Tuesday, December 22, 2009

First 2010 round: Metro arts grants total $817,275

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In the first round of grant making for three of its 2010 funding programs, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, based in St. Paul, awarded 120 grants totaling $817,275. Contracts and checks will be issued to organizations with budgets less than $300,000 and located in the seven metropolitan counties of greater Minneapolis and St. Paul. MRAC operates on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30, and receives its grant funds from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and the McKnight Foundation.

Earlier in December, MRAC announced its first round of Community Arts Grant Awards. Grants to 62 organizations totaled $265,265, an average of $4,278 each.  
Anoka County: Mississippi Valley Orchestra, $4,000; North Artists Studio Crawl, $3,500; Northern Symphony Orchestra, $5,000.  
Carver County: ISD 112 Community Education, $4,600; River City Theatre Company, $5,000; Watertown Film Festival, $5,000.  
Dakota County: Burnsville Visual Art Society, $2,278; Chamber Music Lakeville, $5,000; City of South St. Paul, $5,000; Dakota County Public Health, $5,000; Dakota Valley Symphony, $5,000; International Festival of Burnsville, $5,000; South Metro Chorale, $5,000; The Play's the Thing Productions, $5,000; Velvet Tones, $4,430.  
Hennepin County: Diverse Emerging Music Organization, $4,624; Eclectic Edge Ensemble, $5,000; Grassroots Culture, $4,315; HUGE Theater, $5,000; Lao Assistance Center of Minnesota, $5,000; Lao Women Association, $5,000; Lao Writers Summit, $5,000; Minneapolis Southside Singers, $5,000; Nimbus Theatre, $5,000; Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association, $5,000; Puppet Farm Art, $2,500; Southside Family Nurturing Center, $5,000; Twin Cities Jazz Workshops, $5,000; Works Progress, $4,945.
Ramsey County: Bridge Productions, $5,000; Lex-Ham Community Arts, $920; Magic Lantern Puppet Theater, $3,800; Metropolitan Symphony Orchestral Association, $2,500; Minnesota Freedom Band, $2,500; Minnesota State Band, $4,910; Music in the Park Series, $5,000; Saint Paul Almanac, $5,000; Savage Umbrella, $2,868; Twin Cities Housing and Development Corporation, Liberty Plaza, $4,500; Vietnamese Community of Minnesota, $2,800; What About Us, $2,100; Women's Drum Center, $5,000.
Scott County: Jordan Art Festival, $5,000; River Valley Theatre Company, $5,000.
Suburban Hennepin County: Allegro Orchestral Association, $5,000; Continental Ballet Company, $5,000; Cross Community Players, $5,000; Music Association of Minnetonka, $4,985; Orono Community Education, $2,525; Thursday Musical, $4,000; Twin Cities Youth Chorale, $1,900.
Suburban Ramsey County: Community Partners of Youth, $4,285; Encore Wind Ensemble, $2,000; Heritage Theatre Company, $5,000; Honeywell Concert Band, $3,000; Lakeshore Players, Inc., $5,000; North Suburban Chorus, $3,000; Twin Cities Housing and Development Corporation, Calibre Ridge, $4,000.
Washington County: FamilyMeans - Cimarron Youth Development Initiative, $5,000; FamilyMeans - Landfall Youth Development Initiative, $4,880; Summer Tuesdays, $3,600; White Pine Festival, $5,000.

In November, MRAC announced its first round of Creative Intersection Grant Awards: Rosemount Area Arts Council, $7,300, Dakota County; East Side Arts Council, $10,000, Ramsey County; St. Paul Almanac, $10,000, Ramsey County; New Prague Arts Council, $8,000, Scott County; St. Louis Park Friends of the Arts, $10,000, Suburban Hennepin County.

In September, 53 organizations received $506,710, an average of $9,560 each, in the first round of Arts Activity Support Grants.
Dakota County: Caponi Art Park, $10,000; International Friendship Through the Performing Arts, $10,000.
Hennepin County: 3-Minute Egg, $8,600; Ananya Dance Theater, $10,000; ARENA Dances, Inc., $10,000; Art Shanty Projects, $10,000; ArtiCulture, $5,950; Ascension Place, $4,000; Body Cartography Project, $10,000; Camden Music School, Dave DeGennars and Circus Minimus Puppetry, $10,000; Catalyst, $10,000; Deepashika, $10,000; Frank Theatre, $10,000; Global Site Performance, $4,600; Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project, $10,000; JazzMN, Inc., $10,000; Kairos Dance Theatre, $10,000; Live Action Set, $10,000; Minneapolis Pops Orchestral Association, $10,000; Minnesota Guitar Society, $9,000; Mizna, $10,000; Off-Leash Area, $10,000; Open Eye Figure Theater, $10,000; Orchestra, $10,000; Plymouth Christian Youth Center, $10,000; Red Eye Collaboration, $10,000; Sandbox Theatre, $10,000; Speaking of Home, $6,960; Theatre Unbound, $9,600; TVbyGirls, $10,000; Walking Shadow Theatre Company, $10,000; Workhaus Playwrights Collective, $10,000; Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, $10,000.
Ramsey County: CAAM Chinese Dance Theater, $10,000; East Side Arts Countil, $10,000; Gremlin Theatre, $10,000; Hot Summer Jazz Festival, $10,000; Minnesota Chinese Dance Theater, $10,000; Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, $10,000; One Voice Mixed Chorus, $10,000; Oratorio Society of Minnesota, $10,000; Riverview Economic Development Association, $10,000; Selby Area Community Development, $8,000; Sounds of Hope, Ltd., $10,000; St. Paul Art Collective, $10,000; Teatro del Pueblo, $10,000; TU Dance, $10,000; Twin Cities Women's Choir, $10,000; Wishes for the Sky, $10,000; Zeitgeist, $10,000.
Suburban Hennepin County: Katha Dance Theatre, $10,000.
Suburbay Ramsey County: Ashland Productions, $10,000.
Washington County: St. Croix Concert Series, $10,000.

MRAC received 384 grant requests in 2009 and awarded 254 grants totaling $1,007,491. First-time applicants received seven percent of the grants. According to MRAC's December newsletter, funded projects served 11,685 artists and reached approximately 395,000 audience members. MRAC also provided 38 skill-building workshops and networking activities for people from more than 270 organizations.

MRAC is one of 11 regional arts councils serving the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota State Arts Board makes grants statewide to organizations with budgets exceeding $300,000.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Broadcast: Summit on Leading in Crisis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School, moderated a "Summit on Leading in Crisis: Personal stories from the trenches," Sept. 17, at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. The summit's four panel members included John Donahoe, chair and CEO, eBay; David Gergen, CNN commentator and Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; Anne Mulcahy, chair and former CEO, Xerox; and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chair and former CEO, Carlson Companies. 

The panel members have dealt with crises radiating from the White House, offices and boardrooms of global companies, and their own personal lives. Their discussion touches on the causes behind many of the problems our country faces and the ways that courageous leaders can address them. 

Twin Cities Public Television (tpt) will initially broadcast an hour-long recording of the panel's discussion three times: Sunday, Dec. 13, tpt2, 4pm; Sunday, Dec. 13, tptMN, 9pm; and Sunday, Dec. 20, tptLIFE, 1pm. Minnesota viewers should check local listings for stations. 

A free DVD of the program, Leading in Crisis:  Personal Stories, is available from the George Family Foundation, 612-377-3356.-

Monday, November 30, 2009

Lake Calhoun in November

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Saturday, Nov. 7 – Hordes of humanity circling Minneapolis' Lake Calhoun on a glorious afternoon lend an illusion of strolling the streets of Manhattan or San Francisco! A bald eagle, large as a fire hydrant, held court above the south side of the lake, tieing up traffic.

Sunday, Nov. 8 – November in Minneapolis, and nightime runners circling Lake Calhoun are shirtless! Very warm out there, and very quiet.

Friday, Nov. 13 – I love that I can own exclusively for 75 minutes the luscious and quiet Minnesota mist that shrouds Lake Calhoun tonight! Gorgeous!

Tuesday, Nov. 17 – Kissed by another November day of sun!

Friday, Nov. 20 – A season suspended against itself! Yet another day of warm light, perfect for circling Lake Calhoun to frame up the structure of a performance review. Yet...1 in 10 Minnesota kids is hungry every day; 91,000 mortgage foreclosures in our state; sick people will be denied care at our county hospital; and people's fortunes, families, and souls are stressed. My task today: absorb the light and unleash compassion.

Saturday, Nov. 21 – Several times I have run into Dick Maw of Dick Maw Fine Art, Elk River, Minnesota, who holds court with his artwork on the west side of Lake Calhoun. He also keeps a place in Mineral Wells, Texas, just outside Ft. Worth.

Monday, Nov. 23 – Scenes of the day: The giant bald eagle held court on the north end of Lake Calhoun today. The IDS Crystal Court in downtown Minneapolis has its holiday decor in place. Given 51º temps, the ice-skating rink next to downtown St. Paul's Landmark Center is nowhere near frozen, but the Saint Paul Hotel has its holiday finery in place!

Wednesday, Nov. 25 – Steel-gray shadows and a brisk-brrr, northwest wind skimmed the surface of Lake Calhoun today. Scores of Canadian geese anchored in the southwest bay. Hordes of crows rested in the southern woods leading to Lake Harriet. The main dock, set loose two weeks ago to drift for the winter, rests several yards offshore at the northwest corner. Water level down noticeably in the last two weeks. No bald eagle today.

Thursday, Nov. 26 – Morning at Lake Calhoun. Intensely quiet. Small groupings of ducks replaced yesterday's geese. Stumps from trees removed yesterday. 7-foot emergency rescue boards at intervals, lashed to signs reading "Keep Off Dangerous Ice Not Safe." Dog walkers: some really do look like their dogs. Runners: some have trouble breathing in good air of life, others troubled exhaling used life, and some have perfect balance of both.

Saturday, Nov. 28 – White light to the west and south meets and mixes with blue light to the east and north over Lake Calhoun. So does warm sun and cool air. Busy! Proficient roller skater to one less so: "I am glad to see you again." Dick Maw and his artwork in residence on west side. Crows heard not seen in Lakewood Cemetery woods on southeast side. Seagulls maintain staked claim to floating dock. New puppies strain at leashes; old dogs amble with slow gait. Silent, stoic faces of an extended family unit surely belie their inner enthusiasm and excitement for each other and the day. Trees with golden leaves still shimmer with joy against the sky - all others bare. Wake of two lone ducks slices glass surface of north side where surrounding buildings reflect their full height. Distant smoke suggests large fire in north Minneapolis. This suspension of real winter is like the quilt of a Sunday afternoon before Monday morning.

Sunday, Nov. 29 – Rained last night. Dark, steel-gray and gentle waves on Lake Calhoun under quiet, heavy clouds. Cool, but not too. Could be snow clouds if temp drops.

Monday, Nov. 30 – Bright sun filtering through high layers of white clouds, layered with a bit of blue. Calm silver waves on western Lake Calhoun today. Dick Maw and artwork in residence on west side. 100+ geese at rest and chatting quietly in the southwest bay. Unusual clarity for the lines, settings, and landscaping of the manses lining the south side. Very unusual train whistle from somewhere in western Linden Hills to the southwest; cannot picture the location of those tracks. Snow fence and new lamp posts installed today around new parking bays on south side. Last evening, a stranger responded to my comment to a Facebook friend asking whether I had ever taken the ferry from Boston to Provincetown, as my name is familiar and she has a picture that looks like me. Replied that I have never been to Boston or P-Town but would like to, but did we meet in New Delhi in 1986 because her name also is familiar? She has never been to Delhi, but would like to. Golden leaves have all left the circle of the lake. Waves lapping in continuously on east side. Two ducks at the north side - same as made the wake two days ago? - approached within three feet, on land, totally unimpressed by the presence of humans. Chill, but not cold. November = 30 days x 3.1 miles = 93 miles.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: Zenon Dance Company at the Ritz Theater

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Given the depth and breadth of dance-making in the Twin Cities, one expects and takes for granted that dances choreographed here for the concert stage usually will be good, if not very good. So it has been since the start of the current performance season in September. What has been remarkable to my eye over the last three months, however, is the absence of truly compelling choreography: work that cannot – should not – be missed and might need to be seen to be believed.

The 27th fall concerts of Minnesota's Zenon Dance Company, which opened at the Ritz Theater, Nov. 19, crystallized this dawning realization but did not prompt it. The programs of Ananya Dance Theatre, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, Ballet of the Dolls, Minnesota Dance Theatre, James Sewell Ballet, Arena Dances, and Zenon certainly have displayed strong choreographic competence and generally strong dancing with much to like, particularly the dancing. All, however, left me wanting – je ne sais quoi.

That may simply reflect the cycle of the creative zeitgeist – or the current settings on my perceptual filters.

Zenon's show opened with the premiere of "The Laws of Falling Bodies," a contemporary work for seven dancers by Sydney Skybetter and his first commission for the company. I was anxious to see his work for the first time, even if the music for this dance was an electronic score by Jonny Greenwood instead of the more elegiac sounding selections (e.g., Dvorák, Schumann, Arvo Part) I had read about for some of Skybetter's earlier creations. The man can create visually and emotionally arresting dances (see his website), especially "Near Abroad" from 2008. Unfortunately, "Falling Bodies" is not one of them, particularly in its first four minutes. The work appears at first to be a study of people using each other and saving themselves from each other, all while trying to distance themselves from each other. Over time, it evolves into a picture of people holding up the most fragile or endangered among them, but one wonders why we should care and where the rest of the story went.

With a Master's Degree in dance performance and choreography from New York University, and performance credits with the likes of Christopher Williams, Larry Keigwin, Kun-Yang Lin, Gus Solomons jr, and others, Skybetter's is one of the most interesting emergent voices at work these days. Zenon's artistic director, Linda Andrews, would do very well to invite him back to secure another new work – perhaps a half-evening effort for the 2011 opening of the Minnesota Shubert Center.

Skybetter and his company will perform in January at Joyce SoHo and the Skirball Center during the APAP Conference in New York.

A second premiere, "Filament," is a solo work created by Emilie Plauché Flink, artistic associate of Minnesota's Black Label Movement. The dance begins in silence, then is joined by the electronic strings of "Luna" from the "Touch It" CD by the Minneapolis-based Jelloslave. Although the movement has a minimalist feel, the impact of its expression by Tamara Ober was anything but as she threw herself about the stage, at times appearing to pedal an invisible bicycle while supine. Mary Ann Bradley will dance the role Nov. 27-29.

Flink's artistic pedigree includes a BFA degree in dance from the Juilliard School, 11 years of performance with the Limón Dance Company, and performances for Annabelle Gamson and Martha Clark. She also worked briefly for the Minnesota Crafts Council, an undertaking that helped inspire her to create sculpture and furniture from found/cast-off objects.

This latter impulse no doubt provided a seed for the metallic-looking set piece for "Filament," designed by Annie Katsura Rollins. Part oversized beehive, and part cave lined with brass, Aztec dishware, the set lived in shadows and invested the proceedings with a cocoon-like refuge.

In Mitch Albom's 2004 book, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," Eddie, the principal character, encounters five individuals after dying in an accident in his old age. One of these is Marguerite, his long-dead wife, who when he sees her is handing out chocolates at a wedding "for the bitter and the sweet." Eddie, who had loved her from the moment they met and never cared for anyone else as much, tells her how much he has missed her. "Lost love," she consoles him, "is still love."

A similar theme is at work in a third Zenon premiere, "Here, now that you are gone..." Set in three sections to music by Charlie Byrd, Toots Thielemans, and Stéphane Grappelli, the jazz duet, danced beautifully and buoyantly by Gregory Waletski and Bradley, recalls "his" love and the instances of their life together. According to program notes, as he is drawn into his memories he must decide either to remain in the past or to continue on.

The choreography by Judith James Ries, a former principal dancer for Danny Buraczeski's JAZZDANCE, acquaints us with the memory in the first segment, sands off any rough edges that may have informed the past relationship in the second, and leaves us to wonder in the third whether the memory or Waletski will let go first. Ultimately, Bradley, as the memory, exits stage right while Waletski remains in reverie stage left. My bet: he continues on but does not move on.

In addition to teaching at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts, Hamline University, and Zenon Dance School, one of Ries's next projects will be creating choreography for Park Square Theatre's 2010 production of "Rock and Roll."

Two repertory works completed the Zenon program.

"Not From Texas," looking like three pieces of cotton candy at the Texas State Fair, entertains without audience effort. Amazingly for Zenon, however, on Nov. 20 the four men appeared to mark the opening quartet with little authentic personality in what should have been a raucous stemwinder to Lyle Lovett's "Long Tall Texan." The succeeding sections, also to Lovett, looked more taut and together, especially the middle duet by Bradley and Waletski. The wife-husband team of Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek provided the whimsical choreography that debuted earlier this year.

"Booba," an odd set of excerpts from a 2008 work by Andrea Miller, closed the show, first with a showcase for six dancers, followed by a duet of Bryan Godbout and Leslie O'Neill. Although the most structurally strong part of the evening, the group work lacked interest, particularly the pseudo-shimmying across the stage to the rhythmic music by Balkan Beat Box. Godbout and O'Neill provided a picture-pleasing finish to the most colorful (costume-wise) and brightly lit dance of the evening.

Zenon Dance Company's 27th fall concerts will continue, Fri-Sun, Nov. 27-29, at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis. For tickets call 612.436.1129.


Baseball's MVP

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Congratulations to #7, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer! The Baseball Writers Association of America gave 27 of 28 first-place votes to Mauer, 26, in designating him the Most Valuable Player in baseball's American League.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Park Square Theatre's next stage includes a second stage

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Whatever damage the recession has visited upon nonprofit arts organizations, the effects appear to have passed over the Park Square Theatre, based in downtown St. Paul's Hamm Building, located at Seventh Place and St. Peter Street. With a current annual operating budget of approximately $1.8 million, Park Square claims to produce more shows than any theater in the Twin Cities except The Guthrie and Children's Theatre.

The company – which believes that "every year you're not growing you're shrinking" –  has raised $1 million toward a Next Stage capital campaign goal of $4.2 million. Beginning in July 2010, these funds will result in new seats, carpeting, and wall coverings in the 340-seat mainstage auditorium, along with energy efficient lights and new production equipment.

Michael-jon Pease, Park Square's director of external relations, outlined the intents and purposes of the capital drive for 28 actors and others who attended a Nov. 23 reception and tour in the Hamm Building.

The  campaign results from an 18-month planning process aimed at organizational transformation. In addition to renovating the mainstage facility, the campaign will provide $1.5 million for a new, second theater with 140 seats situated around three sides of a thrust stage on the lower level of the Hamm Building; $1 million to build organizational capacity over seven years; $500,000 for working capital; and $500,000 for an artistic capital fund that will underwrite the new productions made possible by the operation of two theaters.

The second theater is projected to open in November 2011, and will include an art gallery and lounge.

The Next Stage expansion seeks to increase the range of work presented, from nine to 18 annual productions, providing opportunities for larger, more diverse, and younger audiences to experience more diverse and challenging plays. Annual attendance is projected to grow from the current 53,000 people to 86,000. Much of that growth, 15,000 annually, will occur among student attendees, bringing the annual number of teens served to 40,000 – one of the largest student segments of any theater in the U.S.

The larger operation will allow Park Square to employ more than its current level of 100 artists annually with improved wages and a greater selection of roles. Half of the productions in the second theater will involve collaborations of two-to-three years' duration with other theater companies.

Staffing will increase from the present 11 positions to 14 or 15.

Of the theater's more than 3,000 subscribers, 42% have been with the company for five years or more. Ticket pricing will be the same for both theater spaces.

Park Square Theatre was founded in 1974 and moved into the Hamm Building in 1995. The building also is home to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Artists Quarter jazz club, Great Waters Restaurant, and the Meritage Restaurant.

Park Square Theatre's production of "Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol," directed by Richard Cook, will run Dec. 3-20. For tickets call 651.291.7005 or visit parksquaretheatre.org. The theater's lobby gallery currently displays original, abstract landscape paintings by Kate Pearce.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

More "stimulus" funds on way to Minnesota arts groups

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Minnesota State Arts Board and the Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest have re-granted $361,200 to twenty-one Minnesota arts organizations to help preserve jobs that are threatened by the current economic downturn. The grantees were selected from a pool of 153 eligible applicants.

The grants are part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act / Minnesota Arts Jobs grant program. Funding for the program was provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, through the National Endowment for the Arts.

That economic stimulus package, passed by Congress earlier this year, included $50 million for the arts. In April, the NEA awarded 63 grants from that package, totalling $19.8 million, to state and regional agencies. In that round, the MSAB received $316,000 and Arts Midwest received $514,400. Arts Midwest allocated its funds throughout its nine-state region, and pooled its Minnesota funds with those of the MSAB.

The 21 Minnesota organizations receiving stimulus grants include the Lake Region Arts Council, Fergus Falls, $3,000; Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, Waseca, $10,000; Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis, $15,000; Commonweal Theatre, Lanesboro, $11,600; Cornucopia Art Center, Lanesboro, $13,000; Dakota Valley Symphony, Burnsville, $25,000; FutureBuilders in Support of Trollwood, Morhead, $25,000; Holmes Center, Detroit Lakes, $25,000; Juxtaposition, Inc., Minneapolis, $25,000; Kulture Klub Collaborative, Minneapolis, $19,000; Minneapolis Pops Orchestra Association, Minneapolis, $12,000; Minnesota Ballet, Duluth, $18,000; Minnesota Chorale, Minneapolis, $16,000; Nautilus Music-Theater, St. Paul, $24,000; Nordic Culture Clubs, Moorhead, $18,000; One Voice Mixed Chorus, St. Paul, $24,000; Rochester Repertory Theatre, Rochester, $12,000; Saint Francis Music Center, Little Falls, $12,000; Sounds of Hope, Ltd., St. Paul, $12,600; Zenon Dance Company, Minneapolis, $16,000; and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, Minneapolis, $25,000.

Disclosure: Gary Peterson was a member of one of two panels convened by the MSAB to review 153 applications and to recommend grants for authorization by the MSAB.

In July, 26 other Minnesota arts organizations received stimulus grants directly from the NEA totalling $1,025,000. In total, Minnesota organizations received 2.8% of the $50 million arts stimulus package. 


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tell them how to spend the arts and cultural heritage money

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Minnesota Historical Society, Minnesota State Arts Board, and Minnesota Humanities Center invite public input for a 10-year plan and 25-year framework for how to use money made available through the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Input will be solicited at November listening sessions in Rochester, Minneapolis, and Marshall, and via an online survey.

Listening sessions will take place Monday, Nov. 16, 5pm-7pm, at the Heinz Center on the campus of the Rochester Community and Technical College, 851 30th Avenue SE, Rochester; Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5pm-7pm, at East Side Neighborhood Services, 1700 2nd Street NE, Minneapolis; and Wednesday, Nov. 18, 5pm-7pm, at Charter Hall on the campus of Southwest Minnesota State University, 1501 State Street South, Marshall.

Earlier sessions were held in St. Paul, Chisholm and Fergus Falls. 

Members of a planning committee, drawn from 13 history, arts, cultural, and library organizations, will develop a spending plan for the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. The committee met Nov. 10 in Little Falls, and will meet again on Dec. 9 in Minneapolis and on Jan. 5 at a location to be determined. Its plan will be reported to the legislature by Jan. 15. 


Twin Cities dance and performance notes for November

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For a 27th consecutive year, Zenon Dance Company will present a fall season of dance in the Twin Cities. New and existing work will be displayed over two weekends, Nov. 19-29, at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.

In his first commission for Zenon, New York dancemaker Sydney Skybetter provides one of the program's three premieres, "The Laws of Falling Bodies," a modern work for the full-company set to music by Jonny Greenwood.

Mary Ann Bradley and Greg Waletski will dance "Here, now that you are gone," a new jazz duet by Judith James Ries, a Minneapolis-based protégé of jazz master Danny Buraczeski. The duet is set to music by Charlie Byrd, Toots Thielemans, and Stéphane Grappelli.

Emilie Plauché Flink, co-artistic director of Black Label Movement in Minneapolis, offers a new, untitled solo set to cello music composed by Michelle Kinney and recorded by the ensemble Jello Slave. Tamara Ober and Bradley will perform the work on alternate weekends.

The program also will include two revivals. "Not From Texas," a light and entertaining hoedown by Megan McClellan and Brian Sostek set to music by Lyle Lovett, and "Booba (Doll)," an Andrea Miller work to Balkan Beat Box.

The Ritz Theater is located at 345 - 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis. Performances: Nov. 19-21 and 27-28 at 8pm, Nov. 22 and 29 at 7pm. For tickets call: 612.436.1129.

• • • • •

Led by directors Uri Sands and Toni Pierce-Sands, TU Dance will open its sixth season with three performances of four contemporary works, Nov. 20-22, at The O'Shaughnessy in St. Paul. The program will feature the first full staging since 1992 of "Dance With Army Blankets," a work commissioned from Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith by the Alvin Ailey Repertory Ensemble.

Uri Sands will offer up two premieres: "Sense(ability) Sketch III - Earth" and an untitled duet for himself and Marciano Silva dos Santos. An earlier work, "Tones of Adney," inspired by the shifting states of a Minnesota lake, will round out the bill.

The O'Shaughnessy is located on the campus of St. Catherine's University, Cleveland and Randolph Aves., St. Paul. Performances: Nov. 20-21 at 8pm and Nov. 22 at 2pm. For tickets call 651.690.6700.

• • • • •

The Walker Art Center's annual Choreographers' Evening, curated by Olive Bieringa and Otto Ramstad, will take place in Minneapolis at the Walker's McGuire Theater, Saturday, Nov. 28 at 7pm and 9:30pm. Follow the link for the program line-up. For tickets call 612.375.7600 or online at walkerart.org/tickets.

• • • • •

In something of a family affair, the Lakeville City Ballet will present its annual, full-length production of "The Nutcracker" on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 28-29, at the Lakeville South High School Theater.

Artistic Director Denise Vogt provides the choreography for the production that includes spouse Rick Vogt (returning from dance retirement) in the role of Drosselmeyer, daughter Tianna, and son Anthony in the role of the Nutcracker.

In addition to students from the Ballet Royale Minnesota academy, guest artists will include Leah Gallas and Ricardo Graziano from the Tulsa Ballet (Sugar Plum Fairy and Cavalier) and Eve Schulte and Nicolas Lincoln from the James Sewell Ballet (Snow Queen and King).

The Lakeville South High School Theater is located at 21135 Jacquard Avenue, Lakeville, east of I-35 on Highway 70. Performances: Nov. 28 at 2pm and 6pm, and Nov. 29 at 1:30pm. Tickets available at the door, or in advance online at www.lakeville-rapconnect.com (click the "Programs" tab).

• • • • •

After 10+ years of planning and fundraising, ground will be broken for construction of the Minnesota Shubert Center in Minneapolis, Thursday, Nov. 19. The public is invited for remarks and the groundbreaking ceremony in the parking lot between the Hennepin Center for the Arts and the Shubert Theater, 528 Hennepin Ave., 12:30pm-1:15pm. A reception will follow in the Hennepin Center, 1:15pm-2:30pm. RSVP for the reception to 612.465.0231.

• • • • •

One of the largest dance floors in Minnesota, the historic Withrow Ballroom & Event Center will re-open late this month in Hugo/Stillwater, under the ownership of Paul Bergman. The 15,000 sq ft facility, established in 1928, has been shut down for a year. The opening weekend entertainment will include the Rockin' Hollywoods (50s dancing music), Friday, Nov. 27, 8:30pm-12:30am; Raggs featuring Todd Olson on lead vocals/sax/flute (classic rock-n-roll), Saturday, Nov. 28, 8pm-Midnight; and the acoustic slide guitar duo of the Dough Bros: Paul Mayasich and Andy Dee (country, blues, R and B, rockabilly, rock-n-roll), Sunday, Nov. 29, 3pm-7pm.

The Withrow Ballroom is located at 12169 Keystone Avenue North, Hugo, just northwest of Stillwater, Minnesota. Tickets are available at the door or by calling 651.439.5123.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Country's Phil Vassar singing at Burnsville PAC

Burnsville, Minnesota

To promote the release of his fourth album, "Prayer Of A Common Man," Phil Vassar has been traveling the country to perform in Wilmington, Tampa, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Cleveland, and many more. The tour will bring him to the main stage of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, Saturday, Nov. 21, at 7:30pm.

After growing up poor in his native Virginia and scoring a track scholarship to James Madison University, the country singer, songwriter, and pianist worked his way up in Nashville, beginning his career co-writing songs with country legends like Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina, Collin Raye, and Alan Jackson. Since releasing his debut album in 2000, he has charted 18 songs on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Charts, including two at number one.

The Burnsville Performing Arts Center is located at 12600 Nicollet Avenue, Burnsville, just off I-35W at the US-13 exit. Tickets available in-person at the BPAC box office, Tue-Fri, 11am-6pm & Sat, 10am-2pm. For more information: 952.895.4680.

ARENA Dances at The Lab Theater

Minneapolis, Minnesota

ARENA Dances by Mathew Janczewski will present its Short Fall series of modern dance performances at The Lab Theater in Minneapolis, Nov. 12-15. The program will feature three premiere works: "Huddle," a quartet for men; "Everything Reflects," a duet; and a solo by Janczewski. Two repertory works also are on deck: "Short Fall" and "I need you now to abandon me."

In addition to Janczewski, the ARENA dancers include Gabriel Anderson, Julie Brant McBride, Heather Klopchin, Stephanie Laager, Stephen Schroeder, Duncan Schultz, Sarah Steichen, and Galen Treuer.

The Lab Theater is located at 700 North 1st Street in Minneapolis. Tickets online at www.thelabtheater.org. Performances: Nov. 12-13 & 14 at 8pm; Nov. 14 at 5pm; Nov. 15 at 7pm.

Taking five with Dave Brubeck at The Dakota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

While one expects that Dave Brubeck and his quartet would sell out multiple performances at The Dakota Jazz Club after performing for 58 years on the world's music stages, that the legendary pianist still has it going on musically may be assumed, subject to verification. Seeing, and hearing, confirmed the faith of Twin Cities fans gathered in Minneapolis, Nov. 4, for the last of six shows over three evenings.

Holding court at the Dakota's Steinway, the 89-year-old Brubeck made playing with one hand sound like three or four, as he did in a solo containing echoes of "Sweet Georgia Brown" that morphed into interludes for bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones. This followed an opening mix featuring solos for Moore and saxophonist Bobby Militello.

Each piece mesmerized more than the last in a set that continued without interruption for nearly 100 minutes. "Over the Rainbow" opened with Brubeck on keyboard, gave way to a transcendant flute rendition by Militello, and closed with piano and flute together. In Brubeck's "Dziekuje," composed during a 1958 tour of Poland, the opening homage to Chopin evolved into a wailing sax before resolving to a finish by the group.

For an aficianado of jazz music and dance, the quartet's concluding, 2009 version of "Take Five" missed only one element: the presence of the jazz choreographer Danny Buraczeski, who created the definitive dance expression of Brubeck's classic in his 1980 work "Fission."

A boisterous and affectionate applause brought Brubeck back for whimsical solo encores, beginning with "I'm tired and I wanna go home." The audience – whose members included the Minnesota Orchestra's Osmo Vänskä, the Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra's Bill Schrickel, and veteran arts administrator Jon Lewis –  then joined in to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and to hum along with "Lullabye."

In a verbal valedictory, Brubeck said, "I always enjoy our concerts here, and I hope to see you all again sometime."

Brubeck will be presented with a Kennedy Center Honors medallion at a Dec. 5 dinner hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The other honorees will include the soprano/mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry and rock-and-roll artist Bruce Springsteen, both of whom have performed in the Twin Cities in recent years. President Obama will host a White House reception for the honorees on Dec. 6, before the telecast gala from the Kennedy Center.

Performers at The Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant in coming months will include Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, Nov. 10-11; The Bad Plus, Dec. 25-27; Mark O'Connor, Jan. 20; and Ahmad Jamal, late Feb.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What happens to dreams when they die?

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Destiny lives in the choices we make that result in dreams realized, deferred, or denied. Regardless of the intention or merit of one's choices, they often substitute for what we originally wanted, whether for ourselves or others. Ten years ago, on Oct. 24, 1999, my niece Bernadette Lewis realized her destiny in a fatal choice at a railroad crossing in Baltimore.

A barren landscape of anguish, regret, and sorrow confronted her survivors with the loss of possibility and the futility of hope. Yet, while her dreams for herself had ended, 10 years on ours for her and for ourselves have continued, changed forever by the choices she had made.

In the climactic scene of Bright Star, Jane Campion's current film about the 19th century Romantic poet John Keats, Abbie Cornish as Fanny Brawne receives news in England that Keats, her betrothed, has died at 25 in his rooms overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome. In her grief, Cornish is wracked by the suffocating spasms of angina pectoris and cries out that "I can't breathe." 

Ten years ago, I could not breathe after hearing the news of Bernadette's death, and believed I would suffocate in the middle of the night on a hillside above a lake. The intensity of my emotional turmoil in the months that followed exceeded by many factors that of the multi-year mess that had marked my coming out as a gay man many years earlier. I discerned few choices and no dreams in the wake of Bernadette's demise.

Over coffee with my friend Florence, a retired dance educator, I asked when the pain would end. "It never stops," she answered. "The intensity may diminish and surrender to time, but it will keep coming back. When it does, you need to let it wash over and through you."

Every person experiences these dynamics from a different perspective. The members of my family have made new choices and adjusted their dreams in different ways. Bernadette's mother, my sister Debra S. Lewis, published a book in 2007, Song of Bernadette: A Mother's Memoir of a Daughter.

As I have done on other occasions before and since, I entered into the loss and gradually harnessed the power of its pain, bending it to new choices in pursuit of new and old dreams.

One of the choices led to the life-changing journey of a two-week tour of Kansas in 2000. My brother joined me for a few days from his home in Denver. We met new relatives who were more excited than anyone had been to see either of us for a long time. We found the lost roots of our paternal grandfather, and from there we found a story of family, country, and dreams stretching back nearly 400 years. The outcomes of those choices led to the launch of this blog and inspiration for a future book that ties the story together.

Three years ago, when I visited Baltimore and the place where she died, I told Bernadette all the news that had happened since, and told her that as long as we all lived, so would she. 

Thwarted dreams can resurge and lure us to create new possibilities, testifying to the resilience of things we do not fully comprehend, and providing evidence that while people die, dreams never do.

Bernadette "Berni" C. Lewis passed away Oct. 24, 1999. She was 26 yrs old. Berni was born in Fridley, MN on March 15, 1973. She lived in Mpls until she was 11 and moved to Kenton, Ohio, where she graduated Valedictorian from Kenton High School in 1991. She graduated from Mt. Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA in 1995 with a Biology Major. Following graduation, Berni worked at Henry M. Jackson Foundation in Rockville, MD as an AIDS researcher until 1997 when she accepted a position at the University of Maryland. Berni loved her family, her soul mate, Su-hun, her friends, her dog "Lola" and the outdoors. Her future plans were to attend Medical School and become a rural family Physician. Berni is survived by her parents, Jeffrey & Debra Lewis of Ashland, WI; her grandparents, Kenneth & Millicent Vetsch of Monticello, MN and Dr. L. Clifford & Jacqueline Lewis of Mantoloking, NJ. She also leaves her sisters, Jenine N. Lewis of St. Paul, MN and Emily J. Lewis of Ashland, WI, along with her brother, Peter E. Lewis of Ashland, WI. A Memorial Service will be held in Washburn, Wisc., on Sat., Oct. 30, 11 AM at the Messiah Lutheran Church.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Never too late for the chance of a lifetime

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Is one moment of exhilaration worth the risk of a lifetime? That's the question posed by "Exit Strategy," a two-act drama that weighs the risks of grabbing for the brass ring, discovering new dreams, and learning it is never too late to take a chance.

Romantics of both active and passive dispositions will appreciate this story by Twin Cities playwrights Bill Semans and Roy M. Close. Their characters, the unrelated elders Mae and James, live on fixed incomes with much time on their hands. They are 30-days-and-waiting from being evicted from the shabby rooming house they call home. Enter Alex, a man on a mission with an intriguing proposition, who jolts awake Mae and James' very existence.

The play receives its west coast premiere at the Falcon Theatre in Los Angeles, Oct. 23-Nov. 15, under the direction of Casey Stangl. Written originally for the actors Charles Nolte, Shirley Venard, and Semans, "Exit Strategy" was first presented in Minneapolis last year at the Mixed Blood Theatre. The current, all-star cast features Debra Mooney ('Mae'), John C. Moskoff ('Alex'), and James B. Sikking ('James').

"The great thing about 'Exit Strategy,'" wrote Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, "is that it strikes such an entertaining balance between tragedy and comedy, ultimately providing a sense of reassurance that life isn't over until it's over, and until the lights go out, interesting things can still happen."

Semans and Close will attend the final preview and opening night performances in Los Angeles, Oct. 22-23. Family members joining them for the festivities include sons Andrew and Macrae Semans of New York, spouse Linda Close of Minneapolis, and daughter Maggie Close of Denver. 

Semans started acting in his native Minneapolis before moving to New York in the 1960s. He returned home to found the Cricket Theatre in 1968, where he produced nearly 100 new American plays over 12 years, including works by Sam Shepard, Lanford Wilson, and David Mamet. He has written and directed eight documentary films plus one feature film, "Herman, USA." which was "appallingly unsuccessful." He is presently working on a Civil War documentary series for HBO.

Close, a Twin Cities native and graduate of the University of Minnesota, covered theater, classical music, and dance for The Minneapolis Star from 1971 to 1981, and then served as a critic and editor for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press until 1992. The Brave New Workshop staged "Lies, Lies, Lies," his 1996 musical about the newspaper business. His portfolio of short plays includes "A Postcard from the Corn Palace," "Zambezi Blue," and "Your Call Is Very Important to Us." He is currently Director of Resource Development at Artspace Projects.

A veteran of theater, opera, and film, Stangl has worked with many producing entities, including the Guthrie Theater, Denver Center Theatre Company, Minnesota Opera, Portland Opera, and, most recently, the El Portal Theater in Los Angeles. She was recognized as 2004 Artist of the Year for her work at Eye of the Storm Theater, the company she founded in Minneapolis. Her short film "C U @ ED'S" has screened at 18 film festivals, won an Audience Award at DC Shorts, and was a finalist in the USA Film Festival National Short Film Competition.

Mooney ('Mae') has enjoyed an extensive career, with Broadway performances that include "The Price," "The Odd Couple" "Talley's Folley," "Death of a Salesman," "Getting and Spending," and "Chapter Two." She has appeared all over television screens in "Everwood," "Grey's Anatomy," "Private Practice," "The Closer," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "The Practice," "Murphy Brown," "Rosanne," and "ER." Film buffs have seen her in "Domestic Disturbance," "Anastasia," "Napoleon," "Dead Poets Society," and "Chapter Two."

If you missed Moskoff ('Alex') in more than 300 television commercials, you may have seen him on "Friends," "Golden Girls," "Mad About You," "Desperate Housewives," "ER," "Brothers & Sisters," and "Everybody Hates Chris." (Among others!) He has performed in films, and on the boards on Broadway and throughout the U.S., including the role of Oscar for several productions of "The Odd Couple."

Sikking ('James') was a series regular on "Hill Street Blues," for which he was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Lt. Howard Hunter. He also was a regular on "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "Brooklyn South." His visage graced the big screen in "American Primitive," "Fever Pitch," "The Pelican Brief," and "Ordinary People." He has appeared in "The Big Knife" on the London stage, toured in "Plaza Suite," and performed in "The Price" in Washington, D.C. and "Nobody Loves an Albatross" in Los Angeles.

"Exit Strategy" runs through Nov. 15 at the Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA. Wed-Sat, 8pm; Sun, 4pm. Tickets $27.50-$40. Call 818.955.8101.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

France bestows knighthood on Minnesota's Lucia Watson

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The French Ministry of Agriculture bestowed the title of Chevalier d'Ordre du Mérite Agricole on Minnesota's Lucia Watson last Friday. The author and restauranteur of Lucia's Restaurant, Wine Bar, and Lucia's To Go received the honor from Alain Frécon, Honorary Consul of France in Minnesota, at a noon luncheon and ceremony at Windows on Minnesota.

Created in 1883 to acknowledge exemplary services to agriculture, the knighthood recognizes Watson for promoting bills of fare that use fresh, locally-produced foods based in sustainable agricultural practices.

Watson, whose love of French literature and life predates her 24 years in the business of preparing and presenting food, majored in French at the University of Minnesota and lives for parts of each year at her second home in Brittany. She also serves as a director for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and previously served on the Organic Advisory Task Force of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

As the co-author of two books, Watson contributed in 1994 to "Care and Preparation of Freshwater Fish from Field to Table" with Doug Stang and Bob Piper. This was followed 10 years later by "Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland," written with Beth Dooley.

The French American Chamber of Commerce of Minneapolis/St. Paul sponsored Friday's program. Its president, Jérôme Chateau, presided as master of ceremonies.

In addition to Watson, program speakers included Jim Boerboom, deputy commissioner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture; Mark Ritchie, Minnesota Secretary of State and founder/past president of the IATP; Gunnar Liden, executive director, Youth Farm and Market Project; and Jim Harkness, president, IATP.

Executive Chef Thierry Penichot presided over the menu, which included roasted breast of chicken, provided by Callister Farms, West Concord MN; braised cabbage and root vegetables; local Camembert from Alemar Cheese Company, Mankato MN; a Minnesota apple tart; and red and white wines offered by Grand-Père Wines, Minneapolis.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

President Obama speaks at the annual Human Rights Campaign Dinner

Washington, D. C., Oct. 10, 2009

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Falco dance returns to Minnesota 31 years after premiere

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Louis Falco Dance Company presented the premiere of "Escargot" in Mankato, Minnesota, on Oct. 1, 1978. Last Friday, thirty one years and a day later, the work was performed again in the state by student dancers at the University of Minnesota's Barbara Barker Center for Dance in Minneapolis. In the interval, the 18-minute modern dance, accompanied by Ralph MacDonald's music album The Path, became one of Falco's signature works, performed throughout the world by the Cleveland Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and many others. One of the performers from 1978, Alan Sener, restaged the work for the University's Cowles Visiting Artist Program and visited about it with a studio audience.

One notices early on that "Escargot" requires great aerobic stamina from the two casts of six dancers, each composed of three men and three women. A series of solo and group turns in quick succession filled the stage with movement patterns that appeared more complex and challenging than anything an individual dancer was doing. Such a perception proved somewhat false, however. Although no longer novel to the bodies of 21st century dancers, and taken for granted by the eyes of their audiences, Falco's layers of individual vocabulary and phrasing are exceedingly dense and demanding.

Although MacDonald's music traces the evolution of jazz – from sounds African to Caribbean to New Orleans to New York disco – Falco created the work in silence, according to Sener, intending originally to use classical music accompaniment.

"However," Sener said, "one day someone brought in what was a hot album at the time – and we were a hot company."

Born in 1942 to Italian immigrant parents, Falco grew up on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Following his introduction to modern dance at The Henry Street Playhouse, and while attending the High School for the Performing Arts, he joined the Charles Weidman Dance Company in 1959. He then danced as a principal in the José Limón Dance Company, serving as Limón's muse from 1960 until 1970. As one of the world's most exciting dancers, he changed the perception and role of men in modern dance.

Falco first presented his own choreography in 1967, and continued until 1983 when he folded his troupe in order to focus on commercial work in films, music videos, and television. His work gained its greatest visibility from his role as choreographer for the 1980 film Fame. A choreographer in the "fall and recovery" style, Falco worked with contemporary popular music, and with contemporary design artists (e.g., Marisol and Armani) for sets and costumes. Known for its fashion and glamour, particularly in Europe, Falco's company was characterized by "explosive energy, sensuality and chic" according to his 1993 New York Times obituary by Jennifer Dunning.

In a just world, stations of honor would be assigned to the acolytes, like Sener, who tend the fires of our cultural trail blazers. For many of these loyalists, the blessing of professional association with their principals fuels devotion to the preservation of legacies not their own. Beginning as a principal dancer in Falco's company in 1978, Sener served as the choreographer's assistant until his death, and since has served as biographer-in-progress and artistic director for the Falco repertory. Since 1991, Sener has been associated with the University of Iowa where he teaches and creates his own body of work as professor and chair of the Department of Dance.

Student performer-members of the University Dance Theater will present "Escargot" in their concert program at Rarig Center, Dec. 11-13. For tickets call 612.624.2345 ($5-$17).


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review: Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre at the Ritz

Minneapolis, Minnesota

As a way of life, flamenco chafes at the inimical strictures of the concert stage. That its art is known at all within the United States owes much to its expression by a handful of American Spanish dance ensembles, the Twin Cities-based Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre among them. Since its founding by Susana di Palma in 1982, Zorongo has presented traditional flamenco programs as well as its original and signature theater flamenco works that explore contemporary themes and issues.

Although traditionally associated with Spanish Gypsies, flamenco evolved from the mash-up of Muslim, Jewish, Indo-Pakistani, and Byzantine cultures in the Andalusian provinces of southern Spain: Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Joen, Molega, and Sevilla. The form is distinguished by its four elements of singing (cante), dancing (baile), guitar playing (toque), and rhythm (jaleo). In adapting flamenco to the theater, its practitioners seek to maintain the passionate soul of flamenco that may be found in the night-long juergas of the Spanish countryside.

Following an engagement at North Dakota State University, di Palma brought her troupe's Retratos – portraits – program to a weekend of performances at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, Sept. 18-20. The program featured a range of traditional and thematic flamenco, delivered with a satisfying cohesion and strong, technical consistency.

Two opening segments nicely introduced the personalities and performance quirks of four accomplished dancers. A trio of Deborah Elias Morse, Sachiko Nishiuchi, and Laura Horn danced to recorded cante by Carmen Linares. Attired in contemporary garb, the women rushed about the stage as though in a downtown street scene, cell phones pressed to their ears, before preparing to throw off the frenzy and fashion of modern times for the traditional, floor-length gowns of traditional bailaoras. As they departed, Julia Altenbach arrived to deliver a commanding alegrias.

For many years, di Palma has drawn on the lives and art of women for inspiration in creating her theatrical works. A solo for herself to the recorded voice of El Pele, singing "Alfonina y El Mar" by Felix Luna, drew from the final poem by Alfonsina Storni, a 20th century feminist and suffragette. Beset by breast cancer and a broken love affair, Storni, a Latin American writer, penned the poem in 1938, the night before her suicide by walking into the sea. A videographic seascape created by di Palma provided a panoramic backdrop for the dance and song.

Pedro Cortés, Jr., who represents the third generation in a family of Spanish Gypsy guitarists, has served as Zorongo's music director since 1993. A panoramic sound journey across his strings in the program's third section earned him a rousing audience ovation.

Then, depending on one's perspective, Cortés and singer Felix de Lola either accompanied – or were accompanied by – Altenbach, Morse, Nishiuchi, and Horn in "Maja" (Solea por Buleria), a fast-paced closer for the first act.

In "Memorial for Neda," di Palma and company, joined by dancer Andrea Plevan, paid tribute to a student, Neda Agha Soltan, 22, who was shot and killed on June 20, 2009, while attending a protest in Tehran against the fraudulent Iranian election results that defeated the reformist candidates for president. Neda's murder made her an instant martyr and symbol of the Iranian people's longing for freedom. In poetry, music, and dance, backed by a video collage of Iranian protests, the company maintained a focus on the experiences of Neda the individual and those of the individuals around her, while depicting what became a singular event for a global mass audience.

A fiery, traditional flamenco finale ended the show with solo dance turns for Morse and Nishiuchi, followed by an exquisite display of solo cante by de Lola, who would have been welcome to sing all night. A bubbling, Bulerias free-for-all brought the proceedings to a satisfying conclusion.

A notable, if more subtle, success for the Zorongo program may be found in the performing presence of five, solid flamenco dancers in addition to di Palma. In the best of times, even in Spain, "flamenco's greatest deficiency is the shortage of good dancers" (Pohren, 1984, p. 59).

From her earliest days dancing solo in Twin Cities night clubs, di Palma found herself bedeviled by the shortage of flamenco artists in Minnesota. The expensive conundrum of hiring performers from Seattle, San Francisco, Mexico, and Spain for short-run productions limited creation time, stressed rehearsals, and restricted touring opportunities. The current company represents the fulfillment of a long-held dream, and results from the founding of Zorongo Flamenco's school more than a decade ago.

That, alone, is a singular achievement of no small consequence.

Pohren, D. E. (1984). The art of flamenco. Dorset, England: Musical New Services Limited.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Twin Cities: Take the St. Croix Valley arts survey

Minneapolis, Minnesota

At first blush, artists and audiences in the Twin Cities might overlook or dismiss an  online survey about space needs of artists of all disciplines in the St. Croix River Valley along the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. While talk is cheap and so are surveys, the results of both do get used to determine how and where communities invest their infrastructure dollars. Thus, metro residents should take a few minutes to complete the survey by Oct. 1.

The valley communities of Stillwater and Lake Elmo, Minnesota, and Hudson, Wisconsin, are at the center of a growing population and an increasingly vigorous, sub-regional arts scene. As artistic activity has increased, so too has interest in the physical amenities in which artists and audiences gather to experience, work, and perform.

Nine organizations in the area have joined together to sponsor the online survey that is being circulated by mnartists.org. These organizations include the Art Reach Alliance, Lake Elmo Regional Art Center, The Phipps Center for the Arts, Stillwater Area Public Schools Community Education, Trinity Lutheran Church, Theatre Associates of Stillwater, Performing Arts Study Committee, Valley Chamber Chorale, and St. Croix Valley Community Foundation. Survey results will be shared early in 2010. [Disclosure: I attended one meeting of this group last year on behalf of the organization conducting the survey.]

During the current economic recession, individuals and organizations should be using their time to position and prepare for the recovery and their futures. Twin Cities artists and audiences who perceive that they have an interest in the East Metro's cultural life should take the survey to help shape that area's potential impact on their lives and careers.

The passage last November of the Legacy Amendment guarantees that Minnesota's statewide public investment in arts and culture will increase significantly for 25 years. The impact of those funds will be leveraged when they meet the aspirations and plans of communities throughout the state, like those in the St. Croix Valley.

Aspirations and plans are everywhere.

Early this year, the new Burnsville Performing Arts Center opened for business just south of the Minnesota River from Minneapolis and Bloomington. If it finds its programming voice in the next two years, the Burnsville PAC will have a significant impact on community and professional music, theater, and dance. The Center has the potential to become a regional powerhouse in a manner akin to that of the four halls of the Carlsen Center on the campus of the Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

The Burnsville experience may hold interest and influence for the folks in Rochester, Minnesota, the state's third largest city, who have been trying to thread the needle for a new performance hall for years. The embryonic emergence of a University of Minnesota campus in Rochester has added fuel to their hopes and thinking.

The St. Croix Valley may or may not build new performance facilities that anchor the East Metro, but – like communities elsewhere – its cultural leaders are determined that the area will serve artists and audiences in ways better than it does now.

Help them to make that happen and take the survey.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Embrace adversity to develop character and leadership

Minneapolis, Minnesota

"Crisis takes many forms," said Bill George, "and crisis is the real test and making of a leader."

Authentic leadership has been a cause of George's life since stepping down as chair and CEO of Minnesota-based Medtronic. The current professor of management practice at Harvard Business School has authored three best-selling books, including his most recent, "7 Lessons for Leading in Crisis." He serves currently as a director of Exxon Mobil and Goldman Sachs, and served formerly on the boards of Novartis and Target Corporation.

George convened and moderated a "Summit on Leading in Crisis: Personal stories from the trenches," Sept. 17, at the Ted Mann Concert Hall at the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis. The four panel members included John Donahoe, chair and CEO, eBay; David Gergen, CNN commentator and Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; Anne Mulcahy, chair and former CEO, Xerox; and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chair and former CEO, Carlson Companies.

In opening remarks, George said that leaders need a willingness to show vulnerability and weakness, and the ability to face reality, particularly in times of crisis. He observed that "the Chinese character for crisis has two parts, representing danger and opportunity."

Mulcahy learned about all of that when she became CEO of Xerox in 2001, a time when the company was billions of dollars in debt, embroiled in an SEC scandal, and faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "It was important," she said, "that I understood how serious the problems were and that I let people know it." When she told investors on a conference call that Xerox's business model was "unsustainable" the stock price dropped 45% overnight. "It was the truth and the right thing to say," Mulcahy said, "but it was painful."

She spent her first three months as CEO traveling the globe, listening to Xerox employees and customers and spreading optimism. "The organization doesn't move if people don't believe," she said. "The way to get results is by engaging our customers and our people, and we had to devise a set of actions that people could understand and believe in."

Gergen has served in the administrations of four U. S. presidents during his career (Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton), and observed that the public sector deals well with crisis because people come together, particularly when there is preparation. New York City and its mayor, Rudy Giuliani, were ready to handle the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Gergen said, because they had studied and prepared after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and because Giuliani had read about how Winston Churchill rallied Britain's people during World War II.

Similarly, Gergen said, the handling of the 2008 financial meltdown by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson worked as well as it did because both men were students of the Great Depression. "Intellectual preparation has a lot of value," he said.

The hardest crisis for government, according to Gergen, is the one that lives over the horizon. "It is easy to pander to popular taste, and hard to have courage to summon the will to deal now with looming crises. Great societies and great leaders figure out how to deal with big questions."

A test for Nelson began on the morning of 9/11 when she arrived at the headquarters of Carlson Companies whose 180,000 employees engage globally in the travel and hospitality industry. "It was difficult but easy," she said. "It was a command and control moment. All that had gone before made us successful. We had hired to value and had taught our credo. We simply had to give our people the power to lead within the context of our values when we could not communicate with them." The company's people even took care of its competitors' customers.

Donahoe readily admitted that "I make a lot of mistakes." The past 18 months have been a time of crisis for the 25 million people who sell on eBay, and for the 1.3 million who make their living through the company. However, crisis presented his company with the opportunity to make changes in its business model and become more customer driven. "Still," he said, "when I announced the changes and said it would take three years for them to be effective, our stock price dropped by half."

Nelson observed that many business models may have to change, and voiced concern that "we will have a chronic job crisis over time. A lot of businesses are doing triage. It is not a romantic time."

The question of how to get people back to work will be, according to Donahoe, a test of what America is all about. "In the last 15 years, 70% of all job creation happened in small business. Large businesses are not going to create new jobs in large numbers."

Nelson agreed, but said small businesses need large businesses for distribution. She also noted that small businesses need banks and venture capitalists to make loans to get them to the next level. "We need to get financing moving," she said.

Mulcahy argued for more long term investment, particularly in research and development. "Leadership is needed to drive it."

A question from George asking how each had survived and maintained their personal resilience during crisis was met by a long silence, broken by Mulcahy. "Your people inspire you in ugly times," she said. "Crisis makes you step up to the plate and accept accountability to not let them down. Every night, I asked myself the question, 'Did you do everything you could today?'"

All four panel members believe in the value of crisis and adversity in building character and leadership. "A sense of entitlement doesn't cut it," said Donahoe. "Adversity builds character."

Gergen, who worked in the White House during the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration, said it is important for young people to get into the arena and be tested early. "That was a long ordeal. We were told one reality within the White House, and another was coming to us from investigations and newspaper reporting. It is very important to have an ongoing set of bonding. You find out who your friends are – and aren't. After many Republican friends stopped calling, it was my Democratic friends who called to check-in. You become acutely aware of the anchors in your life. If you have mountain top experiences, it is important to have been in the valleys in order to appreciate the mountain top. After the valleys, you are ready to take anything on. Fear is gone."

Nelson believes in the anchors of faith and family. Living through the crucible of losing a child in an auto accident provided perspective. She learned that "as long as you have breath there is opportunity to recover. Adversity gives young people the sense that they will survive."

Donahoe concurred. "Once you have been in a valley," he said, "you know you can survive everything – and know that there are other valleys coming."

Mulcahy responded to a question from the audience asking what kind of leadership would change the country's discourse. "One person cannot do it alone," she said. "All the branches of government are responsible for bringing the country together and demonstrating better leadership to the American people."

Nelson added that "We become afraid with a scarcity mentality. We can ask leaders to lead, but we have to engage with them and not just shout at them out of anger."

Gergen worries about violence and governability, citing a deteriorating situation. "When every issue turns bitter and divisive, it becomes very hard to remain a great country. Will the U.S. still be at the world table 20 years from now?"

"This rancid environment is not good," Gergen continued. "What is said in churches, synagogues, city government, and the press is important. We are 'allowing' manufactured controversies. As the president said on 60 Minutes last week, we have to find ways to make civility interesting."

To a question about executive compensation, Nelson answered that corporate boards need to engage the issue. She said she worries about legislating and regulating but recognizes that there are unsustainable compensation models. "People need to be compensated if they add sustainable value."

Mulcahy added that boards are stepping up, and need to focus on performance metrics that are aligned with long term good.

A 13-year-old boy from Eagan, Minnesota, asked what lessons the panel had learned from their biggest crisis when they were his age.

Nelson replied, "Take yourself seriously as an actor. Whether you are 12 or 75, you can make change happen."

Mulcahy said, "Build followership. Leadership has to be earned and not taken for granted."

Gergen advised, "Don't give up if she turns you down for the third time."

Donahoe learned that one must embrace adversity. "It builds character. In it are the gems of life that make leaders."

Approximately 700 people attended "Leading in Crisis." Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television recorded the conversation for future broadcast. Sponsors of the event included Target, Fredrikson & Byron, P. A., George Family Foundation, and Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Meet Karen Wilson Thissen

Minneapolis, Minnesota

It's not every day that one of my friends is in a YouTube video! I have known Karen Wilson Thissen for several years through our work in Minnesota's arts world.


Monday, September 14, 2009

The president's Minneapolis rally for health care reform

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The president spoke at Target Center in Minneapolis, Sept. 12, to rally support for health care reform.

The robust debate about health care reform touches everything throughout the land: the definition of freedom vs. coercion, capitalism vs. socialism, nice vs. not-nice, and anything else we don't much cotton to. All of it possibly is an excuse to acknowledge how little we really like each other – and we aren't going to pretend otherwise anymore – regardless of what we might say in church.

We pride ourselves on being Americans who can do anything. Yet, we lag every other major democracy and capitalist society in dealing with health care.

I have run three small businesses and helped manage others. None of us can afford to kill health care reform and do nothing. Nor can we afford to let the free market solve our health care challenges.

The time to act is now.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blogging about the National Civic Summit

Minneapolis, Minnesota

After attending the National Civic Summit in Minneapolis, July 16-17, I intended to organize the two days of presentations and conversations and blog about them in report and commentary form. Since then, I have put off the reporting because of its volume. Over time, I will incorporate commentary into other writing.

The reporting aspect, however, has been solved through technology: videos were made of the presentations and have become available online. I commend all of them to anyone for whom sleep does not come easily at night, or who find themselves at loose ends over a holiday weekend. Two presentations, in particular, are worth a look.

Nate Garvis opened the summit with remarks about "Uncivil Discourse." Garvis is Vice President of Government Affairs & Senior Public Affairs Officer at Target. He was introduced by Sean Kershaw, executive director of the Citizens League. His remarks extend for 35 minutes and are followed by Q&A.

Outtakes from his talk: Referring to the "merchants of venom," Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh, Garvis said "We have become the media. Our representatives reflect what we are as we self identify into philosophical ghettos. ... No one does good business in a bad neighborhood. Bad communities become good communities on purpose. ... Dogma is a tool we use to stop learning. ... We can't afford more government. ... We need people who aren't interested in being successful, but in adding value. ... The game has changed. It's not about control, it's about influence."

Later in the summit, Garvis introduced Aneesh Chopra who spoke on "The Innovation Imperative: Delivering on the Promise of Open Government." Chopra is U.S. Chief Technology Officer & Associate Director for Technology, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. His remarks extend just over 50 minutes, including questions.

– 30 –

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

National Civic Summit: Remarks by Aneesh Chopra

Minneapolis, Minnesota

"The Innovation Imperative: Delivering on the Promise of Open Government"

Remarks by Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer & Associate Director for Technology, White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.

Delivered at the National Civic Summit, Hilton Hotel, Minneapolis, Minnesota, July 17, 2009.

Aneesh Chopra "The Innovation Imperative" at the National Civic Summit from National Tweetup on Vimeo.

[Remarks: 50:28, begin at 02:00]

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chameleon Theatre Circle: New play contest and festival

Burnsville, Minnesota

An example of community theater that facilitates the power of people to imagine and create new realities and communities for themselves is alive and well in Burnsville. Since its founding in 1998, The Chameleon Theatre Circle has served artists and audiences South of the River by staging nearly 70 plays and musicals, many of them original scripts by contemporary playwrights.

The company's work has been recognized over the years by numerous awards at state, regional, and national levels of community theater festivals, including the biennial MACT•Fest, sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Community Theatres. Chameleon also gained broader visibility when its 2000 production of "Hair" was featured in a PBS broadcast.

As it takes up residence in the new, Burnsville Performing Arts Center, the Chameleon will look to extend its horizons further when it opens its 12th season, Sept. 18, with "Paper Dolls" by Timothy Braatz, playwright in residence.

In addition to a Playwrights In Residence program – Braatz and Rick Raasch currently hold the positions – the theater cultivates and nurtures new work through its annual contests. This year, more than 300 playwrights from around the world made submissions to the 10th Annual New Play Contest.

Following a multi-panel process that started last October, eight plays were selected to receive concert-style readings in the Annual New Play Festival, held at the Burnsville center's Black Box Theatre, Aug. 29. The plays were selected based on Full Length, One Act, and 10 Minute categories.

Full Length Category:

"Ponzi on Sunday," by Jon Steinhagen, Brookfield, Illinois. In August 1920, famed financial advisor and guru C. W. Barron invites immigrant Charles Ponzi to his office for a “pleasant chat” after newspaper editorials suggest Ponzi's quick rise to wealth is based on fraud. A cat and mouse game follows between two men who want everything but will admit to nothing.

One Act Category

"Cue," by M. Thomas Cooper, Portland, Oregon. Four Hamlet characters – modern 1970s, classical, female interpreted, and German avant garde – find themselves together backstage waiting for a cue.

"Merry-Go-Round," by Sam Wallin, Vancouver, Washington. A circular play of interlocking scenes and the story of people pushed beyond their means, sacrificing the long term for the short. Pimps, prostitutes, hit men, office workers, CEO's, politicians and robots all play a role in this exploration of society on the edge.

10 Minute Category

"Old/Bored/Trouble/Dead," by John Allison, Ewing, New Jersey. Many parents have had a conversation with a teenager who refuses to appreciate loving care. Janine finds herself alone with her grandmother, who finds a way to actually engage Janine in such a conversation.

"Have Your Cake," by
Sara Ilyse Jacobson, Washington, D. C. Lily, a 20-something woman, wakes up in bed with Caleb and Max, her two 20-something roommates.

"Good God Enters Flossing," by
J. Stephen Brantley, New York, New York. It's a normal morning for Josh, Dinsmore, and Billy until the Ark of the Covenant appears in their living room. What sort of message is God sending, and why would He choose a trio of trendy Brooklyn queers to spread the word?

"The Winner is...," by
Arash Karami, Irvine, California. After Stalin receives a letter saying that for the second consecutive year Hitler has outdone him and won the Best Dictator Award, Stalin's assistant and masseuse help him to absorb the assault on his fragile ego and brainstorm new and better strategies to win the next year’s award.

Submission by Playwright In Residence:
"Cossacks Under Water," by Timothy Braatz, Laguna Beach, California. Three stories come together onstage: Dmitri and Tolstoy's 19th century Cossacks; four 21st century Iowans in a town flooded with water and outsiders; and Lynn, looking back at her “journey” as she prepared to stage “The Cossacks.”

Each play generated a variety of informed discussions and insightful observations from dozens of audience members who arrived and departed throughout the day.

"As far as what this play was about ["Cossacks"], I really didn't care very much," said one observer. "I just really watched these characters interact."

Another attendee said the premise of "Good God Enters Flossing," in the 10 Minute category, was "really interesting – and now I want the whole play."

Of the four readings I attended, only one clunked, and that so badly that I wondered how it had survived the juries. "The Winner Is..." was poorly written from a lousy premise and featured pedantic preaching. Nor was it funny. No one should waste money giving it a full production.

In prior years, the Chameleon has produced seven scripts that have emerged from previous contests. Tickets for the six plays in the 2009-2010 season are available at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center box office, 12600 Nicollet Avenue, just north of Burnsville Parkway. You also can get them from Ticketmaster, but why would you?

The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council provided funding for the festival.