The Dress Up Show

“While waiting in The Chocolate Factory’s brick entrance area/art gallery for Michael Helland’s The Dress Up Show – starring Helland, Miriam Wolf, Stephanie Booth, Carly Pansulla, Anna Carapetyan and Daniel Linehan – to commence, I felt like a not-quite-cool-enough spectator hoping to get into an underground hipster club. After all, what Helland had in store for us was a full-fledged night out: he made us fabulous, provided food and drink, entertained with song and dance, and invited us to an after-party… Part of me—the dancer part—was disappointed by the uninventive movement vocabulary and lack of narrative thread. The work was certainly not a ‘proper’ dance show, but I doubt Helland is concerned about properiety [sic] at all. The other part of me—the audience member— left feeling like a valuable aspect of something special. The artists wanted and needed me there, a true departure from the trend I see in other post-modern dance where artists exhibit what can only be described as disdain for their audiences. Thankfully, Michael Helland lies at the other end of the spectrum where the creation of a communal artistic experience is of paramount importance.” Michael Helland’s The Dress Up Show by Krista Miranda Brooklyn Rail 2007

“One quality that is surprisingly often missing from downtown dance is sheer theatrical zaniness. Perhaps some feel it detracts from the serious appearance of their work. Fortunately, here comes Michael Helland with enough nuttiness to make up for weeks of lugubriousness. The advance publicity for ‘The Dress Up Show‘ sounded strange and a little alarming. Audience members were to walk through a ‘live-art installation’ where they would receive fantasy makeovers using a large selection of costumes, then move into a series of performance events, activating ‘the performer in each of us.’ Uh, oh. But it all sounded too odd to miss, and in fact, the evening’s events were a lot of fun, if a bit thin. On entering, we were indeed whisked into a large dressing-room-like area where a number of Helland’s operatives took us in tow, trying on one outlandish getup after another until our vanity or self-destructiveness was satisfied. Then we proceeded upstairs to watch some desultory movements as we waited for the rest of the audience to be worked over. Helland, fetchingly attired in a mass of white tulle with zebra-striped tights, proceeded to read something to set the tone for the evening; appropriately, it was a text that seemed to make no sense. He proceeds to change outfits a few times, ending up stark naked, though enwrapped in a cloud of purple gauze. Miriam Wolf, one of the dancers, has a confession for Stephanie Booth. It’s pretty shattering and tough to get out: ‘I’m a robot.’ She’s come to terms with her mechanical nature, even marching in the robot pride parade. ‘Some of you in the audience may be robots yourselves.’ Okay, we get it. There are more outrageous costumes, and at one point Wolf, Booth, Cathy Pansulla and Anna Carapetyan are rolled up in a plastic tarp, emitting hair-raising screams. Besides the actual performers, the room is well salted with various agents of Helland’s; I spotted Jamm Leary, uncredited in the program as far as I could tell. There are space suits and lots of screaming. There are also, sad to say, plenty of slow stretches where nothing much is going on. But the performers’ enthusiasm, in the end, carried the day, at least on this occasion.” Michael Helland Dresses Up for the Theater by Henry Baumgartner NY Theatre Wire 2007

Do you like Star Fiction?

“Michael Helland, a choreographer hailing from Seattle, launches us into a Space Oddity-like otherworldly yet mordant piece in ‘Do You Like Star Fiction?‘… Though a short part, this opening section was extremely rich and reverberated with a plethora of meanings: the sarcastic mockery of audience and consumer satisfaction, the introduction of simultaneously ditzy, zombie-like, and ironic enigmatic dancer-characters, even a postmodern ontological commentary on the arbitrary nature of meaning. The calling out of numbers to determine dancing was a sardonic spurning of humanist notions of intentionality, ‘genius,’ agency, or psychological personhood being the kernel of artistic creation. This opening section approached perfection in its blend of movement, meaning, and social commentary… Helland is exquisitely adept at generating an entire mindset, and one that was thickly present, from these dancer-characters… Operating in a sublime stratosphere of acute social awareness blended with an exquisitely executed artistic sensibility, Helland’s was possibly my favorite dance piece of the season. If Lower Lights Collective can tie their synergetic eclecticism and raw unaffected irreverence with as strong a social awareness and highly matured raison d’etre behind the ‘form’ as Helland, they will be doing very well.” The Wesleyan Mafia and Stepford Wives in Cloud City by Andrea Liu NY Arts Magazine 2007

Precious Little Something

“The second piece was perhaps the best of the night. In ‘Precious Little Something,’ Daniel Linehan and Michael Helland, dressed in striped shirts and ankle-cropped pants, played two young boys dancing together. This piece was special because it brought the audience into a world that is unfamiliar for some, nostalgic for others. The piece could be seen as the innocent discovery of gay love, experienced through two curious young boys. At first they play, then they run away, and ultimately they find each other. This piece is delightful and funny and is guaranteed to warm your heart.” Tomorrow’s Choreographers by Gabriela Pawelec Gay City News 2005

“‘Precious Little Something,’ in contrast, took us through a keyhole. Two men, dry as a thirsty throat, traveled down the middle, fell to opposite sides and then, in the dark, let out distressing screams. As if this never happened, they reappeared perched upon chairs at the upstage diagonals. There, they went into a litany of signals and movement, communicating across what seemed miles. Hand gestures formed bird beaks and claws, adding occasional odd flicks in their wrists. The piece evolved into cleverly timed, much larger movement, their precision easy to call upon. Michael Helland and Daniel Linehan remained true to the portrayal of something/someone newly born, curious and therefore funny, desperate in moments, and in conclusion, caught between the need for and fear of another.” Baby Greens by April Biggs Off Off Off 2005

“But it was Michael Helland and Daniel Linehan who stood out with their co-choreographed and performed Precious Little Something. Helland and Linehan manipulate their bodies, moving like puppets. They playfully scrunch and stretch their faces, bark, squeak, hoot, and partner each other with sophistication. Sometimes reminiscent of Tere O’Conner [sic], the duo merges humor with dramatic emotion and cute, silly gestures with skillful technique. The pure artistry exhibited in this piece is enough to give me hope for a future furnished with dancers who love and know what it means to dance.” Young Choreographers: A New Generation by Jen Weiss Brooklyn Rail 2005

Endless Matter

“…choreographer Michael Helland’s Endless Matter confronted the politics of embodied gender with fewer punchlines – and significantly more courage – than most of Larry Keigwin’s lightweight main stage offerings earlier in the season. The choreographer’s spare work interrogated the radically divergent meanings the same balletic moves and costumes are given when placed on male and female bodies. In contrast to most of the offerings, the chalky overhead fluorescent lighting actually aided this exploration of socially constructed difference, when its shadows emphasized the gauntness of Helland’s half-nude form.” Burning issues, embodied protests by Byron Woods Independent Weekly 2004

“Dance Theater Workshop has offered Fresh Tracks, a series of showcase performances by new choreographers, since 1965. The choreographers who participated in the program on Friday night at the workshop’s headquarters in Chelsea seemed especially concerned with struggles, both with other people and with discordant aspects of a single personality… Two works were absurd comedies. Men and women alike wore pretty tutus in Michael Helland’s ‘Endless Matter,’ danced by his troupe, the New Ugly. But all attempts at sweet romanticism were shattered by outbursts of distraught choreography.” Battling the Self and Others in a Showcase of Struggles by Jack Anderson NY Times 2005

Performance Appearances

“To watch someone move so intentionally and unassumingly on the floor in front of you is not just intimate – It’s nostalgic. I miss this performer even though I don’t know him, even though I have not left, and am in fact standing right next to him still. This piece [Maria Hassabi’s PLASTIC] exists for me as a landmark in time; I cannot imagine returning to this same site, a day, or even a year later, without finding Helland almost to the bottom of the stairs… In watching Helland, I begin to wonder all sorts of things about getting to know a person. What does it mean to recognize who someone truly is? Are words, shared experience, and context necessary forces to wield when forming a connection with another human? I consider these traditional means of human connection as I watch museum visitors take photos of Helland on the stairs. We are all in such close proximity to each other that my feelings of comfort and thoughts about voyeurism are constantly in flux.” Notes on PLASTIC by Stormy Budwig Brooklyn Rail 2016

“In one of the best scenes [of Faye Driscoll’s ‘There is so much mad in me‘] (and one of the few without spoken words), Michael Helland restrains Nikki Zialcita (two of the three brilliant performers in 837 Venice Blvd.) by holding both her hands as she tries to run forward. Squirming and giggling, she’s going nowhere, and since she persists for what seems like a very long time, her pleasure begins not just to look masochistic; it makes my own arms hurt.” Faye Driscoll Is Mad at You and You and You by Deborah Jowitt Village Voice 2010

“In several subsequent sections [of Faye Driscoll’s ‘837 Venice Boulevard‘] — all funny, shocking and moving in equal measure — Ms. Driscoll sets her three dancers (Michael Helland, Ms. Rowlson-Hall and Nikki Zialcita) at one another’s throats both physically and metaphorically. At any moment they might be siblings, friends or enemies, and they brilliantly evoke the adolescent torture of being excluded from the ‘in’ group (a peanut butter sandwich is in play here) and the coruscating hatred that rejection can cause to flow through human veins.” Chopping Through Boundaries of Growth by Roslyn Sulcas NY Times 2008

“It’s not often that a piece makes you sit up straighter, wondering what it is exactly you are seeing, but these are the moments that lovers of the arts live for…In Faye Driscoll’s ‘837 Venice Boulevard‘ two dancers (Michael Helland and Celia Rowlson-Hall) lurch onto the stage, laughing manically and holding each other up…All the while they laugh, and although the audience did too, Ms. Driscoll’s rigorous exploration of this physical — and, it seems, mental — manipulation feels startlingly original in its peculiar configuration of slapstick and darkness…Mr. Helland and Ms. Rowlson-Hall are no less brilliant here…” When Puppet and Puppeteer Switch Places by Roslyn Sulcas NY Times 2008

“First to emerge [in Faye Driscoll’s 837 Venice Boulevard] is Michael (Michael Helland), with glittery headband, extra-short running shorts, and false eyelashes he loves so much, he wants you to love them, too–so he glances sidelong like Betty Boop as often as possible…In the shadows of the dance that Celia, Michael, and Nikki create between themselves is the haunted, shivery dance they do with us.” Being somebody by Apollinaire Sherr Arts Journal: foot in mouth 2008

“At the heart of [Sam Kim’s ‘dumb dumb bunny‘] is a long, affecting duet for Miriam Wolf and Michael Helland in which their fierce entangled encounters feel like a thwarted, frantic search for emotional connection. This pair, together with Liz Santoro and an often-solo Ms. Kim, dominate most of the 65-minute piece…” In Every Twitch, a Transformation of the Ordinary by Roslyn Sulcas NY Times 2007

“After graduation and three months apart at different dance festivals, [Michael Helland and Daniel Linehan] moved to New York—Brooklyn, to be exact. On arrival, they began instantly to make names for themselves, as performers, creators, curators, panelists, workers, and generally nice, fabulous guys who do their own things—together, alone, and with others as well.” Precocious Partners by Brian McCormick Gay City News 2006

“It is a decided minority of modern dancers who have anything inside–a depth, an intelligence, a charisma, a sense of freedom–that seems larger than the mere sum of their physical acts and movements; some inner quality–whether it be moral, ideological, political, imaginative or emotional–so rich or intriguing that the movement seems to be a vehicle to express this quality, as opposed to an end in and of itself. Often, a myopic narcissism, moral thinness or lack of dynamism of character, underlies modern dance performance. Luckily, however, the incestuous downtown NY dance world has been blessed–maybe redeemed and resuscitated–with two performers from Seattle, Daniel Linehan and Michael Helland, who have this quality… The movements, particularly on Helland’s part, had a refreshing lack of daintiness–that is to say, a generous roughness or deliberately unrefined assuredness. A fairly simple sequence was repeated each time the jock yelling session began. It soon became apparent that it didn’t matter with Helland what movements he was doing, but that there was something about him as a performer that was interesting to watch, regardless of the movement… As a performer, Helland imparts the feeling that the mere execution of dance barely contains or encapsulates everything that is inside of him: almost a suggestion of wildness? An intriguing performer to watch, there could be 10 dancers doing exhibitionistic twirly-twirls, meanwhile Helland could be picking lint off a sweater and it would be infinitely more fascinating to watch Helland. Whether he was sniffing around another dancer on the border between teasing and menacing, engaged in faintly S&M- evocative chasing or play rough-housing with a female dancer, or tenderly climbing atop a motionless Linehan with great care for his fragility, there was a total lack of contrivedness to anything that came out of him, and a hint of a particular type of irreverence. This translated into a type of stage charisma.” How to Start A Daniel Linehan Fan Club by Andrea Liu NY Arts Magazine 2006