will be on display from Oct. 19-27.

What was the origin of your collaboration?

Karen: Over dinner last year, Laura and I were discussing our respective work as artists, particularly her experience as a professional dancer and choreographer, which led me to suggest how cool it would be to have her “interpret” my wave paintings into motion.

Laura: Growing up in Duluth, Lake Superior has been a place for reflection and awe. It has been a backdrop that I have missed when living elsewhere. I first saw Karen’s wave paintings at her show “As Above, So Below” at the University of Wisconsin, Superior in 2017. The idea of choreographing a piece based on her paintings was exciting to me, and so I worked to find a way to do that. After a few conversations and studio visits with Karen, I approached Robert Gardner at the Minnesota Ballet. With his support of the project I applied and was awarded an Arrowhead Regional Arts Council (ARAC) Career Development grant.

The Minnesota Ballet rehearsing Curl, Uncurl and…

Please tell us about the medium you work in, and how you came to work in your style?

Laura: I began training with the School of the Minnesota Ballet when I was 8 years old and began working with the ballet company as a trainee at 15. During my career I have been honored to dance the work of many great choreographers including; Agnes de Mille, George Balanchine, Antony Tudor, and José Limón. As an instructor over the years, I had many opportunities to practice choreographic skills. In 2016 I choreographed my first ballet for the Minnesota Ballet, Rounding the Apse. I have always enjoyed choreographing. As a performer, ballet has been a way to express different parts of myself while articulating another person’s vision. As the choreographer, I get the opportunity to create the vision.

Karen: My current body of work is an ongoing series of oil paintings about natural and primal forces as represented by waves. I have a long time fascination with the surface of Lake Superior and an earlier body of work explored its constantly changing textures and color, which was my Horizon series. While researching imagery for that, I began experimenting with and looking much more closely at the waves as they came ashore. The wave paintings are created by building up numerous overlapping layers of thin glazes of oil paint. It creates a silky and luminous surface. I am a lifelong painter and earned a BFA from the Kansas City Art Institute in Painting and Printmaking.

The Minnesota Ballet rehearsing Curl, Uncurl and…

Can you provide some insight on your creative process?

Karen: I have a deep affinity for and fascination with the natural world, particularly as source material for interesting ways of looking at light and color. I am drawn to situations in nature which provide that. When I find those situations, I begin experimenting with how best to represent what is important to me. That involves, color choices, paint application and composition for example. Once I’ve decided on what I want my artwork to look like, I begin refining the idea through multiple paintings and series. The idea may sustain several paintings of just a few, or may branch off into different but related paintings.

Laura: When deciding what to choreograph I like to be inspired by something. Typically, that inspiration comes from a piece of music, a story to tell, or the movement quality of a specific dancer. For this piece my inspiration has been Karen’s paintings. Before I work with the dancers I spend a lot of time visualizing how I want the piece to feel and look. I then spend time alone with the music developing a vocabulary of movement and sequence of steps that conveys the feeling or shapes that I am visualizing. Typically, different parts of a piece come more freely and I often start with those. Once I begin working with the dancers I will then adjust, choreograph on the spot, and bridge the main parts of the piece that I’ve been visualizing in my mind as I work toward a complete creation.

What have you found to be most interesting or valuable with this collaboration?

Laura: This entire experience has been very rewarding to me. Karen has wonderfully captured the different temperaments of the lake. From my perspective, each individual painting portrays its own emotion and tells its own story. Once we decided on which paintings to use for the project, I saw that my task was to connect the paintings to tell a bigger story. The challenges of interpreting her existing work and providing this connectivity were additive and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I also found it interesting to work the piece spatially to provide the audience an experience of movement as if they were standing on the shore.

Karen’s paintings that were interpreted into ballet by Laura. Images of the paintings will be projected as the backdrop for the performance of Curl, Uncurl and…

Karen: As a visual artist it is easy to get into habits of thinking about one’s work only in certain ways. Because of that tendency, it has been fascinating to watch Laura work with the dancers as she positions, and transitions them to recreate the actions of the water shown in my paintings. She has done it so effectively, that I could tell which painting she was working on when I first attended a rehearsal and saw various parts of the dance being developed.

Links and more information:

Rite of Spring information and tickets
Minnesota Ballet Facebook Page
Minnesota Ballet Instagram

Joseph Nease Gallery
Karen Nease Instagram
Karen Nease Facebook Page
Karen Nease previously on Perfect Duluth Day

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