An All-Weather Scene: Dance Is Thriving in and

By Shapiro, Linda | Dance Magazine, January 2012 | Go to article overview

An All-Weather Scene: Dance Is Thriving in and


Shapiro, Linda, Dance Magazine


While its subzero winters take some getting used to, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul harbor a thriving dance scene ranging from classical ballet to bharata natyam, from flamenco to hip hop. The dance ecology here unites buoyant individualism with an ardent sense of community, echoing the populist streak that runs through Minnesota's history, from its socialist Scandinavian roots to its current multicultural profile.

Now after years of planning, Minneapolis has gained a flagship theater and a center for dance. The new Cowles Center for Dance & the Performing Arts, including the stunningly renovated 1910 Shubert Theater with a refurbished 500-seat Goodale Theater, opened in September to much fanfare. Two sold-out gala performances showcased local companies as well as guest stars like Savion Glover and Wendy Whelan in the state-of-the-art facility. Named for longtime arts benefactors Sage and John Cowles, the center's inaugural season is presenting 18 area companies. The theater, a lobby, and a studio that houses a distance-learning program have been integrated with the Hennepin Center for the Arts, a renovated Masonic Temple, with three dance companies currently in residence. The hope is that the Cowles Center will give dance groups increased visibility and production capabilities, and that its downtown location will draw a broader audience for dance.

The fact that Minnesota has never had a major ballet company has led to a profusion of diverse artists with powerful artistic visions. Through their ongoing support for individual artists as well as companies, funders like the Jerome, McKnight and Bush Foundations and the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council have nurtured the spirit of innovation that has characterized dance here for over four decades.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

The 1960s saw the rise of two key organizations: the Nancy Hauser Dance Company, rooted in the Hanya Holm and Louis/Nikolais techniques; and the Minnesota Dance Theatre (MDT), under the direction of Loyce Houlton, whose choreography wedded ballet and Graham techniques. Both companies had influential schools and both still operate under their founders' daughters, Heidi Jasmin and Lise Houlton.

The independent scene flourished in the 1970s and '80s, with the establishment of the Minnesota Dance Alliance, a grassroots organization that offered resources and support for choreographers and companies. Nancy Hauser created a center that encouraged the creativity of choreographers like Ralph Lemon and Sara Pearson, who went on to found their own companies.

Other entrepreneurial artists developed new ways to present their work. Myron Johnson founded the still-thriving Ballet of the Dolls, a cheeky melange of pop culture and classical moves, then created a cabaret setting where audiences could mingle with the glam cast. Already part of a strong local improvisation network, Patrick Scully founded Patrick's Cabaret, a place for experimental work by sometimes marginalized subcultures, including gay artists, that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Dancer/ writer Judith Brin Ingber convinced Walker Art Center, a bastion of modern art and performance, to sponsor local Choreographers' Evenings, which have been ongoing.

AND NOW ...

Today, the Twin Cities' robust arts scene encompasses dance, theater, visual arts, music, and performance art. Rather than existing in separate silos, artists interact to create lively dialogues between forms and genres. For example kathak-based Katha Dance Theatre performed with the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir at the Cowles Center in November. This collaborative spirit has fostered some fascinating hybrids: dance performances that are also art installations (April Sellers Dance Collective, Emily Johnson/ Catalyst); composers who embody music in motion (Mary Ellen Childs' group CRASH); and dance/theater pieces written and directed by choreographers. …

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