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Dance, opera, film, you name it at Cowles next season

ALSO: An amazing offer from SPCO; State Fair lineup shaping up; powerful ‘Lizzie Bright’ at Children’s Theatre; and more.

German a cappella group vocaldente opens the Cowles Center season

The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts has announced its 2012-13 season, its second as a major destination for dance lovers. While last year’s schedule was devoted almost entirely to dance, this year’s includes more vocal performances, two awards ceremonies, a film screening, a pair of operas, appearances by Off-Leash Area and Mu Performing Arts, and some out-of-towners.

Most events at the Cowles last a weekend, some two or three; Minnesota Dance Theatre’s “Loyce Houlton’s Nutcracker Fantasy” occupies the Cowles in December, ceding one night to “Christmas With Cantus.”

The season opens with the German a cappella group vocaldente, first-place winners of the 2008 Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival in San Francisco. James Sewell Ballet and Zenon Dance Company return, as do Mathew Janczewski’s ARENA DANCES, Ragamala, Stuart Pimsler Dance & Theater, and Black Label Movement. Internationally known dance/illusionist company MOMIX, based in rural Connecticut, comes for a weekend in May. The Saint Paul City Ballet crosses the river, also in May. Minnesota Concert Opera presents “Il Trovatore” in January, “Julius Caesar” in April. The SAGE Awards for Dance will be presented at the Cowles in October. The season concludes with the Black Label Movement in June 2013. Tickets now on sale.

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra has announced its 2012-13 season, with an offer so good it looks like a typo: Become a member for just $5/month and attend as many concerts as you can fit in. You won’t get the same seat every time, if you care, but you will be able to see and hear the SPCO as often as you like, wherever you like, as long as seats in the $10 and $25 categories are available. (The $40 category is not part of the offer, but more than 80 percent of tickets are $10 or $25.) Choose your seats online in advance or show up at the door. With this plan, the SPCO has made it as easy to go to a live concert as it is to go to a movie — and cheaper. And you can be just as spur-of-the-moment about it.

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Subscription packages are still available for those who prefer that route. But for $60/year, a membership seems like the way to go. A limited number of memberships are available. Get the FAQs and order here

We’re so gaga about the membership that we almost forgot to preview the season. The return of artistic partners Roberto Abbado, Edo de Waart, Dawn Upshaw, Christian Zacharias and Thomas Zehetmair. World premieres by Nicola Campogrande, John Luther Adams, Matthias Pintscher and Shawn Jaeger. Baroque, baroque, baroque: the Four Seasons, the Brandenburgs and selections from “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” Five Mozart symphonies and two piano concertos. Three Beethoven symphonies. Haydn, Bartok, Berg, Strauss and Ravel. Guest artists (Peter Serkin, Steven Isserlis, Isabel Leonard) and conductors. FMI.

It will be interesting to see how the membership works, and whether other arts organizations follow. Graydon Royce notes that the SPCO is the first performing-arts group in Minnesota to offer a season pass, and one of just a few in the United States. At Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre, season passes have boosted attendance, increased repeat attendance, and broadened the demographic. All performing arts organizations need to entice younger audiences; a look at the crowd attending almost any classical concert or play in the Twin Cities will tell you that.

Who’s at the State Fair grandstand this fall? The lineup is still taking shape and here’s what we know so far. On Thursday, Aug. 23: Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples. Friday, Aug. 24: country star Alan Jackson. Monday, Aug. 27: The Happy Together Tour 2012, with the Turtles, Flo & Eddie, Monkees lead singer Micky Dolenz, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, the Grass Roots, and the Buckinghams. Wednesday, Aug. 29: KISS and Mötley Crüe. (Worth going to as much for the crowd as for the music.) Thursday, Aug. 30: Rascal Flatts with Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and Edens Edge. Tickets are on sale now for Jackson, Happy Together, and KISS/Mötley Crüe; they go on sale Apr. 14 for Raitt and Rascal Flatts.

Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” opens April 14 at the Ordway, closing the Minnesota Opera’s 2011-12 season with a revival of Colin Graham’s celebrated 2004 staging. Kelly Kaduce and Yunah Lee alternate as Cio-Cio-San, the geisha who falls in love with a handsome American naval officer and lives to regret it. Both Kaduce and Lee are well acquainted with the title role; Kaduce has sung it with the Santa Fe and Portland operas, and Lee’s first performance on April 15 will be her 108th in Butterfly’s kimono. As of yesterday, four of the eight performances had sold out. FMI and tickets.

“Flashing Red,” the new show at the Rosalux Gallery, opens Saturday with a reception from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Contemporary painters Tara Costello and Shawn McNulty present new, large-scale pieces that examine unfamiliar spaces and explore the relationship between human-made structures and the natural world. Both are Rosalux veterans; McNulty is a founding member. This is their first show together. Closes April 29.

twain's mississippiIn Mark Twin’s memoir “Life on the Mississippi,” young Samuel Clemens leaves home to learn steamboat piloting on a Mississippi river boat in 1857. Tim Stolz has turned Twain’s memoir into a play-with-music that opens next Wednesday in the best possible place: on the Minnesota Centennial Showboat on Harriet Island. Richard Weber stars as Clemens; Mark Kreitzer leads an acoustic folk music trio (guitar,mandolin, fiddle). Wednesdays-Sundays through May 20, with shows in the afternoons and evenings. FMI and tickets.

Things I like this month at the Cedar, just named “Best World Music” in the Readers’ Choice Awards (I’m not exactly sure what that means but it seems like a fine thing): Thomas Dolby (tonight, April 6), Suzzy Roche and Lucy Wainwright Roche with Mother Banjo (April 8), Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 (April 14), Greg Brown with Joe and Vicki Price (April 20). And probably more. Come to think of it, I really, really like the Cedar. The sound is good, the audience is attentive, it’s fairly comfortable (if you snag a chair with a cushion), you can buy beer and Indian food, the staff is friendly and helpful, and the place has its own timeless vibe.

Pillsbury House Theatre has announced its 2012 Naked Stages Fellows. Multidisciplinary artist Ahanti Young, David T. Steinman (who creates work from his experience as an airline baggage handler), “Queertopia” founder and curator Jeffry Lusiak, and puppeteer Zoe Sommers Haas have been chosen for the 7-month development program that provides time, money, and mentoring to performance artists.

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Mark your calendars for the fifth annual Record Store Day, when vinyl is king, and the 17th Annual Art-A-Whirl, Nordeast’s arts bacchanalia. Record Store Day: Saturday, April 21. Art-A-Whirl: May 18-20.

big brother, little brotherFree or cheap

Bring the kids to the Walker tomorrow for Free First Saturday and hear Kevin Kling read from his new children’s book, “Big Little Brother.” Illustrator Chris Monroe (“Violet Days”) will also be present. First Saturday starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 3 p.m. Kling and Monroe are scheduled for at 11 and 1. Other activities include art-making activities and gallery adventures.

Bring a kid to “Born to be Wild 3D” at the Zoo’s IMAX theater on Easter Sunday and save a few bucks. An award-winning nature film on a giant screen in 3D, narrated by Morgan Freeman, sounds like a winner. Get half off a child’s admission with purchase of an adult ticket. FMI, tickets, and a video preview.

For those who have always wanted to participate in Heart of the Beast’s annual MayDay Parade & Festival: Free public workshops start tomorrow and continue through May 3 (Saturdays 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays 7-9 p.m.). No reservations or experience necessary; children are welcome but must be supervised by adults at all times. Wear clothes and shoes you can paint in. At Heart of the Beast Theatre, 1500 Lake Street East, Minneapolis.

Not cheap, but cheaper: I loved “Hairspray” when I saw it in March. It runs through May 26, and all through April you can save on tickets. For each adult ticket you buy, one child (ages 5-17) gets in free. The offer is good for up to three kids’ tickets and any performance except Saturday night. The “date night special” includes two tickets and two dinners for $99 (usually $70-$80 each) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Call 952-934-1525. Ask for “kids in free” or “date night.”

Out and about

I saw “Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy” at the Children’s Theatre Wednesday night, and it was a powerful experience, in part because that day was the 44th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s assassination, which weighed heavily on my mind.

Based on the award-winning YA novel by Gary D. Schmidt, written by Cheryl L. West and directed by Peter Brosius, “Lizzie Bright” is a fictionalized account of real events. In the early 1900s, racism, prejudice, and greed led the state of Maine to clear Malaga Island of its “shiftless population of half-breed blacks and whites.” People whose families had lived on Malaga for generations were removed, and all visible traces of the community were wiped out.

Schmidt’s book was written for grades 6-9, so it has a young hero, a 13-year-old boy who teaches his minister father a thing or two about being a righteous man. The acting is a bit hammy at times, which is probably de rigueur for the target audience, but the production has moments of real magic. At one point, the stage becomes the ocean and young Turner Buckminster rows a boat across it. A child seated behind us piped, “How did they do that?”

There were many children in the house, and they laughed uproariously at the funny parts and fell silent during the serious parts, which are very serious indeed; “Lizzie Bright” makes clear the costs we pay for judging people by the color of their skin. The play closes Sunday. See it if you can. Bring a child or two, then go out for ice cream after and talk about right and wrong, race and courage.