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Art Shanty Projects’ predicament; a brilliant start to SPCO season

ALSO: The 2018 MN Theater Awards need help; Nancy Harms at Crooners; and more.

The Art Shanty Projects
The Art Shanty Projects in a photo from 2014.
MinnPost file photo by Andy Sturdevant

An email with “A message from …” subject header is rarely good news. That was the case with yesterday’s email from Art Shanty Projects. It began brightly enough with facts about the 2018 on-ice program on Lake Harriet: a record-setting 40,000 visitors, more than double the previous high. Art Shanty Projects’ first year in the city after several years in White Bear Lake (and before then, Medicine Lake) was “successful beyond our wildest expectations.”

And then:

Recently, the Board learned that Art Shanty Projects was unable to secure the major grant funding needed to cover a significant portion of our expenses for the 2019 program, contributing to a shortfall in excess of $85,000. As a result of this situation, our Board is currently grappling with difficult decisions regarding the future of the program. In our current funding situation, it is not possible to present a 2019 on-ice program along the lines of last year’s program.

Can Art Shanty Projects present any program at all in 2019? Will it regroup, fundraise and wait until 2020? Or is this the end of the public art happening that began in 2004 and has continued mostly without interruption every year or two since?

A community meeting will be held this fall. We’ll let you know when we hear more about that.

The SPCO’s brilliant and daring start to 2018-19

Name another orchestra that would launch a new season with Terry Riley’s “In C,” the founding work of minimalism. Written for any number of instruments, of indeterminate length, resting on a unwavering pulse and allowing musicians to play when they please, it’s an unusual choice. And so SPCO.

For a season opener concert last Saturday, some of the musicians were positioned around the Ordway Concert Hall and others strolled the aisles, making the Riley a metaphor for the orchestra’s willingness to take risks and its commitment to going out into the community. Along with the Concert Hall, which was built for them, the SPCO performs in 15 neighborhood venues throughout the Twin Cities area.

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Not having a full-time percussionist of its own, the SPCO brought in Jauvon Gilliam, principal timpanist of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., who played a constant, unwavering pulse on the marimba. The same pair of notes, over and over (and over and over) again, for 25 minutes. That calls for athleticism, endurance and the ability to not lose your mind. It’s interesting what happens to the pulse as you listen to the piece. At first, it’s all you hear. Then it recedes. Then it becomes the road you’re traveling along, the force of gravity that holds you to it.

The Riley was exhilarating, mesmerizing, maddening and joyful. In his brief spoken introduction (good idea, SPCO; more of those, please), artistic director and principal violin Kyu-Young Kim called it “slightly terrifying … It’s more about listening than doing, which feels appropriate for our time.”

Following intermission – everyone needs a stretch break after Riley – we heard Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915,” with lyrics from a prose poem by James Agee. Soprano Julia Bullock made her SPCO debut in this elegaic, defiant work of memory and individuality. (We thought Gilliam would be resting somewhere backstage, having his wrists massaged, but there he was at the triangle.) Watching Bullock gather herself before she sang, emotions playing over her beautiful face, was breathtaking. We’d love to see her again. (How about a recital, Schubert Club?)

And then the tremendous finish: Beethoven’s “Emperor” piano concerto, featuring SPCO Artistic Partner Jeremy Denk. (And Gilliam again, this time at the timpani.) Denk is one of our greatest pianists, and his command of this epic piece brought the audience to its feet. He returned with an encore: Beethoven’s Five Variations on “Rule Britannia,” played with wit and brio.

Riley, Barber and Beethoven. What a night; what a start to 2018-19. For its 60th anniversary season, the SPCO will play 125 concerts, some in a neighborhood near you. P.S. The first Happy Hour concert of the season is tonight. FMI.

The 2018 MN Theater Awards need help

Back in April, we spoke with Jason Ballweber, artistic director of Four Humors Theater, about Four Humors’ plan to step into the gap left by the Iveys with a new theater awards program. The first awards ceremony was scheduled for Monday, Sept. 24, at Aria.

That’s coming right up, but it might not happen. To its credit, Four Humors posted Monday on Facebook that the ballots they received by the original deadline “do not fully represent the Minnesota theater community.” The number of votes submitted was far smaller than they expected, the results far narrower: “Approximately 90% of ballots came from people who self-identified as white performers and the top results in almost every category centered on the same four theaters.”

The post further said, “We knew that our biggest hurdle would be reaching across the breadth and depth of the theater community we love. We tried our best to reach out, but we realize that despite our best efforts, we have failed.”

So it’s up to us. Do we want this? Can we support it? Can we spread the message in time for this to happen?

Ballots have been reopened and will be available until Friday, Sept. 14, at midnight. Go here to vote and share.

Update: The party at Aria and the awards show will take place as planned. Since the balloting was extended and word got around, more ballots have been submitted. FMI and tickets ($35).

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Sept. 13) at the U’s Andersen Library: Julie Schumacher: “The Shakespeare Requirement” reading and signing. Winner of the Thurber Prize for “Dear Committee Members,” Schumacher is out with the highly anticipated sequel. Set once more at the aptly named Payne University in the Upper Midwest, it’s an academic comedy that takes on trigger warnings, safe spaces, political correctness and identity politics. In room 120. Doors at 6:30 p.m., reading at 7, signing to follow. FMI (including all-important parking information). Free. First-come, first-served.

Kiera Jackson and Catie Bair in "The Miracle Worker."
Photo by Woodford Sisters
Kiera Jackson and Catie Bair in "The Miracle Worker."
Opens Friday at the Yellow Tree Theatre in Osseo: “The Miracle Worker.” Patrick Coyle directs William Gibson’s classic play about Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan. Young Catie Bair is Helen, Kiara Jackson (Park Square’s “The Cardboard Piano,” Walking Shadow’s “Red Velvet”) is Annie. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($27-23). Ends Oct. 14.

Friday and Saturday at the Cowles: SOLO. When Minnesota dancers win McKnight Dancer Fellowships, they also win (along with cash) an extraordinary opportunity: They can each choose a choreographer to create a work especially for them. This weekend, the 2016 and 2017 fellows will dance six bespoke world premieres. With Lisa “Mona Lisa” Berman (choreographer Victor Quijada, Montreal), Chris Hannon (Gina Patterson, Wyoming), Herb Johnson III (Tight Eyez, Las Vegas), Krista Langberg (Karen Sherman, Minneapolis), Sachiko “La Chayl” Nishiuchi (Pepe Torres, Luis Peña, and Angelita Vargas, Spain) and Chitra Vairavan (Eiko Otake, New York). 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($21).

Friday and Saturday at the Parkway: Two nights with Dave King. The newly restored Parkway Theater reopened Thursday with a sold-out screening of “Jaws.” Friday will be the premiere of “Lights! Cameron! Jackson!,” an episodic series from drummer Dave King, directed by Noah Hutton. King plays a character named Cameron Jackson, a guy trying to make a buck, always in search of a great idea – like an original T-shirt slogan, or Magnetic Poetry, or writing custom songs for people’s pets. King describes the series as “an investigation of surrealism and futile activism.” Largely improvised, it’s endearing and foreboding. The evening will include a conversation with King and James Diers, who stars as Blong O. Pederson. Doors at 6:30, film at 7:30. FMI and tickets ($15). On Saturday, King and Diers will return with Halloween, Alaska for the premiere of the legendary band’s first full album of original music since 2011. The night will begin with a duo set by King and Andrew Broder. Doors at 7, show at 8. FMI and tickets ($15 advance, $18 door).

Jazz singer and Clara City native Nancy Harms
Photo by Lisa Venticinque
Jazz singer and Clara City native Nancy Harms will be performing original works Saturday at Crooners.
Saturday at Crooners: Nancy Harms: “Harms’ Way: The Originals.” In 2006, Clara City native Nancy Harms left her life as a teacher in Milaca and moved to Minneapolis with a grand ambition to be a jazz singer. Now based in New York, she travels the world, singing in Denmark and Norway, Paris and Rome. Lately she’s been writing songs, and her next album, “She,” will be all originals. Some of us heard her sing a few of her new tunes at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. They’re personal. Harms herself is a true original; she doesn’t sing or look or act like anyone else. She’s also courageous. This promises to be a celebratory, revelatory evening. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($20-25).