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Posts about Dance

Choreographer Rosy Simas awarded Guggenheim fellowship

Posted by: Kristin Tillotson Updated: April 9, 2015 - 3:43 PM

 Rosy Simas has been awarded a $54,000 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Minneapolis choreographer Rosy Simas attracted accolades last year for her multimedia project "We Wait in Darkness," which draws on her Seneca heritage and critiques treatment of native tribes. The Star Tribune gave her an honorable mention in its annual artists of the year roundup, and City Pages also named her an artist of the year for dance.

Now Simas is one of five choreographers in North America to receive a 2015 fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. She plans to use her $54,000 grant to develop a new work, "Skin(s)," that is co-commissioned by Intermedia Artsof Minneapolis and two California arts organizations.

“It deals with questions around how we in native urban communities, which are intertribal and interracial, perceive each other, looking beyond the color of our skin,” Simas said. The work will get its local premiere at Intermedia Arts in 2016.

Two other Minnesotans are among the 175 artists,scholars and scientists named fellows for 2015. Timothy J. Kehoe, a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota and adviser for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, will use his grant to study the impact of NAFTA and trade liberalization. Art historian Matthew P. Canepa, also a U of M professor, will do research on visual cultures in Persia and the ancient Iranian world. 

Ballet of Dolls founder inches back into the light

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: April 1, 2015 - 4:12 PM

When is a ballet class more than just about polishing plies and Arabesques?

When it’s taught by Myron Johnson.

The founder of Ballet of the Dolls, Johnson had a personal crisis exactly a year ago that led to his writing of a long letter that seemed like a preamble to tragedy. Fortunately, he did not commit suicide on April 1, 2014. Instead, he checked himself into a hospital, where he was treated for nine weeks.

In the meantime, he cancelled the rest of the season for the Dolls, and put the inventive troupe that he started in 1986 on hiatus. That led to the idling company members such as Stephanie Fellner, Robert Skafte and Heather Cadigan. Importantly, the company’s shaky status left the struggling Ritz Theater in Northeast Minneapolis without the principal tenant it had had since 2006.

After intensive therapy over the past year, Johnson is now inching back into the light. He is teaching a class Friday under the aegis of the James Sewell Ballet.

“I’m feeling better and I’m putting myself back in the game,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It was exactly one year ago that I went down. Oh, Lord, what a journey it has been.”

Johnson is still unsure about when, or if, the Dolls would be resurrected. But he is hopeful as he continues to heal.

“I’m taking it step by step,” he said. “Right now I’m glad to be in a place where I can move again. It’s been a whole year without dance, and I missed the pleasure of being in a room moving with all these wonderful people. It’s pretty special to be in the dance world, as hard as it is sometimes, and to be in the mix with all these cool and beautiful people.”

Johnson’s class, which is focused on technique and is aimed at professionals, will reunite many of his company members. It will also introduce him to some younger members of the Sewell company. He said that the cross-pollination is helping to juice his creativity, even as he savors the ability to dance and perhaps create work again.

“I didn’t expect to be here now,” he said reflectively. “I wouldn’t call it a second chance but it does feel like a rebirth. I’m at a place where I don’t take anything for granted. Every day is a blessing.”

It's curtains for Beyond Ballroom Dance Company

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: January 23, 2015 - 3:29 PM

After a dozen years, Beyond Ballroom, the Twin Cities-based dance company that brought such moves as the foxtrot, the cha cha and the tango from the competitive arena into the world of concert dance, is calling it quits.

The founders of the company have decided to fold up shop after the 2015 season, which includes upcoming performances at the Cowles Center for Dance in Minneapolis.

“It’s time,” said Deane Michael, founding executive and artist director. “The founders are all moving in different directions — some are coaching, some are doing other things. Now is a good time to put a bow on the time we’ve had.”

Beyond Ballroom was started by seven highly decorated ballroom dancers in 2003.

“Coincidentally, we were all retiring from competition around the same time but we were not done with ballroom yet,” said Michael. “We looked around and said, ‘What’s next?’”

It was a shoe-string operation, with a budget of just $50,000. But what it lacked in resources, it made up for in passion and dedication. 

Company members used their skills to craft and present dances that tell stories at venues such as the State Theater, The Fitzgerald and Orchestra Hall. "Murder at the Green Lantern Saloon," for example, was about the mob underworld of St. Paul.

Beyond Ballroom is best known for its ballroom retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Nightingale.” It also regularly performed “Red Ridinghood Suite,” which will be on the program at the Cowles Center, Feb. 13-22.

Megan Mayer reaches for the stars

Posted by: Graydon Royce Updated: December 2, 2014 - 10:52 AM

Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies and Elliot Durko Lynch in "Soft Fences."/Photo by Al Hall.

By Caroline Palmer/Special to the Star Tribune

Even though space travel has become more prevalent over the past 50 years the experience never fails to fascinate. Recent blockbuster films like “Interstellar” and “Gravity” prove this point but a Hollywood-size budget isn’t necessary to capture the experience for those of us who will never blast off like Major Tom. 

Choreographer Megan Mayer has spent the past two years developing “Soft Fences,” an evening-length work that draws upon the awe-inspiring experiences of astronauts to explore more down-to-earth ideas like extreme journey, loss, transformation, isolation and overcoming challenging situations. It premieres this weekend at Red Eye Theater and features Mayer along with performers Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies, Jim Domenick and Stephanie Stoumbelis with video cameos by Elliot Durko Lynch and Greg Waletski.

Mayer, interviewed prior to a recent rehearsal, explained that the work began to form during a residency at the Maggie Alleles National Center for Choreography in Tallahassee, Fla., when the artist and her collaborators took a day trip to the Kennedy Space Center. “I’ve always been a science fiction nerd,” she said. During this period Mayer was going through significant personal and professional life transitions and although the scope of the subject matter felt intimidating she pursued it, focusing on the psychological aspects of life as an astronaut.

“Astronauts go away and do amazing things and then they come back. Their lives have changed, they’ve seen things [hardly anyone] else has seen. And then they’re supposed to go to Costco?” said Mayer. As part of her research she immersed herself in NASA TV and interviewed Norman Thagard who flew on four space shuttle missions and was the first American astronaut to fly on a Soyuz Russian spacecraft. 

Mayer was intrigued by the unique experience of combining an amazing journey with the routine maintenance of life that doesn’t seem to go away beyond the atmosphere. A mind-blowing space walk, for example, might include the mundane task of changing bolts or mending equipment. What’s different, of course, is that the view is of the planet or the deep infinite darkness of outer space.

The title, said Mayer, comes from the definition of “orbit.” “I thought of it as circling but there is another definition: stuck or held between gravity and momentum,” she continued. This “in-between place” is where spacecraft hover and the title refers to a sort of see-through barrier, a place of suspended transition between gravity and weightlessness, earth and space.

“Soft Fences” didn’t come together easily. Life continued to throw curve balls at Mayer and her collaborators. The cast changed and Mayer grappled with finding funding to finish the work, all experiences that furthered her themes about the struggles, big and small, that must be overcome to achieve a goal. Now she’s finally nearing the final countdown on the premiere and all systems are go.

“Soft Fences” will be performed December 4-7. For further information and tickets visit redeye theater.

Soap Factory in Minneapolis to celebrate 25th anniversary

Posted by: Mary Abbe Updated: November 12, 2014 - 1:22 PM

Alexa Horochowski's 2014 installation at The Soap Factory. Star Tribune photo by Tom Sweeney

A lot has changed in the 25 years since The Soap Factory art complex started life as No Name Exhibitions.The popoular outpost for Halloween fun and experimental art is celebrating its quarter century anniversary with a benefit  party from 6 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Nov. 15 in its cavernous, brick-and-timber warehouse, a former soap factory,  at 514 S.E. Second St., Minneapolis.

The Factory's presence there has been a spur to development in what is now a fast-gentrifying neighborhood near the Mississippi River. Back in 1989, what is now a rough-hew home to avant garde art was still a functioning factory.

"There have been a lot of changes in this building," said Ben Heywood, executive director of The Soap Factory. "Back then they were literally melting down animals and turning them into fat and then throwing lye into it and turning it into soap."

Back then a group of local artists banded together and started No Name Exhibitions in another quasi derelict building known as the Skunk House. On the opposite side of the Mississippi and just west of Hennepin Av., the Skunk House was subsequently acquired by the Federal Reserve bank to house its air conditioning plant, Heywood said. No Name then moved into the bottling house of the former Grain Belt Brewery and from there to the Soap Factory in 1995.

"Our exhibition space went from 600 square feet to 50,000 square feet when we moved here, so that's a big change," Heywood said.

The Factory building is still pretty raw, but it too has changed over the years. Now, for example, it has bathrooms. And in January it will add heating and air conditioning for the basement and first floor. Previously the place closed in winter months when there was no heat.

Other improvements include the addition of a permanent staff, rather than volunteers who ran the place until 2002. With staff came a year-round exhibition and performance program. And the ever-popular Haunted Basement Halloween shindig. And now the 25th anniversary party. 

Billed as a "day of citywide fun," the anniversary committee may have overpromised a bit. There won't be hot air balloons or marching bands on Nicollet Mall, much as Heywood would love such stuff. By "city-wide" they mean art impressario and cultural gadabout Andy Sturdevant leading a Soap Factory History tour starting at 3 p.m. Saturday in a vintage bus that will roll past previous Factory locales.

"Andy is a city-wide celebration in himself," Heywood explained. Indeed.

The Factory invited 9,000 people to the shindig and expects a good turn out.

"We can hold 700 people on the first floor and we should have a full house," Heywood said.

Party goers can expect Beatrix* JAR and Solid Gold to kick off the event with DJs Diarrhea (Jackie Beckey) and Christopher Saint Christopher (Christopher Allen) commanding the dance floor and emcee Ian Rans running the show.

There will be complimentary cocktails by Bittercube, gourmet nibbles from Fabulous Catering and Common Roots catering, small plates from Tilia, Heyday, Haute Dish, Third Bird, and the University of MN College of Design. Plus art by Aaron Dysart and Andy DuCett. Performances by artist Jaime Carrera and theater company Live Action Set. Plus an auction, of course.

(Party 6 p.m. to midnight, Nov, 15, tickets $50 to $2,000. The Soap Factory, 514 Second St. S.E., Mpls. For tickets: www.soapfactory.org)



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