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Posts about Theater

Twin Cities-connected artists score big in Doris Duke performing arts awards

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: April 22, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Ragamala Dance Theatre founder Ranee Ramaswamy (right, photo by Ed Bock) was in Banana Republic at the Mall of America when she got the call that she had been awarded $275,000 from the Doris Duke Foundation in New York.

Choreographer Emily Johnson, who founded Catalyst Dance, was just about to give her dog a bath when she, too, got a similar call.

“I cried,” said Johnson, 38. “I was just stunned.”

Ramaswamy 62, had a similar reaction. “I walked out of the store and sat on a bench for God knows how long,” she said. “You know, you do your work out of love, and then a blessing like that comes.”

The Twin Cities scored big in the Doris Duke performing arts awards, announced Tuesday. In addition to Johnson and Ramaswamy, Twin Cities puppet-maker Michael Sommers was awarded $80,000 from the Duke Foundation, named for the famous arts loving philanthropist and tobacco heiress.

Golden Valley-bred composer and pianist Craig Taborn, who now lives in New York, also was awarded $275,000.

The Twin Cities-connected performers were part of a national roster of 39 artists in theater, dance and jazz who were honored this year. Choreographers Bill T. Jones, Joanna Haigood and John Jasperse were also named winners alongside playwrights David Henry Hwang, Lisa Kron and Tarell Alvin McCraney as well as jazz greats Roscoe Mitchell and Randy Weston.              

In the past three years, the Duke foundation has given out more than $18 million to artists, funds that are delivered over years and that include a portion for retirement savings.

Ramaswamy who founded Ragamala 22 years ago, is in Philadelphia, where she was on a panel for the Pew Charitable Trusts. She was, with daughter Aparna, the Star Tribune’s Artist of the Year in 2011. In 2012, President Obama appointed her to the National Arts Council.

“You know, as an artist, you’re working your little thread,” said Ramaswamy. “When it gets noticed, that gives you encouragement to continue doing what you do. This is a gift like that. And to be mentioned in the same breath with Bill T. Jones, that’s a high honor.”

New acting talent to be showcased at the Guthrie

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: April 18, 2014 - 3:28 PM

Want to see the next Santino Fontana, Val Mudek or H. Adam Harris as they are being launched?

Then check out the members of 2014 class of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater B.F.A. actor training program, the same program that graduated Fontano, Mudek, Harris, Hugh Kennedy, Elizabeth Grullon and a host of other performers who’re making names for themselves on stages across the country. (Fontana, who has performed in "Billy Elliot," "Cinderella" and "Sunday in the Park with George" on Broadway, just opened in "Act One" on Thursday in New York, where he plays playwright Moss Hart.)

The new acting talent will be showcased this weekend in a pair of new one-acts by playwrights Trista Baldwin and Joe Waechter at the Guthrie. According to a release, Baldwin’s "Peter Piper" is about two sisters whose "lives are suddenly thrown off course by the loss of their young brother.” It will be directed by Benjamin McGovern.

Waechter’s "The Hidden People: Part One," is described as "an epic mash-up of Icelandic folklore, the Old Testament and Norse mythology." That play will be staged by Randy Reyes.

(7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun. Ends April 27. Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls. $10. 612.377.2224 or online.)

The class of 2014 also will do select dramatic scenes from the canon at 1 p.m. Sat., and at 7:30 p.m. Tues., all in the Dowling Studio at the Guthrie.

Baraka to be toasted in the Twin Cities on Saturday

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: April 10, 2014 - 6:20 PM

The works, memory and achievements of Amiri Baraka, the influential poet, playwright, essayist and cultural theorist who died Jan. 9 at 79, will be celebrated Saturday in the Twin Cities, a place where he had tremendous influence.

"Dutchman," Baraka's landmark play that was turned into a film, was the first work produced at Mixed Blood when the theater was founded by Jack Reuler in 1976. It was directed by Lou Bellamy, who would go on to found Penumbra Theatre.

Baraka gave frequent readings in the Twin Cities, often travelling with family members.

"Spirit Reach," as the tribute is titled, will be hosted by novelist, professor and educational theorist Alexs Pate, and Arleta Little, arts program officer at the McKnight Foundation.

The slate of performers includes multi-instrumentalist and composer Douglas Ewart, rapper Toki Wright, actor Sha Cage and dancer Leah Nelson.

The free event also will feature performances by such pre-eminent spoken word artists as Bao Phi, Tish Jones,  J. Otis Powell, E.G. Bailey, Truthmaze, Andrea Jenkins and veteran poet Louis Alemayehu.

2-4 p.m. Sat., Capri Theater, 2027 W. Broadway, Mpls. 612-822-0015 or online. Admission is free.

Large-scale dance work ponders big questions

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: April 4, 2014 - 11:09 AM
Photo by Grant Halvorson.


Vanessa Voskuil’s “The Student” premiered Thursday night at The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University. The evening-length work makes an impression, not only for its cast of over 150 dancers and singers but also for its strong conceptual vision, albeit one that is only partly realized. The thematic connections are both brilliant and tenuous. There are spellbinding moments of visual and kinetic harmony. And while ultimately “The Student” loses its way over the course of two hours, it still shows a fascinating journey through its creator’s mind.

This ritual-like work is built around the massing of groups of people engaged in repetitive movement and idiosyncratic breaks. As the performers enter the auditorium walking backwards they move with a sense of gravitas, slowly and purposefully, determined to maintain a respectful order. Their neutral-colored costumes and spare environment suggest a stark futuristic society, one in which emotions are stripped down and repurposed.

And that is an important point – Voskuil actually delves into an array of human states in “The Student” and yet they are not dramatic. The work, set to sternum stirring compositions from Janika Vandervelde and sound designer Jesse Whitney, is about the process of learning and, consequently, the process of becoming through learning. This evolution is deliberate, marked by visual and textual tableaux. We see hints of pioneering avant-garde theater director Robert Wilson’s influence here. Voskuil’s peeling back of layer upon layer of meaning from subtle sources reflects a shared approach.

“The Student” stands out for its intelligence and questioning spirit. Both Paul Herwig and Chris Conry ponder the existential quandaries Voskuil poses, but they also add wit and wordplay to the mix. There’s black humor in the recurring appearance of a hanging noose, complete with a cardboard cutout of Voskuil. The performers sit and scribble in the air around them, rote learners eventually overwhelmed by the task. A gorgeous sense of flow unfolds as movement ripples through the crowds onstage, especially as the performers roll from the back of the stage and fall into the orchestra pit, as if controlled by a force far bigger than them. And they are – Voskuil, despite her slight frame, is a powerful presence with a command of how to move large groups of people for her creative ends.

But the work has diminishing returns, despite an injection of impressive voice work from members of the Perpich Center for Arts Education Chorale Ensemble, Hamline University Women’s Chorale and St. Catherine’s University Women’s Choir. The questioning grows weary in its circularity and the work struggles to find an ending. The themes become repetitive and less interesting, too self-involved. In some respects one could argue this is the moment of mastery, when everyone in the piece (and watching it, too) finds an answer. But Voskuil’s intentions are not that pat. The process of learning often reveals nothing more than the need to continue searching.

“The Student” will be performed again Friday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. For information go to http://oshag.stkate.edu.

"Mr. Burns" will play the Guthrie, not Park Square

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: April 3, 2014 - 2:52 PM

The cast of "Mr. Burns, a post-electric Play" at Playwrights Horizons last year./Photo from Playwrights Horizons.

All’s Well that Ends Well, Shakespeare reminded us. And it appears that a potential loss for Park Square Theatre’s 2014-15 season has a reasonably happy ending, thanks to cooperation from the Guthrie.

Park Square had announced an ambitious line-up of 19 projects for what will be the company’s first season with two stages. “Mr. Burns, a post-electric play,” by Anne Washburn, was slated for the new 200-seat thrust stage and it felt like a real coup to snare this buzzy play to christen the new space.

Show business, though, can be a weird deal. Park Square had a deal with Samuel French to produce the play but in a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing, another agent and the playwright had been negotiating with the Guthrie and ACT in San Francisco for an agreement that would guarantee the play’s Twin Cities premiere at the big blue house.

“We had received a contract for the show, it was a done deal,” said Richard Cook, Park Square’s artistic director. “He [the Sam French agent] was commanded to officially yank the license.”

Guthrie Director Joe Dowling said it was one of those "bizarre situations. Inevitably, because the Guthrie is larger, the playwright wants it here because the royalties will be bigger."

The Guthrie and Park Square had a similar situation two years ago when Cook signaled an early interest in the play “Stick Fly,” which had Broadway all tingly. In that case, Cook thought he had exclusive talking rights with the playwright and her agent, while the publishing house was involved with another potential deal that would have involved the Guthrie and Penumbra. When the dust settled, Park Square produced “Stick Fly” last fall.

This time, it was obvious the Guthrie was going to get “Mr. Burns” and that might have been the end of the story. However, in conversations over the rights, Cook told Dowling that Park Square had once wanted the rights to “4,000 Miles,” a dramatic comedy by Amy Herzog. Again, the Guthrie had the rights and, Dowling said, the play was "definitely being considered for production."

But Dowling called Cook and offered to work together to transfer the rights to Park Square. So the St. Paul theater gets the Herzog play, which had been a Pulitzer finalist in 2013. On Monday, Cook signed Gary Gisselman to direct.

“Joe was wonderfully gracious,” Cook said.

 Dowling said the co-production with ACT-San Francisco will be part of the Guthrie season, expected to be announced next week. The plan is to put "Mr. Burns” on the proscenium stage.



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