Lite-Brite volunteers help build the installation.
The artist behind this audacious feat is none other than MNO alum Ta-coumba Aiken! Over the course of three weeks, Ta-coumba led a small army of more than 600 volunteers—everyone from federal court judges to homeless people—in the completion of the 12-by-24 foot installation, an original work entitled Forever Saint Paul.
Next Thursday, February 28 from 7-9 p.m., join us at the Minnesota Humanities Center for a lively discussion and interactive art project which will explore our similarities and exalt our differences!
Ta-coumba T. Aiken
The event is open to the public but particularly interesting to educators who can earn 2 CEUs. The cost is $10 and includes light snacks and materials. Participants will also leave with a DVD copy of MN OriginalEpisode #220 and a set of corresponding activity guides to use in the classroom.
If you’re impressed by Ta-coumba’s Lite-Brite finesse, you won’t want to miss him speak in person! Hope to see you there!
Along with thousands of other Minnesotans, MN Original braved the frigid temperatures in Lowertown on Saturday, January 26 to sample beers from local and national breweries, listen to great local music, and put our Minnesota pride to the test. We also caught up the Claire, Lizzo, and Sophia from The Chalice to get their perspective on performing outside in the middle of winter. Read on for our interview!
MN Original: So performing outside in temperatures that are barely above zero for a crowd of beer-drinking music enthusiasts, is that the most Minnesotan thing you’ve ever done?
Claire: I think so, I think The Beer Dabbler is maybe the most Minnesotan event I’ve ever been to. I’m not a sports person so much so I’ve never, I haven’t been to that many sporting events in my life. But that was a really cool event. It was just like a bunch of people in solidarity out in the cold, in really good spirits, wearing flannel and beanies and 90% of the men had beards I think. And you know, just gathering to enjoy local music and drink local beer. There’s really nothing more Minneapolis than that I don’t think. So I’m seldom… I’m not a patriotic person, but that’s definitely made me kind of Minnesota patriotic. I was like, man, this is a cool place to live.
Lizzo: Yeah I’m from Texas, but I purified myself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, so I think that’s the most Minnesotan thing I’ve done.
MNO: Yeah, probably so! So when you’re performing in a more extreme situation like that, do you think that gives you more energy? I mean, Lizzo, you were rocking it in short sleeves. How do you get pumped up for something like that?
Lizzo: Well I don’t know, it’s always an afterthought when it comes to the energy. I think it’s the people, you know, and I mean it’s the music. Whether it’s extremely hot, I mean I’ve performed in extremely hot and extremely cold, you know what I mean? The weather doesn’t really set you in your element, you know what I mean? And I think that goes for anybody. It’s kind of is an afterthought. Like for instance, up there I didn’t really notice how cold it was until I couldn’t feel my arms. On one of the last songs I was like, I can’t feel my arms, so I tapped on them a little bit to get some life going in them. Because I was steaming. I was standing there and looking at my body and there was steam coming off my head and off my arms. So it really was an afterthought when you’re doing what you love to do. I mean you can’t complain, you know what I mean? It was great.
Claire: I definitely felt inspired to move a lot. You know our shows are pretty aerobic, and kind of high energy anyways, that’s kind of generally what we do. But even more so I think we weren’t stationary very much during that set because it was way cold. I feel even more inspired to put on a really good show because that audience is, they’re troopers! I mean they’re standing out there in the freezing cold! Yeah it’s incredible. I don’t know, I can’t think of that many groups that I would stand out in the cold to watch myself. It’s an honor, honestly.
MNO: So what other performances and projects are The Chalice working on right now? What’s coming up next for you guys?
Claire: We’re kind of taking, not a hiatus, but we’re kind of putting The Chalice on the back burner right now because we all have a lot of other stuff we’re working on. And you know, starting with this group and kind of getting into this project was very, it kind of just happened, and we made a lot of sacrifices in other areas of our careers and stuff to kind of nurture this baby. When you’re presented with opportunities like we’ve been presented with, and when you have the opportunity to go on the kind of ride we went on over the past year, you don’t turn that down.
MNO: So I know that all three of you guys are very involved in the local music scene and tons of other projects outside of The Chalice. Lizzo, you were just in the tpt studios backing Greg Grease when we filmed with him [for a future episode of MN Original]. And Claire and Lizzo, we just filmed with both of you for an upcoming profile on Spencer Wirth-Davis of Big Cats. So can you tell me about the other music projects you have going on?
Sophia: I’m beginning a little project with Ryan Olson and Sypder Baybie and that’s coming out at some point this year, and it’s really, really fun. The thing about working with those individuals is that they’re brilliant and I feel I’m fairly new compared to Claire and Lizzo, and I love to be around people like that, that I respect and I feel they can coach me and help me become better. So I’m very blessed to have that opportunity. And Lizzo and I have a project coming out.
Lizzo: Me and Sophia are coming out with a mixed tape. And we performed some of those songs at The Beer Dabbler. And some of them, like the one where we went down in the audience, it’s more hip-hop, more rap, you know? Because The Chalice, I would describe as kind of a woman’s anthem, hip-hop pop, R&B. And so we’re doing it, we’re taking it to a new direction, we’re going somewhere else artistically. So it’s like a Jay Z and Kanye thing. And on top of that I’m coming out with my first solo project, which will be produced by Lazerbeak, and it’ll be called Lizzo Bangers, so that’s coming out pretty soon.
Claire: So right now I have a solo record that I’m working on, which is a pretty huge departure from anything that I’ve ever done before, so I’m pretty excited about that. It’s kind of like Beach House, or like Phantogram, really futuristic R&B, but also kind of indie, I guess. The word ‘indie’ kind of weirds me out, but I guess that’s kind of like the best way to describe it. And I’m stoked about that. So I’m knee-deep, halfway done with that at the moment. And then I’m also working on a little project with Katy Morley [from Gayngs]. We don’t have any of songs finished or anything like that, we’re just kind of messing around with that. And then I’m also working a different project, which is kind of rock and roll, like a soulful, foot-stompin’ blues/rock project as well.
MNO: What bands or musicians on the local music scene are you following and inspired by right now?
Claire: Katy Morley’s solo stuff, yeah she’s done some really cool stuff. It’s very kind of dreamy kind of atmospheric type stuff that is really cool. She does her own productions so I’m super excited about that. And then, this is probably like a broken record response to what’s exciting about local music, but I’m really excited to hear Polica’s next record, which is coming out this year, I believe.
Sophia: Everything coming out with the Totally Gross National Product, that whole crew, they make amazing music. Ryan Olson is killing it right now. Everything that I hear, I’m just like, ‘oh my God.’ That whole crew is going to come out with really beautiful stuff. I’m very inspired by what they’re doing. Lizzo’s new album is amazing, and Greag Grease too. So those people at the moment, they’re definitely inspiring me.
Lizzo: I’m really excited about the hip-hop. I’m really excited about the rap that’s coming out. Like Metasota, and obviously Greg Grease. And Bomba de Luz on the other side of things, Bomba de Luz has been really, really killin’ stuff right now. And the lady’s voice is just amazing. We’re gonna throw together a huge jam and she’s gonna like rock out with a bunch of other people. I mean, because that’s really what the scene is doing, you know what I’m saying? It’s just in this huge pot of collaborations. Everyone’s just been working with everyone regardless of genre or age. Because those Bomba de Luz kids are still in high school. In fact they’re working with Doomtree and they’re working with us. It’s almost like a family of musicians here you know, versus other scenes where it’s just a bunch of musicians.
Claire: And I think what’s really cool about the local scene is that we’re kind of off the radar, for better or for worse. You know, there isn’t a label presence here. It gives people a lot of freedom to kind of do crazy stuff and take risks and experiment because they’re not ruining the kind of chance of having the right person be there. And I think that musicians take pride in that fact but also that music fans here take pride in that too, and kind of like being a part of a kind of community that fosters that kind of creativity and that is welcoming about it. I think it’s something that music fans of this area like, have a lot of pride in you know, being the kind of fan base that will let artists change, just like Minneapolis is the kind of city that lets you do changes.
Check out some video highlights from The Beer Dabbler too! Special thanks to Mark Ryan Johnson for filming and editing, with music provided by Heiruspecs.
Every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving, The Minneapolis College of Art and Design opens its doors to the public for an art sale featuring the work of MCAD students and recent grads. MCAD’s Annual Art Sale is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to purchase art directly from MCAD artists at unbeatable prices. Accordingly, we took the opportunity to catch up with an alumni of both MCAD and MN Original: photographer Rhea Pappas, who was profiled on the third episode of MNO back in May of 2010.
The MCAD Art Sale is open Friday, November 16 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m., and Saturday, November 17 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tickets for the Art Sale tonight are $20 if purchased in advance from MCAD’s website, or $25 at the door. Admission for the sale tomorrow is free! Read on for 10 Questions with Rhea, and head to MCAD this weekend to see her art up close and personal!
MN Original: What tips do you have for newbies to the MCAD Art Sale (artists and shoppers!)?
Rhea Pappas: To the artists I would suggest to put in work that is some of your best, but you’re sick of looking at. Freshen up your life, studio, and make room more new creations. Also make it a deal for the art sale and donate one piece to the scholarship fund at least.
To the guests, bring your wallets, ’cause there is sure to be something you can afford that you will like or want. There are such great deals in almost all types of unique, one of a kind, visual art and it goes quick.
MNO: What inspires you?
RP:The water, nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson, psychology, and the people around me.
Photo courtesy Rhea Pappas.
MNO: What was your childhood ambition?
RP: My dream was kinda wonderful, it was to get into college. Once I did that I was kinda like, “What do I do now?” I used to think I was also here to save all the animals, but that’s a different story for another day.
MNO: What is your essential tool?
RP: I would like to say I have one, but I don’t. It’s any of my cameras, my scanner, my computer, and Photoshop.
MNO: Skill you wish you had?
RP: I wish I knew how to program computers and build digital sensors.
MNO: Biggest risk you’ve taken artistically?
A photo from Rhea Pappas's "Embryo" series, courtesy of Rhea Pappas.
RP: Whenever I take my camera underwater it’s a risk. It’s about $10,000 underwater and if it floods I’m outta luck. But emotionally, I was very honest about my Inspiration for the Embryo series, We Are Women series, and Loss of Innocence series and opened up about my battle with losing my cervix due to cancerous cells. These were a way to connect not only to my womb, but womanhood.
MNO: When are you most productive?
RP: Usually between 7:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Best time of my day. Usually I’m left alone.
MNO: Who is your dream collaborator?
RP: I’ve had a lot of collaborations with a lot of amazing people. If I were to choose someone I’m dying to collaborate with it would be Cheryl Wilgren Clyne. I love her personality, her work, her energy, and her existence. I’d also love to work with the Golden Gopher basketball team and have some amazing ideas and ways to take inspirational photographs.
MNO: Most played song on your iTunes?
RP: Your gonna laugh at both of these:
1. “Separate Ways” by Journey. I just love this song and I love me some Tron and it has just gotten unhealthy and out of control.
2. “One Shining Moment” by David Barrett and Terry Pendergrass. I am a huge college basketball fan. I dream of march madness. Specifically for the gophers to win the NCAA championship. I’ve been going with my dad with our season tickets since I was 5. It reminds me of an inspirational time in my life.
MN Original: In 1982, did you imagine that Zenon would be thriving 30 years later?
Linda Andrews: Y’know, I really didn’t. I had no idea. You know, it’s never been easy, it’s always been a struggle to stay in business. Any time you have a modern dance company in America, it’s tough to get support, to always keep paying your staff and paying the dancers, paying the artists. From the very beginning, I thought I could do it. I was a little bit cocky. And I had a very clear mission all the way through. My vision and mission have not changed, it’s absolutely the same, fundamentally the same as when I started. But it’s become enhanced and it’s expanded, so that makes me feel really good. I think those roots are still really strong. I think I’ve been really lucky: I’ve had three decades of dancers who have constantly inspired me with their artistry. I have just worked to keep challenging those artists and to keep a lot of creative growth alive for dancers at Zenon.
I guess the main thing that has propelled me through all these years is always focusing on artistic excellence, trying to reach for the impossible: for perfection. I am a perfectionist.
Linda Andrews and choreographer Danny Buraczeski, 1989.
MNO: You mentioned that your mission has not changed in 30 years. What is Zenon’s mission?
LA: Right, I do think it’s a lot about spirit that’s carried Zenon throughout 30 years. And my vision and mission is to strive for artistic excellence in our main stage performances, and also in Zenon’s outreach. I want to expose as many people to dance, to this artistic excellence in dance, as possible. The way that I do that, that I’ve developed throughout the years is presenting main stage performances, but also doing really intensive educational outreach into the schools and communities across Minnesota. And then the third prong, the third part of my vision is to have a very diverse and comprehensive dance school that has the best instructors available. I think this three-pronged approach to the community serves us well. And I never once thought that I wasn’t serving the Twin Cities and the State of Minnesota – that’s been clear to me from the beginning; that we are truly a non-profit arts organization. I think that mission gave us a lot of strength and ability to expose dance. And dance is still the one art form that is under exposed and under funded in America.
I think one of my chief messages to any of our audiences is that what Zenon presents — a mixture of current, modern, jazz and ballroom dance in this country — it’s educating youth and adults that this is part of culture as Americans, this is what’s happening with dance right now in America. I strive to work with a lot of emerging artists. This keeps Zenon right at the forefront of what’s happening in dance.
MNO: What would you view as the biggest accomplishment of Zenon in the past 30 years? What’s been the biggest surprise?
Zenon Dance Company publicity photo, 1986. Photo courtesy of Zenon Dance Company.
LA: The biggest accomplishment, I don’t know! In terms of biggest accomplishment, there have been so many accomplishments that it’s difficult for me to choose one over the other. I think the biggest accomplishment is the development of the dancers. I’ve been able to create careers for these wonderful performers. I’ve been able to really develop actual careers for these artists, and to do it consistently. So I’m extremely proud of that. Along that line is our work, what we’re able to do in the schools. I have a 100% success rate with this residency model that we use, which is very comprehensive and creative. We choreograph based on curriculum. How many times I’ve been brought to tears watching these children perform, and how many times the teachers have cried watching this. I am a lucky woman because I am able to actually do what I love and have a passion for, and touch people’s lives in a positive way.
I guess I’m surprised, I think it’s too bad that we can’t be further along economically. I’m still kind of surprised, partially, that for as much work as I put into this, it’s still difficult to build an audience and get funding. So a lot of that is still a very basic struggle, even in our 30th year.
MNO: How has the Twin Cities dance scene changed in the past 30 years? And in that evolution, how is Zenon continuing to push the envelope?
LA: I think the main thing is that the level of the dancers is so much higher than when I started this. That was one of my goals: to get a real, New York-level of dance here. I think there are more choreographers working. There aren’t a lot of choreographers that come out of the Twin Cities that are known. But I think the Twin Cities has developed into a very positive climate for dance, and we have a good reputation nationally. Choreographers love to come and work in Minnesota. It’s one of the few spots in the U.S. that has a lot of stuff going on in dance, a lot of energy. And we’ve got The Cowles Center for Dance, an actual dance theater. Very few cities in the U.S. have that, so I think that’s just amazing. Now we just have to settle in and really work at building that dance audience, which is really needed here in the Twin Cities. It’ll take a while, but I think that will come as well.
MNO: Can you give us a preview of the first show of your 30th season? How did you choose the pieces and the choreographers? What does this show represent for you?
"Storm" by Daniel Charon for Zenon's 30th Fall Season, photo by Stephanie Colgan.
LA: It’s two separate weekends of dance, with the second weekend being more of a retrospective of classic Zenon, some of the pieces that have stood out. I think for me, always, when I choose my seasons, it’s very much my instinct. It’s something that I feel, or that comes to me. I definitely wanted to present [dances from] Luciana Achugar and Netta Yerushalmy. These two women are doing really interesting work. Luciana, the way she works is so primal and so different from everybody. That type of modern [dance] you don’t see that much outside of New York and that’s what Zenon does. So we’re bringing in this more post-modern, quite experimental, abstract work. I try to balance it out with a piece like “Storm,” which was insanely popular and well-received; a very epic and American, big movement and modern dance piece, something very inspiring and people get very inspired watching it. And then also premiering this new tango piece. I wanted to premiere another piece by Mariusz Olszewski because he’s so good with what he does with Latin. So it’s just a very interesting fit.
This combination, it’s not out of bounds for my company. So other people would say, when I started Zenon, “You can’t mix modern and jazz, what are you doing?” And I said, “Why the hell not, they’re both so American.” And Zenon really is the epitome of American, modern, jazz, ballroom dance: the whole contemporary dance scene. So in that way, we’re continuing to really push dance. And that’s what exciting about American dance – just continuing to push the boundaries, and we’re part of that out here in the Midwest.
"Structures of Feeling" by Luciana Achugar for Zenon's 30th Fall Season, photo by Steve Niedorf.
It’s like live performance, there’s always that quest for the moment of spirit, the technical, everything coming together, to create an evening of transcendent dance. This doesn’t happen every night but it happens a lot. It’s those moments that really inspire me. And that is artistic excellence, and it is the human spirit, and the spirit of Zenon.
As October draws to a close, much of the Twin Cities is getting in the Halloween mood, and the local artist community is no exception. Nowhere is this more apparent than at The Soap Factory‘s Haunted Basement. More than an art installation however, The Haunted Basement is an interactive experience that’s designed and curated by artists. We spoke with The Soap Factory’s Program Manager, Lillian Egner, about the gory details of the sixth Haunted Basement.
MN Original: This year’s Haunted Basement is directed by theater director, Noah Bremer. How did that collaboration come about?
Lillian Egner: The Soap Factory restructured how The Haunted Basement project is organized for 2012 and moved from having a team of directors to one overall director. We interviewed many incredible candidates but Noah Bremer was the best fit for The Haunted Basement.
MNO: What has Noah’s vision and experience as a theater director brought to this year’s Haunted Basement that sets it apart from the previous five years?
LE: Noah’s experience with Live Action Set, Cirque du Soleil, and very physical styles of theater are a terrific match for the project. Noah has been working with our team of Haunted Basement artists since Spring of this year to cultivate their individual concepts. Each idea for an environment starts as a small kernel and builds as we flesh out the physical space, costuming, and action of the room. The Haunted Basement is about actors truly immersing themselves in their characters, so it’s much closer to improv than Theater. Having Noah involved in the creative direction of The Haunted Basement has helped the artists and actors develop fantastic environments.
Each year The Haunted Basement is completely redesigned and deals with new themes, characters and scares. Noah moved from the position of a Haunted Basement patron (he actually cried “uncle” back in 2007 during his first Haunted Basement visit) to Director. He brings a new perspective on audience engagement and immersive theater that keeps The Haunted Basement refreshed from year to year.
MNO: Scariest room in the Basement this year (without giving away any spoilers)?
LE: That’s a tough one! One of the scariest this year begins with patrons walking through a cattle chute to enter the environment. I can’t tell you what happens inside, but let’s just say that each patron is carefully examined for quality…
MNO: One of the most unique aspects of The Haunted Basement is the attention to sensory stimulation, and in particular smells, which are specially created by The St. Croix Sensory. What’s the worst smell in this year’s Haunted Basement?
LE: Baby Powder.
MNO: Complete this sentence: The Haunted Basement will be successful this year if you get ______ number of people to cry “uncle.”
LE: We’ve had about 20 “uncles” thus far but we don’t have a target number. In 2011 over 400 people “Uncled out” which is a bit disappointing to the artists. That is 400 people who don’t get to see their rooms or experience the action.
For a taste of The Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement, watch our video on the 2011 Haunted Basement:
We’ve had such a blast working with all of the amazingly talented Twin Cities musicians that we’re piloting a new music series!
Hosted by the incomparable Dessa, The Lowertown Line will be produced at tpt in Lowertown, Saint Paul with a live studio audience. The pilot episode will feature Trampled By Turtles as well as a surprise musical guest and tapes before the end of October.
We’re giving away free tickets so be sure you and your friends follow MN Original on Facebook and Twitter to find out how you can be a part of this exclusive concert! Giveaway details will be posted soon!!
Stay tuned for an upcoming MN Original profile on Tony-nominated theater director Marion McClinton!
McClinton is currently directing the Pillsbury House + Theatre and the Mount Curve Company co-production of The Brothers Size, the second in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister plays trilogy.
The play, which takes place in a fictional community in Southern Louisiana, explores African American male identity and brotherly love through the story of the Size brothers, Ogun (James A. Williams, who appeared on Twin Cities Public Television’s Almanac this past Friday) and Oshoosi (Gavin Lawrence). Check out this rehearsal footage and interview with Williams.
While the Minnesota State Fair is renowned for a wide variety of skewered foods, giant slides, and a melting pot of all things Minnesotan, few may realize that the Fair also lays claim to the third-most-visited museum of gallery space in Minnesota. The 2012 Fine Arts Exhibition magazine guide prominently points out this fact on its first page, rightfully boasting of the quarter-of-a-million visitors the Exhibition receives each year at everyone’s favorite Great Minnesota Get-Together.
This past Monday, the MN Original crew was proud to add our numbers to that 250,000, as the Fine Arts Exhibition was the first stop on our extracurricular excursion. We were tickled to see so many artists who’ve appeared on our series whose artwork was on display within the gallery, and to discover so many more contenders! To get a small taste of what goes into this amazing output of creativity, watch these profiles of the MN Original alums exhibited.
If you’re planning on making it out to the Fair (you’ve got until September 3rd!), the Fine Arts Exhibition is not to be missed. It’s an incredible collection of art representing many genres and made by artists across the entire state.
Eagle eared listeners to The Current just heard MNO’s very own Dan Huiting sparking up the airwaves with Dave Campbell on The Local Show, we were able to double up this Sunday evening! Our Director of Photography’s interview ran right after MN Original wrapped up on tpt2, giving public media lovers a full hour of MNO-related fun. To celebrate Dan’s appearance on The Local Show, we’re releasing a couple of his edits before they hit the the TV on MN Original. Listen to Dan’s interview to hear him talk more about the inspiration behind these performances from Alpha Consumer and Astronautilus, and stay tuned to MN Original this Fall to see these performances on your TV screen!