Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Faith Forward will document "the moral right of the religious left" in Minnesota's debate about marriage

Minneapolis, Minnesota

One must take a long view when foraging through the underbrush of societal views that treat gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people as second-class and unequal citizens in the eyes of the community and of the law.

When I spoke as an openly gay man at discussion forums in Lutheran churches in the early 1980s, some of the conversations were distinctly more civil than others. While it seemed possible then that passing an amendment to Minnesota's human rights act that banned discrimination could be within reach (we passed it in 1993), it required far-fetched thinking to believe that any Lutheran church body would ever ordain openly gay people (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America said yes to that in 2009), or speak kindly of supporting their marriages (many do so in 2012). 

The tides of history favor full equality in the fullness of time. Navigating those tides, however, is neither a free ride nor a passive journey. 

A year ago, the Republican members of Minnesota's Senate and House of Representatives voted to place an amendment on the statewide ballot in November 2012. The amendment would ban same gender marriage. Some of the legislators voted based on honest conviction while others voted based on cynical political calculation. In the overall scheme of things, their various reasons really don't matter.

This is the year that we tell them "No, we are not going to do that." 

The Roman Catholic bishops of our state and their tax-free dollars are leading the charge in favor of the amendment, while the ranks of their parishioners are far from unanimous about it. A diversity of views also manifests among those of other faith traditions. Much of our discourse and the electoral outcome will turn on people's faith-driven beliefs and understandings.

Some of the discussion will be up close and personal. I met recently with a high school classmate who is now a Catholic priest and supports the amendment. Another classmate, who wears the cloth of the Methodist clergy, opposes the amendment.

A longtime Twin Cities journalist, Matt Peiken, has answered his call to inaugurate Faith Forward, a video project documenting the faith-based fight against the marriage amendment. He will not be highlighting the proponents as they have more than enough control over the levers of power and the media.  Rather, his focus will be on "the moral right of the religious left."

Peiken's efforts are a welcome addition to the campaign for equality and justice in Minnesota.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the front lines of social media

Minneapolis, Minnesota

As a condition of employment, some employers require employees to have Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts and to indirectly/directly place them at the service of the employer. 
Other employers demand access to user names and passwords for those accounts in order to conduct  pre-employment screening for whatever they might decide are inappropriate posts. 
We need to sort all of this out.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Renovate: A Choreographers' Evening, v. 2012

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For five years, the Ballet of the Dolls and the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis have presented "Renovate," annual dance performances that display the creative outcomes of a dozen different dance makers and the performers they enlist or employ. Bravo to all involved, both for this year's production and for the sustained effort over time!

These presentations help keep dance insiders informed about the creative currents and personalities of their field. They also provide new and independent artists an opportunity to have their work seen by a public. Whether they also help develop a broader audience for the art form, however, is less certain. As a dance insider myself, I knew about this year's performances, but only barely.

"Renovate" • 5th Annual Choreographers' Evening at the Ritz Theater
For sure, enticing an audience in the hope of its engagement can be tough when the daily newspaper in town does not include one's performance in its print calendar listings. However, people with dances to be seen, whether their efforts are emerging or established, can and must do more to help their cause.

At minimum, we must consider how we communicate about what we are doing. Like other sponsors in this city and elsewhere, the Ritz attaches the title of "choreographers' evening" to these performances, even when an evening might be an afternoon. Moreover, for those not familiar with the ways and words of dance, the phrase "choreographers' evening" may evoke either opaque stares of incomprehension or visions of a who's-who cocktail party at which one is probably not welcome. 

If their intent is to introduce a performing product line to new customers, presenting venues and their partners may find it apt to use more vernacular descriptions, something, for example, like "a sampling of dance morsels," and explain how they are like the cheese samples handed out in grocery stores on Saturday mornings. Food, in other words, designed for the heart, mind, and soul.

"Going to the Soirée" • Jim Smith
God lives in the details, and words matter in a hyped-up world. People who cast ballots at the polls and spend dollars in the marketplace are a discerning lot. They pay attention to nuance. They seek value and authenticity. They can appreciate genuine innovation, but not claims of greatness or uniqueness. First, though, they must understand that and how each election, shopping trip, and performance is an occasion worth their participation.

I started this line of musing when a friend and I shared observations about the sparse attendance and performer-specific cheering sections at "Renovate: A Choreographers' Evening" at the Ritz, March 16. It may be bad form or insensitive to say so, but with 12 featured choreographers and many more performers taking the stage, the house, with seating for 240, should have been full and the level of applause more generalized.

Getting to there is no easy task. On the same evening, across the river and a mile away, a dance company celebrated its 20th anniversary with foot-stomping live music and dancing, veteran performers, and a new house built for dance. All 500 seats of the Cowles Center were sold out. With disrespect to no one, one wonders what the Cowles attendance might have been without the explicit sense of anniversary occasion. Often, when looking at standing room only, we consider "a win a win" and move on.

I have learned repeatedly not to trust the hopes and predictions of novice and veteran marketing administrators in the arts. As a friend from a presenting venue in northern Minnesota told me last month, "Ten years ago, I could look like a hero to my board of directors because all my projections came within 1% of plan and budget. Now, nothing that I put on stage is predictable, no matter what I do." 

Ultimately, these issues intertwine with the reality that no performing venue in our state, new or old, suffers from overcapitalization. In that, the allocation and distribution of Legacy Amendment funds by our arts establishment has been disappointing: they gamble too much on projects for the present with too little or no investment for the long term. That is musing for another time, however.

Given all that ballyhoo, how did I like "Renovate: A Choreographers' Evening"? Answer: The first half lacked a certain je ne sais quoi, primarily because the several excerpts from larger works did not fully engage. Overall, the evening provided a chewy and nourishing meal, with a varied selection of novice and experienced dance artists. Featuring fewer works of greater length might be a consideration for the future.

For five years, Lisa Conlin has curated Renovate with a panel of three consultants. This year's panel included Colette Illarde, Jim Lieberthal, and Carol Meyer, one of whom told me that this year's 12 choreographers were selected from an audition field of 21. The program got under way with a late start at 8:07pm.

Sarah LaRose-Holland
Sarah LaRose-Holland is a modern dance choreographer and performer with degrees in finance and dance from the University of Florida. Among other pursuits, she serves as artistic director of the Kinetic Evolutions Dance Company, presenter of the Kinetic Playground series at the Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, and presenter of the Kinetic Kitchen dance series at Patrick's Cabaret. The excerpt offered from "Going to the Soirée," a work she premiered with Kinetic Evolutions at Old Arizona last November, did not stand up particularly well by itself as the program opener. Excerpts can be a gamble that way. It was a colorful work, with red, green, and white dresses, danced competently by Una Setia, Hai Dang Nguyen, Kayla Schiltgen, and Jenny Snug. Set to music by Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald.

"How to Make a Paper Crane," a solo created and performed by Lindsay M. Anderson, featured a precise, graceful dancer moving with and against the rhythms and images of music composed by Steffen Basho-Junghans and a film edited by Amanda Doerr. The difficulties in starting the film at the beginning of the work were not as unfortunate as if they had occurred during, and the technical crew knows that. Anderson, a modern dancer who has worked and performed with LaRose-Holland and others, holds degrees in dance and English from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Conlin, a dancing member of Ballet of the Dolls, staged the Lost Orphans excerpt from her "Blue Heaven," a poetic, seven-movement journey through the stages of grief. The full work had been presented a few weeks earlier at the Ritz and in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Four women, Conlin, Leila Awadallah, Raena Smith, and Jennifer Mack, moved to an original score by Mike Hallenback in a segment that worked as a cohesive unit. A question: A couple performers left the stage and moved into the house with lighting that was insufficient for the audience to see them; were they doing something that mattered? If not, why were they there?

Angharad Davies
Angharad Davies earned an MFA in dance from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, has performed throughout the world, and choreographed and taught in the United States and Germany. Currently, she teaches at the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists and lectures at the University of Minnesota. "Fear," an excerpt from a larger work presented at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, studies the masking and managing of everyday anxieties, and was inspired by silent film images and German expressionist dance. Erin Search-Wells and Sam Johnson, both members of SuperGroup, joined Davies in a vocalized accompaniment to a less than satisfying movement segment. The visuals were striking: all three barefoot, Davies in purple dress, Search-Wells in red dress, and Johnson in white suit. In this setting, the lanky Johnson's expressive – though hirsute – face resembled that of a young Stan Laurel. 

Amanda Leaveck
Amanda Leaveck graduated from the University of St. Thomas with degrees in neuroscience and dance. She choreographed "I Love You," a fascinating solo danced by Christina Omlie to live guitar accompaniment by Tazz Germaine Lindsey. Nice, but I wanted more. We will probably see more with time. Leaveck directs Face Forward, a booking, event planning, and multimedia organization, and serves as artistic director of the Energy Dance Collective.

Christine Maginnis
Christine Maginnis, one of Minnesota's long-reigning dance divas, crafted an original, complex and complete psycho-drama. Throughout "Achtung Bitte!" its characters changed the orientation of set furniture pieces to reflect changing perspectives on three, time-lapse sequences. With Karl Heinzerline/The Butler as a witness, Maginnis/Frau Marquis vied for the attention of Gregory Waletski/Herr Marquis to scratch a particular and insatiable itch. Music of Frankie Yancovic, Johannes Brahms, Johann Strauss, and Sergie Rachmaninoff. Maginnis will perform with Ballet of the Dolls for the first time in May 2012.

Jennifer Mack
Returning from intermission, the stage floor was covered with overlapping sheets of plastic laid wing-to-wing for "Just Within," a solo created and performed by Jennifer Mack. Accompanied by singer/guitarist Matt Marka, Mack moved slowly beneath the plastic from center stage left to upstage center where she emerged, as though from water, in a floor-length white frock and free-flowing long hair. The sound of moving plastic suggested that of rippling wind and water and complemented the distinctive visual imagery. Mack started her dance training in Rochester, Minnesota, and graduated with degrees in dance and arts management from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Karen Charles
For her part, Karen Charles holds degrees in ballet and computer science from Texas Christian University, and a Masters in education administration from Georgia State University. In Minnesota, she served leadership roles with the Perpich Center for Arts Education and the Main Street School of Performing Arts in Hopkins before founding the Threads Dance Project. Four of her company's dancers – Mackenzie Beck-Esmay, Michala Cornell, Karen Gullikson, and Jenny Pennaz – worked with a bench and a long stretch of black veiling fabric in "Childless Mother," set to Sweet Honey in the Rock. The program note told the tale: "A child should not leave the world before its mother. What does a mother do when her identity has been taken from her?" 

Jaime Carrera, a multi-disciplinary artist from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, totally owned his solo, "Residency," with a confidence – a conviction – that I have not seen in some of his earlier performances. Clad only in briefs, with house lights up, he brushed his teeth and danced for himself as one might do before a bathroom mirror when believing no one else was present. Or not caring if they were. Music by The Bad Plus.

Joanie Mix and Jason Lande
Another artist with a foot each in the Rochester and Twin Cities dance worlds has been busy since graduating with a degree from the University of Minnesota. Along with other activities, Joanie Mix co-directs the Rainy Day Cabaret. Roughly half of the eight dancers (Emma Barber, Lindsay Bullock, Sarah David, Emily Hansel, Jennifer Mack, Morgan Olson, Anat Shinar, Ashley Tanberg) in "Promenade Danse la Nuit" are members of that company. They performed to music of CocoRosie and Sneaker Pimps against a black-and-white film projection created by Mix and Jason Lande. From a dance and film with a social message that does not bash, we learn that there are 12,300,000 victims of sex trafficking every year, more than nine million are women, and many are minors. 

If one discounts the summer class sessions I took from a former Broadway hoofer who smoked through kick-ball-changes at the old MacPhail Center for the Arts, then Denise Armstead, another of our divas regnant, was my first get-down-to-business jazz instructor at Zenon Dance Company and School. "Feel My Monkey (WTF)" brought on a pleasant reverie as Armstead and Maginnis danced to Stephanie Lien and The Who with the sound of wind and old-time radio singing voices – Jackie O meets Maria Callas. I want to see these two dancing when both are 70. Armstead will perform at Patrick's Cabaret, Mar. 23-24 and 30-31, and at the Burnsville Center for Performing Arts, June 8.

Carrie Lande
Carrie Lande-Homuth holds a degree in dance from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and moves in dance circles similar to the Rainy Day Cabaret whose ranks provided the six dancers for "Out of my Skin," her second work for a Renovate evening: Emma Barber, Lindsay M. Bullock, Non Edwards, Mackenzie Lewis, Joanie Mix, and Ashley Rose Tanberg. Set in two strong sections to music by Varttina, the first movement, in particular, displays powerful imagery with fists and arms. Parts of the work are strong enough to compete for a SAGE Dance Award. Lande-Homuth will have work represented at Kinetic Kitchen, May 4.

The original of this post was updated to correct the misnamed character portrayed by Gregory Waletski in Christine Maginnis' "Achtung Bitte!"

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Olé! Viva flamenco y viva Zorro!

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The word "delight" describes one's reaction to the very full house that greeted the Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre for its debut performance at The Cowles Center for Dance, Feb. 24. With a near-capacity crowd of 500, the audience was probably the largest the company has enjoyed since its 1993 engagement at the 472-seat Joyce Theater in New York City.

"Zorro" artwork and animations by Jonathan Thunder
Unlike many of the Minnesota dance companies that have stepped-up their performance games by adding live music for the Cowles' inaugural season, Zorongo's dancers always have shared the stage with at least one instrumental and one vocal musician. For this occasion, the company included seven musicians, led by its musical director and guitarist Pedro Cortés, Jr. Their number included vocalists Vicente Griego and Marisa Carr, guitarist Tony Hauser, percussionist José Moreno, flautist Bobb Fantauzzo, and percussionist and vocalist Óscar Valero.

As she has throughout a long and storied choreographic career of translating authentic flamenco from Spain to both Minnesota and the concert stage, Artistic Director Susana di Palma crafted an original, flamenco story ballet, this time bearing the title of "Zorro in the Land of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker (Moningwunakauning)."

Susana di Palma, artistic director
For the stage drama, Di Palma drew autobiographical inspiration from the story of her great grandmother, Susan Peacock Chisholm, whose Ojibwe name, Naa'wakwe Gaabow i kwe, means "Center Standing Woman."

In a nutshell, Chisholm married a Scottish fur trader and lumberjack. In the family struggle about the upbringing of their children, around 1900 a Franciscan missionary priest baptized their two daughters and took them forcibly to the Catholic boarding school for Native children at Bayfield, Wisconsin, designed to obliterate their language and culture. 

Family tradition recounts Chisholm's rage at the injustice and her determination to get her girls back. At one point, she walked from the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe reservation near Hayward, Wisconsin, all the way to Bayfield on the shore of Lake Superior, a distance of 80 miles. All of this drama was incorporated into the production.

Di Palma drew inspiration also from the novel "Zorro" by the Chilean writer Isabelle Allende, whose hero of Spanish and Shoshone parentage fights injustices against Native people in colonial California. In her fancy, Di Palma conjured the embodiment of the Ojibwe Trickster who morphs into Zorro to assist her great-grandmother.

Dancer Antonio Granjero, Zorro/Trickster
The production's impressive scale included poetry by the author Heid Erdrich, animation by the visual artist Jonathan Thunder, costumes by Sonya Berlovitz, puppets by Kristen Ternes, and lighting design by Mike Grogan.

The narrative, including requisite black capes and sword fights, played out against an omnipresent full moon among stylized birch trees with a dancing cast led by Antonio Granjero in the title role. Bridget O'Flaherty portrayed Susan Chisholm as a young woman, and Di Palma her older spirit form.

Pedro Cortés, Jr.
Rich in imagery on all levels, the performance was easily worth at least twice the admission price of $28, and Granjero's solo turns were worth that in themselves. I confess to missing the significance of Zorro's second cape which sported bright red lining.

A strong cast was rounded out by dancers Deborah Elias, Colette Illarde, Carolina Sierra, Gabriela Sierra, Myron Johnson, Andrea Plevan, Laura Horn, Jenna Laffin, Christine Kozachok, Catherine Higgins Whiteside, and Sarah Bartlett.

In its aspirations to provide a destination and all the tools of theater for the art form of dance, the Cowles Center was imagined and wrestled into existence to make possible exactly the kind of production that was Zorongo's "Zorro." One hopes to see many more like it, witnessed by capacity audiences.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Minnesota's Ananya Chatterjea performs in Albuquerque festival

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ananya Chatterjea, artistic director of Minnesota's Ananya Dance Theatre, presented a solo performance as part of a festival of indigenous performing arts in Albuquerque, March 9-10. 

l-r: Sina Soul, Rulan Tangen, Ananya Chatterjea • March 9, 2012
The festival, titled "Night of Stars*Moon*Water," was produced by Dancing Earth, an ensemble led by Rulan Tangen that performs contemporary indigenous dance works. The festival was presented in partnership with the National Hispanic Cultural Center at the Albuquerque Journal Theatre

In addition to Chatterjea, festival performers included members of Dancing Earth, songstress Sina Soul, Orixa dances, guests from the Santa Fe Indian School Poetry Team, and Miss Blackfoot Nation of Canada 2008 (aka Andrea True Joy Fox).

Tangen, one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch" in 2007, leads the Dancing Earth ensemble in Albuquerque, while her colleague, Jesus "Jacoh" Cortes directs Cuicacalli Escuela de Danza, an affiliated youth training program in San Francisco.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Economics of modern sports 'indefensible'; entire state should pay for stadium

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Paul Ostrow, a former, 10-year member of the Minneapolis City Council, added his (considerable) two cents to the blizzard of print and electronic commentary about the latest and greatest deal for construction of a football stadium for use by the Minnesota Vikings. His comments, posted by MinnPost, March 7, 2012, called the current proposal 'bad public policy' and 'profoundly unfair.' 

Ostrow suggested that the Council and Mayor R. T. Rybak – who he says insisted on following the city charter during debate on financing Target Field for the Minnesota Twins baseball team – should follow the charter's limitations and commit $10 million to construction. 

It has been the City of Minneapolis, Ostrow notes, that always has come through for Minnesota sports fans: Minneapolis provided the bonds for Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington 50 years ago, and paid for the Metrodome 30 years ago. Further, he said, 40% of the Hennepin County tax for Target Field comes from Minneapolis.

"The best idea to date for funding a new Vikings Stadium," Ostrow wrote, "is the proposal by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for a two-cent surcharge on every drink in every bar in Minnesota."

On March 6, the Star Tribune reported information and acknowledgment that I have not seen before. Writer Kevin Duchschere cited comments by Governor Mark Dayton that the current stadium deal "is structured to enable the Vikings to make a net profit of $22 million to $25 million per year, which would enable them to 'be viable financially.'" 

Duchschere's article provided no details for how the construction of a new stadium would generate that kind of profit, but quoted Dayton as saying that "the economics of modern professional sports are 'pretty indefensible.'"