Three artsy films at MSPIFF; ‘GIRL Shakes Loose’ at Penumbra

Courtesy of First Run Features
“Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past”

As the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival moves into its second weekend, we’re giving the thumbs-up to three more arts-related films. Here’s a line from “Divine Divas” to start us off: “When you go to the movies, you always leave amazed by something.”

“Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past.” See it for the music and a profile of a fascinating man: musician, historian, swimmer against the tide. Brooklyn-based Giordano leads an 11-member big band that plays Hot Jazz from the 1920s and ’30s. (His “Nighthawks” won a Grammy for their work in HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”) He personally plays the tuba, string bass, and bass saxophone, and he sings. He has saved and collected more than 60,000 old Big Band arrangements, rescuing them from garage sales, libraries, and old theaters. And he keeps smiling. Filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards catch Giordano playing to full houses and almost empty rooms, giving his band the bad news that their regular gig is ending, sorting through piles of arrangements and schlepping his own equipment up flights of stairs. This year’s MSPIFF offers just two jazz features (the other is “Bill Frisell, A Portrait,” which we wrote up last Friday) and both are worth seeing. At the St. Anthony Main Theatre today (Friday, April 21) at 2:40 p.m., and the Film Space at Metro State University on Sunday at 2:30. FMI and tickets. (“Bill Frisell” is at the St. Anthony Main on Monday and next Friday.)

“Divine Divas.” See it for the stories of Brazilian drag artists in their 70s, and the sensitivity and compassion with which they are told. During the 1960s, when the artists featured – including Rogéria, Jane Di Castro, Divina Valéria and Marquesa – were performing at the Rival Theatre in Rio de Janeiro, harassment and persecution were the norm. “Dressing as women, we were at the edge of the abyss,” one says. “We were always running from the police.” Brazilian filmmaker (and actor) Leandra Leal grew up among the divas; her grandfather owned the Rival. When they reunite to celebrate the theater’s 70th anniversary, Leal captures their performances (yes, they still have it) and lets them talk about their lives and struggles. No one, not even Sinatra, has sung “My Way” with the same passion as Valéria. In Portuguese with English subtitles, Leal’s film is both a documentary and a love letter. At the St. Anthony Main Theatre on Sunday, April 23, at 9:40 p.m. FMI and tickets. Pre-“Divas” cocktail party at Sushi Tango at 5 p.m., with complimentary appetizers, Happy Hour pricing for food and drink, and a surprise guest. One of the divas?

Courtesy of Abramorama
“Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan”

“Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” See it for the dancing – you’ll often wish you could pause and rewind – and a portrait of a revered artist at a crossroads. A principal dancer for the New York City Ballet, muse to choreographers, inspiration to fellow dancers and countless bedazzled young girls, Whelan is filmed during a time of profound vulnerability. Sidelined by a hip injury that requires surgery (which is also filmed), she wonders what she’ll do with the rest of her life. She’s been dancing since she was 3 years old and it’s all she has ever wanted or known. The clock ticks for dancers like it does for all athletes, but Whelan is filled with anxiety, uncertainty and grief. She has since moved on to modern dance; she’ll be at Northrop with Brian Brooks on Saturday night (see the picks below). That doesn’t in the least diminish the power of Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s frank and sensitive film or its three-Kleenex ending (because sometimes you cry when something is so beautiful you can’t stand it). At the St. Anthony Main Theatre today at 4:40 p.m. and Saturday, April 29, at 9 a.m. FMI and ticketsUPDATE: Whelan will take part in a Q&A after today’s (Friday’s) 4:40 p.m. screening.

The picks

Tonight (Friday, April 21) at Penumbra Theatre: “GIRL Shakes Loose.” The world premiere of a new musical by award-winning playwright Sakiyyah Alexander (“Grey’s Anatomy”) and composer Imani Uzuri, featuring the poetry of Sonia Sanchez. Directed by May Adrales, set in three cities, powered by pop, rock and blues, it’s a coming-of-age story about an irreverent, overqualified black GIRL searching for her way home. The cast includes Jamecia Bennett, Thomasina Petrus and Alexis Sims as GIRL. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15-40). Closes May 14.

Tonight at Hamline’s Sundin Music Hall: J.S. Bach: Easter Oratorio. Led by Matthias Maute, the internationally known German conductor, recorder and flute player, the Bach Society of Minnesota begins a year-long series of performances of Bach’s oratorios. For this concert, the musicians will be joined by the Partners in Praise Girls Choir. 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($8-23). Also 3 p.m. Sunday at Central Lutheran Church in Winona.

Saturday all over: Record Store Day. Go here, click “Show Record Stores Near Me” or type something in the box opposite, have fun. Participating stores will have one or more of the following: live music indoors or out (sometimes both), exclusive Record Store Day releases, prizes, treats, rare finds and deals. Hours vary. City Pages made a guide and we see no reason to reinvent that wheel.

Saturday at Northrop: Brian Brooks. One of today’s hot choreographers, Brooks will make his Northrop debut with a fast-paced repertory program including “First Fall,” a dance he created for former New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan (which Brooks and Whelan will dance together), “I’m Going to Explode,” set to music by LCD Soundsystem, and “Torrent,” featuring dancers from the University of Minnesota’s dance program, with whom Brooks spent an extended residency last fall. 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($30-50; discounts available). Free performance preview at 6:45 p.m. in the Best Buy Theater.

Sunday at Hamline’s Sundin Musical Hall: The Musical Offering: Season Finale. Concluding its Emigrés & Mentors-themed season, the chamber ensemble presents works by composers who were influenced by and left their mark on American music: a jazzy trio by Darius Milhaud, a wind quintet by Paquito d’Rivera, and Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” in its original scoring for 13 instruments. The musicians will tell you more about each composer’s connections during the concert. 3 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25).

Courtesy of Twin Cities PBS
Adetomiwa Gbadebo on MN Original

Sunday on your teevee: “MN Original: Katha Dance Theater, Adetomiwa Gbadebo, Melissa Cooke, Booka B.” The weekend brings the latest episode of Twin Cities PBS’ award-winning arts and culture series. Rita Mustaphi remembers that when she immigrated to the Twin Cities in 1970, there was “nothing Indian in this town.” She and the company she founded, Katha Dance Theater, are today part of Minnesota’s cultural fabric. Gbadebo is an artist, an athlete, an art collector and a Nigerian prince whose ancestors were patrons of the arts. His paintings begin with colors he sees in his mind. Cooke is a visual artist whose large-scale portraits in powdered graphite look more real than photographs. She zeroes in on the personal to uncover the universal. Booka B is a musician, painter and printmaker. Working in different mediums “feeds different parts of my soul.” On camera, he’s a low-key guy, but his goal is “to be on fire,” creatively and productively. “MN Original” airs Sunday night on TPT 2 at 6 p.m. and again at 10. Watch it online anytime.

Sheila Jordan

Sunday at Crooners: Sheila Jordan. In his preview of Sheila Jordan’s January performance at Chicago’s Green Mill, jazz critic Howard Reich wrote, “Anyone who values the endangered art of real jazz singing knows the importance of Sheila Jordan concerts.” Utterly unique, universally respected, Jordan began singing as a child. Now 88, she’s still doing what she loves. In the intimate, no-talking Dunsmore Room at Crooner’s, she’ll sing two sets, accompanied by fiercely talented young pianist Javier Santiago. 5 p.m and 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($25 show only, $50 prix fixe dinner show).

Monday at the Heights: “You’ll Like My Mother.” Why see this 1972 psychological thriller starring Patty Duke and Richard Thomas, set in a mansion in a town called Dulwich, Minnesota? Because Dulwich is really Duluth, and the mansion is Glensheen, and in 1972 Elisabeth Congdon still lived there. A representative from Glensheen will be on hand for a special presentation and tour giveaway. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10).

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