‘Nutcracker’ sans orchestra; get ready for ‘Downton’ No. 3

Photo by Erik Saulitis
Madame Bonbonnier in MInnesota Dance Theatre's production of Loyce Houlton's 'Nutcracker Fantasy' being presented December 14 - 24, 2012

Loyce Houlton’s “Nutcracker Fantasy” pirouettes into the Cowles tonight – without live music. As Kristin Tillotson reports for the Strib, that wasn’t the plan; the Minnesota Dance Theatre’s  “Nutcracker” has always had live music. The reason? Just another labor dispute. The MDT wanted 23 musicians; the musicians’ union said 27 were necessary to perform Tchaikovsky’s score. The ever-diplomatic Philip Brunelle, who has led the “Nutcracker” orchestra for the last 10 years and had adapted a score for 23 musicians, said, “There are always two sides to a story, and it is never one side totally right and one side totally wrong.” Except 23 musicians could have had a gig and now they don’t. Through Dec. 24. FMI and tickets.

We’ve seen Season 3, Episode 1 of “Downton Abbey,” and if you’re a fan, you’re going to love it. TPT held a special event for donors and media at the James J. Hill House Monday night that included a screening in the art gallery. People dressed in period costumes, carolers sang, we heard readings from “Christmas Carol” and “The Gift of the Magi,” and we learned that “Downton” has now surpassed “Upstairs, Downstairs” as the most-viewed “Masterpiece Theatre” program in the history of public television. There will definitely be a Season 4, and NBC has signed series creator Julian Fellowes to create a new drama about the Gilded Age in New York. (NBC turned down “Downton” when Fellowes originally brought it to them. Doh!) What about the episode itself? The Dowager Countess still has the best one-liners. Former chauffeur Tom Branson is even more of a hothead. Edith changes her hair. If Lady Mary gets any thinner, she’ll be a pipe cleaner. We sighed happy sighs until the credits rolled. A gentleman seated near us said, “That frees up a Sunday.” Season 3 airs on TPT starting Sunday, Jan. 6. Need a refresher on seasons 1 and 2? Here it is.

 Tear yourself away from TPT long enough next week to watch the final round of “The Voice” on NBC. Will Minnesota’s Nick “The Feelin’” Mrozinski take home the top prize? We don’t watch much reality TV (except for “Project Runway,” our guilty pleasure), but we do want Nick to win. Go Nick! On the show, in case you’re tuning in for the first time, too, he’s Nicholas David. The show airs Monday and Tuesday. Here’s Nick singing “You Are So Beautiful.” He made judge Cee Lo Green cry.

Turn back to TPT on Friday, Dec. 21, at 8 p.m. for the Minnesota Opera’s production of “Silent Night,” filmed at the Ordway during the world premiere in 2011. Composer Kevin Puts won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his deeply moving score, with libretto by Mark Campbell. The opera was conducted by Michael Christie and staged by Oscar-winning director Eric Simonson. Trailer here. Tons more information (program, synopsis, bios) here. “Silent Night” will be rebroadcast on Saturday, Dec. 22, at 2 a.m. and Sunday, Dec. 23, at 3 p.m. Look for a PBS broadcast in 2013.

Hollis Frampton Lemon 1969
Photo courtesy of Anthology Film Archives
Hollis Frampton Lemon, 1969. © Hollis Frampton Estate

Ends Jan. 9 at the Walker: “The Renegades: American Avant-Garde Film, 1960-1973.” We’re so used to special effects in movies that we forget filmmakers once created them by hand, reshooting, splicing, seaming, and manipulating. When the six films in this show were made, there was no CGI and it took more than a click to change color to black-and-white. Led by Stan Brakhage’s 1960 manifesto, “Metaphors on Vision” (“Forget ideology … abandon aesthetics … negate technique … let film be”), experimental filmmakers in the 1960s and early 1970s rejected storytelling for a new way of seeing. The exhibit includes Hollis Frampton’s “Lemon” (1969), seven minutes of light, shadow, texture and juicy curves; Gunvor Nelson’s looped, layered and dreamy “My Name Is Oona” (1969), with a soundtrack by minimalist composer Steve Reich; Brakhage’s “Mothlight” (1963), made without the use of a camera; and Bruce Conner’s “Three Screen Ray” (2006), synced to a live recording of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” (Conner was one of the first filmmakers to use pop music; hello, music videos.) If you think you’ve seen some of these ideas before, you have, but here’s where they began. The films are projected simultaneously in adjoining galleries; you can wander back and forth. Note that “Three Screen Ray” contains nudity. FMI.

Ends Jan. 12 at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery in the U of M’s Regis Center for Art: “Minnesota Funk.” A group exhibition that playfully explores the diverse, groovy and funky side of Minnesota culture in works by Kate Casanova, Kelly Connole, Frank Gaard, Lamar Peterson, Bobby Dues Wilson and other artists. New faculty member Chris Larson contributes an installation of video and sculptures.

Jenny Schmid Wisconsin Fetish (John Kim's Cabin), 2012 Screenprint 10 x 15 in.
Courtesy of the Katherine E. Nash Gallery
Jenny Schmid, ‘Wisconsin Fetish (John Kim’s Cabin),’ 2012. Part of ‘Minnesota Funk’

Through Feb. 24 at the Bell Museum: “Insect Illustration.” (“Bugs at the Bell”?) Accurate illustrations of insects are important scientific tools. Entomologists need them for proper identification and study; taxonomists consult them to infer evolutionary relationships. And even if they give you the willies, you can appreciate them as art. This exhibit features a collection of pieces by Ralph Holzenthal, professor of entomology and director of the U of M’s Insect Museum, and many of his students throughout the years. Holzenthal once used pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor; he has since switched to digital media, and you can see the shift. FMI.

Courtesy of the Bell Museum
A chrysopa illustrated by Thelma Heidel

This sounds silly after last weekend’s weather and what’s coming for this weekend (a traffic-toxic sludge of snow, sleet and rain), but travel publisher Lonely Planet has named the Twin Cities No. 8 on its list of Top 10 US travel destinations for 2013. First Avenue, the Fitz, and the Bryant-Lake Bowl all get shout-outs. Frosty the Snowman must be on staff at the Planet; the No. 2 pick is Fairbanks, Alaska.

Yet another reason to be proud to be a Minnesotan: Our own Hennepin County Library was the fifth most-searched library in the U.S. in 2012. Says who? Google’s annual Zeitgeist report, which shares search trends from around the world. Only the Library of Congress and the Chicago, Brooklyn, and New York public libraries surpassed Hennepin County in volume of searches. Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Diego are numbers 6-9 on the Google list. 

It’s one thing to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” at home on TV, quite another to see it at the cozy, retro Riverview surrounded by teary-eyed people munching the theater’s famously tasty popcorn. Dec. 21-23. Admission for each film is $2, $1 if you bring an item of nonperishable food. FMI.  

Tonight (Friday) and tomorrow, Dec. 14-15, at the Old Arizona Theater: “Surface Tensions,” an ensemble performance by storyteller Beverly Cottman, dancer Kenna Cottman, and photographer Bill Cottman. A family affair. Bill Cottman is a 2012 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board; “Surface Tensions” is also the title of his new book of photographs and haiku. Jazz fans know Cottman from his Saturday morning program on KFAI, “Mostly Jazz.” 7 p.m., $10 at the door. 2821 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis. FMI.

KFAI radio has appointed an interim executive director. Suzann Eisenberg Murray is a founding partner of the Dendros Group, a St. Paul-based consulting firm. She most recently served as interim executive director at Simpson Housing Services, a shelter and advocacy program. Murray takes over for Janis Lane-Ewart, whose departure as executive director after 12 years was announced Nov. 29.

This Saturday, Dec. 15, Little Brown Mushroom is having an open house. LBM is a small St. Paul publishing house founded in 2008 by photographer Alec Soth. In May, Soth and writer Brad Zellar launched “The LBM Dispatch,” an irregularly-published newspaper documenting their rambles in North America. Noon to 5 p.m. at Soth Studios, 856 Raymond Ave., Unit D, St. Paul.

Saturday, Dec. 15 at the Baroque Room in Lowertown: A Baroque Christmas. Flying Forms (Marc Levine on baroque violin, Tami Morse on harpsichord) are joined by soprano Carri Henneman Shaw and lutist Philip Rukavina for a program of music by Bach, Vivaldi, Corelli, Scarlatti, Purcell, and more. With student performers Anna Humphrey and Emma Richman on violins. If you had tickets for the SPCO’s canceled “Brandenburg” performances, this concert will help ease the pain. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets.

Thursday, Dec. 20 at the Cedar: Fathom Lane. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Michael Ferrier’s new project includes Ashleigh Still on voice and piano, Ben Glaros on guitar and voice, Shane Akers on lap steel guitar and dobro, Brian Roessler on bass and Pete Hennig on drums. We’ve been listening a lot to their debut CD, “Down by Half.” I can’t get the first track, “Hope You Never,” out of my head. (“I hope you never fall in love/With someone like you.”) Actual Wolf and Bethany Larson & The Bees Knees open. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets.

At the Bryant-Lake Bowl on Friday, Dec. 28: the Salon Saloon “Heavy 100” Year-End Review. Produced and moderated by Andy Sturdevant, who writes MinnPost’s weekly column “The Stroll,” Salon Saloon is a live-action arts magazine that has drawn local artists, arts supporters, and the curious to the BLB every fourth Tuesday since 2009. Sturdevant describes it as a “low-budget bowling-alley version of ‘Dick Cavett’ with overtones of the Gong Show.” And grasshoppers (as in ice-cream drinks, not Bell Museum specimens) mixed up in a blender on stage. People involved in our diverse and energetic arts community – like Ben Heywood, executive director of the Soap Factory; writer Dennis Cass; musician Mike Gunther; and MPR journalist Sasha Aslanian – will weigh in on the year’s most notable achievements. (Heywood will Skype from the UK, where he’s home visiting his mum.) If you’re a Salon Saloon regular, you won’t want to miss this. If you’re new to the Twin Cities and want a crash course on the arts scene, check it out. 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. (two different shows). FMI and tickets.  Sturdevant et al. are planning next year’s shows and are taking suggestions now. Themes: St. Paul (February), Rivalry (March), Failure (April), Finality (May). If you have an idea, drop it here.

On sale at 10 a.m. today (Friday) at the Dakota: SFJAZZ Collective’s “Music of Chick Corea” (March 19). SFJAZZ is an all-star jazz ensemble whose current lineup includes  Miguel Zenón, David Sánchez, Stefon Harris, Avishai Cohen, Robin Eubanks, Edward Simon, Matt Penman and Jeff Ballard. Heavy hitters all.

On sale now at the Dakota: 

The Bad PlusThree nights (Dec. 27-29), two shows each (7 p.m. and 9 p.m.). Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson and Dave King have played the Dakota around Christmas every year since 2000, when they were billed as “The Bad Plus feat. Dave King.” Now one of the leading names in jazz, internationally known and respected, they’ll follow their Minneapolis residency with a full week at the Village Vanguard in New York City starting New Year’s Eve.

Dave Holland Quintet (Jan. 27-28). With Chris Potter on saxophones, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibes, and Nate Smith on drums this is simply one of the best working quintets anywhere.

Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the 60s and Beyond (Jan. 29-30). Half of the musical duo Peter and Gordon, Grammy-winning producer Asher sings songs and tells stories. His sister Jane dated Paul McCartney; he introduced Marianne Faithful to Mick Jagger. He should have a few interesting things to talk about.

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