Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why does my ticket state "8pm"?

Minneapolis, Minnesota

One of life's enduring mysteries: Why do most professional and student dance performances in the Twin Cities begin after the appointed hour announced in marketing materials and printed on tickets?

The practice of late starts disses patrons who place a priority on arriving early, meaning on time. Time is money, and keeping an audience of 200 waiting for five minutes past the stated curtain rise wastes 16 hours.

Many dancers and ensembles have built the habit of "holding for 5" into their modus operandi as a preferred standard. Even at that, some groups still cannot get their shows on the stage for five or 10 minutes more.

Presumably, these delays are rationalized as a courtesy to those who are running late for any reason or no reason. However, the standard should be "If you are late, you are late."

Which leads to another peeve endemic to dance performances. What's with all the continuous and mindless seating of late-comers?

If late to the orchestra, opera, and most theater, the protocol is to wait for "an appropriate break" in the action. This can mean cooling one's heels in the lobby for 30 minutes. Been there and done that.

I recently attended a dance performance that already had started 15 minutes past the posting. Two people arrived even later and insisted on using their assigned seats in the front row. Never mind that the row was screwed up and only one seat was available. Exit one patron and the usher to a vestibule to conduct an animated and audible discussion before the usher carried in and placed a chair at one end of the front row. This incident was neither exceptional nor specific to one venue.

Just as a sold-out performance teaches audience members to buy ahead the next time, the establishment and enforcement of start times and late seating policies will prompt more people to plan ahead. 

Routine delays do not reflect a first-rate organization at work. When I purchase a ticket for your performance, we have an agreement that leaves no room to argue about the timing of our respective roles in the transaction.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Game of stadium debate not playing with a full deck

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The card game that is the debate about whether, when, where, and how to pay for a new football stadium for use by the Minnesota Vikings is being played without a full deck.

Through the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, an entity created by its legislature, Minnesota owns a professional football stadium located on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. It bears the name of Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Until the recent expiration of naming rights, its playing field has been known in recent years as the Mall of America Field. 

The Metrodome opened for business in 1982, after being built at a cost of $68 million, a sum with the 2011 buying power of $158.5 million. Its construction cost came in $2 million under budget. The place seats 64,000 people for football, and sports a new roof and playing field surface that are both less than a year old. 

The Metrodome is located at the nexus of major freeways, the Hiawatha light rail transit line from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America in Bloomington (via the airport), and a soon-to-be-completed Central Corridor rail line connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul (constructed at a cost of $900 million).

Why, then, is there such strenuous debate about the need to build a wholly new stadium for $900 million to $1.2 billion?

If the polls are correct, 75% of the people say we don't need to build if even one red cent of public money is used for the financing. Others proclaim the present amenity "a piece of crap" that requires its decommission (often while preferring to ignore the Vikings' won-loss record). More saliently, we are told that the present facility does not generate sufficient revenue and, presumably, profit for the Vikings entity.

Much of our discourse turns on antipathy for using public funds that will subsidize for-profit enterprises. Where the stadium is concerned, this means opposing "the further enrichment" of Zygi Wilf, the billionaire owner of the Vikings. As a firmly entrenched member of the 99%, I get that, especially after the dude displayed such a tin ear for public sentiment with his recent $19 million purchase of a Manhattan apartment. (I would love to have me one of those!)

However, we ought to dismount from our self-righteous high horses. Minnesota and U.S. taxpayers provide corporate welfare every day, along side every program of people welfare. There is no unanimity for any of it. Besides, when it comes to stadiums, and specifically the Vikings, we have done it before. 

We also will do it again. Regardless of its final composition, the bonding bills crafted by Minnesota's legislature regularly invest in expensive public projects that serve the interests of a variety of users. Sometimes these are called regional airports. They also can be called civic or convention centers, places that are used regularly by churches, orchestras, and the "filthy rich" who need a place to display and market their boats, motorcycles, automobiles, and landscaping and homebuilding products and services, to name a few.

Despite polling results and the world views of many elected leaders to the contrary, all of us are in this together. The answer to the perennial whine of "Why should I pay for this, that, and the other?" is "Because that's what you do in a civil society" – a concept codified in the preamble to the Constitution about providing for the common welfare that carries a broad definition.

Any public investment, and stadium, must serve a range of users in addition to the eight days a year claimed by the Vikings, just as the Metrodome currently serves college baseball, runners, roller skaters, and a myriad of others. Any investment also must serve the causes of cost efficiency and getting the best return for each buck.

Cards have gone missing in the debate deck when it comes to explaining how a new stadium will generate substantially more revenue than the one we have:

What level of revenue are we talking about? How much revenue is generated by Vikings activity now and how much of it flows to the team?

How much additional revenue must the Vikings have in order to remain viable and sustainable? How much and how fast will the need for additional revenue grow over what period of time? There must be numbers somewhere by which the team, the National Football League, and others measure whether a particular stadium proposal is a good or bad deal. 

How does spending a billion dollars generate that level of revenue over time? Specifically, what increment of building expense will generate what amount of additional revenue? Any entity, particularly one for-profit, should know this.
I understand that the Metrodome concourses could be more spacious and allow for greater freedom of movement, thus "enhancing my fan experience." However, I go to see the live performance of a game, not to hang out on the concourse. How, specifically, do wider concourses generate more revenue?

More and improved restrooms may not generate revenue, but most could agree there would be value in enhancing the fan experience in this realm. At peak times, lines form up at the cattle trough pissers in the current men's facilities; a guy can only imagine how the women are coping.
Similarly, while enhancements to team clubhouses may not generate revenue, they might provide enough boost in team morale to improve on-field performance. Are the Metrodome's structural impediments so numerous, and the architects' imaginations so limited, that clubhouses can not be upgraded substantially, particularly with the baseball people having vacated the premises?

What level of expense is required to fix whatever is wrong with the current concessions set-up? Do we need more concession counters? Greater food variety? Sit-down restaurants? Higher prices? Aside from the can-do imagination about how to do it, what is missing from the current Metrodome?

Most commonly, I read of the need for more, better luxury suites. On occasion, I have been seated in the boxes in the vicinity of Section 211; in their present state, I would not pay $10 premium for them let alone $10,000 or $100,000. Still, how many boxes and/or suites does the Metrodome have now? What revenue do they generate? How many suites are needed to generate what quantity of revenue? Again, aside from the missing imagination, what would it cost to upgrade and add to what exists?

Beyond these, what other real revenue generators exist that require an investment of $1 billion?

We do not need to accomodate tailgating at any of the proposed stadium sites in Arden Hills and Minneapolis. I recall tailgating at the old Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington when post-game parking lots became opportunities to dodge vehicles driven by drunks before they hit the highways headed for home.

A revenue generator I might support would have the Sports Facilities Commission buy or build a parking ramp or two, proximate to the Metrodome. Lease them to the Vikings for zero rent. Allow the team to operate them year-round and keep the proceeds. For 30 years, there has been no significant development on most real estate in that area anyway.

My bottom line on all of this:

• The Minnesota Vikings represent a real value to significant numbers of Minnesota's people and the collective we should make a renewed investment in their facility;

• If there is evidence on the public record about how spending a billion dollars for an all new facility at any location will solve whatever ails the team financially, its dissemination has not penetrated the public's consciousness;

• The Metrodome needs enhancements, something the Vikings owners have rejected out-of-hand in the past; 

• The State of Minnesota should offer up to $200 million of public money to finance enhancements; 

• If the Vikings believe an additional $400 million would be needed, the team already has committed that amount of money to serve its expressed need for increased revenues;

• A valid case has not been made for why Minnesota should expand gambling in any form to provide stadium financing – such proposals support the fiction that they carry no costs;

• All of Minnesota has an interest in the presence of the Vikings in this market, and the entire state should put up the full $200 million by incorporating the project into the 2012 bonding bill being considered by the legislature.

If none of that is good enough for the Vikings and the NFL, then they are free to make arrangements elsewhere. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

For audience convenience: Downtown Burnsville vs. Minneapolis vs. St. Paul

Mason City, Iowa

Members of the Burnsville City Council who express perennial skepticism about the existence and finances of their city's Burnsville Performing Arts Center might market their main drag as the metro area's "3rd Downtown," with an emphasis on its ease of access from north of the Minnesota River.

The Center is one of my favorite Twin Cities venues, and I was reminded while driving by that its proximity is a relative state of mind.

From my house, five blocks south of the Minneapolis Convention Center, the trip south across the Minnesota River to the BPAC at 12600 Nicollet Avenue takes 21 minutes. Upon arrival at the Heart of the City Parking Ramp, parking is free.

By comparison, and depending upon traffic, the trip from the house to downtown Minneapolis can take 12 to 27 minutes, with event parking costing from $6 to $13. To downtown St. Paul, think 15 to 35 minutes, and parking rates similar to Minneapolis.

Special note: In the absence of precipitation, a walk from home to Minneapolis' Orchestra Hall takes 20 minutes at best, there are no parking costs, and one receives the added benefit of free exercise.

Burnsville's performing arts center has much to offer, including a 1,014-seat proscenium stage, 150-seat black box, 2,000 sq. ft. art gallery, and panoramic lobby views of the Minnesota River Valley and the Minneapolis skyline. VenuWorks manages the venue for the City of Burnsville.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

All the campus a stage, and all its men and women merely players of many parts

Minneapolis, Minnesota

When Minnesota's outside temperature hits 52º in January, we do not waste the opportunity. While walking through the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus in Minneapolis last month, I took extra time to explore corners to which I had not returned since graduating in 1983.

Scott Hall, situated behind and west of the Northrop Memorial Auditorium, first inspired me when, as a high school thespian, I attended a play there, directed by a former colleague. Scott's use as a theater pre-dated the present-day Rarig Center and West Bank Arts Quarter.

A bit further west, the much more familiar Elliot Hall occupies an expanse along East River Road atop the Mississippi River bluff. I attended numerous classes in this old bastion of behavioral psychology while nailing down a degree in the subject. In relative terms, Elliot was a new campus structure 30 years ago. Today, it has an older, more settled appearance, hemmed in by mature trees of recent vintage and by the much older Burton Hall just to the north east. I had no reason to go inside.

I was present for the better part of a week in Burton Hall as a delegate to the Japan-America Student Conference in August 1974. Students from throughout the United States and Japan gathered for lectures, forums, and roundtables on culture, government, politics, and economics. We resided in East Bank dormitories, made a swimming trek to Amery, Wisconsin, held late-night conversations on the shores of Lake Nokomis in south Minneapolis, and closed with a day-long picnic on the shores of Lake Independence in the western suburbs. A highlight was an evening address by Minnesota Senator Hubert H. Humphrey.

The campus structure holding the greatest significance for the course of my life, however, was Norris Hall, tucked between Elliot and Burton halls at 172 Pillsbury Drive. When I walked by last month, bulldozers were tidying up debris from the building's demolition and filling in the depression where the swimming pool had been.

Norris Hall served as a resource for the Department of Physical Education in which the University's dance program had been housed for nearly 60 years. In 1982 and 1983, a few hundred other students and I attended modern dance classes in the Norris gymnasium with its wood-over-concrete floor. One class, in the summer of 1982, was taught by guest dance artists, Rob Esposito and Marcia Weadall-Esposito.

Rob and Marcia assigned us to attend dance performances and submit written papers about them. In those days, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board sponsored free, open-air dance performances at the Nicollet Island Amphitheater. To save money, most of us went to the Island for our assignments. These performances provided my first introductions to the New Dance Ensemble, the Rezone Dancers, and the Just Jazz Dancers. The latter two subsequently merged to form the Zenon Dance Company which I joined as co-manager four years later.

When, in 1983, the University moved to abolish the dance program for cost-cutting reasons, Nadine Jette – who had been my first modern dance instructor – marshaled the forces that moved dance to the Department of Theater Arts (and Dance), and began the fund drives for endowed professorships and for the new building that opened in 1999 as the Barbara Barker Center for Dance.

Campus buildings serve as mere stages for some of the scenes from our lives. One can only wonder what today's dance students will find and recall when walking through 30 years hence!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Contempo Physical Dance: Standing ovation, sold-out house greet newest Twin Cities dance company

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Half-way through the debut performance by Contempo Physical Dance, the new dance company founded by Marciano Silva dos Santos, I realized that tears were trickling down my face. My brain told me it was all about the refreshing innocence and conviction, and the promise of something good that was happening before my eyes.

Marciano Silva dos Santos
As an audience member, these are the moments to live for, not because the performance was flawless; it was not. Rather, it was impressive and inspiring. It engaged. It had raised the expectations of people who like dance that truly moves, and it had met – even exceeded – them.

The date was February 3, 2012. The setting was the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. The dancers were the five men and three women who, in addition to dos Santos, presented a fusion of Afro-Brazilian dance, capoeira, and contemporary dance. The audience of 240 allowed the proprietors to hang up the "sold-out" sign.

The 60-minute performance offered a strong, presentational opening with dos Santos seated on the floor at center stage, rotating himself with his feet as, from alternating wings, the dancers entered singly, first four men, then the three women, and a final man. 

From this point, dancers and choreographer led their audience on a journey through 14 seamless sections set to music by Gilberto Gil, the Mavambo Trio, Evelyn Glennie, Divan, Naná Vasconcelos, Dan Savell, and Virginia Rodrigues.

Members of Contempo Physical Dance, Minnesota's newest company
Both capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance were created by African slaves and their descendants during Brazil's colonial era. The primary characteristics of capoeira, a musical martial art, include speed, power, and complex, sweeping leg movements. In certain casual respects, it roughly resembles hip hop breakdancing.

Afro-Brazilian dance uses the feet to mark rhythm, while arms, chest, head, and hips move freely and independently. Classes in the form emphasize full-body expression, rhythm, and fine-tuned motor control.

The fusion danced by Contempo is both exceedingly rhythmic and musical. However, a dancer who cannot repeatedly crouch, stand, leap, and move while on demi pointe (the balls of the feet) will find the going near impossible in this company because s/he will lack the overall strength and stamina the work requires. Ditto for the dancer who cannot master discrete control over every part of one's body.

It seems to be a principle of this dance form that the dancers' bodies, and not their faces, do the expressing. Often, throughout, I wished the performers would let their faces do the talking, as they did so joyfully during the curtain call. It would have added so much more.

Contempo rehearsing capoeira and Afro-Brazilian dance
At least eight dancers filled the stage for at least 80% of the program. Early on, the rivulets of sweat flowing from the faces of a few of them appeared to be choreographed. Later, I noticed no sweat at all. Even when the full company fills the stage, dos Santos tends to keep the men grouped and moving in patterns separate from those of the women.

The dance ended, as it had begun, with dos Santos seated on the floor at center stage, rotating himself with his feet as, from alternating wings, the dancers entered singly, first four men, then the three women, and a final man.

Mike Grogan's lighting design was probably the best I have ever seen him accomplish. The costumes, designed by dos Santos, were striking in their simplicity. Initially, all wore dark, multi-colored and patterned tights to mid-calf. These were replaced later by plain white trunks to which, still later, were added white, faux fishnet vests.

For the dancers, being present at the creation of a new company may be an infrequent feature of their careers. This group is both very strong and very young. All of them had control of most of the choreography most of the time, and it will be satisfying for us and for them as they become even more self-possessed and strong in their new technique.

Four of the men are still pursuing BFA degrees in the dance program of the University of Minnesota's Department of Theatre and Dance: Davente Gilreath, Timothy Herian, Orlando Hunter, and Justin Reiter, while Irving Amigon is a recent graduate. Both Gilreath and Hunter previously attended the Perpich Center for Arts Education.

The women are more experienced performers. Laura Klein grew up in south Minneapolis, and has studied dance with the Laura Balfour Dance Company, the University of Minnesota, and Batsheva Dance Company in Israel. Roxanne Wallace has danced with Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater for more than 10 years. Jenny Pennaz, Contempo's co-founder, holds degrees in biology and dance from the University of Minnesota, and has studied dance in Brazil.

Dos Santos is a native of Brazil where he studied and performed dance with a number of schools and companies before moving to the United States in 2006. In Minnesota, he danced for five years as a member of TU Dance, and also has performed with the Penumbra Theatre and Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theatre. Dos Santos also teaches for the dance programs at the University of Minnesota and Carleton College, and offers workshops and residencies at other educational institutions throughout the state.

The title of Contempo's debut, full-length work is "Motirô," an indigenous word in Brazil that means "a meeting of people to build something together, helping one another along the way." That is an apt description of the endeavor that dos Santos and his colleagues have undertaken.

Contempo Physical Dance performances continue at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, through February 5, 2012. For tickets: http://ritzdolls.com. Photos by Dwayne Williams Photography.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Two guys from St. Paul, singing dragons in Minneapolis, and a phoenix by the Cedar River

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Erik and Joe in Toronto
Apollo's Journey, the blogged story of Joe and Erik, two guys from St. Paul, Minnesota, began on June 7, 2011. Since then, the journey has taken them to the East Coast of the United States, north into Canada, west to the Pacific, and then south through Mexico and their present stop in Guatemala. You can subscribe here to follow their journey, stories, and photos through North and South America. 

It's the Year of the Dragon, and one of the most imaginative productions of the season is selling out 15 performances at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. "The Dragons Are Singing Tonight," created by TigerLion Arts, is the story of an ordinary boy, a magical girl, and a nasty, nasty dragon. 

Selling out 15 performances
The work is based on the dragon poems of Jack Prelutsky, U.S. Children's Poet Laureate, and brought to life with an original score by composer Laurie MacGregor, who spent part of her childhood in Wayzata, Minnesota. 

The collaborative production, directed by Markell Kiefer, features actor Isabella Dawis and 30 singers from the Minnesota Boychoir, three aerialists from Circus Juventas, and puppets large and small from Puppet Farm Arts.  

The show runs through February 12. Call for tickets (if any can be had): 612.343.3390.

Following performances at the Southern, more than 1,000 students in the Minneapolis and Robbinsdale school districts will participate in residency activities related to the production.

When the Cedar River crested at its highest flood level in history on June 13, 2008, its soggy destruction impacted 14% of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Its victims included the Legion Arts/CSPS Hall, located near the river in the city's New Bohemia neighborhood. 

The Cedar River flooded 14% of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in June 2008
Built by Czech immigrants in 1891, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the CSPS Hall had been the nerve center of a lively arts scene since 1991. In fact, the building had always been a multidisciplinary and multicultural center of activity long before the terms were invented, and before Legion Arts, led by John Herbert and Mel Andringa, dedicated the space to the creation and presentation of contemporary art.

Following an $8 million re-build, the CSPS Hall was re-opened in August 2011, representing a robust resurgence against daunting odds. 

On February 2, 2012, more pieces of the comeback fell into place with the announcement of three new commercial tenants that will occupy the building's ground floor: StudioU Photography, the Brewed Awakenings Coffeehouse, and New Bo Books. Rent from these tenants will help support the building's overhead.

Herbert, Legion Arts' executive director, and a frequent visitor to Twin Cities performance venues, was quoted by the Cedar Rapids Gazette as saying "We've gone from being a pretty small arts organization and a tenants [sic] ourselves to a pretty small arts organization that owns the building, so we've gone to quite a bit more responsibility."

Stop by to say 'hello' and take in a show whenever you are in the neighborhood. Or, plan a special trip with Cedar Rapids and Legion Arts as your destination!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dance theater at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice

Minneapolis, Minnesota
The year 2012 marks the eighth anniversary of Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT) as a creative and performing dance company based in Minneapolis. Led by its founder, Ananya Chatterjea, the ensemble’s 12 dancers employ the classical eastern Indian dance form of Odissi, combined with Yoga and the martial art of Chhau, to create and stage original works rooted in the life experiences of women of color.

Ananya Chatterjea

Chatterjea, a native of Kolkata (Calcutta), India, serves as ADT’s artistic director and choreographer. She also holds the positions of professor, and head of the dance program in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.

Her work has been supported and recognized by the Asian Arts Initiative, the McKnight, Jerome, and Bush foundations, Minnesota State Arts Board, City Pages, Minnesota Women’s Press, Black Indian Hispanic Asian Women In Action, and the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus, among others.

About her company’s work, Chatterjea says, “We pursue excellence in our artistry to forge pathways that generate forces of strength and beauty, galvanize strong communities, and embody a philosophy of possibility and liberation in a shared humanity.” 

ADT’s repertoire consists of more than 24, abstract and evening-length dance narratives built upon social justice themes. For example, the company examined environmental issues and their impact on women’s daily lives in a trilogy of works created over the three years of 2006 to 2009: “Pipaashaa” (extreme thirst), “DAAK” (call to action), and “Ashesh Barsha” (unending monsoon).

More recently, the dancers began a four-part examination of violence against women in the exploitation of land (“Kshoy!,” 2010) and the mining and distribution of gold (“Tushaanal,” 2011). It will complete this expressive study by addressing oil in 2012 (“Moreechika”) and water in 2013 (“Mohona“).

ADT presents one major production in the Twin Cities each year during September, emphasizing excellence of performance over frequency. Its productions, presented since the company’s inception at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, feature original music, often with live musicians, and original costume, lighting and set designs.

ADT: Dance at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice
ADT’s work is informed by its dancers’ research about social justice issues that arise from the lives and stories of women of color around the world. Their use of dance as a catalyst to engage audiences in a dialogue that poses questions and re-imagines the world makes constituent response a valued and welcome component of their creative process.

The year 2011 held numerous, accomplishments for this Twin Cities organization with a worldwide influence:

  • Artistic director Chatterjea received a Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography;
  • Performance on International Women’s Day at the College of St. Catherine, sponsored by Refugee and Immigrant Women for Change;
  • Performance at re-opening ceremonies of the Weisman Art Museum;
  • Performance at a presentation by environmental activist Majora Carter at the Ted Mann Concert Hall;
  • Premiere of the evening-length “Tushaanal” at the Southern Theater;
  • Company’s open audition attracted 20 aspiring dancers;
  • Chatterjea presented lectures and solo demonstrations in Spain;
  • Company was represented by performance and booth at the Midwest Arts  Conference, a “trade show” for the arts, and Chatterjea was invited to address “Equity in the Cultural Landscape.”

Over the years, ADT’s work also has been presented in 11 other U.S. cities (including Madison, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles), nine other states (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and California), and nine other countries (Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, and Japan).

ADT’s next Twin Cities production, “Moreechika,” will be presented in September 2012.

Gary Peterson has been a member of the board of directors of Ananya Dance Theatre since 2009. Photos: V. Paul Virtucio.