Sunday, August 31, 2008


Minneapolis, Minnesota

If you want anything cultural promoted in the Twin Cities, Scott Mayer is the go-to guy to get it done, even on Labor Day weekend when any resident who has not left town is either sleeping-in or preparing for a day at the Minnesota State Fair.

Mayer's latest project, spark24, showcased the Minneapolis-St. Paul arts scene to a global audience in a 24-hour marathon, running from 5pm, Aug. 30, to 5pm, Aug. 31.

Activities centered on Orchestra Hall and the adjacent Peavey Plaza in downtown Minneapolis. The Minnesota Orchestra kicked things off, followed by 27 half-hour blocks filled by the likes of VocalEssence, the Minnesota Opera, Zenon Dance Company, Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, Mu Daiko, Arena Dances, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, and many more.

More than 60 public and private venues around downtown got into the act with some form of live entertainment between 10pm and 2am. At 4am, 800 people were attending activities inside Orchestra Hall.

When performances moved back outside to Peavey Plaza at 6am, five hardy souls had been present since 5pm. By 9am, one stalwart remained and vowed to stay the full 24 hours! A complimentary breakfast was served from 6am to 9am to anyone on the scene.

The excuse for this activity was the presence in the Twin Cities of 50,000+ visitors, including global media, for the Republican National Convention, which opens tomorrow. A press center for spark24 was set up in the IDS Center, three blocks from Peavey Plaza.

Mayer's prolific promotional activities have been chronicled for more than 20 years. I interviewed him on my radio program in the 1980s when he inaugurated the annual Hollywood Academy Awards events in Minneapolis. When the mayor needed help organizing and funding MOSAIC, an annual summer arts festival, he turned to Mayer six years ago. More recently, Mayer founded the annual Ivey Awards to celebrate and honor professional theater in the Twin Cities.

Peavey Plaza has become the outdoor venue of choice for summer performances in downtown Minneapolis. Located on the Nicollet Mall and adjacent to Orchestra Hall, its bubbling fountains and the historic spires of Westminster Presbyterian Church across the street provide an open air, jewel-box setting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


San Francisco, California

Although both locales attract global travelers, one could never mistake a walk along the four miles of San Francisco's Ocean Beach on an August afternoon for a morning stroll next to the dunes of Miami's South Beach in July. The brisk breeze, overcast sky, and wind-whipped waves of the Pacific Ocean contrast sharply with the blazing heat, diamond blue horizon, and sparkling waters of the North Atlantic. In Miami, one finds a sensation of arrival, of settled repose and personal security. San Francisco confronts with the possibilities of challenge, risk, and adventure. Metaphorically, one needs little clothing for protection on Southern Florida's shores, while sweat shirts and bonfires may provide at least psychological comfort on the beach sands of Northern California.

• • •

The culture of the Ming dynasty, spanning the years from 1368 to 1644, is the subject of Power and Glory: Court Arts of China's Ming Dynasty, an exhibit running through Sept. 21 at the Asian Art Museum. More than 200 treasures from the old Southern capital of Nanjing and the Northern capital of Beijing include porcelain objects, ink and colors on silks and papers, garments, and jewelry.

• • •

The year 2008 marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the San Francisco Ballet, the oldest professional ballet company in America. Its 2007 operating budget of $38 million also makes it one of the largest. Russell Hartley, one of the company's designers, created the costumes for the country's first, full-length Nutcracker in 1944 and, in 1947, founded the Museum of Performance & Design. The museum's exhibit, Art & Artifice: 75 Years of Design at San Francisco Ballet, runs through Aug. 30, featuring original sketches for sets and costumes, set models, costumes and accessories, photos, programs, and videos.

• • •

Visual Aid, an organization that assists and encourages Bay Area artists with life-threatening illnesses to continue their creative work, is presenting TREASURE, a solo exhibition by Jerry Lee Frost, through Sept. 11. The exhibit features 13 of Frost's abstract, oil-on-canvas paintings from 2007 and 2008, at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street.

• • •

The Hotel Union Square, 114 Powell Street, offers many perks: windows that open, free phone calls, free internet access, free newspapers, free morning coffee, and free California wines at afternoon happy hour. Its unadvertised and better-kept secrets include regular cable car runs and a constantly surging sea of world travelers viewed from its second floor windows. The chaos generates many gem-like surprises, such as a perfectly harmonized, sidewalk serenade of Down by the Riverside by an un-miked male quartet, delivered on a gloriously balmy Sunday afternoon!

• • •

Most evenings, singing along with an international assemblage can be done downstairs at Foley's, 243 O'Farrell Street, where dudes Chris and Jerry hold court and take requests with their dueling pianos.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Review: San Francisco Lyric Chorus

San Francisco, California

The prospect of a choral program comprised of five Te Deums might leave one asking "How interesting could that be?" The answer, as provided by the San Francisco Lyric Chorus, was "Quite." The ensemble presented five settings at an afternoon performance, Aug. 24, of its summer concert at Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco.

Originally sung in Latin and translated into English during the 16th century, Te Deums are Christian hymns of praise and celebration that date from the fourth century. The Te Deum consists of 29 verses of prose divided into three sections. The extensive list of composers who have contributed settings includes John Taverner, Jean Baptiste Lully, Henry Purcell, Mozart, the Haydn brothers, Verdi, and many more. Prior to reading Helene Whitson's fabulously detailed program notes (references fill 1-1/3 pages of the printed program), I had no idea that the form filled such a niche in the musical canon.

Housed at Trinity since its 1995 founding, the San Francisco Lyric Chorus is an auditioned ensemble of 40 that performs music of all periods with an emphasis on lesser-known works.

To open the program, tenors Kevin Baum and Benjamin West led a procession of the chorus while singing Te Deum Laudamus (Latin rite, solemn tone) a cappella. Keyboardist Robert Train Adams with Trinity's 1924 Skinner organ and timpanist Allen Biggs accompanied the balance of the program, which was directed by Robert

The Te Deum in A Major, composed by George Frideric Handel in the 1720s for the Chapel Royal, featured Jennifer Ashworth, soprano, Daniel Cromeenes, countertenor, Kevin Baum, tenor, and William Neely, bass. Generally, I am not a fan of the countertenor voice, but am happy to make exception for the sweet, haunting quality of Cromeenes's upper register. All of the soloists were in perfect voice throughout the program.

The setting of Te Deum in C used in the performance was the second composed by Joseph Haydn, and was commissioned by Austria's Empress Marie Therese in 1799.

Benjamin Britten wrote his Festival Te Deum in 1945 for the 100th anniversary of St. Mark's Church in Wiltshire, England. Ashworth sang the soprano solos.

Antonín Dvorák's Te Deum closed the program, and again featured Ashworth and Neely. The work was commissioned in 1892 for the 400th anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America and was performed that year at Carnegie Hall for the first time.

Trinity's acoustics and 19th century architecture contributed a special richness to the sound and ambience of the chorus's lovely presentation.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


San Francisco, California

The hillsides and flatlands of California's Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley, north of San Francisco, have become home to hundreds of vintners known throughout the world for the variety and quality of their wines. It is impossible to visit all of them but, I am told, some folks are determined to try!

One of the best ways to learn first-hand about how grapes are turned into wine can be found at the Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga at Napa's northern end. There, one can fly 300 feet above the valley floor in a cable tram to the hillside winery founded by Peter Newton in 1964. Sterling features a self-paced, self-guided tour of its wine-making facility. Posters and flat-screen televisions relate the processes of harvesting, crushing, fermenting, and aging grapes. One can come away knowing how to "toast" wood for barrels and how soil type, air, vine, sun angle, and other factors affect the characteristics of various wines. Admission tickets also provide a five-wine tasting of whites and reds. The breath-taking panorama of the Napa Valley should not be missed!

Castello di Amorosa
is situated just down the road from Sterling. Reservations are required for the 50-minute castle and winery tour followed by 35-minute, private tasting. Castello specializes in Italian style wines which can be purchased only in-person or online.

Noted for its distinctive Red Barn, the Frog's Leap Winery in the Napa town of Rutherford has been family-owned and operated since 1981. The land was a commercial frog farm in the 1800s. Half of this winery's annual production becomes Sauvignon Blanc.

A terrific lunch spot may be found at Bistro Jeanty, a French restaurant in Yountville, a charming community in the Napa heartland.

Count Agoston Haraszthy established Buena Vista, California's oldest premium winery in 1857. The original site in Sonoma is a California Historic Landmark, built into a wooded hillside. Its longevity makes it a romantic and nostalgic favorite for many regional residents.

The Sebastiani Vineyards & Winery is the oldest, continuously family-owned winery in Sonoma. Although the history of its vineyards dates to 1825, it was acquired in 1904 by Samuele Sebastiani, an 1895 immigrant from Tuscany.

Sonoma's The Olive Press produces and sells a variety of olive oils, citrus and infused oils, Balsamic vinegars, and olive oil soaps and salves.

The Rodney Strong Vineyards and J's are two of many wineries located on Old Redwood Highway near Healdsburg in Sonoma County's Russian River Valley.

A perfect dinner stop at the end of a touring day is Boca, an Argentine inspired steak house in Novato. Take the Ignacio Boulevard exit off of U.S. 101 on your way back to San Francisco!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review: West Wave Dance Festival, San Francisco

San Francisco, California

The West Wave Dance Festival 2008 showcased the work of more than 45 Bay Area dance and digital media artists, Aug. 16-24. Dancers' Group and DanceArt presented the 17th annual event in partnership with the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco.

The curated festival divided participants into three programs (waves) of dancemakers for live stage performances and one for performances on film. Each live program featured the work of a dozen choreographers and was presented twice over four evenings at Yerba Buena's Novellus Theater. Choreographers were challenged to create segments of at least 4 minutes, 32 seconds, and no more than 5 minutes.

DanceWave 2, which closed the festival on Friday evening, Aug. 22, presented many interesting and striking images but little of lasting consequence. With a couple exceptions, major choreographic voices do not appear to be emerging from this group.

Kara Davis, who involves her dancers in her creative process, excelled at showing how much material can be presented in 4-1/2 minutes – and how well – with one Tuesday afternoon..., set to sound by Gustavo Santaoalla. Although her performing and teaching background is primarily in ballet, this work had a distinctly contemporary coloring.
Danced beautifully by David Harvey, Daniel Howerton, Alex Jenkins, Nick Korkos, Erin Kraemer, Adam Peterson, Alicia Pugh, Sierra Stockton, Dinah Walker, Sarah Wenzel, and Jenna Wozer, one Tuesday afternoon... was the most cohesive, complete, and satisfying part of the program.

In My Shoes, the evening's one aerial work, the feet of choreographer and solo performer Alayna Stroud spent more time on the floor, stepping out of and into shoes, than they did either in the air or wrapped around a vertical, silver pole apparatus. The music, engineered by Austin Donohue, was too loud.

The dancers lifted Robert Sund's neoclassical offering, Our steps will always rhyme, beyond a pastiche of boring ballet cliches. Robin Cornwell and Olivia Ramsay provided en pointe window dressing for Ryan Camou in his bravura and emotional opening solo. He then served as engaged audience to their elegantly-danced duet. Both segments were performed to sound by Leonard Cohen. Minnesota's dance scene would be well-served by a male dancer of Camou's prowess, particularly if he was given regular opportunities to soar.

Gorgeous, green and orange costumes adorned seven dancers who performed with bright smiles but limited conviction in Vakratunda Mahakaya, a spiritual prayer in the Odissi style of Indian dance. Ratikant Mohapatra choreographed the work to music by bansuri artist Hariprasad Chaurasia. The dance was performed by Shradha Chowdhury, Akanksha Kejriwal, Rasika Kumar, Niharika Mohanty, Vasanta Rao, Divya Saha, and Lavanya Viswanathan. Bronx cheers for the gall of Audience Member A, who twice snapped flash photos with a cell phone during the performance; bravos for the gutsy, Audience Member B who stood up and told A to stop.

Long, sheer, and white head scarves and skirts lent a visually pleasing presence to There, a trio choreographed by Wan-Chao Chang to "Form 3" by Greg Ellis. Wan-Chao was joined in the performance by Hannah Romanowsky and Kris Sague.

A six-foot-high wagon wheel, harnessed to a dancer's lower back by an eight-foot-long axle, served as the primary prop of the Cocktail Hour, a cute diversion by Cynthia Adams and Ken James, with sound by Marimba Chapinlandia. Early on, dancers balanced empty martini glasses while ducking beneath the slowly rotating axle. Later, James and a woman removed, exchanged, and donned each other's black shirt and pants (his) and red dress (hers) while ducking the axle. Later still, a dancer pushed a vacuum cleaner from stage right to stage left. Pick your own choreographic metaphor(s). The performers – in addition to Adams and James, Fiona McCann, Shawn Oda, Kimm E. Ward, and Andrea Weber – also are known as the Fellow Travelers Performance Group.

The artist statement that Christy Funsch provided to the Dancers' Group newsletter about her solo work, Dapper Indiscretion Blues, was either incoherent or clear as mud. Either way, it aptly described her choreography and supports my preference to view more of her apparent strengths as a modern performer.

The dancing by Natalie Greene, Elizabeth Morales, and Wendy Rein in Deborah Slater's Gone in 5 was not so good, but the portions that did not partner with props (a table and three chairs of varying heights) were stronger and more interesting than those that did.

Carolena Nericcio and the other performers of her FatChanceBellyDance – Kristine Adams, Wendy Allen, Sandi Ball, Anita Lalwani, and Marsha Poulin – used a process of improvisation that left their performance of Lifting the Mist of Illusion lacking in focus. Including more structure in their work might make their dancing more compelling and at least as interesting as their multi-hued costumes and sparkling jewelry.

May bird poop someday crown the head of Audience Member C who took a flash photo during the FatChanceBellyDance performance. This is not mere contempt on my part. A pre-performance announcement stated that the practice was strictly prohibited. Furthermore, unexpected flashes can be dangerous for performers. Plus, one's ticket purchase entitles the holder to view a live performance and to carry away whatever sensations and memories one will. It does not sanction the theft of intellectual property in the form of choreography; costume, set, and light design; or music. Finally, it is just plain rude, crude, and socially unacceptable to interfere in this manner with the experience of other audience members.

The original and live cello, violin, and guitar music by Andy Eggleston, Fay Ferency, and Matthew Herz was, far and away, the best part of How many presents/balls/ chips/scarves/books/hearts/circles can you wrap/catch/win/throw/ read/ cut out/make in four minutes thirty two seconds? The work, choreographed by Amy Lewis, featured more than 30 performers and should have been titled How much crap can you cram on stage in 4-1/2? Lots!

Micaya had a fun hip hop concept for To the Rear...March, set to music by DJ ACL. The performers, Stavroula Arabatgis, Daniel Derrick, Kim Dokes, Natalia Hellems, Meegan Hertensteiner, Clyde Lachica, Brandy Logue, Stephanie Lynn, Fumihiko Nishimura, and Christina Paoli, dived in and gave new meaning to "shake your bootie!"

Reuniting a host of characters in the aftermath of Pele's wrath might seem a daunting challenge for a five-minute segment, but it is one that Kumu Hula Kawika Alfiche pulled off reasonably well in Hi'iakaikapoli'opele. The choreographer and his students provided their own song and drum accompaniment to their dancing. This was my first exposure to Hawaiian dance in a concert setting; I would like to see more.

The opportunity to sample so much dance in a concentrated period is rare. The organizers, choreographers, performers, and funders deserve applause for making the effort. However, that the 757-seat Novellus Theater was not half full on the fourth and final night of the West Wave Dance Festival suggests that the enterprise may need more tweaking, with particular examination of scheduling, curating, pricing ($25), and location.

Friday, August 22, 2008


San Francisco, California

San Francisco's Grace Cathedral offers the service of choral Evensong on Thursday afternoons throughout the year. It is a particularly Anglican service that evolved from the monastic hours and combines features of the office of Vespers and Compline. It is sung regularly in many cathedrals and parish churches throughout the country, and daily in many places in England. At Grace, one is invited to sit in the choir for the service which draws just under 100 people, including members of the choir. Yesterday's anthem, with text from Ephesians 5, was composed by Thomas Tallis, a 16th century contemporary of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

Evensong happens four evenings a week at the General Theological Seminary in New York. I attended twice while staying there last October. The entire chapel on the seminary grounds would fit comfortably, with room to spare, within the choir of Grace Cathedral.

Grace is the third largest Episcopal cathedral in the U.S. and, like much of San Francisco, it has become a global icon. Situated atop Nob Hill, its construction was started in 1928 and completed in 1964. It is a successor to the Grace Church which was organized during the 1849 Gold Rush. Its French Gothic architecture shares many features with the National Cathedral in Washington.

The central, Ghiberti Doors of Grace Cathedral, were cast from the same molds used in the 15th century for the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral. James Davies and I saw the Italian originals during our 1986 visit to Florence.

Following the 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed much of San Francisco, William H. Crocker, a Grace parish member, donated the land of his ruined home on Nob Hill for the construction of a cathedral, with the requirement that "Grace" remain the name of the new structure. In 1934, William's daughter, Harriet Crocker Alexander, donated the Alexander Memorial Organ in memory of her husband, Charles Beatty Alexander; the organ was designed by the Aeolian-Skinner Organ Company of Boston.

Crocker was a banker and civic leader, and a son of Charles Crocker, one of the four original investors in the transcontinental railroad. The other three investors, Leland Stanford, Collis P. Huntington, and Mark Hopkins, also made their homes on Nob Hill. The Huntington and Mark Hopkins hotels stand today on what were the ruins of their mansions.

Before his days as a successful railroad man and merchant in Sacramento, California, Charles Crocker started life in 1822 in Troy, New York. After a falling-out with his father, he began working his way West. In 1849, he joined two of his brothers and a few other young men in leaving from Quincy, Illinois, to seek their fortunes in California.

The Peterson family lore relates that my great-great grandfather, William Peterson (b. 1815, New Jersey; d. 1899 Pineville, Missouri) joined his brother Dean and a few other young men to seek their fortunes in 1849 California. They would have departed from Adams County, Illinois where they lived, and for which Quincy is the county seat. The Petersons returned "busted."

Following Evensong, James and I located Johnny Foleys Irish House at 243 O'Farrell Street, a favorite from our previous visits. It is a mere block from our current lodgings at the Hotel Union Square, 114 Powell Street. The Powell Street cable cars run past our second floor window regularly.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Exhibit: Friedlander photography, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Sunday Styles section of today's New York Times included Alex Williams's report about trends in the use of Photoshop software to alter still photographs by adding or subtracting one or more elements ("I Was There. Just Ask Photoshop."). Williams cited the example of a divorcée who removed images of her former spouse from family vacation pictures. The apparent point of such subterfuge is to alter narratives and to view and document past realities as one wishes they had been, rather than how they were.

This goes beyond photography that emphasizes different aspects of landscape elements or variations of individual perception. This is John Edwards narcissism and Karl Rove cynicism. People who do this are committing fraud and creating falsehoods. It is not cute. It is not art.

That they are doing it at all matters because, as Williams noted, people who look at doctored photos come to believe and mis-remember such things as Uncle Frank having attended his son's wedding when, in reality, he was incarcerated on another continent for drug smuggling.

One finds no such lies in the work of Lee Friedlander.

Friedlander: Photography contains more than 500 photographs, most of them in black and white, in a retrospective spanning five decades at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The exhibit also includes books, special editions, and portfolios.

Far from being picture perfect, the photos capture haunting images-in-time of moments, people, and places in all of their layered complexity. For ease of viewing, they are organized by theme and decade.

Born in Aberdeen, Washington, in 1934, Friedlander studied at the Art Center in Los Angeles before moving to New York City in 1954. For the next 15 years, he created photos for Atlantic Records albums and for magazines that included Sports Illustrated and Seventeen. He has taught classes at UCLA, the University of Minnesota, and Rice University, and has received three Guggenheim Fellowships, five grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Award.

Friedlander summed up his work in 1963, calling it "the American social landscape," depicting the everyday backdrop of life. In addition to musicians like Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, his subjects included unknown people plus friends and relatives, many of them photographed repeatedly over time.

He documented the lives of Ohio and Pennsylvania factory workers in the 1970s, and of office workers in their cubes in more recent years. One arresting photo from 1987 reflects the waves and skyline of Hong Kong harbor, a year after I saw them in person, as they were and not as I recall them. Although one is invited to impose a narrative upon the images, they speak eloquently for themselves in all of their ordinary beauty.

The Friedlander exhibit was organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and curated locally by George Slade who, until a few weeks ago, served as artistic director of the now-defunct Minnesota Center for Photography. Minneapolis is the next-to-last stop on a four-year tour. The exhibit can be seen next at the Cleveland Museum of Art, Mar. 1 through June 7, 2009.

I intend to visit again before it leaves Minneapolis.

Friedlander: Photography through Sept. 14, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Target Gallery, 2400 Third Avenue South, Minneapolis. 10am-5pm, Tu, W, F, Sa; 10am-9pm, Th; 11am-5pm, Su. MIA Members Free, Adults $8, Seniors and Students $6, Children $4.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Another week, another lake

Minneapolis, Minnesota

One of my sisters is quite a carpenter. In this, she channels the talents and vocations of the great-great grandparents on our mother's side who helped build many homes and churches in North Minneapolis beginning in the 1880s.

Many years ago, Carpenter Sister built – single-handedly, with an assist from a cement truck pouring the foundation – her family's second home. She and her husband chose to build it on Matson Lake near Birchwood, Wisconsin, where it served as a year-round retreat while their four children were growing up. Recently, with images of eventual retirement and the last child's tuition payment in mind, they decided to downsize to just this one abode, but only after it had been up-sized.

Two weekends ago, another sister and I made the scene on Matson's shores to haul sand and help make ready for a concrete pour that will result in a new patio, porch, garage, and – most important – a dining room. Carpenter Sister always has wanted a proper dining room where her children, grandchildren, family, and friends could gather to create the soul- and stomach- satisfying memories that let us know our lives meant something to other people, and theirs to us.

This dining room should last through several generations and any storm the elements throw at it. Its floor-to-ceiling walls will be solid concrete except for the large windows providing a million dollar view of the lake. Once installed, the metal roof will be guaranteed for 120 years. The patio will be a perfect spot for meditating upon the sounds of loons on the lake.

Lakes always have been a part of my family's life. In fact, few residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin are deprived of at least occasional encounters with them. Only four of Minnesota's 87 counties lack at least one lake of 10 acres or more, and the state has 11,842. Wisconsin has thousands more. We observe, with landlocked pride, that Minnesota's lakes have more miles of shoreline than the combined oceanfronts of California, Florida, and Hawaii.

As noted in a previous post, I spent much of last weekend on the shores of Pickerel Lake in Barnes, Wisconsin. There, nature's orchestra features crickets and frogs instead of loons.

Last evening, James Davies and I drove 25 miles west from downtown Minneapolis to Minnetrista, located on the western shore of the West Upper Lake portion of Lake Minnetonka. The occasion was a summer gathering of board members of the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, a faith-based developer of nonprofit housing; James is beginning his ninth year as a director. It was a lovely lake evening, marked by good people, weather, food, and conversation.

Lake Minnetonka is one of the hidden treasures to which I direct visitors to the Twin Cities, suggesting they make a day of driving the 110 miles of shoreline that surround 14,000 acres of water that twist in countless bays, channels, and inlets. The lake and surrounding land were denied to the Indians (Dakota Sioux, Cheyenne, Iowa, and Ojibwe) in the 1851 Treaty of Mendota. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the area drew well-to-do people from the American South to its many waterfront hotels and resorts.

As a child in the 1950s, my family's life was not complete without visits to my grandmother's summer cottage on Cook's Bay of Lake Minnetonka.
The bay is named for Mathias Cook, an early settler in the 1850s. Gram's place was on Island Park (known now as Phelps Island), just across the channel bridge from the village of Mound (named for the ancient Indian burial mounds found there). James and I drove by on our way home last night. The cottage has been replaced with a year-round home. Interestingly, the garage is built into the hill under the house, as it was for the cottage.

One of my mother's cousins lived in Mound, across the bay from Gram, and I recall riding in a boat from her dock to his. Mound was the original home of Tonka Toys, a company that started life as Mound Metalcraft and was sold later to Hasbro, Inc. The town also was home to the singing Andrews Sisters who Gram claimed among her shirttail relations on her father's side.

One 4th of July, we drove to the City of Excelsior, located on another of Minnetonka's many bays, to watch fireworks. I was impressed by the scores of boats anchored offshore and thought how awesome it would be to watch fireworks from a boat. (I never have.) At other times, we visited the Excelsior Amusement Park, a regional landmark from 1925 until 1973.

Gram sold the cottage after her husband died in 1960. For our last summer there, my dad helped me build a raft. Despite our best efforts, the raft would only float if no one was on it.

In later years, our family sometimes spent a Sunday afternoon fishing on Clear Lake in Annandale, Minnesota; camping on the north shore of Lake Superior; or spending a week at the Lutheran Synod's camp on Green Lake in Chisago City. Later still, we rented a cabin on one of the lakes near Alexandria. Closer to home, we often swam in Moore Lake, near our house in Fridley.

In high school, a friend and I harvested potatoes with his extended family on their farm near Barnum/Mahtowa, south of Duluth. After a day in the field, we adjourned to a nearby lake with his cousin.

Minneapolis is known as The City of Lakes. The Minneapolis Aquatennial festival has staged activities at most of the 11 lakes within the city limits each July since 1939. As a city resident since 1974, it has been easy for me to use them while taking them for granted. During my running days of the 1970s and 80s, the paths around Lakes Calhoun, Nokomis, and Isles were the best.

For a two-month sabbatical in 2004, I resolved to walk the 3.1 miles around Calhoun at least four times a week with Gabe, the younger of our Scottish terriers. He relished such long walks in those days and would stop to swim. Gabe enjoyed waking up the ducks to have their breakfast as we watched the world around the lake come alive in the early morning hours. Afterward, we stopped at Lund's grocery store for biscuits and donuts and arrived home in time to watch a re-run of The West Wing. That routine lasted not quite three weeks before I became distracted by two, unplanned trips to Texas.

I am grateful for the many opportunities that have been given to me over the years to form lasting memories by, in, and on lakes. I hope Carpenter Sister has many satisfying years to make more Matson Lake memories in her new dining room.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Beijing and interlude

Pickerel Lake, Barnes, Wisconsin

The month of July refuses to linger.

I have noticed this for several years. Whether it is a function of one’s psychology or a law of time and physics, once the 4th of July arrives summer flashes past until the dog days of August have formed up on the horizon.

This is a good time of year to make an appearance in Northwestern Wisconsin. Although the roads leading north out of Minneapolis remain well traveled on Friday afternoons, the environs of the Eau Claire Chain of Lakes enjoy a brief respite from the arrivals and departures of the high season. All the cabins on the lake are quiet this weekend. Even the frogs have delayed their nightlong, rhythmic vocals until a later starting time.

Temperatures are cooler than normal, with a high yesterday of 78 and an overnight low of 47.

While Pickerel Lake is not connected to the 11 lakes in the Eau Claire Chain, it is part of 10,000 acres of spring-fed, clear waters that form the headwaters of the Eau Claire River. The area is bordered by Barnes on the northeast, Gordon on the southwest, and divided by Highway 27. Barnes is located in Bayfield County, 20 miles north of Hayward, the former logging town, and roughly an hour southwest of Ashland, Wisconsin, and southeast of Duluth, Minnesota. The Chequamegon [shuh–WAH–muh–gun] National Forest and the towns of the Chippewa Flowage are nearby.

I have visited here regularly since meeting James Davies 25 years ago. He was born in Ashland and his forbears founded The Daily Press there in the 19th century. Save for Barnes, his family has all passed from the area. For the last dozen years, one of my siblings has lived in Ashland with her family. An old friend, Jon, who lives in Chicago, is in the process of clearing land near Brule with his partner.

The Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth is celebrating its 20th anniversary this weekend. The four-day event will feature 37 music acts on Lake Superior’s waterfront and is expected to draw nearly 30,000 people. For those who prefer to savor the blues inside and at night, Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys played last night at the Horseshoe Billiards in Duluth, and will perform tonight at the Fortune Bay Casino in Tower.

Ship traffic in the harbor was light yesterday, with no activity at the Superior entry. The Duluth and Two Harbors entries saw the loading and unloading of coal, limestone, and iron ore pellets.

A couple days ago, I opined on Obama’s website that his campaign was flirting with throwing away a sure thing in November unless it started acting like it wanted to win. I read yesterday that it had started a new radio ad in Ohio doing just that. Also, as I recommended, several people saw the movie Mamma Mia! and told me they liked it. I always enjoy it when my advice is heard and followed.

In last weekend’s repeat broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor’s report from Lake Wobegon concluded by observing that when one walks around holding a quarter in one’s butt, you can’t think of anything else. You had to hear it, but the hilarity of the story should have made everyone relax and let go of anything they were carrying.

I diced celery, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, and mushrooms to scramble with eggs for breakfast this morning. Since early May, we have adopted the South Beach Diet and abandoned our longstanding weekend tradition of consuming waffles, fruit, sausage, juice, and coffee. I am down 25 pounds so far, halfway to my goal.

The Summer Olympics opened in Beijing yesterday with stunning ceremonies. I am happy for all of us that China was able to present such impressive images to itself and the world. It is one of many needed developments that will hasten the day when it adapts more fully to the higher angels of its nature, the pursuit of freedom, and the rule of law in its dealings with its people and the world. (At the end of most days, I remain an optimist.)

President Bush (43) attended the ceremonies accompanied by President Bush (41), a former ambassador to China. It was an action that many, including other heads of state, urged him not to take. Before entering the country, 43 criticized China’s human rights record, albeit with tarnished moral authority.

Since March, Tibet has remained off-limits to foreign reporters. CNN remains in the Chinese doghouse because of comments made by Jack Cafferty. Internet censorship remains in effect throughout China. Annual deaths from air pollution remain near 300,000 and there is lead paint in children’s toys. We can condemn all of it. We can isolate the country and refuse to deal with it. We can declare war. Or, we can seek various levels of engagement.

Sometimes, as post-9/11 in Afghanistan, there is no choice but to fight. Earlier, however, President Reagan met President Gorbachev in Reykjavik and, later, told him in front of the world to tear down the Berlin Wall.

It is a tedious business, the tending of relations between nations. So, too, are the encounters among people on our streets.

A year ago, one of our Minneapolis freeway bridges crashed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people and injuring more. A replacement bridge has been constructed in record time by Flatiron Construction Corp. and will open next month.

Early this week, Karl Aarsheim, a straight man, and his wife, Nikki, left a gay bar near the bridge construction site after visiting with a friend. Three men, workers on the bridge crew, attacked the man because he “looked gay,” and kicked him in the head. Two have been fired and one – Otto Marin – faces misdemeanor criminal charges. Do we condemn? Yes. Do we isolate and exile? Perhaps. Do we declare war, and execute? Hmm – what would you do, if you had been attacked? Do we engage? You know, this is a lot of thought right now –––

Unbelievable! I just took a moment to look at a piece of email news from Todd Bachman, the CEO of Bachman's garden centers in Minnesota, and his wife, Barbara, were attacked by knife today at a tourist spot in downtown Beijing. Todd is dead. Barbara has had surgery for life-threatening injuries. The attacker, described as a deranged man, jumped to his own death.

I worked for the Bachman family for two years in Minneapolis more than a decade ago.

The sun is warm and bright. A cool breeze is rippling across the lake and through the trees. I need to go shed a tear.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Fringe review: DRP Dance, Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

DRP Dance is presenting Modern Muses, a work in seven movements, in the 2008 Minnesota Fringe Festival. This year marks DRP’s third appearance in the Fringe. It is my first encounter with the modern dance choreography of its founder, Danielle Robinson-Prater. Attending one of five performances at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis is a perfectly pleasant way to spend 45 minutes.

The opening segment, set to Arvo Part, introduces four dancers – Joanie Mix, Jill Hargreaves Murphy, Sara Stevenson Scrimshaw, and Gretchen Talbot – and their program. Black costumes and momentary pools of white light produce a classical set of images in a series of movement vignettes spaced around the stage.

Three solos follow, labeled in order as the muses of hope, knowledge, and conflict. Hargreaves Murphy dances first, to Mozart, in a lyrical movement that mines the music’s timing smoothly and without complexity. Stevenson Scrimshaw takes the stage next with musical backing by Villa Lobos. She is followed by Mix, whose accompaniment by the electronic music artist Aphex Twin does not suggest conflict.

While the musical tempo picks up in a second full-group section – again, Aphex Twin – the collective movement tempo does not, although individual dancers give evidence of matching the music. This section sports the only few moments when the dancers show any uncertainty about the choreography. Talbot's subsequent solo as the Muse of Passion has an internal, organic feel that embodies the music by the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins more effectively than was the case for the group finale.

Robinson-Prater has a good sense of choreographic structure but command of a limited movement vocabulary. After a few minutes of viewing, one has the feeling of seeing the same dance repeated to different music. This choreographer and her dancers work hard. She is capable of much greater accomplishment, as are they.

In future, someone needs to proofread the printed program for spelling and the inclusion of last names for production personnel. Yes, the Fringe is a somewhat informal affair in the heat of August, but God lives in the details!

DRP Dance and Modern Muses continue at the Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave., S., Minneapolis, Aug. 9 @ 10pm and Aug. 10 @ 7pm. Admission: $12 + one-time purchase of a $3 Fringe Festival button.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Fringe review: Live Action Set, Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Too many artists or their organizations presume a mantle of uniqueness in asserting that their work boldly goes where none have gone before: pushing boundaries, exploring new worlds, and creating new vocabularies or tomes in whatever discipline they pursue. Would, for the integrity of their p.r., that it was true.

Wisely, the four principals of Live Action Set – Noah Bremer, Megan Odell, Galen Treuer, and Vanessa Voskuil – avoid the overblown claims of such claptrap. They understand that the embodiment of their creativity must be innovative to them and its presentation delivered with accomplished and engaging conviction. They "get" that their collective motivation produces an "intangible creative synergy" distinct f
rom their individual possibilities.

The results of their approach can be seen in Deviants, an engrossing, 70-minute offering in this year's Minnesota Fringe Festival. The show is a re-working of material presented at the Red Eye Theater in 2007.

Deviants is a work of intelligence by young adults, for adults of all ages, that easily could have become trite and facile. In a non-linear format, it examines constructions of the acceptable and the deviant, the desired and the repressed. Some of the forbidden fantasies-turned-obsessions, along with their real or imagined imagery, may challenge some viewers.

The genius of Deviants, if you will, may be found in its successful creation of an alternate reality and the ability of a very talented cast to transport an audience to its realms. The ensemble launches the journey using all of the raw, warehouse space of The Soap Factory, including trapdoors and pillars. While the pillars become an integral part of the set and scene, they pose an unacceptable barrier to sightlines.

The members of Live Action Set, with their varied backgrounds in theater and dance, have forged a cohesive, collective character that accents the strengths of each individual. Their future foraging across the artistic landscape will be welcome.

They are worthy successors to the ensemble of artists formerly known as Theatre de la Jeune Lune in Minneapolis (and, formerly, Paris).
The work presented by the Set at the Soap Factory echoes the fascinating, early-1980s productions by Jeune Lune in the Seven Corners neighborhood of Minneapolis. Jeune Lune's founders shared an aesthetic background in their training at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Although the founders of the Set do not share a similar set of experiences, their bond is a shared sensibility and a commitment to ensemble-driven outcomes.

Jeune Lune collapsed in financial distress last month, nearly 30 years after its first Minneapolis performance. Interestingly, Robert Rosen, a co-founder of Jeune Lune, served as director and co-creator of Deviants (and, Rosen and Bremer both studied at the Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theater in California).

Whatever their longevity together, one can wish the artists of Live Action Set a happy and productive life of continued creativity.

Deviants continues at The Soap Factory, 518 2nd Street SE, Minneapolis. Aug. 5-10 @ 7pm; Aug. 8 & 9 @ 8:30pm; and Aug. 9 @ 5:30pm. Tickets: $12 + one-time purchase of Fringe Festival button for $3.