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In what may seem like an odd pairing, James Sewell of the Minneapolis-based Sewell Ballet is working with veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman on a new ballet based on an old Wiseman movie.
Wiseman's 1967 "Titicut Follies" documented the residents and inmates at Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Bridgewater, Mass.
This early Wiseman documentary ignited controversy when state authorities sought to prevent its release, saying it violated inmates' privacy. The legal case rolled through various jurisdictions, but the film was withheld from distribution for years. Wiseman went on to wide fame for his fly-on-the-wall documentaries on a variety of subjects, including high-school life, meat, public housing, boxing and, in two movies, the world of dance.
Fast forward to 2014, when a new Center for Ballet and the Arts is set to open at New York University. Wiseman is among the center's first group of fellows. He announced this week that as part of that fellowship he is planning a ballet based on the film, to be created by choreographer Sewell.
Sewell said Wednesday that he and Wiseman have been talking by phone about the project this summer, and that Wiseman is due in Minneapolis later in September for meetings and in-studio improvisation. Wiseman is a "visionary," Sewell said, "and it extends beyond his medium. We've synthesized how our worlds can connect."
Sewell said the ballet, which may retain the movie's title, is likely to require 10 male dancers, as well as other characters to potray the state hospital's doctors and nurses. Likely to premiere in Minneapolis about two years from now, the ballet will include music and possibly video from the original film, Sewell said.
"When I first saw the film -- so intense, so strange -- I thought, 'how could you make a ballet of this?' But the elements are all there -- humorous, poetic, horrifying, sad," Sewell said.
The movie's title comes from an annual variety show that Bridgewater officials and inmates staged at the hospital. "These violent criminals and mentally ill inmates would put on a show, singing Gershwin with pom-poms in their hands," Sewell said.
While funding and other details remain to be worked out, Sewell said he "could not be happier" about this collaboration, which "dropped in my lap." He hopes to find a way, in dance, to portray "the inner landscape" of the often abused, catatonic or disruptive Bridgewater population.
Wiseman, 84, just won the Golden Lion Career Award at the Venice Film Festival.
Lea Thompson/photo by Los Angeles Times
Part-time Minnesota resident Kristi Yamaguchi represented our state well in 2008 when she crushed the competition on "Dancing With the Stars."
Now it's Lea Thompson's turn.
The Rochester native will be among the cast members when the show returns Sept. 15. Others in the mix include soap star Antonio Sabato Jr., Janel Parrish ("Pretty Little Liars"), "Duck Dynasty" diva Sadie Robertson and NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip. ABC on Thursday announced the 13 contestants for its fall round of the dancing competition. They also include talk-show host Tavis Smiley, Olympic athlete Lolo Jones and fashion designer Betsey Johnson. Other amateur hoofers include comedy veteran Tommy Chong, YouTube star Bethany Mota, Ultimate Fighting champ Randy Couture, "Mean Girls" star Jonathan Bennett and actor-dancer Alfonso Ribeiro.
The new lineup was unveiled on "Good Morning America."
At 53, Thompson may be among the oldest participants, but don't count her out. She started dancing professionally at the age of 14 and clocked in 45 performances with the American Ballet Theatre. She later focused on acting, landing high-profile roles in "Back to the Future" and "All the Right Moves."
As much as we'll be rooting for Thompson, our early money is on Ribeiro, who danced in Michael Jackson videos as a kid and starred as Carlton Banks on "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Remember his "Carlton Dance" everytime Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual" was played? If he can incorporate those moves into his routines, he's got our vote.
As reported earlier, Thompson may soon be revisiting her Minnesota roots. Her husband, Howard Deutch, is developing a possible series for HBO set in Stillwater.
Includes material from the Associated Press.
Aparna Ramaswamy rehearsed "Song of the Jasmine" in Minneapolis in May, 2014. Star Tribune photo by Elizabeth Flores.
The work, incorporaing Ragamala's south Indian dance vocabulary with music by jazz saxophonist and composer Rudresh Mahanthappa, was premiered in Minneapolis in May. It was a commission of Walker Art Center.
Showtime Thursday is 7:30 p.m., at the Damrosch Park bandshell. Admission is free. Ragmala Dance co-founders Ranee and Aparna Ramaswamy give a free talk at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Asia Society.
Ranee Ramaswamy, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Aparna Ramaswamy. Star Tribune photo by Elizabeth Flores.
Twin Cities artists and arts leaders were on hand Monday at the White House to cheer on Bill T. Jones, who was presented with the National Medal for the Arts by President Obama.
A multiple Tony-winning choreographer, dancer, director and company founder, Jones has a decades-long association with artists and arts institutions in the Twin Cities, especially Walker Art Center, under whose aegis he has developed, premiered and performed many works. He also directed "Dream on Monkey Mountain" at the Guthrie Theater.
On Monday, Walker director Olga Viso (left) posed with honoree Jones alongside Ranee Ramaswamy and Aparna Ramaswamy, who are, respectively, founder and principal dancer of Ragamala Dance Theater.
President Obama appointed both Viso and Ranee Ramaswamy (who supplied the image), to the National Council on the Arts. The Senate confirmed them in 2013.
Jones was one of 11 luminary winners of the arts medal, among the nation's highest honors for artists. The winner's roster included writers Julia Alvarez and Maxine Hong Kingston, musical theater composer John Kander, musician Linda Ronstadt and pioneering documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles.
Patrick Scully poses as poet Walt Whitman. Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler.
POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Sometimes the best way to learn about an artist is through the perspective of another artist. With “Leaves of Grass – Uncut” Patrick Scully summons the radical spirit of 19th-century poet Walt Whitman. Over the course of the show, which had its first performance Thursday night as part of the Fresh Ink Series at the Illusion Theater, we learn that the two men have much in common when it comes to defying rules and embracing life.
Scully assumes the role of Whitman, talking through his life story, railing against the puritan morals of his day, lauding the love of other men, extolling his contemporaries (Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oscar Wilde) and reading excerpts from his works. Whitman, as portrayed by Scully, is a confident man who explains how he would code his language to escape the wrath of a rabidly homophobic society. Despite these efforts, Whitman’s works were banned and critics were quick to denounce him with their harshest words, which is hard to imagine today given the significant influence and great beauty of his writing.
But Whitman was undeterred by these obstacles, which explains why he is such a hero to Scully, a proud rabble-rouser himself. With “Leaves of Grass – Uncut” Scully creates an onstage world that Whitman would have appreciated. Seventeen men dance together in tender, sensual and playful moments. In the opening scene they strip down entirely to bathe, setting the tone for an evening about relationships between men and how society has sought to deny them.
The movement itself is based in contact improvisation, which emphasizes the intuitive give and take of dancing with another person. Scully’s company members take great care to support and inspire one another. Kevin Kortan makes an appearance as Whitman’s lover Peter Doyle and in one of the work’s more poignant moments they discuss the poet’s refusal to use the pronoun “he” (instead using “she”) in his writing to describe their passionate relationship. Scully shows us that Whitman wasn’t always so bold.
The Fresh Ink series provides opportunities for artists to try out new ideas. Scully still has some work to do with tightening up the production – there are a couple of false endings – but it is a heartfelt salute to Whitman. Without this daring poet’s soaring words and his willingness to take risks in a hostile era, we may never know what it means to “sing the body electric.” Scully is the perfect caretaker for Whitman’s legacy.
“Leaves of Grass – Uncut” continues through Sunday, July 13 (8 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 7 p.m. Sun). Illusion Theatre, Cowles Center, eighth floor, 528 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. $14-$19, 612-339-4944 or illusiontheater.org.
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