POSTED BY CAROLINE PALMER -- Special to the Star Tribune
On May 22, 2011 a tornado tore through north Minneapolis, demolishing homes, scattering belongings and changing the lives of all who were affected in an area that had already seen more than its fair share of challenges. While many of the stories of that day and its aftermath have been told through the media, there is still more to know about what happened – and what came next – for those in the storm’s path.
Choreographer Stuart Pimsler, who lives near the edge of the destruction (his house escaped damage) said by phone that it “was incredible to see how the neighborhood was visibly changed, there were mature old trees ripped out of the ground, every roof had a blue tarp on it. Some stayed on houses for over a year.” He talked with the members of his company, Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater (SPDT), about creating a project in response. The result is a book, “Temporary Shelter: Tales from the Minneapolis Tornado,” which will be released this Saturday, January 26 at 3 p.m. during a free event at the Capri Theater.
Pimsler’s impulse was natural given SPDT’s “Community Connections” program. Over its 34-year history the troupe has developed a “parallel track” to its performance work, he said, involving “different populations and different subject matter inquiries” in workshops and related activities. While much of this work never goes onstage, it often involves opportunities for individuals to express themselves in ways they might not have before. Health care providers and educators, for example, have been among the program’s participants.
The idea for a book about the tornado and its impact came from the desire to “create a permanent record,” said the choreographer, who was joined in the effort by photographer V. Paul Virtucio. Pimsler started by reaching out to local nonprofits like the North Point Health and Wellness Center, Northside YMCA, the Urban League, Urban Homeworks and Pillsbury United. After talking with staff he received referrals to clients. “By the time we were all done we had talked to in excess of 100 people in the neighborhood and more than 30 organizations,” said Pimsler. Homeowners, renters, small business owners, a landlord, recovery helpers – many voices were heard.
As to be expected, there were a variety of perspectives. Some people had positive experiences with the recovery and received the help they needed to get back on their feet; others felt abandoned by the government, insurance companies and landlords. But instead of bringing a particular political bent to the project, said Pimsler, “We soon found out that everybody had really different experiences. It was really important to be hands-off on having an agenda, to let the cross-section of humanity have time to speak and to allow readers to draw their own conclusions.”
For Saturday’s event at the Capri, Pimsler has asked each SPDT member “to select a person whose story they were drawn to and to do an homage to that story. So everybody will be doing a solo.” In addition to the performance there will be a buffet meal.
The following weekend, February 2 at 7 p.m., marks the opening of “Art in the Everyday: Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater Retrospective,” an exhibition at the Anita Sue Kolman Gallery of “artifacts” from the company’s history including sets, costumes and other design elements. The exhibit will include the work of the late Ronald Aiji Kajiwara, a former design director for Vogue magazine who collaborated with SPDT during its early years. Opening night will include interactive performances and a discussion with Pimsler and Artistic Co-Director Suzanne Costello. The show will run through March 5.
As if a book release and exhibition were not enough to keep SPDT busy in the coming weeks, the troupe will also perform a world premiere, “Walking, Singing and Other Habits,” and two repertory works at the Cowles Center February 15-17.