Once the bare-knuckle fist fight ended at the Minnesota Orchestra, this company demonstrated the resilience and strength that is possible when folks pull in the same direction. Musicians, staff, board and volunteers — all of whom confronted the gravity of the orchestra’s situation in 2013 — have rededicated themselves to creating a spirit of cooperation. Much of the credit goes to new President Kevin Smith for his openness and collegial manner. Musicians, too, have thrown themselves into artistic planning and taking their art to the public in stronger ways. For an orchestra that many declared dead a year ago, the turnaround was remarkable. In 2015, the orchestra hopes to revive its recording schedule, get some out-of-town dates and — oh, yeah — solve that structural deficit. For now, though, attaboys all around.
For independent film producer Bill Pohlad, this was an exceptionally busy, especially good year. The historical epic “12 Years a Slave,” which he co-financed with Brad Pitt, won the Oscar for best picture. He teamed with Reese Witherspoon to back “Wild,” another Oscar contender. And he returned to the director’s chair for “Love & Mercy,” his first feature since his meager 1990 debut, “Old Explorers.” The story of schizophrenic Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson, “Love & Mercy” won warm reviews at the Toronto Film Festival, and showbiz bible Variety called it “Bill Pohlad’s vibrant cure for the common musical biopic.” Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions quickly bought the North American distribution rights for $3 million. It’s scheduled for a spring release.
If you went solely on the strength of the wiry, weird rapping on his first full-length album, “Future Memoirs,” Allan Kingdom would merit all the newcomer-of-the-year accolades that came his way in 2014 from Twin Cities music insiders. However, the lanky, Woodbury-bred wiz kid also produced most of the tracks himself. He directed videos for some of the songs. And then he made another record with one of the most buzzed-about acts in town, the Stand4rd, an atmospheric-rap collaboration with YouTube teen wunderkind Spooky Black, Audio Perm’s Bobby Raps and producer Psymun. That’s a lot to accomplish before one’s 21st birthday. (Kingdom’s is in two weeks.)
A touch of Danger
His name sounds perfect for film noir, but Tane Danger is all about marrying a couple of strange bedfellows — improv comedy and the wonky side of politics. His Theater of Public Policy (t2p2) invites a different academic or politician to speak at each show, then a small group of performers acts out spur-of-the-moment skits inspired by what they’ve just heard. The Bush Foundation made him a 2014 fellow and invited his troupe to perform at its annual summit. It’s also helping him pay for a master’s degree (in public policy, natch) at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Here’s to an even busier 2015 for this idea man, who wouldn’t be the first actor elected to high office.
So, so satisfied
It was almost as if the Replacements knew what they were doing in 2014. A year and a month after their first reunion gig, Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson and replacement members Josh Freese and David Minehan finally headed for home with a Midway Stadium concert in September. It was a perfect Minnesota moment — the setting was low-rent and tailgate-worthy, the weather was flannel-cool, and the performance was nose-to-the-grindstone lean but with the untamed spirit of the original recordings. A few surprises were thrown in, too, including the first reunion performances of “Skyway” and “Unsatisfied” and a blues jam with local pioneer Tony Glover. After all the sloppy gigs of the Mats’ heyday, this one didn’t live up to their legend. It rewrote it.C.R.
Over the past five years, the producing team of Pillsbury House Theatre, led by Faye Price and Noel Raymond, and Minneapolis producer Frances Wilkinson have brought to Twin Cities audiences a signal achievement in theater: Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister trilogy. All three shows — including the final installment, “Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet,” presented this fall at the Guthrie — were memorably directed by Marion McClinton. The fact that the Twin Cities theater scene is celebrated nationally is because of the vision and commitment of risk-takers such as these who swing for the fences and sometimes hit it soundly out of the park.
All’s well in Wobegon
For Garrison Keillor, age is just a number. At 72, Minnesota’s unofficial ambassador to the world had one of his busiest years. He released a collection of stories and poems, “The Keillor Reader,” hosted Hillary Clinton at his St. Paul bookstore and presided over a three-day festival at Macalester College celebrating the 40th anniversary of “A Prairie Home Companion.” His first stage play, “Radio Man,” debuted at the History Theatre. This month, he inducted Lily Tomlin as a Kennedy Center honoree, sharing a dressing room with David Letterman and Steven Spielberg. In interviews, Keillor scoffed at the notion that he’ll be around for “PHC’s” 50th anniversary — or that he will receive a Kennedy Center Honor himself. At this rate, it’s hard to agree.
Art and nature
Minnesota artists Alexa Horochowski and Nancy Randall wrestled with nature in novel installations. In Chile, Horochowski found oily strands of giant kelp undulating in the surging tide on a rocky coast. Back in Minnesota she wove the translucent seaweed into rusty steel boxes, projected videos of it onto the Soap Factory’s walls, and curled and bronzed the stuff into a dramatic testament to nature’s wild beauty. Meanwhile, Randall fashioned bronze and ceramic helmets — and fragments of a Viking longboat — that she installed on a wooded hillside at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, where they suggest an ancient, ransacked campsite. With their raw beauty and hints of primal myth, these memorable installations embodied the steely wisdom of two tough women.
Dancing in the ‘Darkness’
When Minneapolis choreographer Rosy Simas decided to delve into her family history, it took more than one venue and multiple media to share her discoveries. For her project “We Wait in the Darkness,” she created an installation of maps and mementos at All My Relations Gallery and gave a solo performance at Red Eye Theater. Simas, who is Seneca, drew upon the experiences of her grandmother, including the flooding of reservation lands in western New York during the 1960s to make way for the Kinzua Dam, which violated a treaty dating back to George Washington’s era. The quietly poignant work resonated for its generosity of spirit and dedication to truth-telling. Simas will continue to tour the show in 2015.
A guy of protean creativity, Chris Larson has been shape-shifting for decades. First he was a wizard carpenter building phantasmagorical stages, houses and rude machines out of 2-by-4’s and unbridled energy. He’s played country music, preached, set one house adrift and torched another. This spring one of his manic videos landed in the prestigious Whitney Biennial in New York, and now that video and one of his circular, monochrome paintings are on view at Walker Art Center. In the video Larson spins and twirls like a crazed DJ as he hammers, saws and pounds his world into shape in an explosive performance that reads as an apt metaphor for art today.M.A.
“I figured at 65, what’s left to learn?” Sonny Knight told us back in January. The answer was: a lot. By year’s end, the “lost” Twin Cities funk-and-soul singer — who once performed with the ’70s group Haze — got to know the Current (89.3 FM), First Avenue and other bastions of modern Minnesota cool that supported “I’m Still Here,” his debut album with horn-driven backing band the Lakers. He acquired new skills as chief navigator of their converted Avis shuttle bus while touring the Midwest and East Coast. He learned to navigate South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, where they made a splash playing eight gigs in four days. He soaked up European culture, too, thanks to the band’s overseas trek in October. He kept going right up until last weekend, when they tackled the task of making a live album — a no-duh idea to capture the mojo they built up over the course of the year.C.R.
Minneapolis actress Shā Cage had a banner year, capped by a tour de force in the solo show “Grounded,” about a tough fighter pilot who gets pregnant and becomes a drone pilot. Cage was superb as she tracked the pilot’s emotional crackup under the pressure of remote warfare. She also stood out in “The Ballad of Emmett Till” at Penumbra Theatre and was a force behind “The Blacker the Berry,” a veritable festival of creativity at Intermedia Arts.R.P.
Building it forward
Park Square Theatre made a leap of faith in 2014 with the opening of a second theater, and artistic director Richard Cook put together a program of 19 shows. In the process, he pumped up his theater’s annual budget, employed more actors and designers, and created space for directors to test their ideas. We’ve long admired Cook for the methodical and calculated risks he has taken in nurturing the theater from its days as an 80-seat walk-up in Lowertown to a two-stage complex with more than 550 seats. He deserves a shoutout for expanding the reach of downtown St. Paul theater.G.R.