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Finalists named in Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul; ‘Wreck’ at Guthrie’s Dowling Studio

ALSO: “Groovin’ in the Garden” at Como Park; State Fair signing people for Amateur Talent Contest; 4th Annual Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Music Festival; and more.

The Minnesota Fringe Festival's proposal for a winter Fringe is a finalist for the first-ever Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul.
Courtesy of the Knight Foundation

Sixty-nine arts organizations, small ensembles and individual artists are finalists in the first-ever Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul, the Knight Foundation announced yesterday. On the list are familiar names including Alec Soth, American Composers Forum, Ananya Dance, Bedlam Theatre, Jeff Bartlett, Minnesota Fringe Festival, Mu Performing Arts, Nautilus Music Theater, Ragamala Dance, the Science Museum of Minnesota, Seitu Jones, Skylark Opera, TU Dance, Twin Cities Jazz Festival, VocalEssence, Walker West Music Academy and Zeitgeist.

Among the ideas they proposed: Soth’s “Winnebago Workshop,” a mobile classroom where teens would be paired with artists to create multimedia stories. Lighting designer Jeff Bartlett’s plan for illuminating the city’s landmarks. Nautilus Music Theater’s hope for a new street-level space in Lowertown. A collaboration between the Science Museum and Penumbra. Walker West’s dream of bringing jazz back to Selby Ave. And the Minnesota Fringe’s ambitious notion to create a winter Fringe Festival.

That the challenge was open to everyone shows in the names that aren’t as immediately recognizable. For example, what’s City of Skate? A group that wants to create an art plaza for skateboarders. Not everyone (yet) has heard of percussionist Erik Barsness, whose idea – to present concerts performed on instruments made of ice – would add a crystalline soundtrack to the St. Paul Winter Carnival. Sculptor Michael Bahl wants to make a sculpture that doubles as a bike rack. Actor Ricardo Vazquez thinks we should have an outdoor festival in honor of Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca. And Stahl Construction Company wants to restore historical company signs in Lowertown.

Now in its first year, the Knight Arts Challenge St. Paul is a three-year, $4.5-million commitment. The Knight Foundation received 866 applications, from which 10 judges chose the 69 finalists. Next steps: the finalists will submit detailed proposals, with the winners to be announced Sept. 29. Knight Foundation will assist on an individual, as-needed basis; local readers will review the proposals.

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An interesting fact about Knight Arts Challenge grants is they don’t go to just two or three winners. For example, 84 finalists were announced in June 2013 for the Detroit challenge, and 56 were chosen as grant recipients. The St. Paul challenge is smaller dollar-wise than Detroit’s, but we can still expect several dozen winners whose work will have an impact on the city’s arts landscape. “It will be a tough decision,” said Dennis Scholl, Knight’s VP for arts. “St. Paul submitted some very creative ideas that reflect the city’s diversity and the depth of the artistic community.” View the complete list of finalists and their ideas here.

Black Label Movement’s “Wreck,” now at the Dowling Studio, is a fierce, intensely physical evening of dance set within the bleakest of frames: An ore boat has sunk to the bottom of Lake Superior with 13 survivors still on board, trapped in a watertight compartment, facing certain death. Don’t let that scare you away. Choreographed by Carl Flink, accompanied by a live performance of Mary Ellen Childs’s haunting, hypnotic, fulsome score, “Wreck” is an extraordinary experience, as beautiful as it is grim.

The dancers (called “movers”) slam into each other, toss each other through the air, leap into each other’s arms and trust they’ll be caught. They swim like fish and seem to float, feet up, heads down, holding impossible poses. They quiver and gape, mouths wide open in silent screams. This is not a linear story; you can try to follow the sections listed in the program, but that’s more of a distraction than an aid. It’s enough to watch and listen. Childs’s score, which contains the sounds of ships and water, depth and straining metal, stands alone as a compelling work of contemporary music. We liked it so much when we heard it last year (it has been recorded and released on the Innova label) that we made it one of our picks for the annual Twin Cities’ Critics Tally in the Strib. Hearing it live makes all the difference; a special shout-out to Peter O’Gorman’s robust and painterly percussion. Brief bits of vintage film by an ore boat captain and evocative lighting by Marcus Dilliard complete the illusion of being trapped with the dancers, along with a sly trick of the production: when you enter the theater, the big garage door (official name: Skyfold) that separates the theater from the lobby is open. Just before the dance begins, it lowers slowly, creaking.

Do you sing, dance, juggle, play an instrument or twirl a baton? The State Fair is now taking registrations for its Amateur Talent Contest. Nearly $10,000 in total prize money will be awarded to the first- through third-place winners in three divisions. Registration deadline: 4 p.m. Monday, July 28. FMI and entry form.

The Picks

Tonight at Plymouth Church: Summer Music Concert. James Bohm, Lisa Drew, Maria Jette and Vern Sutton sing music from the operettas of a century ago. How charming is that? With Sonja Thompson at the Steinway. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight at Augsburg College: Nautilus Music-Theater Rough Cuts. Selections from works-in-progress, plus cookies and milk. See bits from “The Golem,” a new musical by Joseph Vass, with choreography by Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan, and a sneak preview of “Reach,” Nautilus’s Fringe Festival show. In the Foss Center on the West Bank, 22nd Ave. at Riverside. 7:30 p.m., $5 or pay-as-able. Call 651-298-9913 for reservations or email

Wednesday at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory: “Groovin’ in the Garden.” Dance to Cuban son, salsa, samba, and the sounds of Central and Latin America by the Twin Cities Latin band Malamanya. Here’s a video from TPT. For kids, there’s a bouncy house, a climbing wall and lawn games. Food, beer, wine and ice cream are available to purchase. On the Visitor Center Lawn. 6–8 p.m. Free.

Thursday at Al’s Breakfast: Dinner with Ragamala Dance. Once a year, Ranee Ramaswamy and the Ragamala dancers and staff turn Al’s Breakfast into a south Indian hotspot. For a $15 per plate suggested donation, we get a home-cooked Indian dinner. The veggie menu makes use of summer ingredients like squash, mango, carrots and coconut. Dine in or take out. 413 14th Ave. SE, Dinkytown. 5:30–8:30 p.m.

The weekend:

Friday in the courtyard of the George Latimer Central Library: Writers on Screen. We love the idea of an outdoor film series about writers. This Friday’s film is “Stranger than Fiction,” with Will Ferrell as a lonely IRS agent who discovers he’s the main character in a novel-in-progress. Movies start at dusk (around 9 p.m.) and are canceled if it rains. 90 Fourth St. W., St. Paul. Free.

Saturday along Minnehaha Ave. just south of E. Lake Street: 4th Annual Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Music Festival. The yearly benefit for Patrick’s Cabaret has turned into a must-see music fest, with 30 bands on five stages. With Sonny Night & The Lakers, Erik Koskinen Band, Spider John Koerner, Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers, and Jack Klatt, to name only a few. Gates at noon, music from 1–10 p.m. rain or shine. FMI and tickets ($20).