There were moments when the sky threatened and a few raindrops fell. Otherwise, the heaped clouds – and the sunbeams that pierced them, and the neon sunset that came later – formed a spectacular roof over a temporary stage, rows of camp chairs and blankets, and a sold-out crowd on a rolling lawn near the Bee and Pollinator Center at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
On Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11, the Arb, part of the University of Minnesota, was the scene of the first live performances for in-person audiences Northrop has presented since March 2020. Almost 17 months have passed since Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M. held us rapt in the auditorium. During that time, Northrop reinvented its season again and again, canceling and rescheduling events, translating live dance into dance on film, hoping to return to live performances and watching those hopes fall to COVID.
When American Ballet Theatre announced in December that it would hit the road with 20 dancers, 28 crew, sleeper buses and semis – one holding a pop-up hydraulic stage 76′ wide and 40′ deep – Northrop signed on to be a stop on the tour. All four performances at the Arb sold out and more than 4,000 people saw a program that ran about an hour, with no intermission.
It included three new works – premiering in 2019, 2020 and 2021 – and part of a classic. Depending on which performance you attended, you saw either the Act III Pas de Deux from “Don Quixote” or the Act II Pas de Deux from “Swan Lake.” On Saturday night, we saw “Swan Lake.” The prince and the queen of the swans in a cloud of tulle.
Choreographed by Lauren Lovette, “La Follia Variations” was an explosion of color (those costumes!) set to effervescent 18th-century music by Francesco Geminiani, arranged by Michi Wiancko and performed by East Coast Chamber Orchestra. “Let Me Sing Forever,” choreographed by Jessica Lang, featured two dancers and songs sung by the great Tony Bennett: “Stepping’ Out with My Baby,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” a fast and furious “I Got Rhythm.”
The finale, “Indestructible Light,” choreographed by Darrell Grand Moultrie, was performed by eight dancers in black solids, sparkles and airy mesh, with music by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Neal Hefti, Billy Strayhorn and Chuck Harmony. Big-band tunes, from fast and hot to slow and sultry. Jazz hands. The dancers took their bows, then danced some more. The other dancers came out and everyone took bows. To the west, the horizon glowed.
It was beautiful and magical, and an hour felt right. Most of us are getting used to shorter shows. (Will we return to three-hour performances, or longer, with one and sometimes multiple intermissions? Mmmaybe.) If we could have changed anything, it would have been the height of the stage. We couldn’t see the dancers’ feet. Sometimes we couldn’t see below their knees. If they lay on the ground, they disappeared. But it couldn’t be helped.
During a reception in the Arb’s restored century-old Red Barn, Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s artistic director, thanked us for the role we played that evening by showing up. During the pandemic, he said, ABT had performed for cameras, but the dancers don’t draw energy from cameras. They draw it from us. If we have learned anything from our time in isolation and quarantine, closed doors and ghostlit stages, it’s that we’re more alive, more aware, more open to emotion in each other’s presence.
P.S. All Arts is currently streaming a film about a weeklong residency ABT did at Northrop in 1980. It’s a little fuzzy but still worth watching, both to see the dancers in action and to hear their views at the time. The film was made for “Wyld Ryce,” a video arts magazine that ran on KTCA from 1977-80. KTCA became Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) in 2000.
Today’s CD with local ties: Joel Shapira’s “Triple Bridge”
We’re not saying every day will have its own CD. But we’re seeing a lot of CD releases lately, and we want to shine a light on some of them. Not all artists are having CD release events or concerts, but when they do, we’ll let you know. And “local ties” can have more than one meaning.
St. Paul-based Joel Shapira was making his living as a jazz guitarist, playing hundreds of gigs a year, when COVID pulled the rug out. “I had nothing but time to contemplate,” he told MyVillager, his neighborhood newspaper. But there were melodies in his head and his fingers, so he spent the next several months composing and recording.
Of Shapira’s several albums, “Triple Bridge” is only his second solo outing. It’s intimate and virtuosic, full of color, variety, exploration and emotion. All nine tracks are originals, and each is a gem: the elegant opener “Brilhante,” dotted with delicate arpeggios; the relaxed, loping, country-flavored title song “Triple Bridge”; the dense, urgent “Relentless,” with Pete Hennig on banjo (the only track that isn’t solo); the sunny, entirely improvised “Spring Spontaneous”; “Before Mourning,” whose hard-plucked louder notes are cries of despair and determination.
Two CD release events are planned. The first is at Umbra in the Canopy Hotel on Thursday, July 15, at 6:30 p.m. The Canopy is the Hilton in Minneapolis’ Mill District at 708 Third St. S. Umbra is its restaurant, but no reservations are needed for the lounge area. The second CD release is set for Sunday, July 18, at 2 p.m. at Waldmann Brewery in St. Paul, where Hennig will join Shapiro on banjo.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
L Monday through Friday, July 12-16, at Paikka in St. Paul: Candy Box Dance Festival 2021 presented by Mathew Janczewski’s Arena Dances. By the time you read this, Day One will already have happened, but you can jump right into Day Two. An annual gathering of performances, masterclasses and works-in-progress, Candy Box is a look behind the curtain at the Twin Cities dance scene. This year’s featured artist performances are a shared bill with HIJACK, Pedro Pablo’s Viva la Pepa and Judith Holo Shui Xiān. The Happy Hour artists are Slo Dance Company, Anika Hansen and Abigail Whitmore, HoneyWorks, Body Watani and Borealis Dance Theatre. FMI including times and tickets. First-come, first-served pay-as-able pricing available for the 2 p.m. Friday performance.
L Now at Northern Clay Center: Eleven McKnight Artists. A rabbit with human hands is a creature to be reckoned with. Carleton ceramics professor and McKnight artist Kelly Connole’s clay rabbits have human hands, sometimes painted gold. Several are featured in Northern Clay’s current “Eleven McKnight Artists” exhibition, which will occupy both the main gallery and the Galusha Gallery through Aug. 22. All the 2019 and 2020 recipients of the McKnight Artist Fellowship for Ceramic Artists and the McKnight Artist Residency for Ceramic Artists have work in the show. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Capacity is limited to two people at a time. To schedule an appointment, call 612-339-8007 x 301 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Free. Can’t go in person? A virtual tour is available. Closes Aug. 22.
L Starts Wednesday, July 14, 7 p.m. in the amphitheater at Lyndale Gardens: Illusion Theater: Live Performances Outside. Illusion announced in December that it would leave its longtime downtown Minneapolis home for new digs in the Kingfield neighborhood. Apparently founders Bonnie Morris and Michael Robins don’t have enough to do because they’re also offering a dozen live outdoor performances on Wednesday evenings, starting this week and continuing through September. The lineup is stellar. Tomorrow’s show will be an evening of stories and music by Kevin Kling, Simone Perrin and Dan Chouinard. Imagination and accordion, free and open to the public. Here’s the rest of the schedule. Here’s information about rain-out days.
V Thursday, July 15, 7 p.m.: Twin Cities Jazz Festival: Jazz Fest Live: Jay Young & the Lyric Factory. Prince’s “Welcome 2 America,” the first complete, previously unheard album from Prince’s vault to be released by his estate since his death in 2016 – will be out July 30. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis just released their debut album, “Jam & Lewis: Volume 1” to rave reviews. So the timing is perfect for bassist Jay Young to bring his Lyric Factory together for a night of “Purple Jazz” celebrating Prince, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and the Minneapolis sound. With Ian Young, Mac Santiago, Aaron Hedenstrom, and Tom West, streamed live from the Dakota’s stage. Free with registration. P.S. Thousands of people watch the weekly Jazz Fest Live streams, with an active chat during each performance.