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‘Mr. Gaga’ film to open at the St. Anthony Main Theatre; ‘Thurgood’ returns to the Illusion

Courtesy of the Film Society
A scene from “Mr. Gaga”

No relation to Lady Gaga, “Mr. Gaga” is a feature-length documentary about an Israeli choreographer. Specifically, the intense, complicated, driven, pioneering, wildly creative, world-famous choreographer Ohad Naharin, whose Tel Aviv-based dance company, Batsheva, gave a thrilling performance at Northrop in January.

If you weren’t there, no problem. This film is for anyone who likes a good human story and enjoys watching passionate, athletic, super-bendy dancers do their thing. It’s a rare chance to see Batsheva up close, and the unconventional movements for which they are known: very fast or very slow, fluid and unexpected. In the opening scene, Naharin is teaching a dancer to fall down. Again and again, she collapses onto the floor.

Eight years in the making, Tomer Heymann’s film traces Naharin’s life from his happy-go-lucky kibbutz childhood and his discovery of himself as a dancer (“Dance started in my life as long as I remember myself,” he says). We follow him into the Israeli army and from there into the dance world. He starts his formal training at age 22, late for a dancer, and moves to New York to join Martha Graham, one of Batsheva’s founders. He studies at Juilliard and the school of the American Ballet Theatre, attending both simultaneously. (We catch glimpses of Nureyev at the ABT school.) He joins Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century and has “the worst year of my life.”

Naharin eventually realizes he can’t dance what he doesn’t believe in, so he decides to make his own choreography. Wed to former Alvin Ailey principal dancer Mari Kajiwara, he founds the Ohad Naharin Dance Company. In 1990, he becomes artistic director of Batsheva and returns to Israel with Kajiwara. He finds Batsheva struggling, its audiences sparse and elderly. He turns it into one of the great dance companies of the world.

“Gaga” is Naharin’s name for the movement language he developed as a way to return to dance following back surgery, after being told he would never dance again. The way he describes it, Gaga sounds like a combination of caution and craziness: Listen to your body before you tell it what to do, then go beyond your limits. In a brief, unexplained Hollywood segment (does she know Naharin?), actress Natalie Portman says, “People heal injuries with Gaga. They express themselves with Gaga.”

Woven throughout the film are excerpts from several works including “The Hole,” “Sadeh 21,” “Virus,” “Mamootot,” “Kyr” (danced to the Passover song “Echad Me Yodea”) and “Last Work.” At one point, Yossi Yungman, a senior dancer at Batsheva through the 1990s, characterizes a particular Naharin piece as “the essence of everything in nothing.” Honestly, by the time you get there, that makes perfect sense.

“Mr. Gaga” opens Friday for a week at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre. FMI including times, trailer and tickets.

Fifth Annual Common Good Poetry Contest is on

Every year since 2013, Common Good Books in St. Paul (Garrison Keillor, proprietor) has hosted a poetry contest for which Keillor reads the entries and actual cash prizes are paid. This year’s theme: Poems of Experience.

Surely you have had an experience or two that suggests itself as the perfect topic. Write a poem, make two copies and send them to Common Good Books, 38 South Snelling Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105 postmarked no later than April 15, 2017. That’s right, snail mail. More rules here. Ten winning poets will each receive prizes of $250.

State Fair Fine Arts registration to open

Who wouldn’t love to be part of the big Fine Arts show at the Fair? Registration starts April 3 for this year’s exhibition, one of the high points of the Fair in our humble opinion. At this stage, it’s basically an open call for works executed since Jan. 1, 2015, by living residents of Minnesota.

Last year, 2,390 pieces were submitted and 339 were accepted. There are eight categories, from Oil/Acrylic/Mixed Media to Photography. Registration “absolutely” closes at 4:30 p.m. Monday, July 10. This is a two-phase process: works chosen by the jurors from the images submitted during registration will move on to an in-person jury review. Here’s everything you need to know

The picks

Now at Public Functionary: Leslie Barlow: “Loving.” For the 50-year anniversary of “Loving v. Virginia,” the landmark Supreme Court case that invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage, South Minneapolis artist Barlow has created a series of large-scale paintings featuring interracial families from the Twin Cities. Layering oil paint, charcoal, acrylic, gesso, pastel, photo transfer and textiles, her portraits capture moments of the everyday, leaving room for questions and conversation, telling the story of Minnesota’s changing dynamics. Gallery hours during the show: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays noon – 7 p.m., Saturdays noon – 5 p.m. FMI. Closes March 25. Artist conversation Saturday, March 18.

Photo by Lauren B. Photography
James Craven as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall

Starts Thursday at the Illusion: “Thurgood.” James Craven returns as Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in this powerful one-man play by George Stevens Jr. We spoke with Craven before the Illusion’s first production in 2015, and we also saw the play at that time, and came away thinking Craven was terrific. He has a whole lot of gravitas just standing still. Marshall was appointed in 1967. How many other non-white Supremes have we seen since then? Exactly two: Clarence Thomas (1991) and Sonia Sotomayor (2009). But we digress. Thursday’s performance is a preview ($15). Friday is opening night. FMI and tickets ($27-35). Ends March 19.

Thursday at the Loft: Writers in Conversation: On Craft, with Melissa Febos. Her first memoir, “Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life,” chronicles her four years as a professional dominatrix in New York City, a job she took to pay her way through college. Her second, “Abandon Me,” covers her love affair with a controlling married woman and her complex family background and ethnic heritage. 7 p.m. in the Performance Hall at Open Book. FMI and tickets ($15/10).

Thursday at the Fitzgerald: National Geographic Live! Chasing Rivers with filmmaker Pete McBride. Named a “freshwater hero” by National Geographic for his work photographing and filming great rivers, McBride will take us down the Colorado (featured in his award-winning film, “Chasing Water”) and the Ganges. The Colorado, which provides water for 30 million people, is running dry from overuse and rarely reaches the sea. The Ganges, revered as a god, is horribly polluted. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7. FMI and tickets ($15-45).

Friday at Bethel University: Orphei Drängar Choir. In town for the big American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) annual conference, the 80-voice men’s choir from Uppsala, Sweden, will give its only public performance here in Bethel’s Benson Great Hall. Young, light voices blend with older, seasoned ones in a program of songs featuring Swedish mezzo-soprano Katija Dragojevics. The choir’s former conductor, Robert Sund, will return to America to lead the concert. Formed in 1853, Orphei Drängar has sung in the world’s great concert halls, stone quarries and paper mills; other guest artists have included Anne Sofie von Otter. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20/10). If you don’t want to log in, call the Bethel box office at 651-638-6333.

Hot tix

Inspired by the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, built in 1910 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Memorial Chapel at Lakewood Cemetery is a treasure in our midst. Inside the 65-foot-high dome, ringed with stained glass windows, are more than 10 million mosaic tiles: marble, colored stone, and glass fused with gold and silver. Downstairs are four crematories, two dating from 1910. The Chapel was designed by Minneapolis architect Harry Wild Jones, the interior by New York designer Charles Lamb. Lakewood is offering free guided tours on Sunday, March 19, from noon – 4 p.m. Tickets are free but space is limited

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