Northrop Dance, 2019-20: From Ballet West to Mark Morris

Photo by Gareth Jones
“Pepperland” features new music and new interpretations of Beatles songs by Ethan Iverson (formerly of The Bad Plus) performed by a jazz ensemble.

During a performance preview last week at Northrop, Los Angeles-based choreographer David Roussève gave a shout-out to Northrop’s importance as an academic presenter of the arts. He was here with his company, REALITY, thanks to Northrop and its dance season, a fixture on the Twin Cities arts scene since 1970. Without the Northrop Dance Season, we would probably never see the Joffrey, Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theatre and other national dance companies, and for sure we wouldn’t see the great companies from around the world that make the long journey to dance on our stage.

Northrop announced its 2019-20 season on Wednesday, and it’s as expansive and exciting as we’ve come to expect. Three ballets – all with live music – will please the ballet-loving crowd. After a hit performance last November with the SPCO, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will return with its new ballet, “The Great Gatsby.” Ballet West will bring George Balanchine’s beloved “Jewels.” And the State Ballet of Georgia will make its only U.S. appearance at Northrop, dancing Balanchine and a work set to Georgian folk tunes.

The rest of the season features legends of modern dance and important young companies that are putting their own spin on artistic, national and cultural traditions. The Paul Taylor Dance Company will celebrate the legacy of its founder, who died in 2018. The venerable Martha Graham Dance Company will perform an evening of works by and about women.

New York City’s Dorrance Dance, known for “blasting open our notions of tap,” will be here as part of the Twin Cities Tap Festival. Ireland’s Teac Damsa will bring its dark reimagining of “Swan Lake” to the McGuire Theater in partnership with the Walker. A second Northrop/Walker collaboration will feature in-demand choreographer Kyle Abraham and his company A.I.M. They’ve danced at the Walker, but this will be their Northrop debut.

This will also be the first time at Northrop for New Zealand’s Black Grace, a dance troupe of Maori and Pacific Islander men. Their program will include body percussion, seated dancing and live drumming. And we’re thrilled that Mark Morris’ “Pepperland” will finally touch down in the Twin Cities. Created for the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” this witty evening-length work features new music and new interpretations of Beatles songs by Ethan Iverson (formerly of The Bad Plus) performed by a jazz ensemble, with Iverson on keyboards.

Branford Marsalis
Photo by Palma Kolansky
Branford Marsalis
Northrop also announced the second year of a music series spotlighting its recently restored historic Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. The Minnesota Orchestra will return, this time with guest soloist Cameron Carpenter. Duo organists Elizabeth and Raymond Chenault will make “organ music for four hands, four feet.” And saxophonist Branford Marsalis and pipe organist Jean-Willy Kunz will play a crossover concert.

Series packages and group tickets are on sale now. Single tickets go on sale June 10.

Northrop’s 2019-20 season is the last to be programmed by Christine Tschida, who joined Northrop as director in 2012. In June 2018, she stepped sideways into a new position as artistic director of the dance series and Kari Schloner became Northrop’s new director. Earlier this month, Kristen Brogdon was named Northrop’s new director of programming. She’ll start June 24, and Tschida will officially step down and on with the rest of her life. Her plans to retire have already fizzled as new projects have presented themselves.

We spoke with Tschida on Wednesday afternoon. This interview has been edited and condensed.

Christine Tschida
Christine Tschida
MinnPost: The new season looks great. You’re going out with a bang.

Christine Tschida: The Northrop series has sustained over many different leaders. It really is the dance that takes the focus. Those of us behind the curtain are just moving the buttons. There’s such extraordinary dance throughout the world. We just see a tiny portion in the performances we do at Northrop.

MP: How would you describe the season in a nutshell?

CT: A lot of favorites people will see again, like Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, and Ballanchine’s “Jewels.” New favorites like Pittsburgh Ballet. And there are places where we’re pushing the envelope. Kyle Abraham. Teac Damsa. Their “Swan Lake” is totally new and different. Black Grace is new to our audience.

You always want to have some kind of blend, a mix with enough familiar elements so audiences go, “Oh, I know I’m going to like that,” and enough challenging and different elements they feel they’re getting something new. You’re looking for that magic elixir.

MP: Do you feel you’ve been successful at pushing the envelope during your time here?

CT: Somewhat, yes. We’ve introduced new artists many audience members say they really liked. “Oh, that was so interesting!” “I’ve never seen anything like that before!” Those are things you want to hear. I feel that’s part of our job at the university. I want to show you things you’ve never seen before.

MP: What are your most indelible memories from your time here, for better or worse?

CT: The most difficult and challenging memories are the events we had to cancel. That is every programmer’s nightmare. We suffered our share of those, for very different reasons.

Back in 2015-16, I desperately wanted to present Le Grands Ballets Canadiens in a wonderful full-length ballet called “Léonce and Léna.” We had booked it and advertised it. Then one of the other presenters in the U.S. pulled out. Without that support around the engagement, Le Grands Ballets couldn’t come to the U.S. It’s one of the most difficult things about continuing to do ballet here. So few people are presenting ballet at the scale and quality we want at the Northrop stage.

We lost Bereishit from Korea [in 2016-17] due to not getting visas in time. And last April [2018], Keigwin & Company had been in residence for a week for their Bernstein program. Then we had last year’s April blizzard and snowstorm, and that was canceled.

There are other happy memories, yet I wish more people had been there to see them. Seán Curran Company did a beautiful piece with musicians from the Kyrgyz Republic. The house was somewhat disappointing. I was happy to introduce [choreographer] Aszure Barton to Twin Cities audiences. She did a piece called “Awáa” in 2016. I wish more people could have seen it. And Crystal Pite’s “Betroffenheit.” I’m thrilled to have presented that. It’s important and wonderful work. But not everyone came along with us.

MP: Have visa concerns shaped your programming?

CT: It’s more about what’s available to tour, because companies don’t want to bother touring to the U.S. It’s become so prohibitively expensive. They don’t have any guarantees they’ll get the visas or get them on time. For an international company, the challenge of coming here is so formidable that many just say, “No, let’s not take that on.”

MP: Is there anyone you really wanted to bring here but couldn’t, for whatever reason?

CT: A whole list! One I’ve tried for three to four years running, but it never materialized, is Taiwanese artist Huang-Yi, who has created a dance with a robot. “Huang-Yi and Kuka.” The minute we see that robot on stage, it becomes human to us. I thought – this would be so interesting for the robotics lab! But the robot is really heavy. It has to travel in a particular kind of truck. And there are the visas from Taiwan. I could never get it to work.

I’ve wanted to bring the Nederlands Dance Theatre back. And a production that choreographer Sidi Larbi did called “Sutra,” with Tibetan monks.

MP: What else would you like people to know?

CT: We have an incredible privilege to have a dance season like this in the Twin Cities. I’m not talking about my curation; I’m talking about the artists who come to the Twin Cities to dance on the Northrop stage. I know it’s sometimes hard to schedule, but don’t miss it! That’s my advice.

The ballets are our huge sellers. Contemporary dance continues to strive to get a larger audience. If you see a movie you don’t like, you would never say, “I’m never going to another movie again!” Or “I’ve read this book, I don’t like it, I’ll never read another book!” But if you see a contemporary dance you don’t like, it’s, “I’m never going again. I just don’t like contemporary dance!” The entire field of contemporary dance is condemned. We don’t do that with any other art form. Yet we act this way about dance.

There’s a huge world of dance out there. Don’t make a decision based on one thing that didn’t please you entirely.

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