Former Minnesota choreographer Emily Johnson found herself in the national spotlight this week thanks to her work on Santa Fe Opera’s “Doctor Atomic.” Composed by John Adams with a libretto by director Peter Sellars, it tells the story of nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the first atomic bomb test in 1945 — just a few miles from Santa Fe. Sellars had never worked with Johnson but he was impressed by her community-oriented works, specifically her expertise in creating “active gatherings.” “Yes, it is dance, but is so much more — it is feasting together, it is its own type of ceremony,” Johnson said. An Alaska native of Yup’ik descent, she built relationships with key communities around Santa Fe. That includes Downwinders — people negatively affected by the nuclear industry — and the area’s three Pueblo communities. Before the opera begins, Johnson said, the three Pueblos are seen performing a ceremony, with more dancing together later in the show. As for the Downwinders, they’re seen facing a general as he tells Oppenheimer not to evacuate the test site. “Their first action is to stand there, in a presence that demands to be seen,” Johnson said, adding that on opening night, their faces were streaked with tears. “It’s incredibly powerful to share that moment on stage with them.” The production runs through Aug. 16. Although it was first staged in 2005, Johnson said the opera is “not only history — it is present, it is current” as the world’s leaders “toss around words like nuclear missiles as if it’s not a threat that would destroy the world.”
Playing for Peter
Twin Cities fiddle/mandolin master Peter Ostroushko is having all kinds of health issues. First came a heart attack in December and bypass surgery, then a stroke in January. A who’s who of the Twin Cities acoustic scene will join Sunday for a benefit at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis, with Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary as headliner, plus a host of friends including Greg Brown, Dakota Dave Hull, Dean Magraw, Ann Reed, Mary DuShane, Becky Thompson, Dáithí Sproule and Kevin Kling. True to Minnesota style, the event starts with a potluck at 5 p.m. Sunday. Music begins at 7. Admission is $25. Donations are also being accepted at gofundme.com/ peter-and-marge.
MSP’s new arts boss
A new arts director is taking flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Ben Owen comes to the airport from the Minnesota State Arts Board, where he managed the Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places program. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to showcase the talent and history of Minnesota,” Owen said by phone. He replaces Robyne Robinson, the longtime Twin Cities broadcaster and scenemaker who left to start her own art consultancy, FiveXfive. “Ben was my choice to carry on the work created during my time at MSP,” said Robinson. “I’ll be working with him on several projects ... and looking forward to our collaborative efforts together to make MSP one of the leading arts airports in the U.S.”
Can’t stop, won’t stop
The killing and the singing have been extended for two murderrific Twin Cities musicals. “West Side Story” at the Guthrie Theater has added a pair of performances to the virtually sold-out run — Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. and Aug. 26 (closing day) at 1 p.m. And at St. Paul’s History Theatre, they’ve added a whole week to “Glensheen.” The witty Chan Poling/Jeffrey Hatcher musical comedy, based on the infamous killings in Duluth, returned this summer for its fourth consecutive year. The show now runs through Aug. 5.
Bringing it on home
Twitter feuds: They’re not just for haters and gawkers anymore. A very visible social-media tussle between Sean “Har Mar Superstar” Tillmann and local keyboardist/producer Erick “Afrokeys” Anderson (ex-Atmosphere), who accused Tillmann of appropriating African American culture with his Sam Cooke tribute shows, had a positive end recently when Tillmann simply asked to meet in person and talk instead of tweet. “It was tough, eye opening and ultimately a very positive experience,” said Tillmann, who not only worked it out with Erickson but then went to work. He raised more than $6,000 via GoFundMe on top of the $4,000 he agreed to donate out of his own pocket toward four local organizations that foster music education for minority kids, including the Philando Castile Memorial Scholarship and High School for the Recording Arts. “This is what progress looks like!” Anderson happily declared.
TMORA director departs
The only museum in North America dedicated to Russian art will be without an executive director come Aug. 21. Vladimir von Tsurikov is leaving the Museum of Russian Art after four years. “It’s been a very exciting time working here, especially during these politically difficult times when relations between the U.S. and Russia have not been good,” von Tsurikov said by phone. “Promoting Russian art and Russian culture is a very important topic. I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
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