DANCE REVIEW | “Sol y Luna”: Zorongo Flamenco has “One Big Night” at the Ritz Theater

On November 9, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre performed at the Ritz Theater as part of the theater’s “One Big Night” series: one-time programs that showcase a range of companies’ repertoires. It’s not a bad idea: instead of trying to sell an entire weekend’s worth of seats, pack the house for a single electric performance. It certainly worked that way for Zorongo Flamenco: four dancers and two musicians rose passionately to the challenge of meeting the crowd’s high expectations.The program, titled Sol y Luna, was presented in front of giant projections of the sun and moon. That might have been a cheesy touch if the performers hadn’t brought an energy equal to the imposing setting. The company members have been taking Sol y Luna to venues across the state, and were clearly excited to be sharing the program in their home town.The dancers were the company’s very best: Deborah Elias, Collette Illarde, Antonio Arrebola, and artistic director Susana di Palma herself. Continue Reading

Why arts journalism matters

From October 23-November 2, I’ll be in Los Angeles as a fellow in the 2013 USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program. In the fellowship application, I was asked to write an essay answering the question, “When everyone’s a critic with an opinion, why should artists care about arts journalists?” As I transition into a new job at American Public Media, I thought it would be apt to share this essay as my final column post at the Twin Cities Daily Planet.My father works in housing finance, and when we drive around Minneapolis and St. Paul, he can point to specific buildings that he helped to secure funding for. A homeless shelter; an apartment building containing affordable units for single mothers; a recovery center for chronic inebriates.When I began a career in arts journalism, I realized that I wouldn’t be creating such tangible products. Continue Reading

A fond farewell to the Twin Cities Daily Planet

In November 2007, I joined the Twin Cities Daily Planet as assistant editor. I asked Daily Planet editor Mary Turck if I could also be arts editor—since, after all, there were only two of us—and she said something along the lines of, “Sure, why not?”Six years—and 1,435 articles and blog posts—later, my time with the Daily Planet is coming to a close. On October 14, I’ll be making the move from the Daily Planet’s Seward headquarters to American Public Media, in what Garrison Keillor refers to as “hustling, bustling downtown St. Paul.” There, I’ll be joining the digital music team, working as an editor and writer on the websites of The Current and Classical Minnesota Public Radio.I’m excited for this new opportunity and very much looking forward to working with my talented new colleagues, but of course it’s hard to say goodbye to the Daily Planet, where I’ve had what feels less like a job than an odyssey. 2007 wasn’t that long ago, but when I started at the Daily Planet, MinnPost didn’t exist, METRO was a promising new monthly, and The Onion’s local A.V. Club didn’t even have a website. Continue Reading

DANCE REVIEW | Deborah Elias Danza Española welcomes guest musicians for a stirring show at Intermedia Arts

Though it was cold and rainy outside on October 6, Intermedia Arts was filled with the warmth of Spain as Deborah Elias and her flamenco dance troupe took the stage for the final performance in a weekend run of Las Flamencas.Elias herself performed three solo dances, which would have made her the star of the show if not for the intensely charismatic vocalist Vicente Griego, a New Mexico performer with astounding pipes and a manifest commitment to the art of flamenco. (The palpable joy in this national collaboration, as well as the fact that Elias has benefited from Minnesota state travel funding, is further evidence of how deeply misguided was the state legislature’s recent decision to suspend future funds for artists’ out-of-state travel.)Las Flamencas, featuring Griego along with guitarists Gabriel Osuna and Trevor May, made clear that if you’ve seen flamenco without live music, you’ve missed out on an integral part of the experience. The musicians and dancers performed in close synchrony, evidently paying close attention to one another and mutually appreciating one another’s artistry. The appreciation was contagious, and the warm dynamic featuring repeated shouts of “Olé!” made the house feel full. Flamenco is a rich and complex art, and Elias favors a fresh but fundamentally classic approach. The crowd-pleaser of the set was Many Carmens, Elias’s humorous take on the flamenco chestnut, featuring Rick Farrell as a smooth-chested Don José who’s overwhelmed by affection from six rose-clutching Carmens. Continue Reading

Aparna Ramaswamy earns excited blurb in “The New Yorker”

Aparna Ramaswamy, the Minneapolis-based co-director of Ragamala Dance, has earned a very favorable preview blurb in the October 7 issue of The New Yorker; she’ll be performing at Pace University on October 5. The praise comes on the heels of the Minnesota Legislature’s decision to block future state funding for artists to travel out of state (or for out-of-state artists to come here), with Ramaswamy’s educational trips abroad being widely cited as an example of misspent funds. Continue Reading

“Powwow Summer”: Marcie Rendon’s book for children is back in print thanks to the Minnesota Historical Society Press

When I was growing up as a white middle-class Minnesota kid in the 80s, there was no shortage of books about children from other cultures. The general message was that though superficial details varied—dress, food, whether Santa came on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day—but fundamentally we were all the same. Call it the “Small World” model of cultural variation. Obviously the world is a lot more complex than that, and yet it remains important to show kids (and the rest of us) some of the fundamental similarities among us all. Marcie Rendon’s Powwow Summer is an accessible but gently nuanced introduction to the powwow tradition as celebrated by the Anishinaabe. The book, recommended for ages 8 to 12, was originally published in 1996 and has now been republished in an affordable paperback edition by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.Rendon’s text, accompanied by Cheryl Walsh Bellville’s photographs, introduces us to the Downwind family as they prepare for the Leech Lake Memorial Day powwow. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Charlotte’s Web” by the Children’s Theatre Company: Blue-ribbon worthy

“That was way better than the book,” declared the young girl seated behind me when the lights went up following the September 22 performance of the Children’s Theatre Company’s Charlotte’s Web. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but director Greg Banks has crafted a graceful and moving production that’s true to the spirit of E.B. White’s classic novel.With 45 million copies in print, the 1952 book has a plot that’s well-known: Wilbur the pig is in danger of being slaughtered until his friend Charlotte the spider uses her web to weave words of praise for Wilbur (some pig, terrific, radiant); the attention drawn by Charlotte’s web makes the pig a local celebrity and the farmer reconsiders his plans to turn Wilbur into bacon.While populated by charming characters including Wilbur, Charlotte, Templeton the rat, and other barnyard creatures, there’s a bleak edge to the story: I know from my experience teaching preschool science classes that many youngsters don’t make the connection between farm animals and the dinner table, so Charlotte’s Web could be an eye-opener in that respect. Further, Farmer Zuckerman is forthright about the fact that he’ll only spare Wilbur so long as the pig continues to inspire evidence of arachnid sentience.Joseph Robinette’s adaptation is forthright about those details, but doesn’t dwell on them. The value of friendship is the showcase theme here, and all the characters are likable—even Templeton, the gluttonous and unreliable rodent, has a heart of gold. The principal challenge of staging Charlotte’s Web is that you have humans playing animals alongside humans playing humans; Banks and his team handle this nimbly, rightly trusting the abilities of their talented cast to suggest their species through physical characterization. Mary Anna Culligan’s costumes are elegant and minimally suggestive—Templeton gets a tail, but Charlotte doesn’t get any extra legs. Continue Reading

Should I use a QR code?

“What do you think about QR codes?”

Asked that question during my remarks on social media at the annual meeting of the College Music Tour Managers Association, I immediately replied, “I hate ’em.”

“Why?”

“I think they’re dorky.” Continue Reading

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra heads to North Minneapolis—and offers tickets for free

While the Minnesota Orchestra sweats out the mid-September deadline to resolve contract negotiations before music director Osmo Vänskä quits, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO)—an equally world-class band—are moving forward with a full season of programming, including three performances of chamber music at the historic Capri Theater in North Minneapolis.Music by composers including Beethoven, Haydn, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Britten, and Bartók will be heard on the Capri stage during three performances on October 10, February 6, and May 8. A season ticket for all three performances is only $30, and a third of available seats for each performance will be given away completely free. Tickets are on sale now, and reservations for free tickets will be taken at 651-291-1144 starting one month before each performance. To buy tickets and see complete programs, visit the SPCO’s website. Continue Reading