For the past quarter-century, the Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest has connected local communities in the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, with opportunities to share creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries through Arts Midwest World Fest.
In two-year cycles that began in 2007, four ensembles representing China, Mexico, Canada and Israel, were invited to conduct week-long residencies in a rotation of communities in the region. They return for the second half this month and will visit the remaining cities and towns to perform a public concert, school concerts, to master classes with local musicians and other workshops and outreach activities in the community libraries and banquet halls.
In turn, the community is given information on the performers and curricula to study the geographical, historical, social, literary, and cultural qualities of the cultures of their guests.
Ken Carlson, Senior Program Director, Arts Midwest, Viroqua, Wisconsin office, explains that the 2007-2009 Arts Midwest World Fest Ensembles allows otherwise relatively isolated communities, artistically speaking, with more than just a performance, but with an opportunity to integrate the experience into their broader social context to encourage community members to explore issues and concerns of diverse cultures.
“An Da Union and Friends”, a group of ten young and dynamic musicians from Inner Mongolia, who will bring all the power, excitement, and haunting beauty of their culture to Menomonie, Wis. the week of March 23,. They will go on to Ames, Iowa on March 30; then Hutchinson, Minn. the week of April 6. They move on to Bismark, N.D. on April 13, then on to Speerfish, S.D., on April 20. They will return in 2009 to visit locations in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.
An Da Union won the prestigious Eco-youth prize awarded by CCTV, and were featured at the Kennedy Center Festival of China. They will be joined on this, their first American tour, by two of Inner Mongolia’s most important performers of the traditional long song.
This 14-member touring ensemble from Hohhut, Mongolia, perform everything from throat singing to traditional dance and music in costume. The names of their members translate to words like “beauty”, “hero”, “pure”, “peace” and “forever.”
Their instruments, including the Horsehead fiddle and the Maodun Chaoer flute, date back to the time of the great Genghis Khan. Their songs evoke the sounds of birds on summer mornings and hoof beats moving across the vast grasslands.
“There is no opportunity to come to the Twin Cities, and they will be busy in their communities,” said Carlson. “I hope that people are interested and would make the drive to see them. The public concerts tend to be on a Saturday.” (Visit www.artsmidwestworldfest.org for information about itineraries, curricula and biographical information about participating artists).
In addition to hosting the performers at local hotels, the members are often invited into homes and lodges, where they enjoy access to kitchens, to make their traditional meals.
“Yes, we do encourage connections with local artists and people as well,” said Carlson. “It is not uncommon to be invited to receptions where they can kick back and we encourage that. Still, they will want them to have their own place at the end of day and not feel the obligations of being a guest.”
David Freyer, executive director, Arts Midwest, travels widely and was instrumental in bring the performers to Arts Fest Midwest. After colleagues called about an An Da Union performance in China, they expressed their excitement about the ensemble and the character of its performers to Freyer, who went to China to make arrangements with the Chinese Ministry of Arts and Culture for an invitation for the program.
Other participants in this season’s Arts Midwest Music Fest include: “Esta”, a multi-ethnic Israeli ensemble with a unique blend of original music and innovative sound that draws on the diverse cultures of Israel (www.estamusic.com); Mauvais Sort, a French Canadian ensemble of accordion, violin, guitar, bass, mandolin, drums, percussion, feet and voice that all come together in energetic fashion (www.mauvaissort.com); and Los Utrera, one of the best Mexican Son Jarocho groups in today’s traditional music scene (http://losutrera.blogspot.com).