November 2011 Arts Calendar

10 Hot Picks: 11/29

The biggest classical concert of the season incorporates—in a single performer—all of our romantic notions about the genre: genius, power, prodigy. But there’s another, blither explanation for the talents of pianist André Watts, who performs this month at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts: luck. At 16, plucked by Leonard Bernstein to replace Glenn Gould at the piano of the New York Philharmonic, Watts had his stars aligned for him. These days, he’s something of a comet, which makes us the lucky ones now, the beneficiaries of the Schubert Club’s commitment to presenting the finest classical music in the world. Watts will play a solid evening of Liszt, the Romantic whose music he was tapped to tackle that first night in New York, in tribute to the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth—and, perhaps, Watts’s own eternal debt. •


The Jungle Theater revives I Am My Own Wife, one of its most popular shows, starring Bradley Greenwald.


The Children’s Theatre Company brings back The Wizard of Oz, its most requested show.


Mayor R.T. Rybak narrates The Tin Forest, a children’s show, performed by the Minnesota Orchestra.


Mike Doughty and his band play the main room at First Avenue.


The Minnesota Opera premieres its newest home-grown production, Silent Night, about the famous Christmas truce of World War I.


 The Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs Wonderland, a lush take on Alice in Wonderland, at the Orpheum Theatre.


Penumbra Theatre’s Ivey-winning I Wish You Love, about Nat King Cole, returns.


Ivey-winning actress and singer Regina Marie Williams pays tribute to Nina Simone for the Capri Theater’s latest Legends Series.


Mandolinist Peter Ostroushko ushers in the holidays with dance tunes at the Fitzgerald Theatre.

Secret Spaces

Deep inside Minnesota’s largest artists’ building

“This is where no one goes,” says Debbie Woodward, flicking on her flashlight. She steps into a cavernous room forested with wood pillars, empty save for coiled-up conveyor belts studded with scoops, a one-person hang-on-tight elevator called a man-lift (“Bottom floor: get off,” a sign reads), and piles of seed catalogs from 1984. In 1986, having packaged seeds in this northeast Minneapolis factory for almost 70 years, Northrup King & Co. moved out.

Artists began moving in. “There were bands, drugs, people starting fires,” says Woodward. She became the building manager in 1996, cleaned things up, and began hosting open-studio tours like Art Attack, the next iteration of which will be held this month.

“This was King’s Row,” Woodward says, stepping back into the light of the second floor. Where studios now house jewelers, painters, and furniture shops, there were once executive offices. Some still remain in the complex’s many untenanted corners—the factory was likely the biggest building in Minnesota when it closed and today only about half the space is rented.

“I’ve never been in here,” Woodward says, shining her light into a windowless room to reveal a sort of bohemian still-life: paintings, a circa-1980s radio, old Artforum magazines—signs of a long-ago squatter who seems to have left in a hurry. “Somebody had fun back here,” Woodward says before retreating. • Art Attack open-studio tour runs November 4 to 6.

New Classic

Kate DiCamillo puts words to a beloved picture book

Kate DiCamillo, the best-selling author of The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn-Dixie, is having a rare moment of reverence. Mention Chris Van Allsburg, the Caldecott-winning illustrator, and this always happens.

“I’m in awe,” she says by phone from her Minneapolis home. “Everything by him is imbued with a kind of peripheral magic—magic you can almost see but not quite.”

Which is why she nearly turned down an offer to write an accompanying story for a new version of Van Allsburg’s wordless 1984 classic The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt asked a small coterie of authors like Stephen King, Sherman Alexie, and DiCamillo to interpret the drawings—a nun floating in a chair, a sailboat heading to sea on railroad tracks—in short stories. DiCamillo eventually talked herself into the project, out this month, called The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. “I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try,” she says.

DiCamillo had her choice of illustrations, except for one of a glowing house (King’s pick) and another of a floating nun (Lois Lowry’s favorite). She chose an image of a bedroom wallpapered with birds, but writer’s block soon set in—ironic given that the book has been used as inspiration in creative-writing classes. DiCamillo herself has taught with it. Eventually, a character came to mind: a young girl.

Will this new version end the book’s mutability? “I don’t think it will stop all the stories,” says DiCamillo. “It’s a classic. We’re just tinkering with it.” • DiCamillo chats with Van Allsburg at the Fitzgerald Theater on November 20,

Giving Props

Is the Walker’s biggest acquisition priceless or detritus?

In the basement of the Walker Art Center, Abigail Sebaly folds an old leotard. It’s somewhat ratty, aged to an off-white color, and polka-dotted like a bingo card. It’s also a Robert Rauschenberg original, a costume he created for a 1958 dance by Merce Cunningham, who died in 2009. It’s part of a massive trove of Cunningham costumes and props—chaps made from tin cans, the chair that Cunningham famously strapped to his back—comprising the museum’s largest-ever acquisition.

Sebaly arrived with the treasure boxes this summer on a fellowship to research the stuff, which Cunningham didn’t intend to be preserved as art. Most were made by his friends. His friends just happen to be important artists: Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella.

This month, part of the collection will be displayed in conjunction with the final performance of Cunningham’s dance company at the Walker. Since the choreographer willed that his troupe be disbanded after his death, Walker curator Betsy Carpenter says the question now is how to keep his legacy alive. “How do we preserve a performance?” she asks.

Sebaly places the Rauschenberg in a box. “It’s basically a polyester leotard bought off the rack,” she says. “If [Rauschenberg and Cunningham] knew I was handling it with gloves, they’d think it was hilarious.” • The Cunningham Dance Company performs November 4 at the Walker Art Center.