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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.”
Osmo Vanska/ New York Times photo by Jenn Ackerman
The renovated Northrop Auditorium will reopen in April with the American Ballet Theatre doing “Giselle” and Osmo Vanska, in May, conducting the Musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra.
The University of Minnesota announced a series of reopening events on Thursday afternoon. ABT will perform April 4-6 with a live orchestra, which is rare for dance performances outside of New York City.
On May 2, Vanska will recreate the first concert at Northrop played by the Minneapolis Symphony. The 4,800-seat auditorium was built for the symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra) 85 years ago.
Among the other reopening activities at the now 2,700-seat Northrop will be a live broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” on April 26, a talk by novelist David Mitchell on April 9 and a lecture by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on April 17.
The remodeled Northrop also will feature a small movie theater, rehearsal space, classrooms, an art gallery, study spaces and a café.
Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Saturday at northrop.umn.edu.
Olga Viso of Walker Art Center.
Two of three new appointees to the National Council on the Arts are from Minneapolis. Olga Viso, executive director of Walker Art Center, and Ranee Ramaswamy, founder and co-artistic director of the Ragamala Dance Company were recently named by President Obama to the council, which is the governing body of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The council, which meets three times a year, wields considerable influence. It votes on grant funding and rejections, advises on the NEA's budget and policies and gives the President recommendations on who to nominate for the National Medal of the Arts.
Viso, who as led the Walker since 2008 after a 12-year stint at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., called the appointment, which also had to be approved by the Senate, "a huge honor. It will be a privilege to be a part of this group, to bring a new generation of thinkers to the table as well as a Minnesota presence to conversation."
Ramaswamy has been a master choreographer, performer, and teacher of the South Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam dance since 1978, founding Ragamala in 1992. Among her many awards and honors are 14 McKnight fellowships, a Bush fellowship and being named the Star Tribune's Artist of the Year (with co-director Aparna Ramaswamy, her daughter) in 2011.
The third appointee to the 17-member council is Rick Lowe, an artist and founder of a nonprofit that revitalizes neighborhoods in Houston. Six ex-officio legislator members on the council include two members of Congress from the Upper Midwest: Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
Ranee Ramaswamy (right) with her daughter and co-artistic director, Aparna Ramaswamy. Photos by Tom Wallace.
POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
While it may not be as glamorous as sitting in a grand theatre and watching a live performance, the opportunity to see an internationally revered dance company on a large movie screen is almost as good as being in the moment, particularly when London’s Royal Opera House Ballet is putting on the show.
Last month several area cinemas played host to a screening of the troupe’s vibrant “Don Quixote” and on Tuesday night “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was the main event. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, this production (premiered in 2011 and revived in spring 2013) is as hare-brained as anyone would desire when it comes to the Lewis Carroll classic. On film it’s possible to enjoy close-up the production details and they are mighty clever, right down to every inch of the Mad Hatter’s anarchic tea party, the antic flamingo croquet match, and the tiniest jam tarts over which many a battle is fought. Sara Lamb (who ably meets the challenge of appearing in nearly every scene of the ballet) is full of good humor and sardonic delight as Alice while Zenaida Yanowsky (the Red Queen) is the very essence of head-lopping derangement.
In December the film series continues with “The Nutcracker.” This production, created by Peter Wright, first premiered in 1984 at Covent Garden and has been a holiday mainstay for the Royal Opera Ballet ever since. The interpretation is based on the traditional story of a girl’s Christmas Eve fantasy filled with toys come to life, battling mice, and, of course, a performance by the Sugar Plum Fairy. The performance screening, as with the two previous ones, features behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage, information about the creative process and interviews with some of the main artists.
“The Nutcracker,” Tues., Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Five cinema locations in the metro area. Prices vary. Visit www.fathomevents.com for further information.
CAROLINE PALMER, SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
Choreographer Karen Sherman may be the Twin Cities’ answer to Emmy/Tony Awards host extraordinaire Neil Patrick Harris. On Tuesday night she emceed the 2013 Sage Awards for Dance at the Cowles Center and revealed a natural gift for keeping the show running smoothly while supplying a steady stream of wry one-liners.
Strolling to center stage with live DJ (and dancer) Greg Waletski providing a musical cue from his decks, Sherman modeled her tartan kilt ensemble and declared it a find from “Dolce and G’Savers.” After making the obligatory Miley Cyrus reference (“Improvising is the new twerking”) Sherman got down to the business of the evening, that is honoring all the artists who contributed to the vibrancy of the local dance community over the past 12 months.
This is the ninth year for the ceremony. Since its inception 127 panelists have seen more than 2,300 performances. The awards are named for Sage Cowles, a choreographer, performer and philanthropist who has supported dance over the years (including major funding for the Cowles Center with her late husband John). Aside from awards, the event features performances by past recipients. Last night Emily Johnson, Katie Johnson of Minnesota Dance Theatre and members of Shapiro & Smith Dance stepped into the spotlight. And the late choreographer, teacher, researcher, blogger and all-around nation dance expert John Munger was honored with a moment of silence.
This year’s program had a special emphasis on dance education, with Julie Kerr-Berry, Dance Program Director, Minnesota State University, Mankato giving the opening address. She urged the audience to think about all the teachers helping others to learn to dance everywhere from public schools to suburban studios and college campuses. “Dance is a powerful medium,” she said. “To dance makes us think differently about ourselves.” Sage panel member Judith Howard (who teaches at Carleton College) reflected fondly on her own childhood dance teacher Miss Shirley: “She had a lot of pizzaz and a questionable reputation.”
But when artist educator Florence Cobb took the stage to accept her special citation, the force of history behind Kerr-Berry’s words became especially poignant. Cobb founded the Mankato program in the 1970’s. Wearing biker-ready black leather pants and boots, the octogenarian accepted her award with a few wise words: “I’ve shared time and space and energy with all of you. And that’s all it’s about on this earth.”
Choreographer Chris Schlichting was the big winner of the evening, scooping up two awards, both for “Matching Drapes,” which premiered at Red Eye Theater in February (one for Outstanding Dance Performance and the other for Outstanding Design, shared with the team of Terrance Payne, Max Wirsing, Justin Jones, Morgan Peterson and Heidi Eckwall).
Hip hop received notice with two awards: Jason Noer for organizing the annual Groundbreaker Ballet Festival at the Cowles (Outstanding Dance Performance) while “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic,” featuring the cast of “Mourning in America” (Amirah Sackett, Iman Siferllah-Griffin and Khadijah Siferllah-Griffin) garnered the Outstanding Dance Ensemble Award. Choreographer Sackett (whose collaborators are both just 15 years old) honored the pioneers of hip hop – “the brown and black people of the Bronx” – but acknowledged her crew is blazing new ground in the genre. “We’re three Muslim women,” she said. “And that’s not without controversy.”
From left: Sage winners Khadija Siferllah-Griffen, Amirah Sackett and Iman Siferllah-Griffen.
Other awardees included choreographer Megan Flood for “Folding in Wings” (Outstanding Dance Performance), musician/composer Butch Thompson (Outstanding Design for “Destination Twin Cities” choreographed by Sarah LaRose-Holland), Suzanne River (Outstanding Dance Educator), and Kenna Cottman, Jim Lieberthal and Sally Rousse (all in the Outstanding Dance or Performers category) Lieberthal, a longtime performer who won for his work in “Listen” created by Rosy Simas, vowed to continue dancing. “There’s always so much more to learn.”
Myron Johnson and Ballet of the Dolls were nominated in the Outstanding Dance Performance category for “Venus and Adonis” and while they didn’t win, the troupe and their entourage were among the best-dressed in attendance. Johnson himself sported a look somewhere between commodore and pirate. No one wears glamour and glitter like the Dolls, although past Sage award-winners Tara King, Theresa Madaus and Monica Thomas of Mad King Thomas were a close second in their sparkling gowns and feather boas.
But Sherman had the last word on the sartorial front. She came out wearing a blanket fastened together with some clips filched from backstage. “That’s a wrap,” she announced at the end of the show. Somewhere downtown a rimshot echoed into the night.