The return of Jeune Lune, Leigh Kamman, and Diablo Cody

Before I get into the thick of the week’s shows, I thought I’d share an interesting perspective that blog writers have on the world, namely the searches people do to find this page. It’d be great to think people are Googling “intellectual + arts” or hey, me, but not a chance–here are some of the real searches people have done to get there:

“Diablo + Cody + leopard + print + pics.” Nice.

“Diablo + chick” Uh-huh.

“Smart + Diablo + pic.” You don’t want those dumb pics, or dumb Diablos.

And possibly my favorite: “How + much + did + Diablo + Cody + receive + for + screenplay”

Hey, I kinda want to know, too. Sorry you had to read about local theater instead. Keep those searches coming, though, folks, and maybe I’ll actually respond with the information you’re looking for (though not Diablo pics, sorry).

Meanwhile, back in the real world, sort of…. The current struggles of Theatre de la Jeune Lune, surely the Twin Cities’ most consistently engaging and inventive troupe, have been well-documented, but how they intend to overcome them has been less discussed. It’s a good start to hire Leah Cooper, the erstwhile Fringe Festival director, to help raise money and seek partnerships with other theaters across the country. And now, starting Saturday, Feb., 16, they’re returning to their creative roots with their last show of the season, Fishtank.

I have high hopes for this show, though as Dominique told me recently, creating it was “like re-exercising a muscle.” It was completely improvised in rehearsal, completely self-invented, and borrows on the spirit, if nothing else, of such physical comedy greats as Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati (the inspiration also for the wonderful Triplets of Belleville). And that’s about all we know, except to say it’s a journey, an exploration of where we’re going and what’s been lost along the way. I expect Jeune Lune will pull out all the stops and that’s a pleasure that’s been far too rare here lately.

Now Leigh Kamman, our local living treasury of jazz history, we haven’t seen (or rather heard) from him since he stepped away from the microphone on Saturday nights at MPR last fall. But he returns to the public sphere, in person, this month for the VocalEssence WITNESS concert, a staple of Black History Month, on Sunday, Feb., 17 at 4 p.m. at the Ordway. Duke Ellington’s music will be highlighted in a performance by the VocalEssence chorus, of course, along with the always energized singer Dennis Spears, the serene Sanford Moore, and a big band. Kamman appears during the pre-show conversation hosted by Maryann Sullivan, who took over for Kamman on MPR’s jazz show; Kamman and David Berger, a big-band leader and jazz scholar will discuss Ellington and his music.

Kamman, of course, legendarily began his career in jazz radio as a teenager when he heard Ellington was in town and ran out to get an impromptu interview with him, the story of which is here. And whether you liked his radio approach or not, there’s no question he knows more about jazz, and the people who made it, well, than many people who make it today.

Another living legend, poet Robert Bly, is getting kudos around town for his vivid, funny interpretation or the Guthrie stage of the Ibsen classic Peer Gynt, a Twin Cities staple. And while I had ambitions of doing a “guide to Peer Gynt” since everything about it breathes obscurity and pretension, from the name that tells you nothing to the 3-hour running time to the intellectual exercises of this play that also includes music but isn’t a musical.

But take the critics’ word for its success or failure onstage. I’m curious about the backstory, because Bly is such a misunderstood character in his own right, starting with his involvement in the so-called men’s movement awhile back. And some of that comes into play, no pun intended, in his history with the lead actor here, Mark Rylance, who’s being praised for his rubber-faced fun interpretation. Apparently, he met Bly years ago in England, where Bly was telling stories and sharing poetry with some 90 men, and according to Rylance “had the most profound effect” on them. More on this can be found here toward the end.

The closest I’ve come to interacting with Bly, other than sitting near him at Lake Calhoun’s Tin Fish restaurant, was at a wonderful little lodge up north called Cry of the Loon. I’d heard that many local writers had used these cabins to create their work, and that Bly’s first poetry magazines came into existence here. Imagine my surprise, though, when staying in one a few summers back to open the guest book to the night before and discover that Bly had written a short meditation on the meteor shower currently on display. It was terrific, about the stars being like the campfires of Roman soldiers centuries ago. The kicker is that I felt inspired to try my hand at the same, and the cabin owner, in a newsletter later cited my entry as the best of that season’s crop, er, above Bly’s. Perhaps he just didn’t want to call attention to Bly’s presence, but I felt pretty good nonetheless.

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