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‘Merges in March’ at the Cowles; N. Scott Momaday on ‘Talking Volumes: Talking Race’

ALSO: Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society: “Dreams of Death” from Park Square; Club Book presents Imbolo Mbue; and more.

“Merges in March” continues this Friday through Sunday with Penelope Freeh and Alana Morris-Van Tassel’s “Bring it down under your feet.”
“Merges in March” continues this Friday through Sunday with Penelope Freeh and Alana Morris-Van Tassel’s “Bring it down under your feet.”
Photo by Shelly Mosman

We’re all thinking about what we were doing this time last year, and how utterly unprepared and clueless most of us were. Slate threw out a question yesterday morning: If you could go back in time one year, what would you tell yourself?

On March 10, 2020, we were at the Ordway to hear the great Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov perform a recital for the Schubert Club International Artist Series. We learned later that some people had turned back their tickets, but from where we were sitting, the music theater – the largest of the Ordway’s two rooms – looked full, or nearly full.

During intermission, we struck up a conversation with the couple seated beside us. She was a teacher; he was an infectious diseases specialist. We resisted the temptation to ask what he had been hearing about the virus. So we said, “Good crowd tonight.” And he said, “This will be the last time.”

A year ago tomorrow, the Artscape column burbled on about Rock the Garden, 2020-21 season announcements and something called “Merges in March,” three weekends of dance performances at the Cowles Center that would open the next day, March 13. But of course, everything closed on March 13.

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“Merges in March” returned this month as a series of filmed performances, and it was worth the wait. It opened last weekend with Hatch Dance and STRONGmovement, companies led by Helen Hatch and Darrius Strong. The program, “HYBRID,” included Strong’s “The River,” excerpts from Hatch’s “The Machine Stops,” and two world premieres, Strong’s “You Think You Know” and Hatch’s “Daisy.” It ended with “HYBRID,” a new work created by Hatch and Strong and featuring dancers from both companies.

After a year of cancellations, postponements, disappointments and daily bad news, we weren’t expecting something so beautiful. The dancing was beautiful, the music was beautiful, the filming beautifully done. (Bonus: When you’re watching a film, you can go back and rewatch parts you want to see again, or a whole dance.)

Strong’s “The River,” with 12 dancers, is a flow of graceful gestures and neutral colors, lit by a soft golden light. In “You Think You Know,” three dancers awaken in cages lit by naked bulbs. They explore, they escape, they return. In Hatch’s “Machine Stops,” four dancers are paired with their own shadows on a wall of projections. “Daisy,” with all the dancers in green, feels like spring and new life. “HYBRID” is an elegant pas de deux by Hatch and Strong, with dancers from both companies drifting in and out.

The music was on the dreamy side. For Hatch’s dances, the music was performed live on stage by Seth Conover and Joseph Strachan. All the dancers were masked throughout.

“Merges in March” continues this Friday through Sunday (March 12-14) with Penelope Freeh and Alana Morris-Van Tassel’s “Bring it down under your feet.” Morris-Van Tassel’s evolving “Black Light re: Search” explores birth/creation, life/death, ancestral veneration, the nobility of Blackness, female expression and sensual expression with a cast of five dancers. Freeh’s “Penelope – a cabaret,” performed with pianist Marya Hart, reimagines Penelope of ancient Greece as a German Weimar-era cabaret performer. In between, Morris-Van Tassel and Freeh will meet in their first-ever duet, inspired by the poetry of Rumi.

Friday’s premiere will stream live from the Cowles at 7:30 p.m., the only program in “Merges” to do so. The filmed version will be available Saturday and Sunday on demand. Mature content; recommended for ages 16 and up. FMI and tickets ($25).

The third and final “Merges in March”  will take place March 19-21, when Berit Ahlgren and Nathan Keepers present “Give Ear.” FMI and tickets ($25).

Welcome back, choreographers and dancers.

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The picks

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

A scene from “Stray.”
Magnolia Pictures
A scene from “Stray.”
V Now at the Parkway and MSP Film’s Virtual Cinema: “Stray.” In Turkey, it’s illegal to capture or euthanize stray dogs. With her camera low to the ground, writer, director and cinematographer Elizabeth Lo follows three strays as they roam the streets, alleys and abandoned buildings of Istanbul, viewing the city through their eyes and those of the homeless Syrian refugees they hang out with. The dogs are cared for by the city; the refugees are not. The film proceeds without a word of narrative, leaving you to draw your own conclusions. Available from the Parkway Theater ($12) or the MSP Film Society ($9/12).

Charlie Bethel performing “Gilgamesh.”
Courtesy of Walking Shadow
Charlie Bethel performing “Gilgamesh.”
V Friday, March 12, 7:30 p.m.: Walking Shadow Theatre Company: Charlie Bethel: “Gilgamesh” watch party. Since the pandemic hit, Walking Shadow has turned three times to the work of Charlie Bethel, the actor/writer who died in 2017. Bethel was a master at creating and performing solo adaptations of classic works. Walking Shadow’s co-artistic director, John Heimbuch, an early streamer, performed Bethel’s “Beowulf” adaption in his living room in late March 2020. (We began our review with “We’re hungry for live theater … it’s been more than two weeks.” Hahahahaha!) In December, Walking Shadow presented a filmed version of Bethel performing his own “Odyssey.” One man on a stage with a ladder, it was magnificent. And now “Gilgamesh,” the ancient Sumerian epic, once more in a filmed version, performed by Bethel. Watch on your own or join the watch party and chat in the sidebar. Adult language. FMI and tickets (choose-your-price, minimum $10). The stream is available through March 31.


V Monday, March 15, 7:30 p.m.: Park Square Theatre: Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society: “Dreams of Death.” Two classic thrillers from the Golden Age of Radio. “The Dream” (from the horror series “Lights Out,” first broadcast on March 23, 1938) is a tale of a man driven mad by dark visions. In “I Saw Myself Running” (from the CBS series “Escape!,” first broadcast Feb. 22, 1953), a young woman is plagued by recurring nightmares. Performed on Zoom by Shanan Custer, Joshua English Scrimshaw, Tim Uren and Eric Webster. FMI and tickets ($18). Like Walking Shadow, Park Square was an early streamer, offering a “Diary of Anne Frank” on Zoom in April that was praised by the Wall Street Journal.

V Tuesday, March 16, 7 p.m.: Club Book: Imbolo Mbue. In her follow-up to “Behold the Dreamers,” a 2017 Oprah’s Book Club pick, Cameroonian American novelist Mbue tells the story of a small African village vs. an American oil company. “How Beautiful We Were” hit shelves on March 9, so this is early in her virtual book tour. Presented by Ramsey County Library. Free.

N. Scott Momaday
Photo by Darren Virgil Gray
N. Scott Momaday
V Tuesday, March 16, 7 p.m.: Star Tribune and MPR: Talking Volumes, Talking Race with N. Scott Momaday. A member of the Kiowa tribe, Momaday was recently awarded the 2021 Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. His earlier awards include a Pulitzer and a National Medal of Arts. MPR’s Kerry Miller will speak with him about his latest book, “Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land.” FMI and tickets (pay-what-you-want, $0-20). Tickets are available until 10 a.m. on the morning of the webinar.