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