April 2011 Arts Calendar

9 Hot Picks: 4/15

We could use more dreaming of impossible dreams in these sober, strait-jacketed times—if not all the tilting at windmills (we’re looking at you, Michele Bachmann). And who better to parse our newfound appetite for self-delusion than Steven Epp, who put the outré in Theatre de la Jeune Lune, playing dozens of delightfully dotty men (and occasionally women). As Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha, at the Minnesota Opera Center and Open Book, he’s in full-throated form and backed by stellar singers Regina Marie Williams and T. Mychael Rambo, along with Tracey Maloney, Luverne Seifert, and Matt Guidry—a dream cast. Under the stripped-down direction of Ten Thousand Things’s inimitable Michelle Hensley, the classic musical has become a sharp, funny allegory of contemporary public life, depicting the complexities and consequences of staring reality in the face and denying it. tenthousandthings.org


Osmo Vänskä leads the Minnesota Orchestra in Nordic Landscapes—music of Sibelius, Grieg, and other Scandinavian composers. mnorch.org


Shapiro & Smith Dance premiere Burning Air, about the Great Hinckley Fire, a new work by Eddie Oroyan, and other dances in their brash, physical style. southerntheater.org


Joel Sass directs Next Fall, a Tony-nominated play about a two men in love, two parents in denial, and two friends on speed dial. jungletheater.com


Peter Rothstein directs Annie in a new production at the Children’s Theatre Company. childrenstheatre.org


Penumbra Theatre stages I Wish You Love, the musical story of Nat “King” Cole in the Civil Rights era. penumbratheatre.org


Tony Allen, the percussionist behind Fela Kuti, brings his Afrobeat, fused with jazz and soul, to the Cedar Cultural Center. thecedar.org


Chanticleer brings its “orchestra of voices” to the Fitzgerald Theater, along with its wide-ranging repertoire spanning gospel to Renaissance music. fitzgeraldtheater.org


Violinist Leila Josefowicz joins the Saint Paul Chamber Orchesra for Prokofiev and other Russian music. thespco.org


String Fever

The music industry is dead. Long live music. No genres, no formulas (no money, but that’s another matter)—it’s all just songs scrolling on iTunes now, baby. And there may be no better example of this galvanizing democratization than the String Theory Music Festival, held April 14 to 17 at various venues around town. Indie-rockers Tom Hagermen (DeVotchKa) and Nat Baldwin (Dirty Projectors) will show their true classical colors. The hip chamber group yMusic will premiere music by Nico Muhly, the acclaimed young composer who’s worked with rock bands and opera stars alike. And many other musicians, from Dessa to classical darlings Victoire, will take string music where it’s rarely gone before. southerntheater.org

Curtain Call



Are we the country’s craftiest state?

Chris Amundsen is explaining these boom-times for craft, from hipster knitting circles to blown-glass exhibitions in major museums, when he looks down at his chunky coffee mug. “This,” he says, tapping the ceramic, “is one-of-a-kind. If you’re worn out by mass consumption, craft offers an alternative. It’s a lifestyle, really.”

Amundsen is the new head of the American Craft Council, which promotes the homespun arts on behalf of its 23,000 members, puts on craft shows across the country, including one in St. Paul this month (think $500 glass bowls, not pine-cone owls), and publishes a glossy magazine (a recent story: bungalitos, mini-homes in the Arts and Crafts style). For 70 years, until last summer, the council was based in New York. Escalating rent pushed it out—to the former Grain Belt Brewery in northeast Minneapolis.

“This is fertile ground for craft,” Amundsen says of the Twin Cities, citing the thriving Northern Clay Center and the Minnesota Textile Center. The Midwest, he notes, fostered the Arts and Crafts movement in America through the Prairie School of architecture. The region also offers relatively cheap rent—which suits the movement’s scrappy, do-it-yourself doctrine.

Pam Diamond, the council’s marketing chief, leans into Amundsen’s office: “Indie, renegade—whatever you call it,” she says, “there’s a cultural renaissance going on with authenticity at its core. That’s what we want to tap into.” • The American Craft Council Show is April 15 to 17 at RiverCentre in St. Paul. craftcouncil.org

Cult Opera

A Hollywood tale, via Minneapolis

If you’ve seen Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, or just about any other mid-century Alfred Hitchcock film, you’ve heard Bernard Herrmann. His suspenseful scores helped make them classics. But hardly anyone has seen or heard Herrmann’s sole opera, a twisted take on Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. It’s been produced only once since its completion in 1951. And almost no one knows he finished it far from Hollywood—in Minneapolis.

“It’s one of those cult operas that everyone talks about but nobody stages,” says Dale Johnson, the artistic director of the Minnesota Opera. Herrmann forbade all attempts to edit the opera during his lifetime. But this month, Johnson will give a second, shortened staging of the opera he calls “cinematic, romantic, hypnotic, and a little threatening”—not unlike, it seems, Herrmann himself.

“He was obsessive and difficult,” Johnson says of the former child prodigy. “He was attracted to the dark side of things. In many ways, he was living the story.” Which explains his Midwest pit-stop: He was bunking here with his pal Dimitri Mitropoulos, the former conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony (now the Minnesota Orchestra), to escape marital problems, having recently divorced his wife.

As it happens, the music wound up as spooky as ever. “It sounds like his movies,” Johnson says. “Beautiful melodies, a complex, harmonic foundation—it’s brilliant.” • Wuthering Heights runs April 16 to 23 at the Ordway Center. mnopera.org

Boo Town

A once-shocking dance returns

Thirty years ago, Minneapolis pushed back against minimalism. As Lucinda Childs and her dancers moved methodically across the stage of the Northrup Auditorium, boos rained down and people walked out. “It was very unlike a Minneapolis audience,” says Philip Bither, the Walker Art Center’s performing arts curator, in his white-walled, minimalist office. “Lucinda was taken aback. She wasn’t interested in provoking people.”

Quite the opposite. Childs, who learned choreography from Merce Cunningham and other experimentalists, is known for her cool, meticulous minimalism. The name of her divisive work? Dance. Just dance. To a loud Philip Glass score, the dancers cross the stage on a grid, in unison and repetitively, with slight variations. A film of the dancers, recorded earlier, plays behind them. Northrop subscribers, used to more traditional dance, likely felt duped that night in 1981.

Bither is bringing back Dance this month, to the Walker this time, and isn’t expecting any boos. “It’s clearly a masterpiece now,” he argues. It’s harder, of course, to shock anyone nowadays. With previews easily found on the Internet, there are few unsuspecting audiences.

The dancers will be different this time around, while the film still features the original troupe, inducing a kind of nostalgia. “It’s like watching history,” Bither says. “Ghosts of another era.” He smiles warmly. “I would have loved to be there that night.” • Dance is staged April 7 and 8 at the Walker Art Center. walkerart.org