We can’t go to everything, but we try to hit as many arts events as we can, and not only those we’re pretty sure we’ll like. (Pro tip: That’s how you broaden your horizons.) In 2018, we saw many memorable performances. For various reasons, these rose to the top.
Tchaikovsky at Orchestra Hall. The Minnesota Orchestra launched the New Year with a Tchaikovsky marathon. Midway through, Anthony Ross brought his cello superpowers to the Mozart-inspired “Variations on a Rococo Theme,” which was framed by a pair of symphonies.
songSlam at Icehouse. Hosted by Chris Koza, this was lively and fun. Composer-performer teams premiered new art songs – sung by trained voices – and competed for cash prizes. There’ll be a second round on Jan. 10.
Roy Hargrove at the Dakota. We didn’t know it then, but this would be the last time we saw trumpeter Roy Hargrove. That night, Jan. 17, he played his horn and sang, “From the top of my heart/to the soles of my feet/I am blessed.” Hargrove died in November.
CraftBOWL at the American Swedish Institute. ASI kicked off its Year of the Handmade with a sprawling, multipart show that included bowls from all over, carved objects by woodworker Jögge Sundvkist, ceramics and glass by Swedish National Treasure Ingegerd Råman and mystical, haunting glass sculptures and bowls by Bertil Vallien. Just wow.
Robert Wilson’s “Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty” at Mia. More theater than exhibition, provocative and sly, this one-of-a-kind show, conceived and designed by Robert Wilson, was a new way to present and experience art. We tried not to miss labels too much.
Ann Meredith: “Varmints” at Aria. Contemporary classical met art pop met electronica met experimental rock, and the musicians wore silver from head to toe. The Walker and the SPCO’s Liquid Music were co-presenters.
“Make Believe Neighborhood” at Heart of the Beast. Before the film about Fred Rogers, there was a puppet show about Fred Rogers. Stories of his life and people in the Phillips neighborhood, where HOBT has made its home, were accompanied by live music by Martin Dosh. It was enchanting, uplifting and hopeful.
“Indecent” at the Guthrie. Watching Paula Vogel’s play was a wrenching experience. The story of a Jewish theater company, a controversial play, and the Holocaust, it’s set in the past but felt painfully relevant. In 2018, many dark plays felt that way.
Sonic Universe Project at the Walker. A gathering of creative music giants, this event can never be duplicated. Anthony Cox, Hamid Drake, Douglas Ewart, Oliver Lake, Roscoe Mitchell and Wadada Leo Smith shared musical conversations, exclamations and moments of silence.
Camille A. Brown & Dancers at the O’Shaughnessy. A high point was the duet between Kendra “Vie Boheme” Dennard and Maleek Washington, which told the story of a passionate relationship among equals.
José James sings “Lean on Me” at the Dakota. Months in advance of the album release, the Blue Note artist with the rising international profile came home to Minneapolis and sang it for us. His tribute to Bill Withers is loving and soulful.
Harrison David Rivers’ “Five Points” at the Ritz. Five works by Rivers received full productions or staged readings in the Twin Cities in 2018. This was the biggest and boldest: a musical set in New York during the Civil War. Peter Rothstein directed Theater Latté Da’s world premiere.
The Aiziri Quartet at Sundin Hall. Violinist Ariana Kim is also a member of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota and the daughter of its artistic director, Young-Nam Kim. The Aizuri was already scheduled to play the CMSM season when they won the M-Prize, the largest chamber arts prize in the world. That added a bit of luster to their joyful performance.
Ten Thousand Things Theatre’s “The Good Person of Szechwan.” The last play Michelle Hensley directed was also the first she presented when she started TTT in 1989. It was everything we love about TTT: witty, spry, inclusive, accessible, and never dumbed down.
Broken Shadows at Icehouse. One of the national acts that came through Icehouse during JT Bates’ Jazz Implosion residency (which ended earlier this week), Broken Shadows was a dream team of monster musicians – Tim Berne, Chris Speed, Reid Anderson and Dave King – playing music by avant-garde greats.
Dark & Stormy’s “’Night, Mother” at the Grain Belt Warehouse. Marsha Norman’s unsettling play about a young woman’s final hours on earth was fearlessly acted by Sara Marsh and Sally Wingert on a set where some of the furnishings were suspended.
Siah Armajani’s “Follow This Line” at the Walker. Going in, we knew a little about Armajani’s bridge linking Loring Park with the Sculpture Garden. We had no clue about his history, politics and fascination with space travel. To name just a few of the surprises in this career retrospective, which ends Dec. 30.
“Hamilton” at the Orpheum. Could the hip-hop opera about the first U.S. treasury secretary live up to its endless, breathless hype? Actually, it could. “Hamilton” is incredible. As soon as it ended, we wanted to see it again.
Patricia Smith’s reading at the Weisman. The four-time National Poetry Slam champ read some of her older poems, tried out some new ones on us, and gave a shout-out to Danez Smith in an evening that left us hungry for more.
“Little Women” at the Jungle. This Jungle-commissioned world premiere was the first in the theater’s history. Penned by Kate Hamill, it was delightful in every way. And thanks to the Jungle’s newly functional turntable. it swirled with energy and emotion.
“for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” at the Penumbra. With a cast of African-American, Latina and Asian American actresses, co-directors Sarah and Lou Bellamy brought Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” to radiant life. Sadly, Shange died shortly after this production closed.
Inuk Art Scholar Heather Igloliorte at Highpoint Center for Printmaking. On the final day of “Highpoint Presents: Kinngait Studios,” a fascinating (and successful) show of recent prints by native artists in the Arctic Circle, Igloliorte told a capacity crowd the story of how this art form came to be.
“Silent Night” at the Ordway. Commissioned by the Minnesota Opera as part of its New Works Initiative, “Silent Night” had its world premiere here in 2011 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012. Its homecoming marked the return of what’s now considered a modern classic.
The opening of the Minnesota Museum of American Art. After 120 years of wandering from location to location, the St. Paul museum finally has a permanent home on the first floor of the Pioneer-Endicott in downtown St. Paul. Not yet complete, it’s already a beauty and a thrilling addition to our cultural scene.
Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s December farewell at the Ordway Concert Hall. The Moldavan violinist’s artistic partnership with the SPCO ended sooner than we expected, but she went out with a bang – more accurately, in a gas mask, holding an armful of red carnations. Her theatricality enhanced but never eclipsed her musicality.