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Posts about Theater

Memorial services announced for Guthrie Theater guru Ken Washington

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: December 3, 2014 - 10:57 AM

There will be three memorial services next week for Kenneth H. Washington, the Guthrie Theater’s beloved director of company development who died Nov. 26. He had been diagnosed with kidney disease.

A mentor, teacher and guru, Washington influenced the careers of scores of actors across the nation. Before coming to the Guthrie 19 years ago, he taught at the University of Utah, where he earned a master of fine arts degree and headed the school’s actor training program.

Washington was instrumental in the launch of the Guthrie’s joint BFA program with the University of Minnesota. He also started the Guthrie Experience, a summer training program that annually brings a cohort of some of the best graduate students in theater to the Twin Cities for training and real-world experience.

He also instructed students at Julliard and New York University, where he directed regularly.

Washington was born in Louisiana and educated at Talladega College, Syracuse University and the University of Utah, where he earned an MFA and completed coursework on a doctorate. A quiet man with a lilting accent informed by his Southern heritage, he was known for “not speaking much but when he did, it was meaningful and important,” Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling said last week.

The services will be held in Salt Lake City, Minneapolis and Manhattan.

On Monday, Dec. 8, the University of Utah theater department will hold its service at 4 p.m., in the Babcock Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City.

Also on Monday, a cohort of former students, mentees and colleagues in New York have organized an East Coast memorial to be held from 7-10 p.m. in New York University’s Atlas Room, 111 2nd Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York.

The following Thursday, the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis holds its memorial for Washington organized by colleagues and friends Marcela Lorca, Randy Reyes and Michelle O’Neill. That event is at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage, 818 South 2nd St., Mpls. 612-377-2224.

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.

Guest host booked for 'Prairie Home Companion'

Posted by: Neal Justin Updated: November 26, 2014 - 3:51 PM

Chris Thile/ courtesy of the Walker Art Center

For only the second time in "Prairie Home Companion"'s 40-year history, Garrison Keillor is turning over hosting duties to someone else.

The Feb. 7 and 14 shows will be hosted by Chris Thile, a mandolinist for the Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek.

The only other substitution happened in 2011, when Thile's Nickel Creek band mate Sara Watkins took over with Keillor watching from the wings.

"'Prairie Home' has been a pretty dependable show and now and then it likes to do something entirely different," Keillor said in a press release. "I look forward to sitting at home and listening."

Keillor will be at the helm for the other four broadcasts in January and February.

Upcoming guests include Nellie McKay, The Gibson Brothers, Heather Masse, Robbie Fulks and the Punch Brothers.

Tickets for the next six shows, which kick off Jan. 17, will be available starting Tuesday at the Fitzgerald Theater or at www.eTix.com.

Tommy Tune tumbles, recovers in Minneapolis

Posted by: Rohan Preston Updated: November 21, 2014 - 11:46 AM

Tommy Tune, the legendary Broadway dancer, choreographer and director who won nine Tony awards, said he was “totally heartbroken and literally broken up” over the death of director Mike Nichols.

Tune, who was in the Twin Cities to headline a benefit for the Lundstrum Center for the Performing Arts, fell on the ice in downtown Minneapolis around lunchtime on Thursday.

The sidewalk spill happened on First Av. near his hotel. He attributed the fall, which caused a concussion, to his feelings of loss.

“I was down about Mike, bereft and walking around, and then I was literally down on the ground,” he said. “A woman from Boston, who seemed like an angel, came and helped me. She said, you’re bleeding, and she gave me her glove to stop the blood.”

Tune was rushed to the hospital, where the wound around his left eye was sutured. The medical emergency led to the cancellation of a class and a few other things that Tune had planned for the afternoon.

But he was able to recover enough to still headline Thursday night’s gala.

Tune and Nichols worked together on “My One and Only.” The show had a very difficult birth.

“It was a complete flop in out-of-town tryouts in Boston,” he said. “The producers had fired the director, Peter Sellars, and much of the creative team. And they had asked me to direct it if was gonna have any shot at Broadway. I couldn’t see how I could do it as I was already starring in the show and choreographing it. So I asked Mike to come in and put some eyes on it. He agreed to do it for a few days, and then he stayed.”

Tune won two Tonys for his work on that production — best leading actor in a musical and best choreography — and the show ran for two years on Broadway before closing in spring 1985.

“Mike was a creative genius,” Tune said. “And he was lovely person, too.

Onstage at the Lundstrum Center on Thursday, Tune, wearing his trademark red shoes, was serenaded by young talent, and by the Casserly sisters, who run the center. Artistic director Kerry Casserly performed with Tune in "My One and Only" on Broadway.

Tune regaled audiences with stories of his life. He recalled how, while performing in "My One and Only," he and co-star Twiggy took the Concorde to London to perform for Queen Elizabeth in the mid-1980s. It was a whirlwind trip — they had to be back in New York in time for the show — that made them very nervous, he said. That was until the queen's lady-in-waiting complimented them on the performance by saying "You went down very well in the royal box."

Tune said he was delighted to suppor tthe Lundstrum Center, which had had a recent $500,000 renovation. The center was founded by Dorothy Lundstrum who taught dance and manners for over seven decades to youngsters in North Minneapolis. The Casserly sisters, who now run the expanded center, are among the legions of people Lundstrum trained.

Tune taught some steps to the younger generation at Lundstrum on Thursday. He also posed for photos with some donors and benefactors, including former Sen. Norm Coleman (whose wife, Laurie, is one of the five Casserly sisters), singer-actor Jamecia Bennett, and Chanhassen dancer-choreographer Julianne Mundale

Thursday's event, Tune said, helped him “time-step through his life.” He was able to recall the people who touched him and helped him along the way, and the many graceful dance partners he had, from Carol Channing and Tina Turner to Drew Barrymore to Chita Rivera.

The Lundstrum Center, Tune concluded, was like the family-run studio that first trained him in his native Texas before he moved to New York. “These places are good ones for little kids with dreams,” he said. “Of course, if you can do anything else besides this — entertainment — you should.”

Steve Paxton makes contact at Walker Art Center

Posted by: Claude Peck Updated: November 11, 2014 - 2:02 PM

POST BY CAROLINE PALMER, Special to the Star Tribune

Dancer Jurij Konjar. Photo by Nada Zgank.

Steve Paxton (pictured below) is a world-famous dancer and choreographer with a career spanning some five decades but he lives under the radar.

The José Limón and Merce Cunningham company member during the 1960’s, key instigator within the transformative Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union postmodern movement groups, inventor of contact improvisation in 1972 and much sought-after teacher doesn’t have a manager or booking agent. Now 75 and a self-described “old guy,” Paxton lives at Mad Brook Farm in northeastern Vermont, a place he calls home with artists, artisans and other folks seeking alternative communities. But for the next two weeks he is the central figure of the Walker Art Center’s mini-festival “Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton.”

“I started dancing professionally in the 1960s, and over 50-odd years you develop your instrument, your body and your mind,” Paxton said from Vermont during a recent phone conversation. And while aging has exacted a toll, he said that “the feeling is still in my nerves and muscle memory continues even as the muscles stop functioning.” He noted that Cunningham choreographed into his nineties.

According to Philip Bither, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, Paxton “is under-recognized and deserves a much broader public understanding of his influence.” William Forsythe, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Jérôme Bel, to name a few major artists presented by the Walker have all drawn inspiration from Paxton and his innovative peers (including Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Lucinda Childs, Deborah Hay and Yvonne Rainer).

Yet while Paxton may be relatively unknown to a broader audience he is very much a “guru” within the dance world, said Bither, and “people from all over the country are coming for the classes.”

Kristin Van Loon, co-founder of local choreographic duo HIJACK with Arwen Wilder, cleared her schedule for Paxton’s visit. She has attended four of his two-week intensives, likening the experience to a “martial arts dojo” in which the participants dance, eat and even take naps together while learning to delve deeper into their movement potential. Paxton also lectures and recounts stories from Cunningham tours. “It’s exactly how I want to study dance,” she said. Van Loon will be performing Paxton’s 1967 work “Smiling” with his longtime collaborator Lisa Nelson on Thursday, November 13 during the Walker’s “Talking Dance” program (7 p.m.).

Aside from teaching and lecturing Paxton will also take the stage while in Minneapolis, a rare treat. He and Nelson will dance their 2004 duet “Night Stand” on November 21-22 at 8 p.m., which also features lighting design from Carol Mullins. “We have been performing together since the 1970s,” Paxton said of Nelson, referring to their ongoing partnership as a “dance adventure.” The residency also includes a performance of Paxton’s 1982 solo “Bound,” performed by Slovenian dancer Jurij Konjar on November 14 at 8 p.m. “He is a really incredible technician with great physical energy,” said Paxton.

“Night Stand” and “Bound” are unique choices in that they are not contact improvisation works, although they are built on elements of improvisation intertwined with specific set events. The Walker’s intent is to show different facets of Paxton’s artistry – from improvisation to choreography – during “Composing Forward.” But contact improvisation is still a big part of the conversation. “It is a global phenomenon,” said Bither. “It opened up the idea of movement as a form of participation.”

Contact improvisation transformed the act of partnering. Dancers support one another, exchanging weight, melting into the curves of bodies. Paxton explained that he drew upon research by Dr. Daniel Stern at Columbia University during the early 1970’s that focused on the movement interactions between mothers and babies built upon intimacy, emotional nourishment and reliance on intuition. This movement foundation draws upon innate and common human experiences, which may explain why contact improvisation concepts are so readily embraced by dancers from different cultures.

An egalitarian form, contact improvisation is available to movers of any ability, and adherents hail from a variety of backgrounds, including ballet (local dancer Sally Rousse has been known to do it while wearing a toe shoes and tutu). Asked whether he anticipated contact improvisation’s popularity, Paxton, who witnessed other the blossoming of other  movements like Pop Art, said, “I did have a sort of inkling that it was probably going to grow. It grew very quickly by word of mouth. I’ve always conducted my career by word of mouth.”

Paxton, however, is not possessive of his creation. “As long as I’m alive I maintain a position that lets contact just be in the hands of the people doing it. I’m not overseeing it. I feel like that’s a moral position. If you are interested find it and explore it.”

Contact improvisation can be either virtuosic or contemplative but it is always individualistic. According to Paxton, “We’re trained to see dance validated as dance and to see physical exploits. We demand precision and in performance we want to see something spectacular. We want to see the training potential of the body exposed.”

But ironically, he added, this desire can limit movement opportunity. What contact improvisation does is provide an outlet for interaction that can range from the exquisite to the mundane – but is still altogether different from the norm. “We behave in certain ways in public with people,” he said. “We don’t roll around, we aren’t upside down, we aren’t supporting each other[‘s bodies] while we’re having a cocktail or a chat over coffee.”

For a full schedule of Paxton-related events visit www.walkerart.org.


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