DANCE | James Sewell Ballet’s fluid, accomplished “Ballet Works”

The Twin Cities’ premier ballet institution, the James Sewell Ballet Company, presented its newest season performance this past weekend: The Ballet Works Project. The new endeavor is a collection of forward-thinking pieces by local choreographers Hijack and Nicholas Lincoln (who is also a JSB dancer) as well as company founder Sewell himself. The first work, At Best and at Best, Relationships are Marginal, is an avant garde piece that draws inspiration from the writing methods of poet Richard Hugo as well as the painter Mark Tansey’s “obsessive” creative process. The performance is painstakingly stitched together by Hijack’s creative duo Kristin Van Loon & Arwen Wilder, and each dancer’s movement has been carefully discussed and pored over. The result is somewhat disjointed, with each mover’s individual acts never really seeming to gain any sort of cohesiveness with each other. Continue Reading

MUSIC | With a little help from her Doomtree friends, Dessa wows the Fine Line at record release show

Doomtree MC Dessa Darling released her long-awaited record A Badly Broken Code on Friday night to a (very) sold-out show at the Fine Line Music Café. Sporting a black dress and a flower in her hair, Dessa charmed the audience with her very R&B-focused new material, as well as some down-and-dirty hip-hop. Though the emcee’s lyricism is fraught with self-doubt and heavy introspection, she displayed none of those characteristics onstage. With a coy smile and a few good-natured jokes, Dessa showed fearless self-confidence and a willingness to have fun. Set standouts included a biting rendition of “Children’s Work,” as well as a lovely version of “The Chaconne,” which featured great backup vocals from Jeremy Messersmith and Aby Wolf. Continue Reading

MUSIC | Bowerbirds and Sharon Van Etten are soothing (if not soporific) at the Varsity

The Varsity Theater was the perfect place for the Bowerbirds performance on Tuesday night—the North Carolingian trio’s bittersweet melodies were perfectly matched to the theater’s lush, velvety decor. In fact if it weren’t for the stage lights one could have mistaken the entire performance for an intimate gathering in someone’s enormous living room. Attendees lounged around the floor, chatting, sipping drinks; sometimes cradling pillows from one of the venue’s many couches. Three hundred pairs of pajamas would have made the picture complete—but alas, the recent cold spell kept everyone bundled. The band mainly drew material from last year’s record, Upper Air, with singer Phil Moore handling the lead vocals in a wholesome baritone. Continue Reading

MUSIC | At the Entry, Seattle’s Astronautalis finds a home away from home

Seattle emcee Astronautalis is spending a few weeks in the Twin Cities to work on a long overdue collaboration with local Doomtree star POS. To kick off his visit, he played a packed-house performance on Sunday night at the 7th Street Entry. The gravel-voiced rapper shared the stage with members of local band Me And My Arrow (longtime friends of his), as well as surf-tinged rock outfit Speeds the Name, who opened the show. Astronautalis is the nom de guerre of Andy Bothwell, a hip-hop artist whose raspy delivery and bluesy themes place him closer to Tom Waits than to most of his rap contemporaries. With Me and My Arrow backing him, Bothwell gave a more sweet-natured performance than usual, with the band’s guitar, cello, and keys fleshing out the sound nicely. Continue Reading

THEATER | Emerging female directors present an engaging “Fresh Five” at Bedlam

The Fresh Five is a series of five world premiere one-act plays currently being staged at Bedlam Theatre by 20% Theatre Company Twin Cities. Each play is directed by an emerging female director, handpicked by the theater for her “gutsy” and “provocative” attitude towards her work. While in theater the verb “gutsy” is often mistakenly attached to plays which pointlessly try to raise the stakes of perversity, histrionics, or sheer confusion, the Fresh Five directors admirably work within the bounds of conventional narratives to tell their unconventional stories. the fresh five, playing through january 23 at bedlam theatre. for tickets ($10-$20) and information, see Continue Reading

MUSIC | Andrew Bird enthralls at unorthodox church show

Hundreds packed St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, just off Loring Park, on Thursday night for a religious experience far different than the church’s usual rituals. The presiding figure in this case was none other than violin virtuoso Andrew Bird, whose current tour is utilizing a number of churches for their high-ceilinged acoustic merits. Doubtless the ministers were jealous of the rapturous adoration paid to the nearly two-hour performance, as Bird cast texture upon texture of sonic fabric over the enthralled crowd.Bird performed without electric amplification; rather, all the sound was piped through a set of five custom-made gramophone-style horns. The unorthodox setup made for an extremely intimate performance as the horns sent the music bouncing across the large hall’s many nooks and arches, until it sounded as if it was coming from all around the audience. Continue Reading

MUSIC | Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros prove worth a long wait at the Varsity

Fans attending Sunday’s performance by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at the Varsity Theater were treated to a night of seemingly endless waiting. Not only did the doors open 40 minutes behind schedule while hundreds shivered outside, but the lengthy soundchecks and time between sets made it a four-hour show, of which less than two hours were actually music. Luckily, when there was music it was generally spectacular; anything less and the venue might have had a riot on its hands. LA rockers Local Natives started things off (after a 30-minute soundcheck) and were well received despite the wait. The band wandered a bit back and forth between discordant musical experimentation and vocal harmony folksiness. Continue Reading

MUSIC | The Big Pink and Crystal Antlers saturate the 7th Street Entry with smokin’ good tunes

A day prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, Twin Citians packed the 7th Street Entry near to bursting for British rock band The Big Pink’s performance. The touring band recently scored big with their first record, A Brief History of Love, leading to tickets for the band’s Minneapolis live debut to sell out quickly. And while the Entry is no bigger than an average sized café, the show almost seemed to be a rehearsal for the larger venues that are sure to come soon in the group’s promising future.For one thing, they absolutely saturated the tiny club in fog machine smoke—a tactic that works well in big spaces but in the Entry’s confines led to a somewhat noxious lack of breathable air. There were also enough strobes packed onto the stage to fill a much larger room with light, lending the venue the surreal aspect of a hyper-lit Japanese game show. Still, despite the technical annoyances the band put on an admirably energetic set, strutting through the smoke and lights like the glam rockers of yore. Continue Reading

At the Varsity, political philosopher Michael Sandel prompts moral soul-searching

Political philosopher and author Michael Sandel stopped by the Varsity Theater last night to present his wildly popular presentation on justice for Policy and a Pint, the series presented by The Current and the Citizens League. Though Sandel admitted that it was the first time he ever presented his talk in a “beer hall,” the Varsity’s stage served as a fine pulpit in place of Harvard’s lecture halls, where Sandel has for two decades been teaching the most popular course in the university’s history.The discourse was a sold-out affair, with a waitlist that stretched to the street; rare considering that what people were lining up for was essentially a philosophical lecture, not a rock show. But when it comes to political philosophy Sandel is something of a rock star. He has polished his delivery over many years and now has a showman’s mastery of crowd control, delivery, and timing.Sandel’s presentation grapples with English philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism, which strictly equates the moral good with the greater good. While establishing early on with the audience that they professed to believe in Bentham’s principles, Sandel went on to present some confounding factors in the guise of hypothetical moral dilemmas. Continue Reading