Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bold or not, memories linger from summer stagings

Minneapolis, Minnesota

There may be merit to Bryan Bevell's contention that Twin Cities theater lacks boldness. The critics Graydon Royce and Rohan Preston probably make valid points that the Minnesota Fringe Festival needs shaking up. Whatever. While I attended few live performances this summer, a handful of scenes and impressions, bold or not, linger against a competitive backdrop of urban parks, lakes, Orchestra Hall construction, and a hapless baseball team.
Devin Carey and Denise Armstead
"The Three Bonnies" • Burnsville PAC

The proscenium stage of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center hosted "The Three Bonnies" in a one-night stand, June 8. The work fulfilled a six-year labor of love conceived and choreographed by Denise Armstead and performed in seven movements by her company, DAdance. The ensemble included Devin Carey, Gerry Girouard, Cade Holmseth, Sharon Picasso, Kelly Radermacher, and Armstead. Infused with music of Bonnie Raitt, the Dirty Three, and a sound design by Brian McDonald, the "Bonnies" examined the dynamics and intricacies of human relationships through the lenses of people's relationships with horses and those of horses with each other. Armstead knows horses from her work at Shadow Creek Farms in Forest Lake, Minnesota. 

Noah Bremer and Crane Adams • "Basic North"
Southern Theater • Photo Bill Cameron
Beautiful horses and their equally lovely handlers featured prominently in a massive film projection that filled the height and width of the proscenium. While many Minnesota choreographers have employed visual media in their productions, few, if any, have so successfully integrated themes, narrative, and movement into a series of vignettes alternating among film, live movement, and both together. Armstead appears to have taken the time and spent the money needed to get the film's production values right. So successful were the projections, however, that they often overpowered and drowned out the imagery and choreography of the dancers performing downstage. In pre-performance remarks, Armstead dedicated the evening to the late film producer Robert Hammel whose collaboration had been instrumental to the project, an intellectual and poetic effort throughout.

Skyler Nowinski and Katelyn Skelley
"Basic North" • Southern Theater
Photo Bill Cameron
One of the most achingly beautiful moments of the summer occurred inside the Southern Theater, June 17. Time suspended during Noah Bremer's halting, haunting rendition of Jack Lawrence's tune, "Somewhere Beyond the Sea," accompanied by Crane Adams on ukelele. The moment happened in "Basic North: A performance in three directions," produced by Live Action Set and presented over two weeks. The work simultaneously featured three, interwoven and abstract narratives, each with its own director.

The holistic production roster included directors Dario Tangelson, Emily King and Ryan Underbakke, and Bremer; performers Adams, Bremer, Joanna Harmon, Skyler Nowinski, Tyler Olsen, and Katelyn Skelley; collaborators Anna Reichert, Megan Odell, and Eva Mohn; stage manager Ben Gansky; technical director Lindsay Woolward; lighting designer William Harmon; costume designer Mandi Johnson; and production assistant Anna Hickey.

A free, work-in-progress presentation in the James Sewell Ballet Tek Box, June 29, was remarkable both for the amount of full nudity of the six cast members over an hour's time – very un-Minnesotan – and for how unremarkable was its overall effect. In general, we could use more of the matter-of-fact attitude expressed by Ben Johnson in his welcoming remarks: "If you're going to be offended, please leave now." The performance of "Bon Appétit! (Hedonism part 2)," represented the culmination of a three-week residency by the Paris-based choreographer Johan Amselem, the first McKnight International Fellow selected by Northrop Concerts and Lectures as part of its dance fellowship program.   

Johan Amselem
2012 McKnight International Fellow
Amselem worked with dancers Rachel Freeburg, Erika Hansen, Melanie Verna, Ryan Dean, Dustin Haug, and Zachary Teska; video artist Kevin Obsatz; DJ Shannon Blowtorch; and dramaturgs Morgan Thorson and Karen Sherman.

From Northrop's website: "His work is sharp and full of joy, rituals, flesh, and spirituality, along with emotions, pleasure, and greed."

From Amselem's program note, addressed to the performers as much as the audience: "We're still going on exploring the dark side of pleasure. It will be particularly about the pleasure to consume and be consumed. I think of the piece like a recipe that principal ingredients will be your wonderful bodies. As I was thinking on a twisted pleasure that nobody should understand, I came to cannibalism. So we'll work on generating into the audience the desire to eat you. Kevin will increase the hunger with the video. It will also be about promiscuity, bodies against bodies, desire and fear, excesses-we'll be on a burning dance floor stove. And for that I count on Shannon's powerful music and personality live on stage."

"Bon Appetit!" was all of that, but could have benefited from judicious editing and a more cohesive and compelling dramatic arc.

A fascinating, cheek by jowl performance has been occurring at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts since the opening of its current exhibition, "Rembrandt in America," June 24. The exhibit is the largest selection of paintings by the 17th century Dutch master and his students ever assembled in the United States. To meet audience demand, the hours have been extended for the balance of the run, ending Sept. 16.

The exhibit aside, it is worth the admission to witness the audience's rapt attention as its members move through the galleries. It occurred to me that if the Rembrandt exhibit was your average dance concert, there would be no headset narration, no live docents, nor placards on gallery walls. Most dance creators seem to want their work to speak for itself without context, explanation, or interpretation. Given such an approach, they must believe there are worthwhile upsides in their smaller, less diverse, more select audiences.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ananya Dance Theatre opens Twin Cities dance season with new "Moreechika," will also perform in Philadelphia

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Ananya Dance Theatre will open the Twin Cities' fall dance season with four performances of "Moreechika: Season of Mirage" at the Southern Theater, Sept. 6-9.
Sherie Apungu and Ananya Chatterjea • "Moreechika: Season of Mirage"
National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012 •

Choreographed by Ananya Chatterjea to an original score by the composer Greg Schutte of St. Paul, "Moreechika" received its world premiere, July 27, at the National Academy for the Performing Arts in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, as part of the New Waves! 2012 Festival.

The theme of the evening-length work is oil and the environmental, cultural, and human costs of its extraction around the world, particularly its impact on women in global communities of color.

Annie Katsura Rollins designed the costumes and giant shadow puppets used in "Moreechika." Mike Wangen designed the stage lighting. The work runs 85 minutes without intermission.

"Moreechika" is the third in a four-part, multi-year investigation into systemic violence, trauma, resistance, and empowerment. The quartet employs the thematic elements of mud ("Kshoy!/Decay!" 2010), gold ("Tushaanal: Fires of Dry Grass" 2011), oil ("Moreechika: Season of Mirage" 2012), and water ("Mohona: Estuaries of Desire" 2013).
Chitra Vairavan and Sherie Apungu • "Moreechika"
National Academy for the Performing Arts, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012 •

Following the Minneapolis performances, the troupe will present "Moreechika" at The Conwell Dance Theater in Philadelphia, Oct. 5-6, as part of a residency sponsored by The Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University.

Chatterjea and her company members drew their creative inspiration  from several sources, including the struggles of Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian activist.

"Saro-Wiwa," Chatterjea said, "addressed the injustices done by Shell Oil to the Ogoni people and the destruction of their land and ecosystem, for which he was tried and hanged by a military tribunal."

The perspectives and struggles of the U'wa community of Colombia also informed the work.

"This community is stunned by the excessive consumption of oil by our world," Chatterjea said. "They think of oil as ruiria, blood of the earth, which must be respected as part of the natural world."

Chatterjea also drew inspiration from the responses of the indigenous Kichwa women of Ecuador to Chevron Oil, and from the current struggle in North America against the Keystone XL Pipeline through Native American lands.
"Moreechika" • Ananya Dance Theatre • Port of Spain, Trinidad, July 2012
Southern Theater, Minneapolis, Sept. 6-9, 2012
Conwell Dance Theater, Philadelphia, Oct. 5-6, 2012
Photo: Maria Nunes Photography © 2012 •

Ananya Dance Theatre is a company of women artists of color working at the intersection of social justice and artistic excellence to tell the stories of ordinary lives and extraordinary dreams with an emotional intensity and physical prowess that draws upon the company's choreographic aesthetic and technique.

Chatterjea's aesthetic integrates the sculptural sensuality, powerful footwork, and emotional articulation of Odissi, a classical Indian dance form, with the pure lines and breath release of yoga and the bodily awareness of energy from the martial art of Chhau.

Chatterjea, a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography and a 2012 McKnight Artist Fellowship for choreography, serves as a professor and Director of Dance in the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance at the University of Minnesota.

Minneapolis performances of "Moreechika" are scheduled for Thu. and Sun., Sept. 6 and 9, at 7:30pm, and Fri. and Sat., Sept. 7 and 8, at 8pm. The Southern Theater is located in the Seven Corners District of Minneapolis at 1420 Washington Avenue South. General admission tickets are available through TicketWorks at 612.343.3390, or online at

Philadelphia performances are scheduled for Fri. and Sat., Oct. 5 and 6, at 7:30pm. The Conwell Dance Theater is located at 1801 North Broad Street. General admission tickets are available by calling 215.204.1122.

More articles about "Moreechika":

Gary Peterson serves as chair, board of directors, of Ananya Dance Theatre. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

No joke: Roman Catholics will vote 'NO' on Minnesota's marriage amendment to preserve religious freedom

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Basilica of Saint Mary, Minneapolis
At a rally in Loring Park, a place where movements and causes have received impetus and sought divine sanction over the years, hundreds of faithful Roman Catholics gathered on a hillside in the shadow of The Basilica of Saint Mary, one block distant, to sing, pray, and voice their opposition to the anti-marriage amendment to Minnesota's Constitution. 

"Bless our celebration," they prayed. "Bless those with whom we disagree ... those for whom it takes courage to be here."

Jim Smith, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, emceed the evening event, Aug. 15, under the title "I Do! Believe in the Freedom to Marry." 
Catholics can vote 'No' in good conscience

The amendment to Minnesota's Constitution will appear on the statewide general election ballot, Nov. 6, and would limit the freedom to marry to opposite gendered couples. Its passage and placement on the ballot by the Republican-led Legislature was supported strongly by the institutional structure of the Roman Catholic Church in Minnesota.

If the marriage amendment is defeated, same-sex civil marriage will still be illegal in Minnesota. If civil marriage rights were one day extended to same-sex couples, the nation's separation of church and state would guarantee that churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, would have the freedom to choose whom they marry.
Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus sings "Marry Us!"

According to the printed program distributed in Loring Park, "A faithful Catholic can vote 'no.' Our tradition teaches that conscience is the highest norm and that we are to follow our conscience even in opposition to official church authority."

In his first public event as the new conductor of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, Ben Riggs greeted the crowd and led his singers in "Marry Us!" – a song they have sung throughout Minnesota and the United States. 

For more information: Catholics for Marriage Equality MN; Dignity USA; Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Other faith traditions actively oppose the amendment, as reflected in this video of a priest, a minister, and a rabbi, because of its restriction on their religious freedom:

Friday, August 17, 2012

A Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

(Saint Paul, August 16, 2012) – In commemoration of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, Governor Mark Dayton released the following statement calling for tomorrow to be a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota:

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton
August 17, 1862 marked a terrible period in Minnesota’s history.  The first victims of the “U.S.-Dakota War of 1862” lost their lives on that day, 150 years ago.  The ensuing attacks and counter-attacks killed hundreds more U.S. soldiers, Dakota braves, conniving traders, and innocent people.  Tragically, those deaths started a vicious cycle of hate crimes, which continued long after the war was ended.

The events leading to those atrocities actually began before 1862.  The United State Government, through its agents in the new State of Minnesota, either persuaded, deceived, or forced the state’s long-time inhabitants from Dakota and Ojibwe Indian tribes to give up their lands for promises of money, food, and supplies.  Many of the government’s promises were repeatedly broken.

The displaced Dakota and Chippewa tribes watched newly arrived settlers claim the lands that had been theirs.  They were denied their treaty payments of money and food, which resulted in starvation for many of their children and elderly.  Often, when annuity payments did finally arrive, they were immediately plundered by some dishonest officials and traders.

On August 17, 1862, a group of Dakota braves attacked and killed five new settlers at Acton in Meeker County.  The Dakota community was not unanimous in the decision to go to war; some of them helped the settlers.  Nonetheless, the war began.  Atrocities were committed by combatants on both sides against combatants and noncombatants alike.  Hundreds of people were killed.  Many more Indian and immigrant lives were ruined.  And the lives of Minnesotans were altered for the next 150 years.

The war ended, but the attacks against innocent Indian children, women, and elderly continued.  They were even encouraged by the Governor of Minnesota.

On September 9, 1862, Alexander Ramsey proclaimed:  "Our course then is plain.  The Sioux Indians of Minnesota must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the State. . . .”

"They must be regarded and treated as outlaws.  If any shall escape extinction, the wretched remnant must be driven beyond our borders and our frontier garrisoned with a force sufficient to forever prevent their return."

A Minnesota newspaper chimed in, “We have plenty of young men who would like no better fun than a good Indian hunt.”

I am appalled by Governor Ramsey’s words and by his encouragement of vigilante violence against innocent people; and I repudiate them.  I know that almost all Minnesotans, living today, would be just as revolted.  The viciousness and violence, which were commonplace 150 years ago in Minnesota, are not accepted or allowed now.

Yet hostile feelings do still exist between some Native Americans and their neighbors.  Detestable acts are still perpetrated by members of one group against the other.  Present grievances, added to past offenses, make it difficult to commemorate the past, yet not continue it.

I call for tomorrow, the 150th anniversary of August 17, 1862, to be “a Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation in Minnesota.”  I ask everyone to remember that dark past; to recognize its continuing harm in the present; and to resolve that we will not let it poison the future.

To everyone who lost family members during that time, I offer my deepest condolences for your losses.  I ask you especially to help lead us to better attitudes and actions toward others.

To honor the American soldiers, Dakota people, and settlers who lost their lives in that war, I order that all state flags shall be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on August 17, 2012.

And I urge everyone participating in the events commemorating this 150th Anniversary to practice not only remembrance, but also reconciliation. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The war on women is waged by all of us

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Standing in a high school hallway some 45 years ago, I witnessed a comment, intended as a joke, told by one of my male peers to another: "When her father accused me, 'You raped my daughter!' I came back at him with, 'Assault with a friendly weapon!'"

It takes an entire village. So we are socialized. So we socialize each other.

I was reminded of that long ago incident while reading "Ladies Last," an article by Holly Hilgenberg and Dana Raidt in the August issue of Twin Cities Metro. It would seem that little has changed in nearly half a century.

In an editor's note, Raidt writes,
Despite three waves of feminism ... things aren't looking so peachy for women these days. ... Why in the 21st century, is the Twin Cities rife with domestic violence? Not to mention that ... women are earning 80 cents for every dollar men make. What's worse, our little creative-class enclave is not only a hub of art and technology – according to the FBI it's also a hub of child prostitution.

The statistics cited in the article are stark:
• 25% of adult women in the Twin Cities have been the victim of a rape crime;
• 24% of Twin Cities women have experienced intimate-partner violence – that's lower than the statewide average of 33%; 
• 13 is the average age at which Minnesota girls are first prostituted;
• Minneapolis is one of 13 cities with a large concentration of child prostitution and sex trafficking.

All of us have mothers and grandmothers. Many of us have wives, sisters, daughters, and nieces. We all have friends and co-workers. One of four, and one of three, people!

Find and read the whole article. In addition to violence and safety, it addresses leadership and professional standing, reproductive rights and childcare, poverty and housing, work and education, health and health care access.