October 2010 Arts Calendar

8 Hot Picks: 10/24

Among the many myths passed down about the early Native Americans is that they didn’t create art for art’s sake. Bunk. In “Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection,” a major exhibition opening this month at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, the 110 artifacts on display were chosen specifically for their aesthetic appeal. This isn’t revisionist art history. The objects here are as utilitarian as you might expect: coats, masks, helmets, and the like—no one has yet discovered conceptual art in the Mississippian burial mounds. But if collector Eugene Thaw’s argument that “Indian material culture stands rightfully with ancient art, with masterpieces of Asia and Europe, as their equivalent” bears a whiff of consciousness raising—why make comparisons?—the objects speak for themselves. The ancient Indian cultures didn’t lack for Michelangelos. artsmia.org


Opera icon Renée Fleming sings Mahler for the Schubert Club International Artist Series at the Ordway Center. schubert.org


Ballet of the Dolls performs Whatever Happened to…Swan Lake?, about sisters split by jealousy and ambition, at the Ritz Theater. ritzdolls.com


The James Sewell Ballet wryly riffs on television’s celebrity dance craze with its own take on the collision of art and commerce, Le Dance Off, at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium. jsballet.org


Minneapolis Musical Theatre performs Evil Dead: The Musical, a cheeky play on the Sam Raimi series, at the Illusion Theater. aboutmmt.org


Yves Klein” opens at the Walker Art Center, a thorough look at the showy Frenchman’s innovative midcentury art, from striking photography to canvases colored by nude models dipped in paint. walkerart.org


Urban Bush Women celebrate 25 years of dance with a collage of past works by the troupe’s founder performed at Ted Mann Concert Hall. northrop.umn.edu


Jazz trumpeter Kelly Rossum returns to the MacPhail Center for Music with a new score for the silent film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. macphail.org


Book Smart

Milkweed vs. the end of reading

“The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated,” says Daniel Slager, leaning against a shelf full of evidence: dozens of books recently put out by Milkweed Editions, where Slager has been the publisher since moving to Minneapolis from New York in 2005. Some of them, like Seth Kantner’s Ordinary Wolves (4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com), have even made money.

Milkweed celebrates 30 years this month. And as the big publishers flail against the shrinking book market by refusing all but the most broadly appealing manuscripts, Milkweed and other small houses are mopping up the rest. “I’m actually bullish about this moment,” says Slager.

It helps that Milkweed is a nonprofit, releasing only about 15 books a year. Yet it’s hardly immune to the trends: All of its tomes are now offered as eBooks. “Many eBook buyers are business travelers,” says Slager, “and whenever I’m on a plane, I’ll ask them, ‘How do you like your Kindle?’ I think they’re great—eBooks are an impulse buy, and if someone later buys the hard copy, it’s two sales of the same book!

“Plenty of people think the printed book will be a relic,” Slager says, cracking open a hardcover Wolves, which took Milkweed and the author some six years to patiently perfect. “I am worried about the future of reading but not about the future of the book. The book is a singular invention.” Milkweed hosts the Book Lover’s Ball on October 16. milkweed.org

Everyone Laughs

Staging the wild life of Dudley Riggs

Even in a coffee shop where several customers are dressed in medieval costumes, Dudley Riggs stands out. In head-to-toe black, sporting a bow tie and glasses, the man who founded the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis more than 50 years ago (it’s the oldest satirical-comedy theater in the country) is wondering why anyone would make a play about his life.

“I’ve pretty much stood back from it,” he says of Dudley: Rigged for Laughter, which opens October 2 at the History Theatre in St. Paul. “Other than raising the question of who’s going to play me, of course.” That would be Joseph Scrimshaw, the perennial Fringe Festival favorite, in a script by Brave New Workshop veterans Caleb McEwen and John Sweeney.

For his part, Riggs is concentrating on an autobiography about growing up in an itinerant circus family, with whom he began performing at age 5. “If I’d been born on a farm, I would have milked cows!” he says. “Vaudeville was the family business.”

He turns serious, for once, when he contemplates the long list of now-famous folks he once oversaw at the Brave New Workshop: Al Franken, Louie Anderson, Lizz Winstead. “We gave them their first paying jobs,” he notes. Now in his late seventies, he still attends every opening night and says the edgy dynamic he instituted still holds: “Everyone laughs, and everyone is a little uncomfortable. And when they go home and describe to the babysitter what they saw, she quits.” Opens October 2, historytheatre.com

For Eva

Evita rules the Ordway

Peter Rothstein, who is directing Evita for Theater Latté Da this month, and Michael Matthew Ferrell, his choreographer, are talking shoes—women’s shoes—and the ladies around them in the café at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts are eavesdropping. “It’s the one thing that’s caused some tension in production,” says Rothstein with a smile. The costumer would prefer simple dance shoes, but to real tango dancers, according to Ferrell, this would be an oxymoron.

“In Argentina,” he says, “the shoes are status symbols!”

Rothstein tackled Evita [ fig. 3 ], the musical about Argentine leader Eva Perón, after seeing a cartoon depicting President Obama walking on water then slowly sinking beneath the waves. “Obama is the first black president, and Eva was the first woman to rise to power in Latin America,” he notes. “What is it about being first that makes a culture look to you as a savior?”

Rothstein traveled to Buenos Aires to witness Perón’s ongoing cult of personality. “You don’t go a block there without seeing something Peronista, even just graffiti,” he says. Ferrell researched the tango by attending Twin Cities milongas—tango parties. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m a good dancer, I can figure this out,’ ” he recalls.

“I was completely lost.”

The key, Ferrell says, is grasping the tango’s intimacy, that it’s led not with broad arm movements but with the chest. “I think it’s all about the heart,” he says, tapping his breast, “and the right shoes.” Evita opens October 2 at the Ordway Center. ordway.org

Sweet Peek

A 30-second tour of “Chocolate: The Exhibition,” opening October 2 at the Minnesota History Center

You’ll enter through a faux rainforest, featuring a cacao tree—chocolate’s source. Then you’ll meet the Maya, the world’s first chocolate drinkers, before exploring an interactive Aztec market (cacao seeds were used as currency—the origin of the expression “Ain’t worth a hill of beans”?). You’ll learn how Europeans went cuckoo for cocoa before ending with the facts about chocolate’s reputed healing powers. Hungry yet?