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Posts about Culture

Knight arts-challenge grant finalists announced

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: July 14, 2014 - 4:00 PM

A winter Fringe Festival is one of 69 ideas floated toward the Knight challenge grant committee that passed muster as a finalist.

A few months back, the Miami-based Knight Foundation dropped a big windfall on the city of St. Paul, pledging $8 million toward arts organizations and arts-related projects over the next three years. More than half that amount was earmarked for "arts challenge grants" for which anyone could apply, as long as they kept the idea to 140 words or less and the idea somehow benefits St. Paul.  Of the 850 concepts that rolled in for the first year, 69 have been chosen as finalists. Many are predictable extensions of what existing arts groups already do, but there are also some fresh and quirky notions:

--Erik Barsness wants to bring a new chill to Saint Paul Winter Carnival audiences through concerts performed on xylophones, marimbas and vibraphones made entirely out of ice by Swedish instrument builder Tim Linhart.

-- Stahl Construction Company wants to preserve the legacy of St. Paul’s architecture by restoring the historical company signs that distinguish Lowertown.

--The Baroque Room aims to showcase the city's classical-music scene during the Art Crawl through performances in art gallery spaces.

--City of Skate would be a skateable art plaza that brings out the creativity of skateboarders and the community with skateable sculptures, a video screen and performance stage.

Winners (the number of them depends on how much the judges are wowed by final proposals) will be announced in September. 

Dancing through a mansion

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: June 25, 2014 - 4:18 PM
The performers of "KOM HIT!" gather near the end of the piece for an ensemble scene in the Turnblad mansion's small top-floor theater. Photo provided by American Swedish Institute.
 
A young woman, barefoot and wearing all white, invokes the spirit of Sweden's literary hero August Strindberg, then opens the heavy wooden doors of the Turnblad mansion on Park Avenue in Minneapolis to begin "KOM HIT!" In the hour that follows, audience members (no more than 35 will be allowed at each performance) poke their heads into nearly all of the mansion's 33 rooms, where they witness snippets of modern dance, mime, music and a small amount of narration. Don't expect to learn much about Strindberg, as the dance-theater piece is "loosely inspired by," and not directly drawn from his life and obsessions.

While immersive, site-specific dance-theater has been popular in New York and elsewhere for several years, as evidenced by such long-running shows as "Sleep No More" by Punchdrunk Theater, it is more rarely seen in the Twin Cities.

In "KOM HIT!" Audience members, who are encouraged to wear stick-on moustaches a la Strindberg, may wander freely from room to room, up staircases and into hallways. You may be invited into a room for a solo performance by a singer playing electric guitar, or witness a thrashing dancer in a "mad scene" through the window of a what looks like a walk-in closet.

Here a woman gazes at her reflection in a mirror, there a teenaged girl plays electric bass with an angel-wing-wearing guy on the accordion. Feathers drop into the foyer from above. A sad creature writhes alone on a bare wood floor.

The troupe numbers more than 14 performers, but co-creators Sally Rousse and Noah Bremer are showcased in certain "episodes," including a group scene in the American Swedish Institute's top floor that involves posing for photographs and passing through a large picture frame. Well-known Ballet of the Dolls dancer Stephanie Fellner gets a lot to do, and does it well. In the end, however, the piece is more about mood and movement, perhaps the ephemeral nature of souls and old houses, than it is a coherent narrative.

See "KOM HIT!" at 6 and 7:30 p.m. on June 26 and July 1, 3, 8 and 10. $20, 612-871-43907, or go here.

Dancers in a room that also has a visual art exhibit on view. Photo by Claude Peck.

The performances are timed to the opening of a terrific small photo show in the new wing at ASI. Turns out old August S. was both a fashion hound and a fan of selfies (well before the term came into vogue, and almost at the dawn of photography itself). The photos of Strindberg come from Fotografiska, Sweden's preeminent photo museum.

 
 
Strindberg
 
"KOM HIT!" dancer on the rooftop of the new wing of the American Swedish Institute.
 
Dancer on the mansion's second floor.
 
Below, trailer for "KOM HIT"

Kids in the Hall

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: June 15, 2014 - 2:26 PM

Digital projections by Yael Braha animated the rear wall at Orchestra Hall during a latenight concert by the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Courtney Lewis. Photo by Claude Peck

If Minnesota Orchestra wants to attract younger audience members, it would be smart to plan more concerts like the one held at Orchestra Hall on Saturday night.

The crowd for the free 10 p.m. show -- a tie-in event of Northern Spark's all-night rain-and-art fest -- nearly filled the main level of the hall, and the concertgoers appeared a good three or four decades younger, overall, than the audience for most classical concerts by the orchestra.

Longtime subscribers heard a show at 7 p.m. featuring the Mahler 5 and a Kevin Puts symphony, his number 4. (That show is reviewed here.) The Puts alone was repeated at 10 p.m. in a 30-minute concert that also included a sophisticated ive digital projection on the hall's back wall by artist and filmaker Yael Braha and Bryant Place.

The just-turned-30 conductor was Courtney Lewis, who is leaving Minnesota for posts in New York City and Jacksonville, Fla.

The full orchestra performed the Puts symphony, and they still wore their black outfits and tuxedos from the earlier concert. But the mood was much more relaxed than usual, with people taking cellphone photographs and late arrivers filing in. Neither of these "distractions" was any kind of major distraction.

A few people commented afterward that the music was cinematic enough that they did not need the added projections, but most people said they loved the combination. Braha used the familiar tumbling-dice back wall to good effect, with projections that seemed to spiderweb between them and to outline them and "fill" the cubes with dots and orbs in a state of color and motion. Only occasionally did the rear wall become a flat screen for larger, overall moving images, including one that resembled wind-whipped prairie grasses seen from a great height.

The fact that Braha was doing it "live" was demonstrated when the system crashed briefly and had to be rebooted. Lewis tried to hush the applauding crowd and sought the thumbs up from the back of the hall to restart the music.

Puts is a contemporary composer unafraid of writing lush pages for the string section, or of giving a piece some tutti crescendos. His full-throated, brass-heavy ending brought multiple standing ovations from the young crowd. A nervous looking Braha took several bows alongside Lewis and the musicians.

The night was far from over at 10:30 p.m., as bands were programmed into the off-lobby room until 3 a.m.

Not-yet-open Loring Park restaurant rocks Northern Spark

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: June 12, 2014 - 6:13 PM
Black Diet. Photo by Leslie Plesser.

For serious night owls a 2 a.m. closing time is too cruel a rule. Although bars still have their normal curfew, one night per year Twin Cities culture junkies are encouraged to stay out until dawn.

The fourth annual all-night art festival Northern Spark, which last year drew 45,000 attendees, returns Saturday. From 9 p.m. until daybreak, artists of all mediums will perform and exhibit their work at locations across Minneapolis.This year's theme: “Projecting the City.”

While there is much to see and experience during the sleep-depriving arty party, anyone whose get-down urges extend passed bar close might head to Kim Bartmann’s coming-soon Loring Park restaurant, where the music won’t stop till the birds are chirping. The restaurateur behind Barbette, Bryant Lake Bowl, Pat’s Tap, the newly opened Tiny Diner and more is staying tight-lipped regarding her plans for the former Cafe Maude and Nick and Eddie space at 1612 Harmon Place. But Bartmann will open its doors starting at 9 p.m. for a late night of music and performance art.

“We’re excited to bring a little bohemian life back to Loring Park,” she said.

Presented by the Bedlam Theatre and DJ Rambo Salinas, indoor performers include singer/songwriter Brian Laidlaw, who’s teaming with literary rag Paper Darts for a vaudevillian music and poetry piece, rockabilly quartet L’Assasins, energetic soul rockers Black Diet, DJs Dan McAllister of Worldwide Discotheque, Soul Togetherness’ Brenda Hernandez and Kevin Jones, and more. Outside the restaurant Lea Devon Sorrentino and Forever Young’s Chris Cloud host a silent dance party, while the Independent Filmmaker Project MN screens silent films in the alley scored live by local bands. Plus an outdoor ping pong tourney and a sunrise yoga session (see full schedule below).

Though the unnamed restaurant is still under construction, food, booze and much-needed espresso will be available. Bartmann had hoped to open before Northern Spark, but had a hiccup with an energy-inefficient back door. The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission denied her request to have the door replaced, so she essentially built a door within a door as a workaround. The restaurant is about three weeks away from opening and more details about the concept and her collaborators (which include a former Minneapolitan who’s returning after running a Brooklyn bar) will be announced next week.

Until then, tell the Sandman to shove it and enjoy the dusk-till-dawn art extravaganza.

Inside performances at 1612 Harmon Place:

9:10 p.m. Frank Theater
9:30 p.m. Paper Darts
10:20 p.m. DJ Tarik Thornton
11:20 p.m. L'Assassins
12:20 a.m. DJ Brenda Hernandez
1:30 a.m. Black Diet
2:20 a.m. DJ Dan McAllister
3:20 a.m. DJ Kevin Jones
4:20 a.m. DJ Rambo Salinas

Outside performances at 1612 Harmon Place:

9 p.m.-3 a.m. IFP MN presents Out of the Shadows - Movies & Music in the Dark (live score by local bands at the top of each hour)
9 p.m.-1 a.m. Happenstance...Negative Jam (Silent Dance Party!) by Chris Cloud & Lea Devon Sorrentino
9 p.m.-3 a.m. Ping Pong by Starlight - Register for tourney online at  http://tinyurl.com/NSpingpong or sign up on site by 10:45 p.m. (open pong before & after tourney)
5:30 a.m. Sunrise Yoga in Loring Park (located on north side of the park, across from 1612 Harmon Place)

'Jackson' musical softened, protestors unappeased

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: June 10, 2014 - 4:29 PM

Philip C. Matthews stars as Andrew Jackson in the Minneapolis Musical Theatre production of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson." Photo by Laurie Etchen.

On Friday night, "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," now playing at the New Century Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, was picketed by about two dozen protesters objecting to the portrayal of native Americans in the show. Some of the most galvanizing lines from the Broadway hit about the populist president who also initiated the Indian Removal Act have been excised or softened in this version produced by Minneapolis Musical Theatre and presented by Hennepin Theatre Trust. But protest leader Rhiana Yazzie, a Navajo playwright who wrote a public letter criticizing the show, still finds it problematic.

"The story leaves it up to the individaul to decide whether Jackson was a hero or not," she said. "When the bricks of a play are built on misunderstanding, you can take some out but the structure stays flawed. The changes felt very last-minute, like a response to the letter I sent."

But MMT artistic director Steven Meerdink said script modifications – which are generally frowned upon in theater circles --  were made starting on the first day of rehearsal.

“I felt the show was slanted too much in favor of Andrew Jackson as a hero and I wanted the playing field to be more even,” he said. “The way characters were supposed to be costumed was quite stereotypical in my mind and I didn’t want to go down that path.”

In addition to scratching a flying arrow and traditional feathered headdresses, this version has Jackson’s parents die of cholera, not from an Indian attack (which also did not happen in real life), and cuts out a few culturally disparaging references.

Also, when a group of four women recite the old chant “Ten Little Indians” to underscore the decimation of Indian populations going on at the time, Meerdink said he chose not to dress them like rock chicks wearing sunglasses, as called for in the script. “I didn’t want to go there,” he said. “I felt we needed to take a step back to show this negative thing that happened.”

Yazzie attended Sunday night’s performance and came away feeling that the altered work was still inappropriate to stage at all.

“The play’s success hinges on all of that racism toward native Americans, which audiences in New York were hooting and howling at,” she said. “ When you experiment by taking out as much as you can, it still doesn’t work. It just becomes a big downer.”

Meerdink said he “respectfully disagreed” with Yazzie’s assessment. “This is a controversial piece of theater that’s not going to make everyone happy no matter what you do with it,” he said.

A post-show panel discussion is being planned following the June 19 performance of "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson."  If you've seen it, what did you think?  Click "comment" above the photo to tell us.

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