Saturday, December 27, 2008

"Mass" and "Missa Brevis" on Minnesota stages

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the new year, Minnesota stages will feature two major musical works rooted in the liturgy of the Mass and themes about war.
The Minnesota Orchestra will present Mass, A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Jan. 22-23. Composed by Leonard Bernstein, the work received its first performance at the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Missa Brevis will take the stage of the Northrop Dance Series, Mar. 19. This modern dance classic, choreographed by José Limón, will feature members of the New York-based Limón Dance Company.

Read my Oct. 3 preview of both productions here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

In the beginning

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Forty years ago, on Dec. 21, 1968, Apollo 8 lifted from its Florida launch pad for a three-day journey to the moon, the first time humans traveled to and from another world. Once in lunar orbit, astronauts Frank Bormann, James Lovell, and William Anders circled 10 times in 20 hours.

During their ninth orbit, on Christmas Eve in the United States, the men delivered a television broadcast showing the lunar surface below them while reading the first 10 verses from the Bible's book of Genesis. It has been estimated that a fourth of all the people alive at the time saw the broadcast.

Apollo 8 returned to Earth on Dec. 27. Time magazine named the three astronauts Men of the Year for 1968. Their command module is displayed at Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry. Seven months later, July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 astronauts landed on the moon for the first time, touching down on the Sea of Tranquility.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slavery in the 21st century

Minneapolis, Minnesota

There are now more slaves on the planet than at any time in human history. So says E. Benjamin Skinner who spent four years researching the subject. His A Crime So Monstrous: Face-to-Face with Modern-Day Slavery (New York: Free Press, 2008) provides a firsthand account of the global slave trade and explores why efforts to stop it have failed. An article, A World Enslaved, is adapted from the book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Snow today in Las Vegas!

Aren't we glad we did not spend money to be there on vacation right now? Especially since it is time to go outside and shovel the snow that fell on the sidewalks in Minneapolis last night!

I received a call today from the daughter of a decades-long attendee of the Camel Party. This daughter's son had written a paper about Festivus Camelus for school. His teacher, who has never attended the party ("That's really sad!" I heard the son say in the background), had expressed skepticism and asked him to revise and re-submit the paper. The purpose of the call was to do some fact-checking about the origins of the Camel Song and whether the party had been named after the song. (Not!) The young man already had done some original research while attending this year's camel experience, and I suggested to his mother that he cite the blog entry below in his references. About this teacher, what was it Jesus said? "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."

Four more days until the Winter Solstice!

Monday, December 15, 2008

In the bleak midwinter

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Dec. 13 broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor took place before a live audience at New York's Town Hall. Guests Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer joined The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band to perform a special and "must hear" holiday version of "In the Bleak Midwinter".

Monday, December 8, 2008

Festivus Camelus

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Her presence delighted as much as it startled. Neither she nor any of her relatives had attended the previous gatherings, held for 29 consecutive years on the first Saturday of December in a tony neighborhood of Minneapolis. While not prepared for it, members of the clan took her appearance on the scene in stride, feeling a brimming excitement and joy that she had finally joined them in year 30.

Her name was Claudia, and she was beautiful, embodying and confirming hopes and dreams that everything was possible.

She was taller and classier than some had imagined her to be, and her pouting mouth, long eyelashes, and long neck – moving with an easy grace – lent an air of affectionate assurance and captivating charisma. A temperature in the single digits, accompanied by wind gusts to 38mph, turned her exhalations steamy.

Still, she stood on the front lawn for two hours in the new snow, greeting guests with a gentle familiarity that suggested all of them were old friends.
Camera flashes accentuated the floodlit scene as she held court with anyone seeking a record of their encounter with her celebrity. An escort stood nearby to insure safety and propriety. Her daughter had sent regrets, having her own holiday party to attend.

Her family's dynastic name, Camelus Dromedarius, placed her among the 90% of its members with a single hump on their backs, and distinguished them from their Camelus Bactrianus cousins who carry two.

That she had joined the Camel Party festivities in person felt perfectly natural. After all, her family had provided the organizing iconography of the clan's convenings from the beginning. From two original tapestrys, the founders's collection of items camelus grew to include photos, postcards, drawings, and statues small and large. In addition, there is the annual cake, sculpted in the form of a dromedary in repose, covered in colorful icing, and measuring up to three feet long.

The robust rendition of the Camel Song, composed sometime around year nine, opens the last third of songs on the caroling list, while a life-sized camel puppet wends its way through the throng. New verses have been added over the years to mark milestones and reflect the changing zeitgeist. The 30th year introduced lyrics celebrating a dawning era of change.

The Camel Party always celebrates the change within continuity and the continuity within change.

What started in 1979 as a non-sectarian holiday gathering of relatives and friends has evolved into an experience, a production, and a "happening" (a term for those alive in the late 1960s) that has hosted thousands of souls in ways beguiling, bemusing, and sometimes outrageous.

Colored lights. Wreaths. Garlands. Poinsettias. Potluck foodstuffs. Piles of shoes. Dancing socks. Rock 'n roll. Blues. Rhythm and blues. Chicken dances. Instrumental ensembles of piano, accordion, trombone, oboe, flute, guitar. Carols, naughty and sacred. Desserts for days. Wine, water, and soda. Crowds and conversations of hundreds. Welcome and inclusion. Fashions new and old. Santa and elves.

For attendees constant and episodic, Festivus Camelus notes and incorporates transitions of education, career, conception, birth, health, and death. It forever marks its participants who return from all corners of Minnesota, Madison, San Diego, San Francisco, Boston, New Haven, New York, Washington, Canada, Germany, and China.

Along with everything,

It warms the cockles, cockles, cockles of our fiery pagan hearts,
In the cold of icy December,
Wild revelries remember,
The heat of the golden sun! *

* Refrain from
The Camel Song, © 2008, Davies/Schiller

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Harvey Milk and 30 years

Minneapolis, Minnesota

On Tuesday, on one of the rare occasions she has done so during the past 30 years, Dianne Feinstein spoke about the events in San Francisco, Nov. 27, 1978, that started her on the path to national prominence as a United States senator from California.

In an interview with Rachel Gordon of the San Francisco Chronicle, Feinstein, who in 1978 was president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, recounted how she had found the bullet-riddled body of her colleague, Supervisor Harvey Milk, and checked for his pulse by placing a finger into one of the bullet holes.

Milk had been murdered with five shots fired at close range from the gun of former Supervisor Dan White. Minutes before killing Milk, White had used four bullets to kill Mayor George Moscone in his City Hall office.

Moscone was a progressive figure, intent on opening up San Francisco's political culture to a host of groups who had not been part of the city's power structure. Milk had been elected in 1977 as the first openly-gay official in California, representing the Castro neighborhood. White, who had represented a more conservative district, had recently resigned his seat on the Board and then changed his m
ind. Moscone, who had stated publicly that he would reappoint White, was persuaded not to do so by Milk and others.

The murders capped a tumultuous period in San Francisco's history. Nine days earlier, Leo Ryan, the area's congressional representative, was one of 900 people – many of them from the Bay Area – who died in a wave of homicides and suicides at the People's Temple cult community in Jonestown, Guyana. Even earlier, the city had been the scene of the Patricia Hearst kidnapping, the Zebra killings, and the Golden Dragon restaurant massacre.

Feinstein became interim mayor and later won election to the post in her own right.

White's conviction, May 21, 1979, on two counts of voluntary manslaughter – instead of premeditated, 1st degree murder – prompted the White Night Riots by San Francisco's gay community. His trial gave rise and national prominence to the "Twinkie defense."

White's release on parole after a mere five years in prison occasioned a protest rally on Castro and Market Streets. Live entertainment was provided by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Dead Kennedys band, and the folk singer Blackberry. James Davies and I were in San Francisco at the time and attended the January 1984 event.

White asphyxiated himself, Oct. 21, 1985.

Three weeks before the 1978 assassinations, Milk and the nascent, national gay and lesbian communities had celebrated the defeat of California Proposition 6, The Briggs Initiative. The initiative would have banned gay men and lesbians from teaching in California's public schools. Sponsored by John Briggs, Orange County's representative in the state assembly, the measure received overwhelming initial public support. Milk helped lead the statewide opposition. Opponents included Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Voters defeated the measure by more than a million votes.

• • • • •

On Wednesday, my reading about the Chronicle's interview with Feinstein prompted a visceral sadness that brought tears to my eyes as I recalled the turbulence of those days. Consciously, we may move on in life, but feelings stay with us. However, at the same time this emotion surged, the instant realization that fully 30 years had passed gave me a mental image that felt as though an intellectual file drawer had slammed shut on those events. The passage of 30 years suddenly had relegated them to a more objective and non-present lens of history.

I was startled to read Feinstein's comments that Milk and White had met weekly as colleagues, if not friends, for morning coffee in the Castro neighborhood. This information is confirmed in an essay for the Chronicle by Willie Brown, a former member of the California Assembly and a former mayor of San Francisco. Somehow, this bit of history has not been part of the popular myths and legends that have evolved surrounding the life and times of Harvey Milk.

, a film by Gus Van Sant about that life and those times, opened nationally on Wednesday. It received its world premiere showing at the Castro Theatre, Oct. 28. It features Sean Penn as Milk, Josh Brolin as White, Victor Garber as Moscone, Emile Hirsch as Milk confidant Cleve Jones, and James Franco and Diego Luna as Milk's lovers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We value water, land, legacy

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In an email to supporters today, Paul Austin, executive director, Conservation Minnesota, thanked volunteers for their work to pass The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution:

Minnesotans proved yesterday that clean water and conservation are a top priority. More Minnesota voters cast ballots for the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment than voted for either Barack Obama, John McCain, Norm Coleman or Al Franken. More Minnesotans voted for the Amendment than voted in 2002 and 2006 for Governor Pawlenty or for Senator Amy Klobuchar in 2006.

As of mid-morning, the total voting in favor of the Amendment was 1,634,027. Counting unmarked ballots, which are considered ‘no’ votes, 56.08% of voters supported the Amendment! ....

Congratulations to all of you and all Minnesotans for making a lasting difference for our magnificent state.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Some poets romanticize it as "the majesty of the people," those long lines of folks waiting to celebrate winning events or pay respect to fallen leaders. On this day, we simply call it waiting to vote, and in Minneapolis the morning dawned with picture perfection.

The precinct where I live on the edge of downtown Minneapolis consists of 28 city blocks. About 4,500 of us live there. Until today, I have never seen so many people from the neighborhood on the streets at the same time.

After joining the line a block from the entrance to our polling place at the Minnesota Church Center, it took an hour of waiting before my ballot was handed to me. It was a lovely wait. Bright blue skies. Temperatures approaching 70 degrees – on Nov. 4! Sunlight sparkling off the golden leaves still clinging to their trees. The slightest of breezes. Some quiet conversations taking place here and there. Mostly, though, quiet.

I remarked to the woman in front of me that it felt like waiting in line before an Obama rally. "Isn't that what this is?" she replied.

The residents of my neighborhood are 98% renters and mostly young, students, and others starting to get their bearings in life and the city. Such a wonderful and motley lot! In small groups they share daily the tales of their toils on front stoops, in coffee shops, and online.

To look at them waiting to vote is to see calm, certitude, and strength. They are the future. They know why they are there. A few ideologues there may be, but no one has brainwashed them. Things have gone awry and they are there to take it back. They are voting their hopes and their dreams.

I love every one of them for it.

McCain may receive 60 votes from Precinct 6-4. There will be a handful of votes for four or five others. The rest belong to Obama.

When Marilyn finally handed me my ballot, I remarked that today's turnout will make up for all those years when she and her colleagues waited all day for 95 of us to show up. For the past 36 years, I have not missed a primary, general, or special election save one. People who think their votes do not count should participate in a primary election for municipal candidates!

There are small-print decisions to be made on two sides – three columns to a side – of a legal sized ballot. In addition to state and city questions, we have candidates for president, Congress, the legislature, school board, soil and water conservation commission, and more than 30 judicial races.

When I feed my ballot into the tabulating machine at 11:24, the counter notes that I am number 738. I calculate that 190 have voted each hour since 7am. After applying the red "I Voted" sticker to my sweater, I head out and count another 150 people standing in line, with more approaching from all directions. At that rate, 2,500 will complete their voting by 8pm.

Walking through downtown on the Nicollet Mall, the red stickers appear everywhere. These are our badges of majesty, worn by us who have drunk the kool-aid of America.

We believe.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Jay Weiner has written a comprehensive overview for about the 10-year efforts leading up to the Nov. 4 ballot initiative known as The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment:
"Voters to write the ending on a 10-year capitol tale about the future of the state's quality of life"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Even the livestock are talkin' about it

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot has succeeded in generating a great deal of commentary and debate throughout the state. Even animals are getting into the act.

George, a singing moose, has posted a special, two-minute message for voters on YouTube.

Vote YES! for Minnesota on Nov. 4.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Scandal v. Incompetence

Minneapolis, Minnesota

CNN often promotes its team of pundits by airing a video clip of Lou Dobbs posing the question "Doesn't anybody deserve a government that works?" When it comes to conducting presidential elections, one wonders.

Early voting started in Florida today, as it has and will in many states. Already, there are problems. Not with the voting per se (at least, not yet – stay tuned). It seems that some of the machines into which voters insert their driver's licenses to verify identity and prevent fraud are not working. As a result, people are standing in line for up to three hours waiting to vote.

Surely, Kurt S. Browning, Florida's secretary of state and chief elections officer, knew that voting would start today. Why did he not have these machines tested and in working order? Cue the allegations of voter suppression and bring on the lawyers! Because Browning is a Republican, appointed to his post in 2006 by Florida's Republican governor-elect, Charlie Crist, you just know these snafus are only the beginning of a Republican plot to steal the election for John McCain.

Up in Ohio, the Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, already has been through the federal appeals process to the Supremes in Washington. In essence, the high court said that voter registration lists did not have to be verified against the database of driver's licenses. Hopefully, however, Brunner will have instructed her election judges to phone the cops and the media should Mickey Mouse or other suspect registrants actually show up to vote. Everyone will be watching because, you just know, the Democrats stand ready to fraudulently steal the election for Barack Obama.

You just know. Eight years after Bush v. Gore, the United States of America still cannot conduct a presidential election free from the taint of voting scandal or plain incompetence.

The whole mess is foreign to me. In Minnesota, where I vote, we fill in oval blanks on a paper ballot to indicate our voting preferences before we personally feed those ballots into a machine that counts them. Before the election judges give us a ballot, we sign our names next to our name and address on the computer printout of the registration list. Those of us who can produce sufficient identification – that proves we-are-who-we-are and live-where-we-do – can register and vote on election day. We have the highest rate of voter participation in the country, and we make it work every time.

In our primary election balloting in September, two candidates for the Minnesota Supreme Court were so close in vote totals that a statewide re-count was required for the first time since 1962. Election officials surprised even themselves by accomplishing the task in two days, rather than the several they had allotted. There were no partisan or non-partisan arguments about the process or the outcome.

Maybe in Minnesota we just understand the meaning of "Yes we can!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Minnesota Dance Theatre, Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For the fall performances of the Minnesota Dance Theatre, Artistic Director Lise Houlton assembled a group of dances that mirrors much of Minnesota's dance community, reflecting a diversity of choreographic impulses, a strong level of technical competence and artistic expression, and an earnest desire to impress. While the articulation of a clear and compelling purpose and vision has not been the troupe's strong suit, the present program was more cohesive and satisfying than many of its recent stagings.

The program, presented this weekend at The Lab Theater in Minneapolis's Warehouse District, offered two world premieres. Mathew Janczewski's Trébuchet was the more successful. Working with a variety of pulsing music tempos by Alexander East, Janczewski created a tight ensemble work that featured dynamic duets for Sam Feipel and Eve Schulte, and Justin Leaf and Melanie Verna, along with brief solos for each. The dance contains the large, athletic movement that characterizes Janczewski's signature style, but injected a welcome level of textured subtlety and nuance that has been absent in his modern choreography. His own company, Arena Dances, will perform next weekend at the Southern Theater.

Choreography comes less easily to Houlton. Her strong concepts benefit from decent ensemble patterns whose flow often is interrupted by awkward movement and phrasing for duets and trios. Point of Departure, her new ballet set to Haydn's Symphony No. 45, introduced a sharp and angular vocabulary that repeated and became more rounded and fluid over the course of the four movements as she connected more fully with the music's whimsy and humor. The company's three women, particularly Verna, smiled and moved gracefully in this showcase for the company's seven dancers. The men, however, were pressed to keep pace and to own the sometimes inorganic movement. An exception was Maxamillian Neubauer's solo turn in the last section when moments of personality emerged. Overall, a pleasant 30 minutes of dancing.

The choreography of Lynne Taylor-Corbett is a frequent choice for many artistic directors who came of age as dancers during the 1970s and 1980s. Her Appearances, created for the Atlanta Ballet in 1984, juxtaposed gestures and imagery that loomed large against the cool jazz music of Pat Metheny with a smooth movement texture, not unlike good yogurt! It was danced cleanly by Verna, Schulte, Leaf, Feipel, Justin Marie Miller, and Abdo Sayegh.

Excerpts from two other ballets were performed expertly by guest artists Kaitlyn Gilliland and Ask la Cour. If one must see the Act 2 pas de deux from Swan Lake yet again, it should be performed with the high level of precision and effortless partnering displayed by these members of the New York City Ballet. While technically masterful, I found their performance cold and passionless, a view my companion did not share. On the other hand, there was no dispute about the passionate commitment that coursed through the duet from Agon, George Balanchine's neoclassic classic from 1957. Gilliland and la Cour danced it exquisitely, providing the evening's artistic highpoint.

Unlike their counterparts in theater and music who enjoy larger and more consistently loyal audiences for their work, many dancemakers and dance organizations eschew the use of program notes to explain what they are about. Not so with Minnesota Dance Theatre for these performances; let us hope their inclusion continues and inspires others.

Like a good many dance organizations, Minnesota Dance Theatre's persona could benefit from a scouring of its marketing materials to remove misnomers such as "groundbreaking," "extreme," and "daring." Along with quotations from long-dead critics who have not seen the current company and its work, these should be replaced with straightforward descriptors and more contemporary commentary.

The performances this weekend were the first for dance presented at The Lab Theater which opened last month under the direction of Mary Kelley Leer. As the former empress of Ruby's Cabaret from 1985 to 1992, Leer helped birth Moore by Four, Ballet of the Dolls, and many others. The Lab's limestone brick walls and cavernous space lend the enterprise a stronger air of flexibility and solidity than did Ruby's various venues. Going forward, however, more than one ticket seller will be needed to accomodate the 350 guests who will flock to the new venue's more popular attractions; it is not acceptable for a program to begin 11 minutes past the posted curtain time.

Minnesota Dance Theatre's fall performances continue, Oct. 18 at 7pm and Oct. 19 at 2pm, at The Lab Theater, 700 North 1st Street, Minneapolis. 612.338.0627 or

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hunter's Moon

Minneapolis, Minnesota

I want to acknowledge that the full Hunter's Moon rose several hours ago. I always find this moonlight comforting, associating it with turning inward, walking at night, and the theater. There is a story here, one that begins in 1966. Unfortunately, Gabe wants his nightly walk in the park and time is scarce. The fall foliage is particularly stunning this year, and the trees in Fair Oaks Park, across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
, are at their peak, even at night!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nov. 4: Vote YES for Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chapter 1: Vote YES for Minnesota
Chapter 2: Scenes and reflections
Chapter 3: The arts's need
Chapter 4: Allocating the resources

Chapter 1. Vote YES for Minnesota

Growing up with a Republican father and Democratic mother, I developed an early propensity for telling other people how to vote. The impulse was reinforced one very rainy day when my dad and I walked door-to-door distributing leaflets that told people to vote for taxes to build schools. He told me I would take pride and satisfaction in having helped to build them. He was right. This posting continues that tradition.

On Nov. 4, Minnesotans should Vote YES √ on the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to protect the Minnesota we love. Those voters who skip this ballot question will be counted as voting no.

YES will amend the Minnesota Constitution to dedicate funding to protect drinking water sources; protect and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; preserve arts and cultural heritage; support parks and trails; and protect and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales tax by 3/8 of 1% beginning July 1, 2009. The tax increase will expire after 25 years.

YES will generate $300 million annually, beginning in 2010:

• 33% for a clean water fund;

• 33% for an outdoor heritage fund;

• 19.75% for arts, arts education and access, and preservation of history and cultural heritage;

• 14.25% for parks and trails of regional and statewide significance.

Our natural heritage and arts and culture play important roles in our economy, the tourism industry, and our quality of life. They must be protected and enhanced.

will cost an average household $56 per year in sales tax. It will prevent long-term priorities from falling victim to short-term budget needs, and will produce benefits both tangible and not.

YES invests in the future of our state. Residents of that time and place will applaud our collective foresight, although our individual motivations for voting YES will vary. My own reasons are complex, hold special meaning for me, and have a particular focus on arts and culture.

Chapter 2. Scenes and reflections

Recently, I passed through several Minnesota River towns, traveling south on U.S. Highway 169 from Minneapolis to Mankato. That drive on a sputtering Saturday morning brought to mind many of the stories and things I love about Minnesota.

The city of Shakopee, 17 miles southwest of my house near downtown Minneapolis, serves as the seat of Scott County government and home to the Canterbury Downs racetrack. For decades, it also has hosted the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, a cultural state-of-mind as much as it is a geographical place. The festival serves as an imaginative commercial venue for many of our artists, crafters, and performers from mid-August through September, a time when sumac turns red and seasonal vendors along the roadsides display the enticements of apples, pumpkins, sweet corn, and potatoes – plus loads of caramel for the apples.

Past the town of Belle Plaine, one reaches Le Sueur in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant, 30 miles from Minneapolis. Here, the Giant Celebration, known formerly as Corn on the Curb Days, takes place for three days every August.

As it passes through the Nicollet County seat of St. Peter, Highway 169 assumes the name of Minnesota Avenue. State residents worth their salt know the story of how Joseph Rolette, a senator, thwarted the attempt in 1857 to move the territorial capital from St. Paul to St. Peter when he absconded with the legislative bill that was on its way to the governor for signature. Gov. Willis Gorman is said to have owned the land on which the capitol building would have been constructed. St. Peter never became a major center of population and commerce.

The town nonetheless became an aspiration of Lutheran boys and girls after Gustavus Adolphus College set up shop a few blocks off of Minnesota Avenue. A liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Gustavus offers study in several artistic disciplines and hosts visiting performers on its campus.

Once upon a time, until life led elsewhere, the college and its iconic Christ Chapel beckoned to me. I have since become increasingly interested in stories about King Gustavus Adolphus, founder of the Swedish Empire during 30 years of warfare that helped preserve the Lutheran Reformation. After his death in 1632, the throne passed to his daughter, Christina. One of my Peterson forbears was among the Swedes who settled the area around Wilmington, Delaware, in the late 1630s, and named the Christina River there after the queen.

Back in present-day Minnesota, Highway 169 soon reaches the cities of Mankato and North Mankato at the place where the Minnesota and Blue Earth rivers meet. Nearly 50,000 people live in the area. I almost joined them for two years.

In 1984, I had been accepted into a Master’s program at Minnesota State University. My partner, James Davies, and I rode a Greyhound Bus from Minneapolis to Mankato to check out the city and the 303-acre campus of 14,000 students. Comparing notes at the end of the day, we learned that both of us had experienced an uninterrupted series of encounters that felt “not quite right.” After some reflection, I interpreted these encounters as “signs” and declined the invitation to study.

That decision had three major consequences in the following years. First, I increased my attendance at various dance classes, leading to more than 20 years of involvement with Minnesota’s dance world and stints as manager of Zenon Dance Company, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, and James Sewell Ballet. Then, I started co-hosting a radio program for more than eight years, turning my part of the show into a public affairs forum for the Twin Cities GLBT community during the development of the community’s social, political, and commercial infrastructure. Finally, I planned the trip that Davies and I took in 1986 to England, France, Italy, India, and Hong Kong.

From Mankato, Highway 169 continues south through Garden City, Amboy, and Blue Earth, before entering Iowa just past Elmore, the hometown of Vice President Walter Mondale. During a social lunch that Davies and I had with him three years ago, he mentioned that he strongly supports Mrs. Mondale’s advocacy for the arts, but wishes that orchestras played more music by Benny Goodman instead of more classical composers.

American taxpayers have invested in the development and well being of the U.S. highway system since the 1920s. I applaud the foresight of their investments. U.S. Highway 14 begins in Chicago, Illinois, and runs west to Yellowstone National Park, another taxpayer project, in Wyoming. Highway 14 intersects 169 in Mankato.

Within Minnesota, Highway 14 passes through more than 30 towns and cities, including Winona, Rochester, Owatonna, New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Walnut Grove, Tracy, and Lake Benton. Those who have lived here for any length of time have heard of these places; lifers have visited many of them.

Winona is a college town on the Wisconsin border, home to Saint Mary’s University and the Page Artist Series, the largest presenter of performing artists in southeastern Minnesota. Rochester hosts a large presence by IBM in addition to serving as the world nerve center of the Mayo Clinic. Included among many music and theater organizations in the Rochester region is one of our strongest community theaters, the Rochester Civic Theatre.

Walnut Grove was the real life setting for the Laura Ingalls Wilder book On the Banks of Plum Creek, while Tracy received honorable mention in The Long Winter. I started kindergarten when we lived in Tracy for a year while my dad helped string telephone wires throughout Lyon County. During his visit with us in 1957, my grandpa and I searched the night sky outside our house on Roosevelt Street for a glimpse of Sputnik.

For 49 days between April and June this year, many of us cheered vicariously the unfolding adventure of Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte. After graduating a month early from Chaska High School, this duo-with-a-dream set off to paddle 2,200 miles up the Minnesota River to Big Stone Lake, “down” the Red River to Lake Winnipeg, across that lake to the Hayes River, and then through several rapids to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

The men drew their inspiration from Canoeing With the Cree, the book by Eric Sevareid that recounted his trip with Walter Port along the same route in 1930 at age 18. After receiving his BA from the University of Minnesota, Sevareid built an international career as a print and electronic journalist and commentator. Bloomfield and Witte are now freshmen at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Reportedly, one of their next adventures will be a kayak race in Alaska. We look forward to following their adventures.

Recently, I wrote about the role that water and lakes have played in my life and in the lives of Minnesotans. My family’s camping, swimming, and fishing experiences included Lake Minnetonka in Hennepin County, Fish Lake near Cambridge, Crooked Lake in Anoka, the North Shore of Lake Superior, and lakes near Alexandria, Bemidji, Annandale, Buffalo, and Chisago City. Years ago, we caught small mouth bass while standing in the middle of the Mississippi River downstream from the nuclear power plant in Monticello. More years ago, my parents and I stood in Lake Itasca at the Mississippi’s headwaters.

One specific lake eluded me.

In the late 1960s, I ran with a crowd that had an affinity for the theater department at St. Cloud State University where many of us vowed to pursue our careers as thespians. St. Cloud is located 72 miles northwest of Minneapolis, just off I-94. Seventy miles further is Alexandria, where St. Cloud State is affiliated with Theatre L’Homme Dieu, a professional summer theater situated on Lake L’Homme Dieu. We thought – at least, I did, until life led elsewhere – that spending summers performing on the L’Homme Dieu stage would mean we had arrived in life.

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves our stories by operating archives, museums, and 26 historic sites, including the Minnesota History Center, Mill City Museum, Historic Fort Snelling, Split Rock Lighthouse, Mille Lacs Indian Museum, Charles A. Lindbergh House, and others. In addition, many of the state’s 87 counties maintain their own historical societies; I saw a couple of them on Highway 169.

I gained first-hand appreciation for the value of these repositories from my travels in Kansas rather than in Minnesota. In a journey of great discovery and insight eight years ago, supported by the Jerome Foundation, I spent two weeks reviewing old newspapers, census records, photos, and histories in Topeka, Junction City, Salina, Dodge City, Meade, and Arlington. From the individual threads gleaned at each of these stops, I was able to weave together the 360-year story of one family’s pursuit of the American Dream and to place it in the context of a nation’s effort to perfect itself.

I applaud the foresight of those who established and have maintained historical societies, large and small, in all parts of our country.

Minnesota’s 19,600 individual artists and nearly 1,600 nonprofit arts and culture organizations provide full-time jobs for more than 22,000 people. An additional 10,400 for-profit arts businesses employ more than 58,000 people. This industry generates annual state and local government revenues of $94 million, and nearly a billion dollars of economic activity.

In 2004, statewide attendance for arts and culture activities totaled 14,487,592, more than triple the combined attendance of 4,610,201 for all professional sports teams. I have enjoyed attending both arts events and sports events.

In addition to direct economic returns, our arts and culture industry attracts businesses and their employees, stimulates development, and drives tourism. Five of our top tourist draws are the Walker Art Center, Guthrie Theater, Ordway Center, Orchestra Hall, and the Children’s Theatre.

I know this scene well. With dance companies, I worked with people in more than 50 communities, as far ranging as Grand Rapids, Crookston, Morris, Fergus Falls, Scandia, Little Falls, and Ely. Over the years, I have been a member of 18 panels that reviewed arts grant applications and recommended funding. This process has made me familiar with hundreds of individuals and organizations, in all disciplines and corners of the state – Lanesboro, Duluth, and Rochester among them.

At whatever stage of their artistic development, all of these people embody the core values of artistic excellence, accountability and transparency as stewards of public resources, innovation, and respectful partnering in the intellectual and creative development of our people.

Chapter 3. The arts’s need

The legislature established the first state arts agency in 1903. Successive changes fixed its name as the Minnesota State Arts Board, and established 11 regional arts councils to distribute funds and to maintain a degree of local involvement and decision-making. Public investments in the short- and long-term health of our arts and culture industry reach all 87 counties.

Although the legislature has been episodically very generous in its appropriations for the arts, its overall investment has not kept pace with inflation and growth of field since 1977:

• The 1977 appropriation of $500,000 is worth $1.8 million in 2008 dollars. A lobbying effort by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts succeeded in raising the 1978 appropriation to $1.77 million – equal to $5.98 million in 2008. Subsequent appropriations increased or decreased modestly from 1978 until 1983, when the appropriation was cut to $1.5 million.

• The 1983 appropriation of $1.5 million was equal to $2.48 million in 1997 dollars, a year when the actual appropriation was, more favorably, $6.98 million. However, the annual appropriations in that 14-year period fluctuated, year-by-year, within a range from –7% to +52%.

• With passage of the initiative by Gov. Arne Carlson, the legislature appropriated $13 million for 1998. This was reduced somewhat to $12.6 million for 2002, and to $8.59 million for each year 2003 to 2007.

• The appropriation for 2008 is $10.33 million – 73% higher than 30 years ago, after 1978 is adjusted to 2008 dollars. The average annual rate of inflation over the 30 years was 4.14%.

• The average annual inflation rate of 2.71% during the 10 years from 1998 to 2008 makes the $13 million appropriation for 1998 equal to $17 million in 2008 and, if extended, $17.9 million in 2010.

Along with our natural heritage, the arts need a stable and protected source of funding. The YES amendment will provide that.

Chapter 4. Allocating the resources

The legislature will retain oversight of the designated funds generated by the YES amendment. It is estimated that $58 million will be generated annually for arts and culture beginning in 2010. A possible $28 million of those funds will be allocated to historical societies and cultural heritage.

It is expected, but not yet established, that the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Regional Arts Councils will serve as the legislature’s vehicles for administering $30 million of new resources for the arts. Members of those bodies have been holding conversations with artists and organizations about how the money might best be spent. I also have a list of suggestions for them to consider.

First, however, let us assume that – instead of having $30 million of new money, added to $10.3 million of existing money, making $40.3 million available for 2010 – we will have $30 million of total money actually available.

A number of factors could produce that scenario. We know that (a) the legislature that convenes in February to craft budgets for 2010 and 2011 will face a projected deficit for that biennium of at least $1 billion, and possibly as much as $4 billion; (b) the governor is loathe to raise taxes; (c) the state and national economies are in less than sterling shape; and (d) a major lobbying effort will probably be required to maintain the current appropriation. As prudent stewards, we should plan for how we will “make do” under the more conservative scenario.

My wish list begins by restoring all arts programs for 2010 to the level they enjoyed in 1998 when funding was $13 million. This will require an allocation of $17.9 million to fund the same programs for the same number of communities, organizations, and individual artists, adjusted for inflation.

The following funding increases should then be made to allow for inflation and growth of field: (a) Individual artist initiatives - $1 million; (b) Institutional organization support - $1.5 million; (c) Presenting organization support - $500,000; (d) Arts Across Minnesota touring - $500,000; (e) Arts education initiatives - $2 million.

The powers-that-will-be should make an annual grant of $250,000 to the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota. This grant should be earmarked specifically to accelerate the acquisition, processing, and retention of records for archival purposes from performing arts organizations throughout Minnesota.

Prior to 2003, the McKnight Foundation’s capital program made equipment and technical assistance grants to its grantees over and above its general operating grants. Grantees were eligible for one capital grant every five years. Applications were straight-forward, and their approval helped build an organization’s physical infrastructure, including such things as telephones that work, computer networks that can talk to each other, lighting equipment, portable floors, etc.

Anyone who has participated on a Regional Arts Council panel to decide which six of 18 equally meritorious applicants should get computer hardware and software will understand this need. An $850,000 pool of technical assistance funds should be administered by the Regional Arts Councils for all grantees of the Arts Board and the RACs, regardless of budget size.

If innovation and collaboration are keys to advancement in any endeavor, then funds should be available to any individual artist or arts organization to commission new work from Minnesota artists in all disciplines. A $500,000 pool of commissioning funds, administered by the Minnesota State Arts Board, should be available to applicants in amounts up to $50,000, with 20% of the available pool reserved for grants of $15,000 or less.

Once annually, members of the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Forum of Regional Arts Councils should convene as the [new] Minnesota Cultural Facilities Commission. The commission should have a $2.5 million pool of funds with which to make annual planning grants of up to $500,000, and capital construction grants of up to $2 million, for projects whose total cost will be $10 million or less. This body also should recommend statewide priorities to the legislature for capital bonding projects costing more than $10 million.

Finally, as a consequence of present economic conditions and activities, it is probable that portfolios of many of the more than 100 foundations that provide grants to the arts in Minnesota will be adversely affected, leading to a decrease in the numbers and sizes of their grants. A funding pool of $2.5 million should be reserved for emergency budget relief for existing arts organizations for 2010, and subsequent years as needed. The criteria and logistics of such a program are beyond the scope of this essay.

That is how I would spend $30,000,000.

How would you spend it?

All of it is academic until you Vote YES on Nov. 4!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Obama for president

Minneapolis, Minnesota

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Barack Obama for president

By Editorial Board
Oct. 10, 2008

Nine Days before the Feb. 5 presidential primaries in Missouri and Illinois, this editorial page endorsed Barack Obama and John McCain in their respective races.

We did so enthusiastically. We wrote that either Mr. Obama’s message of hope or Mr. McCain’s independence and integrity offered America “the chance to turn the page on 28 years of contentious, greed-driven politics and move into a new era of possibility.”

Over the past nine months, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has emerged as the only truly transformative candidate in the race. In the crucible that is a presidential campaign, his intellect, his temperament and equanimity under pressure consistently have been impressive. He has surrounded himself with smart, capable advisers who have helped him refine thorough, nuanced policy positions.

In a word, Mr. Obama has been presidential.

Meanwhile, Mr. McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, became the incredible shrinking man. He shrank from his principled stands in favor of a humane immigration policy. He shrank from his universal condemnation of torture and his condemnation of the politics of smear.

He even shrank from his own campaign slogan, “County First,” by selecting the least qualified running mate since the Swedenborgian shipbuilder Arthur Sewall ran as William Jennings Bryan’s No. 2 in 1896.

In making political endorsements, this editorial page is guided first by the principles espoused by Joseph Pulitzer in The Post-Dispatch Platform printed daily at the top of this page. Then we consider questions of character, life experience and intellect, as well as specific policy and issue positions. Each member of the editorial board weighs in.

On all counts, the consensus was clear: Barack Obama of Illinois should be the next president of the United States.

We didn’t
know nine months ago that before Election Day, America would face its greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression. The crisis on Wall Street is devastating, but it has offered voters a useful preview of how the two presidential candidates would respond to a crisis.

Very early on, Mr. Obama reached out to his impressive corps of economic advisers and developed a comprehensive set of recommendations for addressing the problems. He set them forth calmly and explained them carefully.

Mr. McCain, a longtime critic of government regulation, was late to recognize the threat. The chief economic adviser of his campaign initially was former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who had been one of the architects of banking deregulation. When the credit markets imploded, Mr. McCain lurched from one ineffectual grandstand play to another. He squandered the one clear advantage he had over Mr. Obama: experience.

Mr. McCain
first was elected to Congress in 1982 when Mr. Obama was in his senior year at Columbia University. Yet the younger man’s intellectual curiosity and capacity — and, yes, also the skills he developed as a community organizer and his instincts as a political conciliator — more than compensate for his lack of more traditional Washington experience.

A presidency is defined less by what happens in the Oval Office than by what is done by the more than 3,000 men and women the president appoints to government office. Only 600 of them are subject to Senate approval. The rest serve at the pleasure of the president.

We have little doubt that Mr. Obama’s appointees would bring a level of competence, compassion and intellectual achievement to the executive branch that hasn’t been seen since the New Frontier. He has energized a new generation of Americans who would put the concept of service back in “public service.”

Consider that while Mr. McCain selected as his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a callow and shrill partisan, Mr. Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Mr. Biden’s 35-year Senate career has given him encyclopedic expertise on legislative and judicial issues, as well as foreign affairs.

The idea that 3,000 bright, dedicated and accomplished Americans would be joining the Obama administration to serve the public — as opposed to padding their resumés or shilling for the corporate interests they’re sworn to oversee — is reassuring. That they would be serving a president who actually would listen to them is staggering.

And the fact that Mr. Obama can explain his thoughts and policies in language that can instruct and inspire is exciting. Eloquence isn’t everything in a president, but it is not nothing, either.

Experience aside,
the 25-year difference in the ages of Mr. McCain, 72, and Mr. Obama, 47, is important largely because Mr. Obama’s election would represent a generational shift. He would be the first chief executive in more than six decades whose worldview was not formed, at least in part, by the Cold War or Vietnam.

He sees the complicated world as it is today, not as a binary division between us and them, but as a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances and interests. As he often notes, he is the son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, an internationalist who yet acknowledges that America is the only nation in the world in which someone of his distinctly modest background could rise as far as his talent, intellect and hard work would take him.

Given the damage that has been done to America’s moral standing in the world in the last eight years — by a preemptory war, a unilateralist foreign policy and by policies that have treated both the Geneva Conventions and our own Bill of Rights as optional — Mr. Obama’s election would help America reclaim the moral high ground.

It also must be said that Mr. Obama is right on the issues. He was right on the war in Iraq. He is right that all Americans deserve access to health care and right in his pragmatic approach to meeting that goal. He is right on tax policy, infrastructure investment, energy policy and environmental issues. He is right on American ideals.

He was right when he said in his remarkable speech in March in Philadelphia that “In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand: that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.”

John McCain
has served his country well, but in the end, he may have wanted the presidency a little too much, so much that he has sacrificed some of the principles that made him a heroic figure in war and in peace. In every way possible, he has earned the right to retire.

Finally, only at this late point do we note that Barack Obama is an African-American. Because of who he is and how he has run his campaign, that fact has become almost incidental to most Americans. Instead, his countrymen are weighing his talents, his values and his beliefs, judging him not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.

That says something profound and good — about him as a candidate and about us as a nation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Preview: Mass in times of war

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minnesota audiences will be able to experience major musical works rooted in the liturgy of the Mass at least twice during the 2008-2009 performance season.

The more ambitious production will be that of the Minnesota Orchestra when it presents Mass, A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Jan. 22-23. Composed by Leonard Bernstein at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the work received its first performance at the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C., Sept. 8, 1971. Its antiwar theme contributed to a climate of controversy around its premiere. I followed news reports and gossip about the gala opening; although I resided in Washington at the time, my finances permitted entrance to the JFK Center only for free public tours.

Music Director Osmo Vanska will conduct the Minnesota performances which will feature 250 performers, including Raymond Ayers, baritone, as the celebrant, along with members of the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Boychoir, and James Sewell Ballet.

Owing to the work's scope and the expense of its production, Mass is performed rarely by professional orchestras. However, as 2008 marks the 90th anniversary of Bernstein's birth, Mass will be the centerpiece of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's current season with performances in Baltimore (Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Oct. 16-18), New York (Carnegie Hall, Oct. 24; United Palace Theater, Oct. 25), and Washington D. C. (JFK Center, Oct. 26).

Missa Brevis, a production on a smaller scale, will take the stage of the Northrop Dance Series, Mar. 19. This modern dance classic, choreographed by José Limón, is a 40-minute work for 22 dancers. It will feature members of the New York-based Limón Dance Company joined by eight students from the University of Minnesota's Dance Program. The Oratorio Society of Minnesota will perform the score by Zoltán Kodály.

As one of America's modern dance pioneers, Limón's force and presence as a dancer did much to establish a role for men in dance. Born in Mexico in 1908, he arrived in New York City in 1928 and soon began studies with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. He founded The Jose Limón Dance Company in 1946, with Humphrey serving as artistic director until her death 12 years later. Limón also began teaching at The Juilliard School in 1951. His own death, from prostate cancer, came in 1972.

Limón's choreography has been noted for its dramatic expression, technical mastery, and its expansive, nuanced movement. Many of his works are considered classics of modern dance and continue to be studied and performed widely by students and professionals.

When the Limón Company toured Europe in 1957, sponsored by the U. S. State Department, Limón was impressed by his first-hand witness, particularly in Poland, to the widespread devastation, efforts to re-build, and the indomitable human spirit that marked the post-war era.

According to company program notes, the experience inspired him to create Missa Brevis as a memento to the cities destroyed during World War II and to the human qualities that compel the spirit to rise and survive after near destruction. The dance received its first performance at the Juilliard Dance Theater in New York, Apr. 11, 1958. Deborah Jowitt, the long-time dance writer and critic for The Village Voice, was an original cast member.

The music, Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli – "Short Mass in Time of War" – was completed by the Hungarian composer Kodály during the Siege of Budapest in the winter of 1944-1945, when he extended his original scoring for solo organ to include mixed chorus.

The University of Minnesota's Dance Program sponsors annual residencies by dance professionals to benefit its BA and BFA students. Underwritten by the Cowles Guest Artist Program, more than 120 people over the years have shared their knowledge and expertise with students as creators and repetiteurs of new and existing works.

Sarah Stackhouse, one of this year's five visiting artists, set Missa Brevis on 22 students in a residency that ended with an open rehearsal this week at the University's Barbara Barker Center for Dance. Stackhouse danced with the Limón company from 1958 to 1969, and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, the American Dance Festival, and the SUNY-Purchase Conservatory of Dance.

Introducing the open rehearsal, Carl Flink, chair, Department of Theatre Arts & Dance, said that Missa Brevis fills the "classic" slot in this year's repertoire of the University Dance Theatre. Flink, who danced with the Limón Company from 1992 to 1998, noted that the men and women are cast in a traditional structure, something that is rarely done at the university anymore.

In remarks, Stackhouse related that the objective for artists in the 1920s and 1930s was not necessarily great choreography but dealing with social movement issues. Although Missa Brevis follows the order of the Catholic Mass and Limón saw the work as his prayer for peace, it is not a religious piece, she said. "Although raised in Catholicism, he was what might be called a religious atheist."

At rise, 21 dancers stand clumped and motionless at center stage, hands joined. A male dancer, the outsider, stands downstage right. The group greets the music of the Kyrie with a gentle plié and tendu accompanied by a shifting of weight and opening to second position. At its end, the work returns to this same grouping and movement with the final "Amen."

Some of the imagery for the dance was unconventional, if not controversial, for 1958. A trio of women in the Sanctus section represented the Trinity, and a woman offered herself as the sacrifice for crucifixion in another. The latter, Stackhouse explained, represented Limón's mother who died while birthing her 12th child.

As a classic, Missa Brevis is great choreography that deals with social issues. It would be a good primer for those wanting to understand the antecedents of vocabulary, phrasing, patterns, and structures of contemporary dance in 2008. Flink observed that this dance uses time and space in a way that lacks the frenetic energy and tempo of life and dance today. Stackhouse agreed, noting the work's generosity, allowing the viewer to enter in, its use of space and time allowing for metaphor.

Auditions for entry into the University of Minnesota's BA and BFA programs in dance will be held at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance, 500 - 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis, Dec. 6 & Feb. 7. Information: 612.624.5060 or

The University Dance Theatre will perform at the Whiting Proscenium Theatre, Rarig Center, Minneapolis West Bank Campus, Feb. 6-8. 612.624.2345 or

The Limón Dance Company and UDT will perform at Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis East Bank Campus, Mar. 19. 612.624.2345.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Review: Green/Pizzarelli at Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

After hollering through three baseball games in four days, I welcomed the chance to quietly witness one of the sweetest interludes of music at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant.

John Paul "Bucky" Pizzarelli and Benny Green played together for the first time at the Dakota in August this year. It was such a great experience for them and their audiences that they have returned for a two-day set of performances and CD recording sessions for the Dakota Live label.

Pizzarelli, a renowned, classical jazz guitarist from New Jersey, resembles, at 82, the late Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy with his white hair and benevolent face. Pianist Green, whose wavy chestnut locks and slight, youthful build belie his 45 years, was born in New York and grew up in Berkeley. Both have enjoyed prolific performing and recording careers.

Their 75-minute set on Sunday included a variety of classical favorites, including "Green Dolphin," "Body and Soul," "If I Had," and "Easy to Remember, So Hard to Forget." A lengthy medley of Ellington and Strayhorn tunes included "Satin Doll," "Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me," "Mellow Tone," and "Sentimental."

The two played in joyful synchronicity, Green deftly touching the Yamaha keyboard in harmony with the tone, tempo, volume, and spirit of his elder partner. Theirs was a gracious and generous collaboration between generations that more than lived up to the billing for "satisfying" music.

According to Lowell Pickett, the Dakota's impresario, Pizzarelli and Green may tour together. Watch for them at a venue near you.

Benny Green & Bucky Pizz
arelli continue at the Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, 7pm & 9:30pm, Mon., Sept. 29. 612.332.1010 or

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Minnesota Twins: Metaphor for arts, life

Minneapolis, Minnesota

"[My team] is hoping to win instead of playing to win." – Orlando Cabrera, shortstop, Chicago White Sox

Yes! Yes! Yes! The Chicago White Sox can come back to Twins Territory any time!

On Tuesday this week, the Minnesota Twins stood 2-1/2 games behind Chicago in the American League Central Division standings. Tonight, after sweeping Chicago in three games at the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis, they hold first place – for the first time since Aug. 23 – by 1/2 game.

The Twins have served as a metaphor this year for working in the arts and living life: mix a wild and (pretty/)ugly inconsistency with teamwork balanced by experience and youthful energy, then power it with endless persistence to achieve success. In one of the best games ever, tonight's 7-6 Twins victory was as good an example as any.

After scoring one run in the first inning, the Twins gave up six demoralizing runs and earned two more in the fourth, then clawed another out of the sixth inning, two more in the eighth, and a final tie-breaker in the 10th. They did it with seven pitchers, 15 hits to Chicago's seven, and a stronger set of individual and collective batting averages.

Fans did their part to keep hope alive with nonstop waves of thunderous ovations. Few exited the dome able to hear or speak.

The season is not over. Starting tomorrow, the Twins face Kansas City in three games at the Dome while the Sox return to Chicago for three final games against Cleveland.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

They are holding the annual Minnesota Sage Dance Awards at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis tonight. I have been asked for days whether I plan to attend. I do not.

I extend good wishes to the organizers and participants, and will congratulate the awardees as I see them after they are known. However, it is just a simple fact that the Sage Awards hold no compelling relevance for me and the work I have done in Minnesota's dance milieu for more than 25 years.

The stated purpose of the Sage Awards is to recognize outstanding achievement of the past year in six categories: Dance Performance, Dance Performers, Educator, Design, Special Citation, and People's Choice. It puzzles me that for four years so little outstanding achievement has been found either for nomination or recognition among the state's most visible and traditional dance companies, particularly for Dance Performance.

Members of an anonymous panel of up to 18 jurors attend countless performances and bi-monthly meetings during a year before hammering out a consensus about the nominees and "winners" for each category.

Camille LeFevre, a long-time dance writer and critic, has written a post for in which she muses about a perceived insiders' game among Sage Award jurors.

Truly, it puzzles me that in four years, little or no outstanding work has been identified as emanating from Arena Dances by Mathew Janczewski; Ballet of the Dolls; Black Label Movement; Beyond Ballroom Dance Company; Joe Chvala and the Flying Foot Forum; Live Action Set; Minnesota Dance Theatre, Raga
mala Music & Dance Theatre; Shapiro & Smith Dance; James Sewell Ballet; Zenon Dance Company; and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, to name just some of the overlooked Twin Cities companies. We also have the Minnesota Ballet in Duluth, which seems to have enough artistic mojo going for it to license works by George Balanchine and Agnes DeMille.

Although it appears that something is amiss in this juried process, I do not believe that anyone is manipulating the outcomes, consciously or not. Nor do I believe that anyone else thinks so.

What I do believe is that many people in this dance milieu have limited their dance experiences, expectations, and judgments to small areas around their comfort zones. I also suspect that some allow their likes and dislikes of various personalities to cloud their judgments. Where true, all of this affects the decisions of jurors and, to inject the requisite p.c. disclaimer, none of this makes anyone a bad person.

I try to congratulate everyone who works in dance on a regular basis. So, to all of you who may be reading this: "Thank you and congratulations!"

ADDENDUM [09/25/08]: Morgan Thorson, a choreographer, has posted her thoughts about the Sage Awards on the Walker Art Center's blog:

ADDENDUM [09/28/08]: Caroline Palmer, a longtime dance writer and critic, has crafted In Defense of the SAGE Dance Awards on the City Pages website:

Keeping score a day at a time

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Chicago White Sox really hate playing the Minnesota Twins at our HHH Metrodome. The Twins' record against Chicago at the Dome is 6-1 this season and 50-26 overall. Each such encounter usually means a humdinger of a game. That was the case for the Sox's last visit in July, and it definitely was the experience last night.

I was there. With 35,224 others. Row 29 behind the 3rd base line. A game not to be missed – or lost.

Entering last night, Chicago held a 2-1/2 game lead over Minnesota in the American League Central Division. With six season games left to play, it was make-or-break for the Twins. Lose last night, and a path to the division title was gone. Allow Chicago to sweep the three-game series, and they would spill champagne on the Dome's artificial turf while celebrating their clinch.

Ha! Tonight, the Twins stand 1-1/2 games behind the Sox following their 9-3 rout/romp 12 hours ago.

Of highlights there were many, led by seven innings of strong Twins pitching by 27-year-old Scott Baker. First baseman Justin Morneau set a club record by reaching his 47th double. For those of us who looked close-and-quick from the chaos in the stands, the back-to-back homers by Jason Kubel and Delmon Young in the Twins 7th provided the best moments. The only bleck-note occurred when the Twins gave up two runs in Chicago's 9th; shouldn't have happened.

The Minnesota Twins conclude their 2008 season with five games at the HHH Metrodome, Minneapolis: vs. Chicago, Sept. 24 & 25 @ 7:10pm; vs. Kansas City, Sept. 26 @ 7:10pm, 27 @ 2:55pm, 28 @ 1:10pm.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cheers for young people, jeans, and scuffed shoes

Minneapolis, Minnesota

They held the annual Ivey Awards in downtown Minneapolis last night to celebrate our 68 professional theaters and to recognize artistic excellence among organizations large and small and people old and new.

es began with a VIP pre-party at Seven on Hennepin, followed by the main awards show at the State Theatre. The red carpet post-party took place at Mission and its spill-over "patio," the IDS Crystal Court. Thanks are due to the financial sponsors.

Melissa Gilbert and Steve Blanchard, lead actors in the Guthrie Theater's production of Little House on the Prairie, served loosely as emcees of the tightly-run State Theatre proceedings, attended by 2,000 of the onstage, backstage, and front-of-house people who make the theater community tick.

Performers from several organizations provided entertainment throughout the 90-minute production, including members of the Brave New Workshop, Buffalo Gal Productions, the Guthrie Theater, Nautilus Music-Theater, Theater Latte Da, and Cantus.

Awards for overall excellence were presented to Open Eye Figure Theatre for Prelude to Faust, and to Workhouse Theatre for 'Night Mother. Recognition also was bestowed upon Frank Theatre for the emotional resonance of The Pillowman; Interact Center for the innovative concept and idea behind Broken Brain Summit; Ordway Center for the Performing Arts for costume design, scenic design, and choreography of Cabaret; Gremlin Theatre – and Gary Geiken, Katie Guentzel, John Middleton, Carolyn Pool, Matt Rein, and Alan Sorenson – for ensemble acting in Orson's Shadow; and to Chanhassen Dinner Theatres and Tamara Kangas for choreography in 42nd Street.

The Ivey Awards recognized three actors for individual performances: James A. Williams as Troy Maxson in the Penumbra Theatre production of Fences; Kate Eifrig for her portrayal of nine characters in 9 Parts of Desire at the Guthrie Theater; and Jarius Abts for his performance as Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Jungle Theater.

Matthew Amendt, a 26-year-old actor, received the Emerging Artist Award for writing The Comedian's Tragedy, presented at the Theatre Garage last summer.

A 90-something-year-old Don Stolz was summoned to the stage to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from Diana Pearce of KARE TV and from the Guthrie's legendary – and last year's lifetime recipient – Sheila Livingston. Stolz founded Minnesota's Old Log Theater 67 years ago, pre-Guthrie, pre-Children's Theater, and pre-all-the-rest. According to the couple next to me, Stolz was still giving pre-show curtain talks as recently as Sunday night.

I had a blast and enjoyed every minute of the evening save one. Following his introduction by Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, I joined whole-heartedly in the standing ovation that greeted Dominique Serrand's arrival to present an award. He could and should have made the presentation and dispensed with his lament for the demise of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, the organization he co-founded 30 years ago that crashed and burned earlier this year, following a recognition that years of financial mismanagement and accumulated debt necessitated closure.

"The angels we hoped for have not appeared," he mourned. "The powers that be have spoken with their silence." Invoking Samuel Beckett in blessing, Serrand concluded, "Go on failing. Only next time, try to fail better."

I appreciate that Serrand has a background in European traditions where generous and indulgent support for the arts is a given and carries the character of an entitlement. While I laud the sensibility of that approach, my sympathy has its limits. Enough!

Too many of us work too hard to convince our fellow citizens, of all political stripes, that the arts merit even a pittance of public support. At our best on this side of the pond, we offer investment in artistic endeavors that require the reciprocity of good stewardship: pursuit of artistic excellence, good governance, and fiscal responsibility. Ultimately, Jeune Lune failed on the latter two points.

Several young people took the stage to receive awards last night. Unable to afford fancy suits, in their jeans and scuffed shoes they represented all the starving artists who seek only a chance to create and present their work. The tears they choked back bespoke their disbelieving amazement that, for a brief moment, the community in which they labor had lifted them from the ashes of their chimney hearths and welcomed them to the ball.

Serrand and his colleagues burned their tickets to the dance on the altar of organizational dysfunction and inattention to business basics. In this, they were abetted by what I call "the collective we" that looked away when deficits became chronic, plans became unrealistic, and the ties that bound them to the community frayed beyond repair. Finally and, perhaps, unfairly, we acknowledged that we owed no more and, in the tradition of Minnesota Nice, we kept the angels at bay and allowed the silence to speak for us.

I believe in second and subsequent acts, however, and hope that in his next adventures Serrand will be able to "fail better," if fail he must.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Review: Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra opened its 16th season for an audience of 300 at the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Minneapolis, Sept. 20, with a competent and accomplished rendition of four compositions that are performed rarely on the concert stage.

The music of Bedrich Smetana, represented by Three Dances from The Bartered Bride, was new to me and opened the evening. The full work received its premiere in 1870, its composition marked by the ferment of political turmoil and rising Czech nationalism that permeated the composer's native Bohemia at the time. Three excerpts – Polka, Furiant, and Dance of the Comedians – offered a musical picture of the milieu into which John and Lena Tapper, two of my paternal great grandparents, were born.

Playing from memory, guest pianist Paul Kovacovic displayed full control of the Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major by Camille Saint-Saëns, composed in Egypt and premiered in Paris in 1896. The motifs of the second movement form the basis of "Egyptian" as the concerto's nickname. To my ear, the upper register piano hammers that were supposed to represent the sounds of chirping crickets were less than tunefully bright. Kovacovic's many domestic and international projects included a collaboration earlier this year with Live Action Set at the Southern Theater.

If her skills as a registered nurse match her facility with the flute, then the patients of Hamsa Isles are well-served at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. This native of Cleveland and founding member of the orchestra displayed her artistry in Voyage for Flute and String Orchestra, a small gem from 1988 by John Corigliano.

The program closed with the Symphony No. 99 in E-flat Major, an unflashy but solid and satisfying work composed by Franz Joseph Haydn in Vienna in 1793.

Under the direction of Joseph Schlefke since 2001, the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra and its 53 members have become an articulate ensemble of individually strong, often exceptional, players, prompting no embarrassment and requiring no apology. The opportunity to see and hear them at the Ted Mann Concert Hall was a welcome change from their traditionally smaller and less formal venues. But.

They hold in their grasp the readiness to kick it up a notch artistically. Their collective posture and stage presence reflects an unwarranted reticence and a lack of visible esprit and conviction. Rather than owning the stage, they appear as shy and uncertain visitors. As the organization's front man and most public face, Schlefke could inspire his troops with a more practiced and self-assured persona. His years of experience and accomplishment should have banished his verbal and physical insecurities long ago.

If it chooses the pursuit, this group is ready to stretch itself into the big-time of higher visibility, greater artistic accomplishment, and heightened public scrutiny and support.

The Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra's 2008-2009 season continues: Dec. 5-6, 7:30pm, Hopkins High School Auditorium, Minnetonka; Mar. 14, 7:30pm, Hamline University, St. Paul; and May 30, 7:30pm, Hamline University, St. Paul.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A political discourse with substance

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Edge Foundation, Inc. was formed in 1988 to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, and to work for what it calls the intellectual and social achievement of society. It is a nonprofit, private operating foundation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The Foundation's website posted an academic discourse this month by Jonathan Haidt, What Makes People Vote Republican? One should not be put off by the presumption or apparent bias behind the title of what is, essentially, a fascinating exploration of why liberals and conservatives have trouble getting along. The article presents a meaty alternative to the vapidity of our anointed political analysts in the media.

Haidt is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Edge also posted several responses to Haidt:

The Ties That Bind
, by Daniel Everett, linguist; chair, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, Illinois State University; author, Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazon Jungle.

by Howard Gardner, psychologist, Harvard University; (currently) Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professor, New York University; author, Changing Minds.

The Conscience of the Conservative, by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American; author, Why Darwin Matters; and How We Believe.

How Religion Creates Moral Society, by Scott Atran, anthropologist, University of Michigan; author, In Gods We Trust.

Why do People Vote at All? by James Fowler, political scientist, University of California, San Diego; coauthor, Mandates, Parties, and Voters: How Elections Shape the Future.

The Morality of Childbearing, by Alison Gopnik, psychologist, University of California, Berkeley; author, The Philosophical Baby: What Children's Minds tell us About Trust, Love and the Meaning of Life (forthcoming).

Brain Science and Human Values, by Sam Harris, neuroscience researcher; author, The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

Essay, by James O'Donnell, classicist; cultural historial; provost, Georgetown University; author, The Ruin of the Roman Empire (forthcoming).

Report From Florida, by Roger Schank, formerly professor, Stanford, Yale, and Northwestern; latest projects:; and an alternative to the existing school systems described on

Allow at least an hour for a first read through, including the responses.