Northrop typically announces its new season in April. Not this year. In mid-March, it canceled the rest of its 2019-20 season, like every other arts organization in Minnesota. The Paul Taylor Dance Company, Martha Graham Dance Company, Minnesota Orchestra with organist phenom Cameron Carpenter, State Ballet of Georgia, all gone.
Some arts organizations, like the Guthrie, said they wouldn’t return until spring 2021. Others announced greatly reduced or all-virtual seasons.
A landmark venue on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus, home to one of the nation’s most important dance series, recently renovated for $88 million, what would Northrop do?
We learned the answer this week. For 2020-21, Northrop is taking big leaps. In a time when many people are reluctant to return to theaters and concert halls, it is offering a livestream option for every event, up to and including the season finale in May 2021. It has committed to high-quality, multicamera, professional productions. And it has commissioned new work from companies whose appearances were canceled in March.
Kristen Brogdon is Northrop’s new director of programming. When she arrived in summer 2019, the 2019-20 season had already been programmed by outgoing Northrop Dance Artistic Director Christine Tschida. The 2020-21 season was Brogdon’s first. The details were being finalized. Then came COVID-19.
“I’ve been in organizations where change is the only constant,” Brogdon said in conversation Monday, “and still I have never experienced as much change as I have over the course of the last 4½ months. In North Carolina, where I was immediately prior, we managed a hurricane situation. So I’ve managed that kind of uncertainty, but never this kind.
“Just trying to figure out what you can count on, what you can promise and deliver. … This is the third or fourth iteration of what we thought we would be announcing.”
Created in a pandemic, faced with the challenges of presenting live performances safely, Northrop’s 2020-21 Dance and Pipe Organ Music Series is substantial and enticing. Here’s an at-a-glance version, with comments by Brogdon.
Sept. 29: Organist Katelyn Emerson will make her Northrop debut on the Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. A live in-person concert with a livestream option.
“Typically, our audiences for organ hover around what our capacity for the performance will be,” Brogdon said. “Since Katelyn is a solo artist, and it’s easy for us to create an environment where she’ll be safe performing, and we have so much room in the theater for 250 people to spread out in lots of different ways, we thought this would be a great first attempt at getting people back into the theater.”
Nov. 19: Andrea Miller’s GALLIM dance company will premiere a new dance film online. The dance will be adapted from Miller’s 2016 piece “BOAT.” The music will be prerecorded at Northrop, with University organist Dean Billmeyer on pipe organ and the Twin Cities-based PopUp Choir.
“I’ve been following Andrea Miller’s work for a long time. I saw the company last summer at Jacob’s Pillow and one of the pieces was ‘BOAT.’ I’m excited about bringing together two things Northrop is known for, dance and our recently restored pipe organ. The choir will be distanced and singing in masks.”
In the months before the film, Miller will lead four virtual Happy Hours with guest artists. Aug. 19: Limor Tomer, general manager of live arts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Sept. 23: Kyle Abraham. Oct. 21: Michelle Dorrance. Nov. 18: Camille A. Brown. Both Abraham and Dorrance danced in Northrop’s 2019-20 seasons.
“These will be intimate conversations with Andrea and her friends, talking about making art and whatever is on their minds.”
Dec. 3-5: Online co-presentation with the Walker of Kinetic Light’s “DESCENT.” Kinetic Light is a project-based ensemble of three disabled artists. “DESCENT” is a queer interracial love story of mythical figures Venus and Andromeda.
“Kinetic Light has an international reach and presence. They’re excited about helping us get the word out. When we think of engagement, we think about our communities very close and in concentric circles. But the circle has never been this big.”
Starting in February, if circumstances allow, the rest of the 2020-21 performances will be live and in person, with livestream options also available. This represents a huge boost in accessibility.
Livestreams will be available during the actual performances only, not on-demand. While ticket prices for in-theater performances will be comparable to years past, even with the reduced capacity limits (prices won’t rise to make up for smaller audiences), tickets to livestreams or online events will be $10 for students, $25 everyone else.
For safety, Northrop will follow all of the latest guidelines. Wondering about air circulation? “Because of the renovation, our HVAC is in fantastic shape,” Brogdon said. “Between that and the work we’re doing with facilities management at the university, we’ll be at the very highest standards for air circulation.” Find detailed information on Northrop’s website.
Performances will be 60-75 minutes long, with brief pauses but no intermission. Brogdon said, “It just feels like a smart thing to not be getting people in and out when we don’t have to.” Most performances will take place twice. “Companies have been so generous in agreeing to live streams and repeat programs, giving us the chance to expand capacity and spread people out for two shows.”
Feb. 6 and 7: Victor Quijada’s RUBBERBAND. Making its Northrop debut, this Quebec-based company combines break dancing, ballet and modern dance. “Vic’s Mix” will explore Quijada’s repertory as a classically trained dancer and b-boy artist.
Feb. 18 (two performances) and 19 (student matinee): Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE. The Brooklyn-based dance company will perform its signature work “Grace,” with music by Duke Ellington, and a newly commissioned companion piece, “Mercy.”
March 20 and 21: The State Ballet of Georgia: “Giselle.” Rescheduled from its canceled April 2020 date, which would have closed Northrop’s 2019-20 season, this performance will be accompanied by a live orchestra.
April 7 (one performance only): American Ballet Theater: “Don Quixote.” This will be the first time the three-part story ballet, accompanied by live orchestra, will be staged in full at Northrop.
April 13: Organist Paul Jacobs will return for an evening of solo Bach. Jacobs, a Grammy winner, last performed at Northrop in 2018.
May 1 (two performances): Ragamala Dance Company: “Fires of Varanasi.” The Twin Cities-based, internationally known Bharatanatyam dance company will perform its latest work, which illuminates immigrant experiences of life and death in the diaspora. This will be the culmination of “Ragamala Rooted,” a yearlong partnership between Northrop and Ragamala that will include monthly engagement events.
“Because Ragamala is based in the Twin Cities,” Brogdon said, “we get to work with them not just for the typical week when a company is in town, but all year.”
Threaded through the season will be performance previews and films that complement the dance performances. Performance previews, formerly held the day of an event, will now be streamed the day before and remain available on-demand. Films will be streamed or screened at Northrop or the Trylon Cinema.
Greatly expanded engagement activities will include master classes, artist conversations, Q&A sessions and other events, with more added as the season progresses.
Until now, Northrop hasn’t been known as a commissioning organization. That will change with the 2020-21 season.
“I’m excited about the chance to jumpstart a commissioning program,” Brogdon said. “We had been talking about it in strategic planning conversations. We were able to start it as a way to provide work to artists who were supposed to perform in March and April of this year and expand it to folks who were originally scheduled to be part of the 2020-21 season and had to postpone. The chance to give artists work they can do now and we can see later is exciting to me.”
The Northrop Centennial Commissions starts now and will culminate in 2029, when Northrop celebrates its 100th anniversary. The first six commissions will go to the Martha Graham Dance Company for a new work currently titled “Canticle 22”; Paul Taylor Dance Company to complete “COMMON ground”; Caleb Teicher for a program of swing dance and Lindy Hop; Dance Theatre of Harlem for the new ballet “Higher Ground,” with music by Stevie Wonder; Joffrey Ballet for a new ballet; and the “Ragamala Rooted” residency. All of the new works will be performed at Northrop during the 2021-22 season.
And this is just the inaugural slate. Brogdon sees the program as “planting artistic seeds for a bountiful future harvest.”
Single tickets are available now to all online performances, Pipe Organ Music Series performances, public engagement activities, online films and previews. Tickets to live in-person dance events will be available first to subscribers and donors. FMI or call 612-624-2345.