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It's time again for a commercial interruption. Walker Art center's annual presentation of the cream of Britain's TV advertising opens Friday and runs through Jan. 6. As always, the spots in the 75-minute showcase display extraordinary creativity, whether they're clipped, clever info-blips or ambitious entries dripping with cinematic production values.
A few even boast movie stars, peppering the spots with the kind of smartly targeted celebrity appeal not often seen in U.S. advertising. There's Hugh Jackman getting slapped silly for Lipton Tea, Kiefer Sutherland longing for a high school crush for Axe Body Wash, and Kevin Bacon, Michael Fassbender, Godzilla and He-Man making cameo appearances.
Some of the commercials are riotous (a small girl's fantasy of playing house with imaginary friends on Ikea furniture), some shocking (the ambulance service advert comparing cancer and accident fatalities) and some solemnly breathtaking. The Commercial of the Year winner, "Meet the Superhumans," a tribute to the extraordinary commitment of athletes in the Channel 4 Paralympics, will make any viewer reconsider his definitions of "handicapped" and "disabled." Tickets ($12 for the public, $10 for Walker members) sell out fast. Call (612) 375-7569.
POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Childhood dreams can come true. Just ask Alexa Maxwell. While growing up in Minnetonka she wore out a VHS tape of New York City Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” determined that someday she would dance with the world-class troupe. Last week the 19-year-old signed a contract to join the NYCB corps de ballet.
But dreams do differ from reality. Maxwell wasn’t just handed this big gig. It’s the result of years filled with body-busting effort and personal sacrifice. After studying locally at small dance schools as well as Minnesota Dance Theatre she left home at age 14 to join the prestigious Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet where she worked on her skills intensively and graduated from high school through online courses.
In June 2012 Maxwell traveled to Manhattan for the summer program at The School of American Ballet, NYCB’s official training program founded by the legendary choreographer George Balanchine. She was asked to stay on and by December earned a coveted apprenticeship plus an opportunity to prove herself worthy of a spot with the company. “They see how you perform, your work ethic,” Maxwell said by phone. “You have one year to try out and then [Ballet Master in Chief] Peter Martins either decides to take you on or you find another job.”
So now the newest member of NYCB will be performing in the “Waltz of the Snowflakes” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” sections of Balanchine’s “The Nutcracker” with other exceptionally talented young dancers throughout this month at Lincoln Center. “It’s really exciting, almost all of the shows are sold out,” she said, adding some awe at the large audience she sees when sneaking a peek from backstage.
After “The Nutcracker” Maxwell will prepare for NYCB’s 2014 winter season by learning the “Diamonds” section of Balanchine’s “Jewels” among other signature repertory works. And while Maxwell is thrilled with her new role in the corps she still has goals, including one day ascending to the level of soloist or even principal dancer. But in the meantime, she said, “I’m just going to keep working hard. I’m so happy to be here and I’m feeling very grateful.”
The Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview. Photo from theater's Facebook page.
The Jon Hassler Theater in Plainview, Minn., is closing. Named for the esteemed writer who grew up in the town of about 3,300 northeast of Rochester, this little drama house on the prairie founded 14 years ago drew critical praise for the quality of the more than 60 plays staged there. Its home, a former farm-plement dealership, also houses a bookstore and art gallery.
The rising costs of putting on shows factored into the decision to close,said Dean Harrington, CEO of the Rural America Arts Partnership, the umbrella orgnazation that runs the theater. But that was only one reason.
“Attendance plateaued after the first few years and after that we didn’t get the increases we needed,” Harrington said. “Also part of our mission was to produce challenging work, and there was some audience for that in this area, but not enough to make it a satisfying endeavor.”
The Hassler will continue to house productions on a rental basis through 2014, to honor prior commitments to high school and community groups who have planned shows and other events.
“We hope the school or someone else might buy it so it can continue being used as a theater, but if there’s no interest it will be redeveloped as a commercial space of some sort,” Harrington said.
“It does take a bigger investment than just ticket sales to keep a theater going,” said Brett Olson, a supporter of the Hassler who runs a rural-arts advocacy nonprofit called Renewing the Countryside. “The Guthrie couldn’t survive on that. The money that goes to the urban arts may be geographically proportional to the amount of taxes paid, but the rural areas can wind up being left out.”
Author Tony Schmitz (left) does a dramatic reading from "Fatman Descends" with Bart Cannon as Roscoe the Cop at a launch party for the serial novel, available to read free online. Photo by Kimerly Miller.
Light-rail construction along St. Paul’s central corridor has made at least one guy’s imagination run wild.
Writer Tony Schmitz, a 33-year resident of Frogtown, has written a 66-installment serial novel you can read online, “Fatman Descends,” in which a circumspect, corpulent denizen of the ‘hood becomes embroiled in a sinister underworld revealed by the excavations. Of course, there will be zombies.
The project was funded in part by Irrigate, a nonprofit creative-placemaking series of projects intended to liven up the corridor and unite surrounding communities.
While “Fatman” is a work of fiction, “an appalling number of people and situations are based on actual events that happened around here,” said Schmitz, who so far has proven uncannily adept at building suspense in 500-word bites.
A sample conclusion: “ ‘Smells like somebody opened the door to hell.’ Despite all the official explanations and denials that were to come, this was less wrong than you might think.’ Read the story so far at fatmandescends.com (you can also sign up there for daily email delivery).