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Every arts organization that stayed active during COVID had to adapt to strange, shifting realities: no live performances, no live audiences, evolving safety protocols and no end in sight. Seasons were announced, revised and announced again. For Northrop, which presents a dance season and a music season each year, COVID meant canceling big-name events at the end of 2019-20, delaying its 2020-21 announcement, moving several previously scheduled events from stage to screens and lighting a fire under a commissioning program.
Because we’re writing this during the Olympics, an image comes to mind: Northrop on the uneven bars, swinging, turning, flying through the air, grabbing and letting go, all while juggling a lot of balls. Announcing the 2020-21 season in Aug. 2020, Kristen Brogdon, director of programming, told MinnPost, “This is the third or fourth iteration of what we thought we would be announcing.” Even that wasn’t the final-final.
Brogdon calls Northrop’s 2021-22 season her “collage season … put together from components of three different seasons.” Some events are carryovers, some are new, some have changed. In among the nine in-person dance performances that will start in October are several dance films and a small series of concerts on Northrop’s restored Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ.
Nine in-person dance performances
In-person performances will make a strong return. Most will be on the Carlson Family Stage.
On Oct. 2, Northrop will ring with the sounds of tap dancer and choreographer Caleb Teicher’s “Swing Out,” created with commissioning help from Northrop. Danced to live music by the Eyal Vilner Big Band, “Swing Out!” celebrates the Lindy Hop, an African American art form.
On Oct. 22 and 23, the Twin Cities Tap Festival, Cowles Center and Northrop will collaborate to present the Twin Cities Tap Festival Concerts at the Cowles. These will also be livestreamed and remain on demand for a week following the live performances.
On Nov. 10-14, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company will be here for “Afterwardsness,” co-presented with the Walker, with audiences seated on the Northrop stage and the dancers moving among them. The company’s newest dance grew out of the trauma, isolation and exhaustion of COVID-19 and the ongoing violence against Black bodies, the twin pandemics of our time.
On Jan. 28, 2022, Dance Theatre of Harlem, originally scheduled to perform at Northrop in October 2020, will present a program that includes “Higher Ground,” a Northrop co-commission set to music by Stevie Wonder.
On Feb. 4-6 at the Cowles, The Great Northern, Cowles Center and Northrop will co-present “Black Light: a re:Search performance” by Alanna Morris-Van Tassel and Collaborators. Feb. 4 will be livestreamed, Feb. 5 will be followed by an artist Q&A.
On Feb. 12, the Paul Taylor Dance Company will make its eagerly awaited Northrop return, originally scheduled for March 21, 2020. The company will dance a new work by Peter Chu created with commissioning help from Northrop.
On Feb. 26, Minneapolis-based, internationally renowned Ragamala Dance Company will perform its newest evening-length work, “Fires of Varanasi.” Supported by a year-long “Ragamala Rooted” partnership with Northrop, “Fires” will have its world premiere at the Kennedy Center in September. Get an early look this Thursday, Aug. 5 at “Inspired: A Journey to Varanasi” (FMI and tickets).
On April 2, Martha Graham Dance Company, another 2020 performance canceled by COVID, will present a new version of “Canticle for Innocent Comedians.” Most of the original (1952) has been lost. New music is being written by jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, the Kennedy Center’s artistic director for jazz. This, too, is being created with commissioning help from Northrop.
On April 30, ending the 2021-22 season, Northrop and the Walker will co-present Third Coast Percussion with Movement Art Is in “Metamorphosis.” Created during COVID, choreographed by Jon Boogz and Lil Buck, featuring music by Jlin, Tyondai Braxton and Philip Glass, this could be one of the hottest tickets of the spring. Here’s a preview.
That’s an amazing list of dance names for the first season post-lockdown. Noticeably missing: ballet. Northrop usually presents three or four ballet companies every season. In 2021-22, we’ll see just one, Dance Theater of Harlem.
“We want everybody to know that we are still as committed to ballet as ever,” Brogdon said. “Most of the major ballet companies are focusing on their home seasons and getting all of their artists back together in the studio. So there’s not a huge presence of touring ballet nationally in the 2021-22 season. This will be a rebuilding year, and when we get into 2023, people will see more classical ballet on stage at Northrop again. The big question mark around ballet will be international touring.”
‘Screen dances’ and music
Tucked among the live dance performances will be dance films. Brogdon is bringing back some films (she calls them “screen dances”) Northrop streamed and helped to create in 2020-21, along with others we haven’t yet seen.
“Normally, I would have spent the last year traveling to find dance to bring to Northrop,” Brogdon said. “Instead, I was sitting at home watching these gorgeous screen dances and realizing that choreographers and dancers were learning a completely new art form.” Brogdon “wanted to find a way to give those films another life,” of “letting those films go on tour.”
The films will include “Hubbard Street Dance: Chicago Dance Films” (premieres Sept. 10, on demand through Sept. 17), “Ananya Dance Theatre: ‘Dastak – The Film’ ” (Oct. 8-15), “GALLIM Dance Films featuring ‘BOAT’ and ‘Orilla’ ” (Nov. 5-12), “Jacob Jonas: the Company’s Films” (Dec. 10-17) and “Dancing Our Way Out” (Jan. 14-21, 2022), films created by the University of Minnesota dance program, faculty and students over the course of the pandemic.
The films will not be shown in Northrop’s Best Buy theater but over Northrop’s own streaming platform. All will be pick-your-price events, with a free option. Northrop’s school partners can watch them for free.
Speaking of school partners, Northrop Director Kari Schloner said, “Pre-pandemic, we had started to think about expanding our K-12 matinee program by using livestream technology, with the goal of reaching schools throughout Greater Minnesota that wouldn’t be able to attend in person because of geographical barriers. Last year, we welcomed 54 schools that had never participated with Northrop before, and 24 of those were from Greater Minnesota.”
The 2021-22 music series, layered among the live dances and films, is short but sweet, if you love the pipe organ. On Oct. 17, Buenos Aires-born Hector Olivera will present “Tantalizing Transcriptions and Tangos.” The over-the-top program title hints at his performance style. On Dec. 7, University of Minnesota organist Dean Billmeyer will play a holiday recital, “A Winter Meditation and Celebration.” No one knows his way around the organ’s four manuals, 81 stops and 108 ranks as thoroughly as Billmeyer.
On Feb. 22, 2022, superstar organist Cameron Carpenter will take the bench. Carpenter was originally part of the 2019-20 season, set to perform March 27 and 28, 2020, with the Minnesota Orchestra. That couldn’t be rescheduled, so he’ll be solo, playing Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. If you get a chance between now and then, listen to his “All You Need Is Bach” album.
A few words about those dance commissions: Northrop had been planning a commissioning program for its 100th anniversary in 2029. “We were going to do one a year for 10 years, and the whole program got fast-forwarded with the pandemic,” Brogdon said. “It was a way for us to provide the money to the artists to continue working.” And as long as you’re making new works, why wait to present them?
And that’s the 2021-22 Northrop season. Definitely worth looking forward to.
In our conversation with Kristen Brogdon and Kari Schloner, we asked them to reflect on the past year.
MinnPost: What was the hardest part of the past several months for each of you?
Kari Schloner: The hardest part for me was missing that connection between artists and audiences. That is something that cannot be replicated in any kind of online or digital programming. One of the things that fills my bucket and gives me personal energy is the energy you feel in a theater, and that was entirely missing for an extended period of time.
Kristen Brogdon: I’m a very process-oriented person. The chance for me to be in the studio or in the theater watching something come together before it gets in front of the public is one of the things that keeps me going. I had the chance to see a lot of screen dances and livestreams, but I was missing the actual creative process of the work. I’ve been enjoying having the Limón Dance Company in residence here. [Note: another Northrop commission.] It’s my reward at the end of the day to watch them work things out, go through the problem-solving process and see their joy at being able to work in the same space.
MP: What is something important you learned that you wouldn’t know if the past several months hadn’t happened?
KB: I learned how important it was to come together with colleagues. Something I never made much time for in the past were the regular conversations that happened with the Dance/USA Presenters Council and the Minnesota presenters who were there. The community that formed over Zoom and in our regular phone calls got me through the pandemic professionally. It wasn’t just virtual hugs and rainbows. A lot of it was about figuring out how to solve real problems and putting our heads together to address issues that arose in addition to the pandemic. That was my professional sustenance over the course of the past year.
KS: The performing arts is an industry that does things one time, at a particular time. Everybody shows up for the event and then they go home. As we were changing how we were presenting the arts, we were also changing when performances were available for viewing. It became very important for people to have the option of viewing our programs over a one- or two-week period. That was a learning experience for us, one we’ll be carrying forward next year with our film series, our K-12 programming and some of our other programs. Giving people a longer period of time to experience things has been a real advantage.
Choose-your-own packages for the 2021-22 Northrop series are on sale now. Single tickets go on sale Sept. 7. To order, visit the website or call 612-624-2345. Box office hours are 12 noon-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.