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Northrop revises its 2020-21 season; ‘Riding the Rails’ makes its streaming premiere

ALSO: The Atlantis Quartet at Hook & Ladder; Theater Latté Da’s “The Ghostlight Series”; and more.

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE will go online with excerpts from notable works including “Grace” and a socially distanced “Mercy.”
Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE will go online with excerpts from notable works including “Grace” and a socially distanced “Mercy.”
Photo by Julietta Cervantes

When COVID-19 hit in March, Northrop canceled the rest of its 2019-20 dance season and delayed announcing 2020-21, something it typically would have done in the spring. When the announcement came in August, the new season had been shaped by the pandemic.

Some live performances (Andrea Miller, Kinetic Light) were replaced by films. Starting in February 2021, if circumstances allowed, others would go on with reduced capacity audiences and no intermissions. Companies including Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE and the State Ballet of Georgia would perform twice instead of once. Every event would have a livestream option.

In a story achingly familiar to most arts organizations by now, circumstances didn’t allow. Last Friday, Northrop released an updated announcement. Here’s what the season looks like today. Visit the website for more details and ticketing information.

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE will go online with excerpts from notable works including “Grace” and a socially distanced “Mercy.” The premiere will stream live on Feb. 18 and be available on demand through March 4. A community conversation, dance class, and performance preview with film will take place in the days leading up to the premiere.

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The State Ballet of Georgia is creating a new dance film especially for Northrop that will premiere online March 20 and be available on demand through March 28. Earlier, “The Dazzling Light of Sunset,” a film about life in a small town in the country of Georgia, will stream from March 10 through March 17.

Rubberband in Vic's Mix.
Photo by Bill Herbert
Rubberband in Vic's Mix.
An online performance of mixed repertory by Victor Quijada’s Montreal-based company RUBBERBAND will premiere April 8 and stay on demand through April 15. Two related films will stream from Feb. 6 through Feb. 9.

American Ballet Theatre has canceled but will partner with Northrop on a special event later in 2021.

Ragamala Dance, the Twin Cities-based Bharatanatyam dance company currently in residence with Northrop, will continue offering special events including classes, a panel discussion, a film and “Yoga With Ragamala.” Performances of its new work, “Fires of Varanasi,” are postponed to the 2021-22 season.

University Organist Dean Billmeyer’s Feb. 9 concert has been moved to May 25. Grammy-winning organist Paul Jacobs’ solo recital will still take place on April 13 before a small live audience with a livestream option.

P.S. Don’t be afraid of dance films or filmed performances. The ones we’ve seen – especially Andrea Miller and Helix Films’ “GALLIM,” created in collaboration with Northrop – have been excellent. Nothing compares to live and in person, but film brings you closer to dancers than you might otherwise ever experience, unless you’re a dancer yourself.

Mankwe Ndosi, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay are named 2021 McKnight Community-Engaged Artist Fellows

One of two new McKnight Fellowships that launched in 2020, the Community-Engaged Artist Fellowships identify and support Minnesota artists who use their practice to engage relationships aimed at producing social transformation.

This year’s fellows, announced earlier this month, are known to music lovers and theater goers in the Twin Cities and beyond.

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Mankwe Ndosi is a culture worker, musician and composer with 20 years of experience in creative community work. A member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), she has produced Great Black Music concerts highlighting Black women composers, arts-rooted community wisdom-sharing gatherings, and workshops in racial equity and group healing. She is “a connector, a listener; a synthesizer, and a translator; a forager, a dirt-lover, a gardener, a cook, and a medicine-maker focused on forgotten and marginalized plants, people and ways of knowing.”

Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay is a Lao poet, author, playwright, cultural producer and social practice artist. In 2019, she received the Sally Award for Initiative from the Ordway. Her play “Kung Fu Zombies Vs. Cannibals” had its world premiere with Theater Mu in 2013. Her children’s book, “When Everything Was Everything,” a refugee story, was published in 2018. Previous grants and awards have come from the Knight, Jerome, Bush and Andy Warhol Foundations, Playwrights’ Center, Forecast Public Art, MRAC and MSAB. In 2020, she received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Playwright in Residence award to work with Theater Mu.

Mankwe Ndosi , Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay
McKnight Foundation
Mankwe Ndosi, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay
Ndosi and Vongsay follow the two inaugural Community-Engaged Artist Fellows, Cecilia Cornejo Sotelo, a Chilean-American documentary filmmaker, artist and educator, and Rory Wakemup, a Native American artist, teacher and activist. They will each receive $25,00 in unrestricted fellowship funding, $3,000 in additional funds for a pilot initiative, eight hours of consultation time, support and resources from Springboard for the Arts, access to Pillsbury House Theatre’s facilities and equipment, and support from its staff, community resources and services. Pillsbury House administers the fellowships.

Review: ‘Riding the Rails’

A poignant and eye-opening documentary by Michael Uys and Lexy Lovell, “Riding the Rails” aired on PBS’ “American Experience” in 1998. It won 18 major awards including the Peabody, was featured on “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, then went to DVD.

Thanks to an arrangement with Amazon Prime and its new PBS Documentaries channel, it’s finally available to stream. And even though it’s about events during the Great Depression, it’s surprisingly timely.

In archival images and newsreels, set against songs by Woody Guthrie, Doc Watson, Elizabeth Cotten and Jimmie Rodgers, “Riding the Rails” tells the stories of teenagers who left home in the 1930s in search of a better life. While much of the nation was unemployed, more than 250,000 teens spent their adolescence on the road, most trading home for homelessness and bitter hardship.

“Riding the Rails” aired on PBS’ “American Experience” in 1998.
Photo by John Vachon
“Riding the Rails” aired on PBS’ “American Experience” in 1998.
Uys and Lovell placed notices in national publications, seeking individuals who rode the rails as teens. Some 3,000 men and women responded, by then in their 70s and 80s. The film follows 10, including Bob “Guitar Whitey” Symmonds, who was still hopping trains at 72; Peggy De Hart, who ran away from home at 15; and Clarence Lee, whose father sent him away because there wasn’t enough food to feed the family.

Some remember the romance of riding the rails, the sound of the wheels on the tracks, the freedom and sense of adventure. Others remember the danger. Hang your feet over the edge of a boxcar and “a switch will pull you off into eternity.” Ride the top of a car into a tunnel and you’ll nearly suffocate from the coal smoke. Get off at the wrong town and you’ll be met with flashlights, clubs and guns. Get sick and you’ll be taken out of town and dumped on the highway. “These were the days of Herbert Hoover,” one says, “and there was no help for young people.”

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One thing that did help: the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a public work relief program that employed millions of young unmarried men. It was a way out of having nothing and going nowhere in life. The parks they built across the nation are their living legacy.

“Riding the Rails” has its streaming premiere today (Tuesday, Jan. 26) on Amazon Prime, iTunes, and Comcast. Eminently watchable, it’s a slice of history that may be new to you.

The picks

V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.

Wednesday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m.: The Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library: Fireside Reading Series: Lin Enger, “American Gospel.” On a small farm in Minnesota’s north woods, an old man waits for the Rapture, which God has told him will happen on Aug. 19, 1974. When word gets out, the farm becomes ground zero for The End, drawing zealots and reporters, including the old man’s son. Enger has published two previous novels. He teaches English at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Free, with registration required.

Starts Thursday, Jan. 28: Theater Latté Da: The Ghostlight Series. Beginning in January, continuing through August, five virtual cabarets will feature more than 40 Minnesota artists in songs and stories. First up: “Twelve Blocks from Where I Live,” with photographs by Regina Marie Williams of the intersection at 38th and Chicago, music direction by Sanford Moore, and performances by Aimee K. Bryant, Thomasina Petrus, Williams and Moore. Series passes are $75. FMI.

Friday, Jan. 29, 8 p.m.: The Hook & Ladder: Atlantis Quartet. In early March 2020, the modern jazz group was looking forward to a great year: a monthlong residency at Icehouse, plus college jazz festivals and tour dates. Then the bottom fell out. The 2015 McKnight Performing Artist fellows haven’t performed together in public since March, and they’re dying to play their music for us. With Brandon Wozniak on saxophone, Zacc Harris on guitar, Chris Bates on bass and Pete Hennig on drums. FMI and tickets (livestream $20, limited live studio audience table for two $80 plus fees).

Sunday, Jan. 31, 4 p.m.: Moon Palace Books: That Movie Was a Book? Virtual Cinema Book Club: Discussion of Walter Tevis’ “The Queen’s Gambit” and Scott Frank’s Netflix series. It’s a short book, about 240 pages, and (people say) a fast read. So you have time to read it between now and Sunday. Especially if you’ve seen the series, this Sunday afternoon chat, with author and movie buff Peter Schilling as your guide, sounds like a fine idea. FMI. Free. RSVP on Facebook and receive a link to the Zoom meeting.