Queen Jane approximately
Twin Cities guitarist Dáithi Sproule doesn't have to worry about renting a tuxedo for the Oscars, even though he has a featured song in the Coen brothers' new film, "Inside Llewyn Davis." In fact, it's showcased in a pivotal scene in the story of an unlikable, deadbeat folk singer, circa 1961, who mesmerizes when he performs. He sings Sproule's song when he travels all the way to Chicago from New York to audition at an important folk club. "The Death of Queen Jane" is an ancient English ballad that describes the events surrounding the death of a queen, believed to be the third wife of Henry VIII of England. The ballad was cataloged in the late 1800s. "I composed the melody a long time ago, about 1970 or so, to go with the traditional words, which I got from a book," Sproule told I.W. from Dublin, where he's spending the holidays. "I sang the song with my group, Skara Brae, back then." The song with Sproule's melody was recorded by the Bothy Band, an influential Irish traditional band, and more recently by Sproule himself and Canada's Loreena McKennitt. "I don't know where the Coen brothers got it," he said. "But, of course, I'm delighted they are using my melody." The piece is not eligible for the Academy Award for best song. At least Sproule can say his song appears on an album featuring Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk and Justin Timberlake.
Ballet of Ken Doll
The diminutive and outstanding dancer Stephanie Fellner, who's been with Ballet of the Dolls seemingly forever, pulls off the seemingly impossible: convincingly dancing the role of pre-teen Marie in "The Nutcracker (Not So) Suite." Choreographer Myron Johnson's annual Ritz Theatre tradition (running through Dec. 31 in northeast Minneapolis) puts meek Marie in the care of brassy, washed-up Broadway belter Flo (Binky Wood). While Marie gets her chances to shed the PJs and pigtails and really shine, the funniest bits belong to Barbie (a leggy, high-haired Heather Brockman) and Ken. The boy doll this year is performed by Peter Spitsnogle, a smiling paragon of muscularity, whose fans know him from his day job teaching pretty much every vigorous exercise class at the Firm. Given the catcalls each time Ken took the stage, I.W. is sure the house was packed with his spin-class devotees.
The kids at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis are on the final fundraising stretch to get an interactive art installation built on the school's grounds. They've turned to Kickstarter in hopes of getting the final $3,500 they need by the end of the year to build a "Connections Gallery" by artist Randy Walker, best known for his rocket sculpture in Brackett Park. With an assist from Forecast Public Art, a group of students helped to design the piece, which will consist of 14 metal frames placed in a circular pattern, each divided into several panels that will hold constantly changing symbols of learning chosen by students. Strands of colored fiber will be used to connect related panels. "We can go around all day saying we value art in the schools, but getting together and paying for it is a lot more powerful," said community liaison Julia Schumacher.
Last Friday at the Cedar Cultural Center, you could've relished a little irony in seeing the Anonymous Choir — a group of 10 women — perform Neil Young's "After the Gold Rush" album in its entirety instead of the usual middle-aged dudes-in-flannel lineup you might see put on a tribute to Neil. But this wasn't just a tribute, it was a reimagining. The Choir (as an opening act for Dosh's annual home-for-the-holidays gig) stripped down the arrangements to mostly just piano, with occasional drum/bass/guitar backing but still a raw acoustic sound overall. Obviously, then, "Gold Rush's" most cranking cuts, such as "When You Dance I Can Really Love You" and "Southern Man," sounded wildly different just by design. "Don't Let It Bring You Down" and the title track also took on a whole new sonic vibe, with full choral arrangements throughout that emphasized the haunting, lonesome-me power of Young's early writing. After singing "Till the Morning Comes," Choir leader Nona Marie of Dark Dark Dark indie fame, announced, "This is where you flip the record over." I.W. flipped over the record, that is Anonymous Choir's vinyl studio recording of "After the Gold Rush," produced by Tom Herbers.
I.W. was pleased to spot some Minnesotans in the "50 Greatest Photographs of National Geographic" at the Venetian in Las Vegas. Making the cut were an expedition shot by Will Steger; a leaping white wolf by Jim Brandenburg, and two photos by Bill Allard, one of Basque children and another of a pensive IL Ranch buckaroo in a lonely bar. Allard's saucy admission: He visited the brothels of Elko, Nev., with the ranch hands. The traveling exhibit is on view in Vegas through Jan. 13.