Minneapolis, Minnesota

November 6, 2012

Minneapolis, Minnesota

This documentary, from longtime Twin Cities journalist Matt Peiken, highlights the religious left and the fight for marriage freedom and equality in Minnesota. Peiken spent nearly a year interviewing faith leaders across a spectrum of beliefs, along with scholars, politicians, and everyday people – all discussing how their views of religious texts and traditions support marriage among any two consenting adults.

Minneapolis, Minnesota Updated: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 08:59am

A small, partial survey of Minnesota’s dance events during October makes clear that the state takes a back seat to no one when upholding its position as pillar of culture and civilization. Here are some of the many productions available from north to south this month.

University of Minnesota Duluth • Oct. 6

A residency by the Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater at the University of Minnesota Duluth will culminate in a public performance at the Cesar Pelli-designed Weber Music Hall, 7:30pm, Saturday, Oct. 6. The Minneapolis-based company, which bills itself as “theater for the heart and mind,” will display its modern dance range and sensibility in solo, duet, and group works drawn from its repertoire.

The SPDT program will include “Tales From the Book of Longing,” conceived and directed by Stuart Pimsler and Suzanne Costello. Inspired by the poetry of Leonard Cohen, it received its premiere at the Guthrie Theater three years ago this month. Also on tap: “Islands,” Pimsler’s solo created in 1987 for the Contemporary Dance Theatre of Cincinnati, “The Men From the Boys,” a duet from 1988, and “Word Game,” a solo choreographed in 1968 by mentor Daniel Nagrin.

The Weber Music Hall is located at 1151 University Drive. Tickets, online, are $10 adults, $5 students, and free for UMD students. The Duluth News Tribune listed the performance as a “best bet” for the weekend in a preview article.

Another company from Minneapolis, Black Label Movement, has been conducting residency activities in Duluth since early September, working with Zeitgeist Arts and Stacie Luten’s Dance Center. The company’s evening-length “Wreck” will be performed in The Machine Shop of the Clyde Iron Works, 7:30pm, Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 9-10.

“Wreck” • Cylde Iron Works, Duluth • Oct. 9-10              Photo William Cameron

Choreographed by Carl Flink, a 2012 McKnight Artist Fellow, with original music by Mary Ellen Childs, “Wreck” was performed for the first time in January 2008 at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. Flink, whose father was a crewman on a Great Lakes ore boat in the 1950s, has set the work “inside the last watertight compartment of a recently sunk ore boat resting on the bottom of Lake Superior.” An ensemble of five musicians will perform with the dancers.

The Clyde Iron Works is located at 2920 West Michigan. Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students. Reserve them by sending an email to blacklabelmovement@gmail.com.

The Catalyst Series at Intermedia Arts in Minneapolis will present the work of three women whose choreography has been commissioned in the past by the Momentum Series of the Walker Art Center and Southern Theater: Maia Maiden, Ellena Schoop, and Cathy Wright. Inspired by the Maya Angelou poem “Phenomenal Woman,” the program, “This Was Meant for Women’s Bodies,” will take the stage at 8pm, Thursday through Sunday, Oct. 11-14.

Cathy Wright • Intermedia Arts • Oct. 11-14                     Photo Crystal Liepa

Wright’s work also has been performed at the Bloomington Center for the Arts, Bryant-Lake Bowl, Patrick’s Cabaret, the Walker Art Center’s Choreographer’s Evening, and the Minnesota Fringe Festival. I saw it for the first time in 2009 at the Ritz Theater’s Renovate Choreographer’s Evening.

Next week, Wright will unveil three new dances: “Catherine Binds Wite Angels,” a performance art piece with angel wings, chardonnay, acrylic painting, and song; “Accepting Mother’s Nature, part 1,” displaying her gothic aesthetic in response to questions posed by Maiden’s work about body as culture; and “Encompassed,” a dance and film on media perpetuation of the female body, created and performed with Maiden.

Intermedia Arts is located at 2822 Lyndale Avenue South. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door; available online or by phone at 612.871.4444.

The Minnesota Dance Theatre will present the second weekend of its fall performances at The Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis, Friday through Sunday, Oct. 12-14. Based on a classic Grimm’s fairy tale, the program, “The Enchantment: 12 Dancing Princesses,” features choreography by Lise Houlton. Music by Leos Janácek and Tim Linker will be performed by a strings and piano quintet. The Cowles Center is located at 516 Hennepin Avenue. Tickets are $26-$30, $20 students; available online or by phone at 612.206.3600.

Ritz Theater • Oct. 18-28

The Ballet of the Dolls will present “The Peruvian Nightingale,” a re-telling of a Hans Christian Andersen tale about learning the difference between real love and infatuation, Oct. 18-28, at the Ritz Theater. The Ritz is located at 345 – 13th Avenue NE in Minneapolis. Tickets available online or by phone at 612.436.1129.

In Duluth, the Minnesota Ballet will reprise its 2011 production of “Dracula,” at 7pm, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 19-20, at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. The work “follows the grand tradition of Bram Stoker’s Gothic tale of compulsion, suspense, seduction, and love.”

“Dracula” • Oct. 19-20 • Photo Jeff Frey and Associates

The DECC is located at 350 Harbor Drive. Tickets are $10-$42. In a “Blood Drive for Dracula,” one can donate blood to the Memorial Blood Centers and receive a voucher for buy-one, get-one free tickets. Call the Minnesota Ballet for more information, 218.529.3742.

Works of Edgar Allan Poe will animate James Sewell Ballet’s fall performances at The Cowles Center in Minneapolis, Oct. 26-Nov. 4. The fall program also will be presented at the University of Minnesota Morris, Oct. 19.

For other performance offerings, check out DanceMNThe O’ShaughnessyOrdwayWalker Art Center, Northrop Dance SeriesSouthern TheaterRed Eye Theater, and The Lab Theater, among many others.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The poetry and short stories of Edgar Allan Poe, a literary icon of American Romanticism, provide the grist for James Sewell’s choreographic mill and his company’s new ballet, “Takes On Poe.” James Sewell Ballet will present the new work as part of a dance macabre-themed fall program at The Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis, Oct. 26-Nov. 4.

James Sewell Ballet • Oct. 26-Nov. 4

For “Takes On Poe,” Sewell draws animation from Poe’s poems “The Raven,” “Annabel Lee,” and “The Bells,” and the short stories “The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” all published in the 1840s.

Born in Boston in 1809, Poe grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and gained renown as author, poet, editor, and literary critic before his death in Baltimore in 1849. He has been tagged as the “inventor of the modern detective story.”

The fall program also will include the classical “Giselle Pas De Deux,” and the revival of Sewell’s “Grave Matters” (2011). Kathy Staszak designed costumes and Kevin A. Jones designed lighting for the program.

“An Autumn Scare,” a 60-minute matinee for families, Saturday, Oct. 27, will feature excerpts from the fall program and a costume parade across the stage for young audience members “as they are or will be” for Halloween.

Tickets are available on-line at thecowlescenter.org, and by phone at 612.206.3600.

James Sewell Ballet’s fall season follows on its performance, Oct. 12, at the Tuacahn Center for the Arts in St. George, Utah.

Updated: Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 09:03am: The company’s fall program also will be presented at Edson Auditorium, University of Minnesota Morris, 7:30pm, Friday, Oct. 19. For tickets call 320.589.6077. A ballet master class, free and open to the public, will be offered in the Humanities Fine Arts building, Thursday, Oct. 18, 4pm-5:30pm.

Minneapolis, Minnesota • Updated October 2, 2012, 07:10am

Public funding for small arts organizations in the Twin Cities took a giant leap in 2010 when Arts and Cultural Heritage Funds became available after voters amended Minnesota’s constitution to tax themselves for the arts and other purposes. Requests for 2013 arts funding continue to outpace available dollars, however, at least in one program administered by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council. Overall in 2012, half of the organizations applying for all programs received grants.

Jeff Prauer, MRAC’s executive director, reported in the agency’s October newsletter that the board of directors approved 56 grants in September for the first round of the 2013 Arts Activities Support grant program. Those grants totaled $544,706, or an average of $9,726 each. According to Prauer, another 60 applications in that program round could not be funded.

The $544,706, Prauer continued, “is just 18% of MRAC’s total grants budget for the fiscal year. But it is also almost $50,000 more than MRAC awarded in BOTH rounds of the same program in fiscal year 2009, the last year before Arts and Cultural Heritage Funds became available.”

There is no grant allocation formula among artistic disciplines. In a competitive process, review panels are convened to discuss applications in open meetings and make recommendations to the board of directors. Regular readers of Minnesota Mist will be interested to know that eight dance producing organizations received $79,500, or 14.6%, of September’s Arts Activities grants.

MRAC is one of 11 regional arts councils in Minnesota; it serves the seven counties of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington. MRAC receives its funding from three sources: an appropriation by the Minnesota Legislature from the state’s general fund; the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund approved by voters; and designated funds from the McKnight Foundation.

According to MRAC’s website, it received 840 grant applications from organizations in fiscal 2012 and awarded 419 grants totaling $2,738,936. It received 366 applications from individual artists to the Next Step Fund, supported by McKnight, and awarded 32 grants totaling $155,900.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Last week, the Twin Cities hosted three dozen curators and presenters of dance hailing from domestic and international venues. These visitors attended showcase performances presented over five days by 50 contemporary dance makers and organizations based in this community.

One of those visitors, from New York City, works at bringing presenters from European venues to the U.S. to expose them to new or updated perspectives about the currents in dance on these shores. We spoke following three showcase presentations at the University of Minnesota’s Barbara Barker Center for Dance on Friday afternoon.

She observed that many of the conceptual modern dance works she had viewed during two days here – works based in Western styles and traditions and created by different choreographers – shared a distinct and apparently hermetic sameness. “I want to ask them,” she said, “what it is you think you are trying to communicate to me?” She added that it would be nice to send choreographers on the road across the country for a year just for the sake of their exposure to and challenge by other choreography.

I concurred with her comments about the similarities and, without conclusion, we speculated about the reasons for this seeming lack of diversity, and attributed some of it to the influence of the University of Minnesota’s Dance Program and the many dancers and choreographers it has trained to common purposes and loosed upon the community over the years. The visitor also wondered if the strong, close-knit dynamics of the old Minnesota Independent Choreographers Alliance might yet retain influence among dance makers and pick-up companies in the Twin Cities.

That conversation bore vestiges of another I had two weeks earlier with an accomplished, longtime choreographer and dance instructor. How, I asked, would she describe to a neophyte the differences between modern dance and jazz dance? Between modern and ballet? Between modern and post-modern?

Interestingly, none of her proffered descriptions cited splayed fingers, pointed feet, legs turned out or in, bent knees, or any other physical manifestations that would suggest visual images that one could use to make comparisons. It occurred to me as we talked that if the collective we have difficulty describing what we do by what it looks like, then we probably aren’t communicating all that well, verbally or through movement, about our esoteric choreographic intents.

“Huddle” • Jacob Melczer, Gabriel Anderson, John Beasant, Timmy Wagner • Dan Norman Photography

Whether or not they can explain why, most dance makers think they want and need an audience. Those who do not care if their work can be described want their audience to make of it whatever they will. Then, when audience members make little or nothing of it and return rarely, if at all, there is genuine perplexity about why. Sometimes, dance makers even blame the audience. I have mused about this for years.

My musings received fresh life following a recent visit to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for its “Rembrandt in America” exhibit. The galleries were jammed elbow-to-elbow with an age, gender, and ethnic diversity that would do any outreach worker proud. People moved in an improvised dance more engrossing than many I have seen on stage. More than 105,000 tickets were issued during the run. Exhibit hours were extended for weeks on end. How many dance venues can claim such demand for an entire season let alone one show?

Were all 105,000 attendees experts about art, Dutch painting, and Rembrandt in particular? Did they know on arrival that some of these works were pretty good copies made by students? Assume that they were expert. Why then were so many led around by docents or by self-guided headphone tours? Why did so few fail to read the placard information on the walls? If the information, in whatever form, detracted from the quality of their experience, then why did they avail themselves of it? Did having the information make them unhappy, unappreciative, and less likely to return in the future?

The concept of differentiation, and the notion of describing, explaining, and analyzing it, is not foreign to Mathew Janczewski, a graduate who bounded out of the University of Minnesota to dance with the companies of Shapiro and Smith Dance and Danny Buraczeski’s Jazzdance before-and-while founding ARENA Dances as a vehicle for his own modern dance choreography.

“These Yellow Sands” • Dan Norman Photography

For 17 years, Janczewski has given account of himself and garnered invitations to teach and choreograph for colleges, universities, and other dance companies, commissions to create new works, and resources to create a body of work with – of late – a relatively consistent ensemble of dancers, most of them alums of the University of Minnesota or St. Olaf College. He has assembled a small but effective board of directors and a roster of nearly 70 individual annual donors.

His artist statement acknowledges a responsibility to his audience: “A central challenge in contemporary dance is the degree to which it has become rarefied and dislocated from the culture in which it exists. … I am deeply concerned with making my work relevant to the public that I am addressing.” One can laud his awareness and commitment while considering the degree of his success in meeting that challenge as he developed a signature movement style.

Janczewski always has used the big, broad and dramatic gesture to convey a range of abstract narratives and evoke honest, heart-on his-sleeve emotions. For example, if you are not seeing dancers move with contained torsos in bold, full-throated and circular patterns with high energy in the air and on the floor, with a straight leg extended every 10 seconds, and vertical leaps – often of trios that pop-stop for milliseconds at the top – every 30 seconds, you might question whether you are viewing ARENA Dances.

In a welcome evolution in recent years, he has added texture to his vocabulary and phrasing with smaller, more layered and nuanced movements. This evolution was evident in the program presented at the Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis this past weekend, where Saturday’s performance began five minutes late, following a three minute delay and two minutes of announcements.

For all five dances, Pearl Rea designed lighting and Sonya Berlovitz designed costumes.

Susie Bracken • “Les Petites Choses”

“Huddle,” a 17-minute dance that received its premiere in 2009, opens upon four men, Gabriel Anderson, John Beasant III, Jacob Melczer, and Timmy Wagner, distributed across the stage, barefoot and otherwise attired in variations of business office drag. Three of them occupy their individual real estate, four feet square, outlined by 2″x4″ lengths of lumber. In short order, they add their lumber to an edifice of 2″x4″s, stacked 11 high up-stage-right, that becomes their island fort, tree house, man cave, and the locus of their bonding.

The dance, accompanied by music of Radiohead and 65daysof static, follows these men-children as they sort out who is part of the group, and on what terms, at any given moment. Melczer and Wagner, both  second season members of ARENA, carried most of the duet work.

The late-arriving couple that was seated at the right side of the orchestra a few minutes into the work would not have caused a distracting commotion had they been held outside for 15 additional minutes.

“Judged House,” first presented in 1995 and danced with music by the British composer Michael Nyman, begins with dancers down on the floor, and they stay or return there for much of the 11-minute piece. One imagines that their movements while on the floor, if viewed from above, would look like they were dancing upright and on their feet. Whether standing or not, Renee Starr and Sarah Steichen, both in their third season with ARENA, repeatedly pushed against each other in a rivalry that, to my eye, never resolved who wins.

There is a segment of total silence during “Judged House” when the music stops. A possibly very important man – whether lost audience member or clueless theater employee – chose that moment to noisily enter the house through a door not normally used by the public on the left side of the orchestra. After looking around, he exited at the back with accompanying noise. So far as one knows, he was not an armed and psychotic graduate student.

Audience members who spoke French, seated somewhere in front of me, chuckled as the curtain rose on “Les Petites Choses,” the new, centerpiece work of the evening. As something of a protagonist, Susie Bracken, dancing with ARENA again after eight years in Los Angeles, cut a captivating figure in lime green bra, green tights, green heeled shoes, formal blue gloves, and canary yellow plastic bags. Music by Clint Mansell, Fridge, and (primarily) Katerine provided a club sensibility for a nicely detailed romp by Melczer, Starr, Steichen, and Wagner, replete with vacuous facial expressions.

Mathew Janczewski • ARENA Dances

More than most of Janczewski’s dancers over the years, Bracken infuses her own personality fully into his choreography. In this, she has competition from Wagner who also finds the fusion; as the man in front of me said, “He looks good in this work.” The last segment of “Les Petites Choses,” dominated by Bracken in turquoise skirt and short red jersey, ends on a soft high, reflecting the liquid, languid air of an adagio, danced to cello and violin.

Quelle petite pierre précieuse!

As one result of Janczewski’s diligence over the years, the National Dance Project, managed by the New England Foundation for the Arts, has awarded ARENA Dances a production grant worth thousands of dollars to create “The Main Street Project,” a major dance that will premiere in the fall of 2014. For this concert, Janczewski presented a very brief teaser to whet the audience’s appetite. Wagner performed solo next to a pile of crumpled paper while our attention was drawn to three students who voiced statements to the camera in a video produced by Cully Gallagher.

For the program closer, “These Yellow Sands,” set to music again by Nyman, Janczewski re-worked a 2001 commission from the Walker Art Center’s Momentum Dance Works series. The dancers, Anderson, Beasant, Melczer, Starr, Steichen, and Wagner, acquitted themselves admirably in what was largely a pure movement work.

The same cannot be said for the Cowles Center’s production crew. About 60 seconds into “Yellow Sands,” a large square projection of solid blue color with the words “Power Off” flashed on the back curtain above the dancers. This technical glitch from the preceding video was inexcusable. It marred the final work and wrecked one’s impression of the entire evening.

One might ignore it as an isolated mess-up. However, not six months ago, the retrospective video that was part of the 25th anniversary performances of Shapiro and Smith Dance did not play on cue on opening night. Artistic Director Joanie Smith had to exit the stage to sort out with the crew what presumably had been covered in the dress rehearsal. Another isolated mess-up? Possibly.

The Cowles Center, continuing its opening shakedown cruise into a second season, was intended to avoid these kinds of junior high school AV club screw-ups. What is concerning is that these incidents may reflect a culture of indifference on the part of the theater’s production personnel.

According to a contemporaneous account by a dancer, just before five members of the Zenon Dance Company took the stage on their opening night last spring, a member of the technical crew bluntly told them he did not like dance in general. “You watch it for a minute,” he reportedly said, “and you kind of ‘get it,’ and then it’s just boring. So you can move like that. So what?”

How inspiring and supportive. Clearly, the dude is making what he will of the dance work that he sees and that pays his bills. But.

Our town is small. People talk. If we are to believe just a portion of what we hear, then that comment and the attitude behind it has been voiced on several unguarded occasions by Cowles production personnel. Before a reputation for technical indifference and mediocrity becomes cemented at this new venue, such comments and attitudes need to be kicked in the backside.

Most performers and outside technical people who must rely on the goodwill of these inside folks are reluctant to speak up. Here then, for them, is a message to the Cowles Center production staff:

You are compensated more per hour and per annum than most of the performers on your stage. They are the reason for your employment. Their work is more than just a job; it is their calling and their cause, and it must be yours also. This community did not spend 12 years and $50 million building this facility so that your cavalier attitudes and negligent behaviors could drag down an art form that is raising itself up.

If you cannot get behind that program with enthusiasm, and initiate your learning about what you don’t know, then get the hell out of Dodge. Otherwise, the folks at the Ritz, Southern, Red Eye, and O’Shaughnessy venues will happily take those boring, bothersome dance artists off your hands, and the ticket buyers and donors that come with them.

Minneapolis, Minnesota Updated 12:55am CDT, Sept. 20, 2012

Applause is in order for the Cowles Center for Dance and its decision to roll its ticketing fees “into the price of the ticket when we advertise events.” The venue announced the decision in an email to its performing artists from Andrea Tonsfeldt, marketing communications manager.

“We will make note that the price includes all fees,” Tonsfeldt wrote. “We feel this will cause less confusion and frustration by customers and allow for a more streamlined and positive experience.”

Currently, the ticketing fees are explained on the Cowles Center website this way:

In an effort to be as transparent about pricing as possible, The Cowles Center separates it’s [sic] ticketing fees from the cost of each ticket. Ticket prices for each performance are set by the presenting company. The $4 per ticket fee covers two things: $2 paid to the Vendini ticketing system and $2 for the maintenance of The Goodale Theater.

Tonsfeldt noted in her message that it will take a bit of transition time to change the website and get all of the advertising on the same page.

According to her email, the change is based on feedback from a survey and from comments received over the past weekend, which featured performances by Vocaldente, an a capella ensemble from Germany.

Customers should welcome the change.

When one buys groceries, there is no “convenience fee” tacked on to the bill of sale either to cover the cost of the cashier or the maintenance of the store. Nor, when purchasing tickets for live events, are there itemized charges for “performers,” “light bulbs,” etc. So, what elevates ticketing costs to such high status?

For reasons lost in the mists of time, it has become standard procedure to list ticket charges as add-ons, separate from and over-and-above the list price printed on a ticket. One suspects the practice originated either as an Orwellian way to raise prices and cover a cost center without seeming to raise them, or because producers and presenters of events recognized the ticketing charges as the highway robbery that they are and sought to diffuse their responsibility for them. Either way, consumers are rarely stupid about pricing.

Rather than put up a fight in the marketplace against the purveyors of ticketing services themselves, venues outsourced their frustration and assumed helplessness onto their customers. That works until the customers fight back. Apparently, the Cowles Center experienced enough of that last weekend to prompt the change.

Having one price for admission is the ultimate transparency. I don’t care what it includes. If the ticket is $30, I will pay. If I get a discount for being young, old, a frequent purchaser, or any other reason, that’s great. Just don’t tell me that “Oh, by the way, you need to pay us for the convenience of selling you a ticket – and, at some venues (not the Cowles), for taking your order.”

And please don’t tell me you need a “facility fee” for the rainy day fund when your roof goes bad. Hit me up with a reasoned request for a free-will donation and I will take it into consideration.

The Cowles Center had the chance to get this right when it opened a year ago, but for reasons lost in the mists of time did not. As Tonsfeldt noted, “We tried to be transparent last year with customers by NOT including the fees but we have found it didn’t work that way.”

Better late than never. Other venues?

Duluth, Minnesota

In spite of $100,000 in damage visited upon its sets and backdrops by torrential flash flooding, June 19-20, the intrepid Minnesota Ballet has begun preparing its 2012-2013 performance season.

Minnesota Ballet’s “Dracula” • Oct. 19-20

Donning costumes from last year’s well-received, premiere production of “Dracula,” six of the company’s dozen dancers traveled by float along Tower Street in Superior, Wisconsin, Sept. 2, as part of the Duluth-Superior Pride parade. Their sun-drenched outing promoted the return of “Dracula” for their season opener at the DECC Entertainment and Convention Center, Oct. 19-20.

In the week leading to Labor Day weekend, the dancers worked with the choreographer Penelope Freeh, who traveled from Minneapolis to set a new dance on them. The Ballet will unveil that work, along with new creations by the dancers, at evenings of “Dances and Desserts” at the Board of Trade Building, Sept. 20-21.

Freeh, who has had a long association with the James Sewell Ballet, will present performances of her work at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, Sept. 28-30, with the composer Jocelyn Hagen.

The Minnesota Ballet, led by Artistic Director Robert Gardner since 2007, will offer free sample classes for its school, 10am-1:30pm, Saturday, Sept. 8. Children, teens, and adults are welcome to check out classes in creative movement, ballet, jazz, tap, and modern at 506 West Michigan Street, Duluth.

Dancers in photo l-r: Marco Clemente, Emily Neale, Alana Gergerich, Megan Wolfson,Reinhard von Rabenau, Michael Agudelo

Minneapolis, Minnesota

There may be merit to Bryan Bevell’s contention that Twin Cities theater lacks boldness. The critics Graydon Royce and Rohan Preston probably make valid points that the Minnesota Fringe Festival needs shaking up. Whatever. While I attended few live performances this summer, a handful of scenes and impressions, bold or not, linger against a competitive backdrop of urban parks, lakes, Orchestra Hall construction, and a hapless baseball team.

Devin Carey & Denise Armstead
“The Three Bonnies”
Burnsville Performing Arts Center

The proscenium stage of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center hosted “The Three Bonnies” in a one-night stand, June 8. The work fulfilled a six-year labor of love conceived and choreographed by Denise Armstead and performed in seven movements by her company, DAdance. The ensemble included Devin Carey, Gerry Girouard, Cade Holmseth, Sharon Picasso, Kelly Radermacher, and Armstead. Infused with music of Bonnie Raitt, the Dirty Three, and a sound design by Brian McDonald, the “Bonnies” examined the dynamics and intricacies of human relationships through the lenses of people’s relationships with horses and those of horses with each other. Armstead knows horses from her work at Shadow Creek Farms in Forest Lake, Minnesota.

Beautiful horses and their equally lovely handlers featured prominently in a massive film projection that filled the height and width of the proscenium. While many Minnesota choreographers have employed visual media in their productions, few, if any, have so successfully integrated themes, narrative, and movement into a series of vignettes alternating among film, live movement, and both together. Armstead appears to have taken the time and spent the money needed to get the film’s production values right. So successful were the projections, however, that they often overpowered and drowned out the imagery and choreography of the dancers performing downstage. In pre-performance remarks, Armstead dedicated the evening to the late film producer Robert Hammel whose collaboration had been instrumental to the project, an intellectual and poetic effort throughout.

Noah Bremer & Crane Adams
“Basic North” • Southern Theater
Photo Bill Cameron

One of the most achingly beautiful moments of the summer occurred inside the Southern Theater, June 17. Time suspended during Noah Bremer’s halting, haunting rendition of Jack Lawrence’s tune, “Somewhere Beyond the Sea,” accompanied by Crane Adams on ukelele. The moment happened in “Basic North: A performance in three directions,” produced by Live Action Set and presented over two weeks. The work simultaneously featured three, interwoven and abstract narratives, each with its own director.

The holistic production roster included directors Dario Tangelson, Emily King and Ryan Underbakke, and Bremer; performers Adams, Bremer, Joanna Harmon, Skyler Nowinski, Tyler Olsen, and Katelyn Skelley; collaborators Anna Reichert, Megan Odell, and Eva Mohn; stage manager Ben Gansky; technical director Lindsay Woolward; lighting designer William Harmon; costume designer Mandi Johnson; and production assistant Anna Hickey.

A free, work-in-progress presentation in the James Sewell Ballet Tek Box, June 29, was remarkable both for the amount of full nudity of the six cast members over an hour’s time – very un-Minnesotan – and for how unremarkable was its overall effect. In general, we could use more of the matter-of-fact attitude expressed by Ben Johnson in his welcoming remarks: “If you’re going to be offended, please leave now.” The performance of “Bon Appétit! (Hedonism part 2),” represented the culmination of a three-week residency by the Paris-based choreographer Johan Amselem, the first McKnight International Fellow selected by Northrop Concerts and Lectures as part of its dance fellowship program.

Skylar Nowinski & Katelyn Skelley
“Basic North” • Southern Theater
Photo Bill Cameron

Amselem worked with dancers Rachel Freeburg, Erika Hansen, Melanie Verna, Ryan Dean, Dustin Haug, and Zachary Teska; video artist Kevin Obsatz; DJ Shannon Blowtorch; and dramaturgs Morgan Thorson and Karen Sherman.

From Northrop’s website: “His work is sharp and full of joy, rituals, flesh, and spirituality, along with emotions, pleasure, and greed.”

From Amselem’s program note, addressed to the performers as much as the audience: “We’re still going on exploring the dark side of pleasure. It will be particularly about the pleasure to consume and be consumed. I think of the piece like a recipe that principal ingredients will be your wonderful bodies. As I was thinking on a twisted pleasure that nobody should understand, I came to cannibalism. So we’ll work on generating into the audience the desire to eat you. Kevin will increase the hunger with the video. It will also be about promiscuity, bodies against bodies, desire and fear, excesses-we’ll be on a burning dance floor stove. And for that I count on Shannon’s powerful music and personality live on stage.”

“Bon Appetit!” was all of that, but could have benefited from judicious editing and a more cohesive and compelling dramatic arc.

A fascinating, cheek by jowl performance has been occurring at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts since the opening of its current exhibition, “Rembrandt in America,” June 24. The exhibit is the largest selection of paintings by the 17th century Dutch master and his students ever assembled in the United States. To meet audience demand, the hours have been extended for the balance of the run, ending Sept. 16.

The exhibit aside, it is worth the admission to witness the audience’s rapt attention as its members move through the galleries. It occurred to me that if the Rembrandt exhibit was your average dance concert, there would be no headset narration, no live docents, nor placards on gallery walls. Most dance creators seem to want their work to speak for itself without context, explanation, or interpretation. Given such an approach, they must believe there are worthwhile upsides in their smaller, less diverse, more select audiences.

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ananya Dance Theatre will open the Twin Cities’ fall dance season with four performances of “Moreechika: Season of Mirage” at the Southern Theater, Sept. 6-9.

Sherie Apungu & Ananya Chatterjea • “Moreechika”
National Academy for the Performing Arts
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012 http://www.marianunes.com

Choreographed by Ananya Chatterjea to an original score by the composer Greg Schutte of St. Paul, “Moreechika” received its world premiere, July 27, at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, as part of the New Waves! 2012 Festival.

The theme of the evening-length work is oil and the environmental, cultural, and human costs of its extraction around the world, particularly its impact on women in global communities of color.

Annie Katsura Rollins designed the costumes and giant shadow puppets used in “Moreechika.” Mike Wangen designed the stage lighting. The work runs 85 minutes without intermission.

“Moreechika” is the third in a four-part, multi-year investigation into systemic violence, trauma, resistance, and empowerment. The quartet employs the thematic elements of mud (“Kshoy!/Decay!” 2010), gold (“Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass” 2011), oil (“Moreechika: Season of Mirage” 2012), and water (“Mohona: Estuaries of Desire” 2013).

Following the Minneapolis performances, the troupe will present “Moreechika” at The Conwell Dance Theater in Philadelphia, Oct. 5-6, as part of a residency sponsored by The Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University.

Chitra Vairavan & Sherie Apungu • “Moreechika”
National Academy for the Performing Arts
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012 http://www.marianunes.com

Chatterjea and her company members drew their creative inspiration  from several sources, including the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian activist.

“Saro-Wiwa,” Chatterjea said, “addressed the injustices done by Shell Oil to the Ogoni people and the destruction of their land and ecosystem, for which he was tried and hanged by a military tribunal.”

The perspectives and struggles of the U’wa community of Colombia also informed the work.

“This community is stunned by the excessive consumption of oil by our world,” Chatterjea said. “They think of oil as ruiria, blood of the earth, which must be respected as part of the natural world.”

Chatterjea also drew inspiration from the responses of the indigenous Kichwa women of Ecuador to Chevron Oil, and from the current struggle in North America against the Keystone XL Pipeline through Native American lands.

Ananya Dance Theatre is a company of women artists of color working at the intersection of social justice and artistic excellence to tell the stories of ordinary lives and extraordinary dreams with an emotional intensity and physical prowess that draws upon the company’s choreographic aesthetic and technique.

“Moreechika: Season of Mirage”
Ananya Dance Theatre
Southern Theater, Minneapolis, Sept. 6-9, 2012
Conwell Dance Theater, Philadelphia, Oct. 5-6, 2012
Photo: vpaulphotos.com © 2012

Chatterjea’s aesthetic integrates the sculptural sensuality, powerful footwork, and emotional articulation of Odissi, a classical Indian dance form, with the pure lines and breath release of yoga and the bodily awareness of energy from the martial art of Chhau.

Chatterjea, a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography and a 2012 McKnight Artist Fellowship for choreography, serves as a professor and Director of Dance in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.

Minneapolis performances of “Moreechika” are scheduled for Thu. and Sun., Sept. 6 and 9, at 7:30pm, and Fri. and Sat., Sept. 7 and 8, at 8pm. The Southern Theater is located in the Seven Corners District of Minneapolis at 1420 Washington Avenue South. General admission tickets are available through TicketWorks at 612.343.3390, or online at ticketworks.com.

Philadelphia performances are scheduled for Fri. and Sat., Oct. 5 and 6, at 7:30pm. The Conwell Dance Theater is located at 1801 North Broad Street. General admission tickets are available by calling 215.204.1122.

More articles about “Moreechika”:

Gary Peterson serves as chair, board of directors, of Ananya Dance Theatre.

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