Actor Martin Bakari gives “Wise Blood” new vision

Based on Flannery O’Connor’s 1952 Southern Gothic novel, “Wise Blood” transformed The Soap Factory gallery into a non-traditional walkthru performance space. The large scale installations/sets were built by Minneapolis multi-media artist Chris Larson and director Michael Sommers into a place of unusual false perception and illusory wonders unlike any we’d experienced before.
The unusual wonders of the space are not the only thing special about this opera exhibition. Continue Reading

Syrian portraits evoke humanity, dignity and resilience amid the ruins

When Twin Cities-based artist Osama Esid first arrived at the Adana camp in Turkey to take photos of Syrian refugees, he was told he’d have a mere 45 minutes inside. He says he begged for more time to be able to meet the residents, gain their trust and hopefully take some photos. He recalls how, once inside the camp, a Mr. Souleyman invited him to dinner. Before the meal was served, Esid asked to take a photo of Souleyman’s empty tent – not the people, not the food, just the tent. He explained his project, saying he wanted to be able to take that tent outside the camp, to photograph others inside it anywhere in the world. “Mr. Souleyman loved the idea,” Esid remembers. “He said, ‘Somehow you make me feel like my great-grandfather’s house is still open for all the guests’.”

And so began Osama’s incredible project, Still/Life/Syria. Out of the hundreds of photos he took inside the camp over the course of several days, 12 five-by-six-foot prints will be on display at Mill Ruins Park this Saturday night during Northern Spark. The work is presented and commissioned by Mizna, an Arab arts organization based here in Saint Paul. And, yes, the Souleyman tent will also be on-site; a limited number of visitors will be invited to stand in front of it to get their picture taken. Esid will show the photos of Northern Spark “guests” in the Souleyman tent to residents at the camp in September, when he returns to Turkey. Continue Reading

Wander, explore, illuminate together at this year’s Northern Spark

Northern Spark, the magical night each June when sections of the Twin Cities urban landscapes become the canvas(es) for large-scale, often interactive, ephemeral, and community-based art, is celebrating its 5th birthday this month. I am delighted to report that after hours of researching this years’ exhibits and acts, watching project videos, reading artist statements, etc, I have found very little in this years’ offerings that is not somehow captivating, compelling, and/or curious. If ever there was a summer night that justified an all-nighter for any adventurers or art-lovers, Northern Spark is it.  

I couldn’t possibly say that some of these events will be better than others, nor am I interested in doing so. This is my own personal curated vision of what sounds especially delightful and resonates with my own interests. Continue Reading

A haunting score for a haunted film

Musical artists Jackie Beckey and Jonathan Kaiser perform their original live score for the 1921 Swedish silent film classic, Phantom Carriage, in the ASI historic ballroom Wednesday evening. Their musical compositions and improvisation for Phantom Carriage incorporate Beckey’s viola and Kaiser’s cello with amplifiers, electronics and sound effects to create richly textured and sparse soundscapes for this haunting ghost story, featuring ahead-of-its-time special effects and storytelling devices. Beckey and Kaiser, known for their work with bands Brute Heart, Myrrh and Dark Dark Dark, share a passion for cinema and for scoring silent films together. Phantom Carriage is their latest collaboration, a haunting, ethereal film that is a perfect match for their music style and experimentation.

Cyn Collins: How did you first begin collaborating? How did you have the idea to score silent films?

Jonathan Kaiser (JK): …We played music together for a long time, as a configuration for other people and as a duo and in bands and improvising. The scoring for silent films came from Jackie’s Brute Heart being commissioned for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” for Walker Art Center Music and Movies. They invited me to join them for that. I’d worked on a couple film scores with Dark Dark Dark so I was in a certain mode of working in that kind of thing. So I and John Marks who plays synthesizer and electronics joined them for that. It was a really fun working experience and it was a great combination of five people working on the project. That was kind of the beginning of talking about film and music stuff and working together on film stuff. Continue Reading

Violet at North Hennepin Community College

Over the years, I have found theater productions by local colleges to be hit and miss. As an adjunct instruction at North Hennepin Community College (NHCC) in Brooklyn Park, I have been attending the college’ productions over the past 18 years and similarly found the quality to be uneven. But NHCC’s Theatre Arts Ensemble has undergone a tremendous growth in the quality of its student productions over the last couple of years meriting some attention by the theater community as a whole. The growth of the program was evident in last year’s production of Dames at Sea which was such a splendid production that it compared to musicals I have seen performed on Broadway. The Ensemble’s most recent production of Violet, takes on a more edgy musical. Continue Reading

Animation Station!

It’s hard to believe that nineteen Art-A-Whirls have gone by since the first one, in 1996. I almost missed that first Art-A-Whirl, but my state representative, Diane Loeffler, suggested I go and maybe do some videotaping. So I went out on the last day of that first Art-A-Whirl and asked a few people who they were and what was going on. I managed to run into several of the founders of the event, and I saw that those quietly large industrial buildings in my neighborhood were full of life and activity. This year, Debbie Woodward, the building manager of one of those buildings, the Northrup King, gave me the opportunity to use a space on the second floor of that building, right in the heart of the Northeast Arts District. Continue Reading

MUSIC REVIEW | Gypsies invade Mankato for “Kiss Me, Kate”

Minnesota Opera’s Carmen may have closed, but its gypsy cast – the titular zingara included – appeared to be alive and well on Sunday, when four of the principles appeared in the Mankato Symphony Orchestra’s concert performance of the musical Kiss Me, Kate. Unlike their last onstage appearances, there were no stabbings involved and hippie chic was nowhere to be seen. The general mood of Sunday’s concert was pleasant and amiable: an afternoon idle to enjoy some excellent music with a full orchestra. Kenneth Freed led the orchestra with from the podium, while the spotlight fell alternately on Bergen Baker (Mercédès in the previously mentioned production), Brad Benoit (Le Remendado), Rodolfo Nieto (technically not present at said production, but who’s to quibble about an extra barihunk?), and Victoria Vargas (one of the Carmens). Technically, each member of this quartet sang a character in this abbreviated version of Kiss Me, Kate, but none of those details matter nearly so much as the basic recipe of classically trained singer + live orchestra + fun musical theater songs. Continue Reading

Minnesota Artist Exhibition highlights the cross-cultural and the unseen

As a society, we are often ignorant of the deeper ideas, the larger events and even the items of material culture that serve to connect us to other global societies, a complicated condition that the installations “ATTENTION!” by Pao Her and Near and Far by Shana Kaplow address in unorthodox and insightful ways. That such links are oblique or overlooked rather than obvious, abstract or intangible rather than specific is the point. As discrete but complementary projects, “ATTENTION!” and Near and Far innocently unite to create one of the most quietly beautiful and intellectually resonate MAEP offerings in recent memory. With the recent 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, Her’s installation “ATTENTION!” is salient. It comprises ten archival ink-jet prints of Hmong Vietnam war veterans from California, Minnesota and Wisconsin who wear military dress and stand stoically before a curtain of rich burgundy brocade. Continue Reading

A re-birth for Two Rivers Gallery on Franklin Avenue


After about a 10-year hiatus, Two Rivers Gallery, located in the American Indian Center in South Minneapolis, celebrated its grand opening last weekend with a new exhibition showcasing Native artists. The gallery aims to support emerging Native American artists of all ages. “Our focus is really on local artists who are just starting out and kind of providing them with exhibition opportunities and space to do collaborations,” says Maggie Thompson, the gallery curator. Thompson grew up in Northeast Minneapolis and studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she received her Bachelor’s in textile design. After graduating, she moved back to Minneapolis, where she soon had a solo exhibit at All My Relations gallery. Continue Reading

THEATER REVIEW | “Camelot” tour spins classic musical “Game of Thrones”-style

Take a walk over to Rice Park at night, peer through the glass at the Ordway, and you might notice that the Music Theater has been occupied by a squadron of marauding knights. This armored band bears the crest of a Camelot tour, but the production that they present and represent is not your grandfather’s Camelot. The first thing that stands out about this revamped production is that it bears a very strong visual resemblance to a certain Game of Thrones. The second thing that stands out is Mary McNulty (Guenevere), a riveting stage presence with a beautiful voice. Sometime after McNulty flits off the stage for the first time, it becomes increasingly obvious that most of the musical numbers have been cut down. Continue Reading