Kayla Schiltgen’s choreography “Recipe for Something” started with a daydream about a person beneath a plywood board — incidentally an accessible prop for the artist and owner of Turtle Hare Farm + Stay in Two Harbors.

“I was like, ‘I have a piece of plywood in the garage,’” Schiltgen said, and then added, “the things you do in a pandemic.”

She took the board to the grass and began to play with it, moving instinctively, experimenting with the extra surface of texture and the feel of the approximately 3.5-by-4-foot board against her body.

The work she created, and later premiered at "Dances on the Lakewalk" last summer, is one of the pieces selected for Choreographers’ Evening 2021 at the Walker Art Center.

The series, which started in 1972 as a post-Thanksgiving performance, has been a showcase for contemporary dance. This year’s event is curated by Valerie Oliveiro and is at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday at the museum’s McGuire Theater. The later show will be livestreamed.

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Tickets are available at walkerart.org.

Kayla Schiltgen was first featured in the Choreographers' Evening in 2019. She returns to the stage at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.
Contributed / Kayla Schiltgen
Kayla Schiltgen was first featured in the Choreographers' Evening in 2019. She returns to the stage at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Contributed / Kayla Schiltgen

In a note from the curator, Oliveiro described the process of putting the show together as a “loving salve.”

“The alchemy of these 11 stunning choreographers nourished me for the ways they have shifted, reached into, even opened toward the complexities of their own practices, perspectives, research, location and making — moving through the last 20 months,” Oliveiro wrote.

***

Schiltgen’s background is in modern dance and her foreground is sustainable farming, the practice she shifted toward after she was sidelined by an injury and creatively spent.

She and theater artist Eric Elefson live on the 16.5-acre farm on the North Shore, which has a yurt with beds, wireless internet, access to a traditional Finnish sauna — and the chance to dig into the duo's garlic farm.

Kayla Schiltgen stands on a ladder as she cuts bulbs of cured garlic from their stalks Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at Turtle Hare Farm + Stay in Two Harbors. 
Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune
Kayla Schiltgen stands on a ladder as she cuts bulbs of cured garlic from their stalks Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, at Turtle Hare Farm + Stay in Two Harbors. Tyler Schank / File / Duluth News Tribune

Being outside, she found, sparked her creative juices again.

“The way that my aesthetic and voice has grown,” she said, “I feel so much more like myself now. It’s been really, really cool. I could have never imagined that the journey could be like this.”

Schiltgen first attended the Walker’s annual showcase while she was studying dance at the University of Minnesota — and immediately added it to her to-do list. She auditioned a few times and was first featured in 2019.

She first presented the work in process of “Recipe for Something” last summer to favorable reviews: Some viewers found it good-humored, others considered it a story of heritage and legacy. It reportedly helped one work through complex feelings.

Schiltgen described the piece as one born of following her instincts, and using the board — which never touches the ground — as a way to direct focus to her hands slinking out from beneath it, her body on the ground, the movement of her feet. It’s experimental — more human movement than what a viewer might see as traditional dance.

The piece is set to a homemade soundscape that includes voice notes Schiltgen has left for herself, like recipe measurements or the amount of compost used or the size of a harvest.

“It’s interesting because she’s moving with (the board) almost like it’s her partner,” said artist Naomi Christenson, who has gotten to know Schiltgen through the local dance community. “But it’s not a traditional ‘I lead, the board follows.’ It’s a collaborative back and forth. It’s playful and there are parts where it feels like it’s a burden.

“It’s really beautiful to watch.”

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Schiltgen’s experimental style has recently led her to filmmaking — which she prefers to call screendance. She choreographed the “The I’s Have It” on dancer Haley Jensen, who was then able to add movement via prompts. Schiltgen, though, had the last say — editing the work to add repetition, frantic energy, and then flow.

The short film premiered regionally during Duluth Superior Film Festival and was selected for the International Conference on Video Dance and Video Performance and the Festival International de Video Danse de Bourgogne, a virtual film festival.

There will be more of this medium from Schiltgen who is in the middle of starting a CSA, which stands for "Community Supported Art" in this case. Shareholders will receive digitally the screendance pieces she creates.

Christenson said she enjoys being around the artist — partly because of her commitment to the work.

“She’s a really sensitive person and I think sometimes sensitive people can get pushed to the sidelines,” she said. “She’s got a strong sense of wanting to put her voice out there. It’s a difficult thing for even us who are medium sensitive. I applaud it.”

If you go

What: Choreographers' Evening 2021

When: 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (7 p.m. show will be available for streaming at walkerart.org)

Other info: Follow Kayla Schiltgen at kaylaschiltgen.com

Christa Lawler is a features reporter at the News Tribune. She can be reached at clawler@duluthnews.com.