Monday, August 17, 2009

Steppin' up and out for the Midwest Arts Conference

Minneapolis, Minnesota

When Minneapolis-St. Paul last hosted the Midwest Arts Conference in September 2001, current events had rendered the four-day summit of cultural leaders and mavens nearly prostrate. The air travel system barely had a pulse after the euphemistic "events of Sept. 11," the stock market was in the tank, and many artists and their purveyors stayed home. Huge question marks hung over all aspects of a world accustomed to all-but-certain predictions and expectations.

Since then, we have realized that the shocks of those days altered our cultural life but did not destroy it, our expectations adapted to less predictability and greater bewilderment, and the Midwest Arts Conference scheduled its return to the Saint Paul RiverCentre next month, Sept. 9-12.

In preparation, artists from throughout the U.S. are primping and preening, ready to display their wares to the wholesalers of the cultural establishment. This is especially true for Minnesota artists and, in particular, choreographers and their dance companies.

Just as fundraisers know that donors contribute to and invest in people with whom they have some degree of relationship, performers recognize that the process of connecting with audiences begins by forming relationships with the performing arts curators and directors who contract the engagements that define their venues. Thus, when Arts Midwest annually convenes hundreds of these pooh-bahs – they are called "presenters" in the trade – many more hundreds of artists, their managers, and agents also join the party.

Arriving mostly from 15 states in the middle of the continent between Canada and Mexico, more than 1,000 people are expected to attend this year's four-day series of workshops, seminars, and social gatherings. For most, primary attention will focus on the Marketplace exhibition hall and the rounds of showcase performances that will consume hours of introductions, window shopping, and deal-making.

More than 4,000 artists will be represented in Marketplace exhibit spaces for visitors wandering the aisles with varying degrees of purpose and intention. In the essential simplicity of the information exchange that occurs there, presenters will relate the problems they need to solve and artists will make the case that they have the solutions to those problems. When there is congruence, performances and community outreach activities will get scheduled and subscription seasons will be created.

This business of buying and selling usually begins at some earlier time when presenters first attend performances of the artists they eventually will invite home to meet the folks. The Midwest Arts Conference provides numerous opportunities for presenters to attend a variety of performances.

Twin Cities Triple Play: Opening Night, Wed., Sept. 9, 7:15pm-8:30pm

Sampler performances by 10 Twin Cities dance, theater, and jazz ensembles will be presented simultaneously at three venues in downtown St. Paul. These samplers are ticketed events, restricted to Conference attendees.

The Walker Art Center's Philip Bither curated the dance sampler at the McKnight Theater of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. Performers will include the Twin Cities dance organizations Buckets & Tap Shoes, Catalyst Dances, and Hijack.

Robin Gillette, the Minnesota Fringe Festival's executive director, pulled together the theater sampler at The Lowry Theater, featuring performances by the Four Humors Theater, Nautilus Music-Theater, and Rockstar Storytellers.

Lowell Pickett, resident impresario at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant, programmed the jazz sampler at The Saint Paul Hotel's M ST. Cafe. His musical menu will include The Atlantis Quartet, Irv Williams Quartet, Tanner Taylor Trio, and Fat Kid Wednesdays.

Spotlight Showcases: Thu., Sept. 10, 6:30pm-9:30pm; Fri., Sept. 11, 3:45pm-6:45pm

The adjudicated, 15-minute Spotlight Showcases will feature 18 performance groups over two days at the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul. One Minnesota-based group is included in the line-up: Cantus, a men's vocal chamber ensemble, will perform Thu., Sept. 10, at 6:55pm. A listing and schedule of the other 17 acts, including bluegrass music from Alaska, can be found here.

Live Performances at the Conference

The Midwest Arts Conference will include several live music and dance performances as part of its proceedings. Single-day tickets can be purchased from Arts Midwest.

Happy Hour, Thu., Sept. 10, 4:30pm-5:30pm, RiverCentre
A performance by Jeremy Davis & The Fabulous Equinox Jazz Orchestra will feature original arrangements of Johnny Mercer tunes and the Great American Songbook by a trio of male vocalists based in Rincon, Georgia.

All-Conference Luncheon, Fri., Sept. 11, Noon-1:30pm, RiverCentre
As it did in 2001, Minnesota's James Sewell Ballet will present a 20-minute performance from its repertoire of original, contemporary ballet. The company is beginning its 17th season in Minnesota.

Northrop Dance Series, Fri., Sept. 11, 8pm, University of Minnesota
In what for many will be the Conference's pièce de résistance, Wayne McGregor / Random Dance will kick off Northrop's 2009-2010 dance season with "Entity," a full-length work combining neuroscience, physical choreography, and software engineering. The British McGregor is resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet, and Random Dance is the resident company at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London. Single tickets available, $31-$55, 612.624.2345. Northrop Auditorium is located on the Minneapolis East Bank campus of the University of Minnesota.

Conference Brunch, Sat., Sept. 12, 11am-12:15pm, RiverCentre
Fans of television's "Days of Our Lives" and Broadway's "A Chorus Line," will want to add a dash of Kevin Spirtas to their eggs and java. Fresh from his gig as Corney Collins in the Las Vegas production of "Hairspray," Spirtas will croon a mix of Broadway and pop standards. (Spirtas also will showcase with Linda Purl, Fri., Sept. 11, 8pm, at The Lowry Theater.)

Independent Showcases: Thu.–Sat., Sept. 10-12, various times and venues

More than 75 artists and ensembles will perform at venues throughout downtown St. Paul – and two in Minneapolis – at independently-arranged showcases. Many of the acts will welcome locals. Performances by artists with Minnesota connections are listed below; a complete list of all showcases can be found here.

Minnesota's Butch Thompson, the legendary jazz pianist and former regular on "A Prairie Home Companion," will hold forth at The Artists' Quarter in the Historic Hamm Building, Wed., Sept. 9, at 9pm, 9:30pm, and 10pm.

Ananya Dance Theatre will present three, full-length performances of "Ashesh Barsha" at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Avenue South, Minneapolis, Thu., Sept. 11, 7:30pm; Fri., Sept. 11, 8pm; Sat., Sept. 12, 8pm. Tickets are available at 612.340.1725, or from Conference Booth 921A. The Southern Theater is located near the Minneapolis West Bank campus of the University of Minnesota.

Mathew Janczewski, artistic director of ARENA Dances, has organized Twin City Dance, late-night showcases for 13 diverse Twin Cities ensembles – plus two guests – at the St. Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts, Roy Wilkins Studios, RiverCentre, 5th Street entrance. Performers for Thu., Sept. 10, and Fri., Sept. 11: Maggie Bergeron & Company, 9:30pm; Cathy Wright Dance, 9:30pm; Bryan Gerber, 9:45pm; Shapiro & Smith Dance, 9:45pm; Flying Foot Forum, 10pm; Black Label Movement, 10pm; Buckets & Tap Shoes, 10:15pm; Zenon Dance Company, 10:15pm; Live Action Set, 10:30pm; Ragamala Dance, 10:30pm; Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, 10:45pm; Kate Weare Company (NYC), 10:45pm-Thu. only; Epitome-No Question, 10:45pm-Fri. only; ARENA Dances, 11pm; Koresh Dance Company (Philadelphia), 11:15pm. Locals are welcome at these free performances.

8 @ 8 - The CIA (Choreographers in Accord) will showcase nine Twin Cities dance companies on stage at The Ritz Theater, 345 - 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis, Thu.-Fri., Sept. 10-11, 8pm-9:15pm. Tickets are available at 612.436.1129, or from Conference Booths 902, 900B, and 724B. Ensembles include Ballet of the Dolls, Ethnic Dance Theatre, Flying Foot Forum, Jawaahir Dance Company, Katha Dance Theatre, Shapiro & Smith Dance, TU Dance, Zenon Dance Company, and Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre.

New Folk Booking will present several modern-acoustic, Celtic, folk, and world musicians in the Kellogg III room on the lobby level of the Crowne Plaza St. Paul – Riverfront: Thu., Sept. 10: Dáithí Sproule, 9:30pm; Billy McLaughlin, 10:10pm; Boiled in Lead, 10:50pm; Dennis Warner, 11:30pm. Fri., Sept. 11: Cooker John, 8pm; Greg Herriges, 8:45pm; Lehto & Wright, 9:30pm; Todd Menton, 10:15pm; The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, 11pm.

Theatre of Fools will display its version of Vaudeville for the 21st Century, Thu., Sept. 10, at 10:01pm, 10:13pm, 10:23pm, and 10:37pm, in The Lowry Theater.

Buckets & Tap Shoes will present two performance segments, Thu., Sept. 10, Midnight and 12:30am, in The Lowry Theater.

Cantus will present selections from its 2009-2010 touring show in the Ramsey County Room 317, Landmark Center, Fri., Sept. 11, 8pm, 9:15pm, and 11pm.

The Rose Ensemble will present a free, full-length performance of early choral music at Central Presbyterian Church, Fri., Sept. 11, 8pm.

In addition to showcase and networking opportunities, the 22d Midwest Arts Conference will offer professional development workshops and seminars on topics such as Classical Music Basics, Innovating in Turbulent Times, Family Programming Basics, Dance Basics, Self-Represented Artists, Artist Managers and Agents, and Presenting 101.

A list of Marketplace exhibitors can be found here.

Minnesota's Buckets & Tap Shoes performed for 5,000 people at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater and the Vail International Dance Festival, Tue., Aug. 11, 2009. Engagements like this one often are the result of relationships built at regional and national arts conferences.

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