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Northrop’s dance lineup is a good mix; ‘Wicked’ opening at the Orpheum

Photo by Quinn B. Wharton
Alonzo King LINES Ballet’s “Biophony”

Sometimes things just work out. Like the 2017-18 Northrop Dance Season, announced last weekend. It’s an elegantly constructed triptych of three mini-seasons, one each in fall, winter and spring, all anchored by classical ballets.

Except “work out” doesn’t quite capture the process of building a dance season that will bring hundreds of feet to the Northrop stage at the University of Minnesota, many in toe shoes, some from as far away as Monaco. And thousands more to the floor and tiers of the big performance hall.

Here’s how Northrop’s director, Christine Tschida, describes it.

“It’s about getting a season that has the right mix, that has the right spacing between events, that does not have a show on a football Saturday because you can’t do anything on a football Saturday, or a homecoming parade Friday, or an election day or a spring break, or the graduation period. So it becomes a small, defined period of time when there are weeks where it’s appropriate to do a show.

“And you have to book dance companies that are already on tour, and will come here in some logical order of where the tour is going. And I have to find partners [other presenting organizations] who will do it with me.

“We have a demanding ballet audience – they want their ballet, and they know how they define ballet – so we’ve got to anchor some ballets. Ballet doesn’t tour fleetly, like a lights-and-tights small contemporary company. Ballet is huge and cumbersome, and there are trucks and there are sets.

“The whole process starts with asking what international touring companies are coming to the U.S., what U.S. companies are available to tour and when, and do they fit within the little slots open on the calendar?”

And it’s about way more than timing. “I’m looking for academic connections. I’m looking for work that has an emotional connection to the audience. I’m looking for diversity. I’m looking for a blend of international artists and American artists. I’m happy when we have work by female choreographers.” Also classical and contemporary, repertory and new, evening-length and shorter.

As daunting as it sounds, the 2017-18 season turned out well – a good mix, nicely balanced, with something for everyone from rabid dance fans to the curious. In a recent conversation at Northrop, Tschida led us through it, and then we asked a few questions.

The season begins Oct. 10 with the Minnesota debut of the Havana-based Malpaso Dance Company led by Osnel Delgado. Delgado was a McKnight International Fellow with Minneapolis’ Zenon Dance Company in 2014. Zenon will open the program with its first-ever performance on the Northrop stage, dancing the baseball-inspired “Coming Home” Delgado created for them. On Oct. 28, New York City Ballet MOVES will perform four ballets including Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night.” “They’re touring the iconic repertory the company is known for,” Tschida said. “And everything is done with live music.” On Nov. 2, San Francisco’s ODC/Dance will make its Northrop debut with “boulders and bones,” inspired by the outdoor environmental sculpture of Andy Goldsworthy, set to an original live cello score and accompanied by cinematic projections. (As an add-on, ODC/DANCE will also give a family-friendly performance Nov. 4 of “The Velveteen Rabbit.”)

On Jan. 27, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will present a 40th anniversary program of highlights from its history, including works by Lou Conte and Twyla Tharp. Feb. 27 and 28 brings Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo to Minnesota for the first time, performing Jean-Christophe Maillet’s evening-length “Romeo and Juliet.” “Maillot’s productions tend to be very sleek-looking,” Tschida said, “but the dancing is pure classical delight.” On March 3, France’s Company Wang Ramirez – led by Korean-German ballet dancer Honji Wang and French-Spanish b-boy Sébastien Ramirez – will dance a hip-hop-infused evening-length work called “Borderline,” with aerial artists and rigging.

On April 7 and 8, Houston Ballet returns to Northrop with Stanton Welch’s evening-length “Swan Lake.” “It’s a total full-length ballet blowout,” Tschida said, “and we’ll do it with live music – 60 musicians in the pit.” On April 14, Northrop will celebrate Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday with a program that features the dancers of New York City’s KEIGWIN + COMPANY and the University Symphony Orchestra led by Mark Russell Smith. “We’ll bring the symphony on stage, and the dancers will dance in front of the musicians.” The season ends May 1 with San Francisco’s Alonzo King LINES Ballet and “Biophony,” an investigation of life on earth, danced to a soundscape recorded in the field.

Christine Tschida

MinnPost: Of the nine shows in the season, which would you consider a good entry point for someone new to dance?

Christine Tschida: A repertory program is always a great entry point, because if you don’t like one piece, stick around for the next one – something completely different. So the New York City Ballet Moves rep program, or the Hubbard Street rep program, are perfect examples.

MP: What would you recommend to someone who’s willing to take a risk?

CT: There are two I would point out for this season. One is ODC/Dance. They’ve never been here before, and it’s really interesting work, with live cello onstage and the use of projections. The dancers are really dynamic. The other one is Company Wang Ramirez, with the aerial work and hip-hop. Their use of rigging and lighting is somewhat spare, and I don’t feel it’s gimmicky. It’s just a dance artist and choreographer exploring another way movement can be used and pushed.

MP: In February, you had to cancel two performances by a South Korean company because of visa problems. Do you feel there’s a chill on booking international acts? Is that affecting your decision-making process?

CT: Throughout the country, presenters and agents are talking about the climate and how challenging it is for international artists. That doesn’t diminish our desire to present them, because I think it’s vitally important that we continue to do this work and share these artists. It’s going to get more expensive, it’s going to take more time and effort, but I don’t think we can give up on it.

MP: What is the hardest part of your job?

CT: Parking! I cannot change the physical experience of coming to Northrop. Would that I could, so there would be free parking for everybody who wants to come.

The 2017-18 Northrop Dance Season begins Oct. 10. Series packages are on sale now. Single tickets go on sale June 5.

The picks

Opens tonight (Wednesday, April 12) at the Orpheum: “Wicked.” The back story of the witches in “The Wizard of Oz,” based on a novel by Gregory Maguire, “Wicked” is currently the top musical on Broadway. The wildly popular touring show has sold out four previous Minneapolis engagements and is back for a fifth, for five weeks and 40 performances. The show hasn’t changed, but our world has, and reviewers in other cities where it has traveled in 2017 are reporting that watching it feels different. As one wrote, “In essence, ‘Wicked’ uses catchy songs and pretty costumes to explain the deadly effects of fake news.” There’s no rule saying you have to see it that way. FMI and tickets ($53-199). An in-person, day-of-performance lottery will be held each day for a limited number of $25 seats. FMI. Ends May 14.

Photo by Joan Marcus
The national touring company of “Wicked”

Thursday at Coffman Union Theater: Andrew Solomon on “Change and Resilience.” The PEN America president and best-selling author of “Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity” (winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award) and “The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression” (National Book Award) discusses his latest, “Far and Away: Reporting From the Brink of Change,” about art, culture, and politics in countries around the world. 7:30 p.m. Free and open to the public.

Thursday at Open Book: Second Annual National Poetry Month Party. Choose the reception at 5:30 p.m. in the Milkweed Editions office suite, with poetry-themed drinks and hors d’oeuvres; the 7 p.m. reading in the Performance Hall by the finalists for this year’s Lindquist & Vennum Poetry Prize; or both. The reception is ticketed ($25 general admission, $10 students, free for poets); the reading is free and open to the public. FMI and tickets.

Friday and Saturday at the Ordway Concert Hall: Pergolesi’s “Stabat Mater.” For Easter weekend, the SPCO presents Pergolesi’s setting of the medieval poem honoring Mary’s suffering as she witnessed the crucifixion of her son. Works by Locatelli and Haydn open the program. With Jonathan Cohen, director and harpsichord, soprano Joélle Harvey and mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle. FMI and tickets ($12-50, kids and students free).

Monday at Bryant Lake Bowl: The Theater of Public Policy: Chris Coleman. The mayor of St. Paul and recently announced candidate for governor of Minnesota seems like an ideal candidate for T2P2’s signature blend of Q&A, ribbing and improv that never gets mean or ugly. Doors at 6, show at 7. FMI and tickets ($12 advance/$15 door).

On sale

The one and only Diana Ross – call her Miss Ross – is coming to Northrop on July 11. Presale starts Thursday, April 13, at 10 a.m.; on-sale Friday, April 14, at 10 a.m. FMI and tickets ($59.50-$137.50). At the Northrop box office or by phone: 612-624-2345.

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