Whether it’s a play, a piece of music, or a painting, every piece of art says a whole lot about place. Often you can find out about the place the creator is from and where they are based from a piece of work. Then it’s experienced by the audience in a particular place that is informed by the venue and our own history of place. How much does the music of Czech composers Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček reveal about the country where they are from? And what do Langston Hughes and Margaret Bonds’ music set to Langston Hughes’ words tell us about America as a place? Well, you can investigate this question if you catch Cantus this weekend. Or you can take in Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin,” based on Russian novelist Alexander Pushkin’s novel in verse and think about what that work says about Russia, all while sitting in the Museum of Russian Art, which is full-throatedly criticszing Russia right now for its invasion of Ukraine.
There’s really no harm in checking out an event just because the venue in which it takes place offers its own pleasures. Part of the appeal of The Big Blue River is to go check out North Garden Theater in its quaint location on W. 7th. If you visit Dreamsong Gallery, the delights of Northeast Minneapolis await you. Or, you might head to Icehouse or the Dakota, which, besides offering delectable musical shows, are warm and cozy places to spend an evening.
The Big Blue River
This week is your last chance to catch “The Big Blue River,” a new play by Patrick Coyle about taking life experiences and transforming them into creative output. It’s being presented by Mariah Theater Co. at North Garden Theater, a tiny old cinema turned theater on West 7th in St. Paul, complete with antique marquee. The neighborhood is adorable, on the same block as the Center for Lost Objects (a fun gallery/store that’s a kind of a kind of cabinet of curiosities), and Go Vintage, across the street from Keg and Case, and a block away from the White Squirrel bar. The play centers around a therapist named Laura Grace (played by Gini Adams), who makes the ethically questionable decision to write a script based on the stories of one of her clients, Frank (played by Jim Cunningham).
In the imagined play within the play, we see Grace herself in the story. We watch Grace process her own painful memories and trauma as she gets deeper into the writing process. With video elements and a realistic set, the intriguing play of ideas is worth checking out. 7 pm Thursday, March 24-Sunday, March 27 at North Garden Theater ($20-35). More information here.
The arts community across America has responded swiftly to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Putin-supporting conductors and performers have been ousted unceremoniously, performances have been canceled, and donors with Russian oligarch ties have been asked to leave their positions as board directors at prestigious institutions. Meanwhile, some of the most vocal opponents of Russia’s actions have been Russian-Americans living here in the US
In Minneapolis, the Museum of Russian Art has been a vocal critic of the invasion, showing solidarity with the people of Ukraine. On their website and on social media, the museum has stated it “stands with the people of Ukraine, and urges Russia to cease hostilities immediately and withdraw.” The museum also is displaying Ukraine’s colors outside of its building. In other words, TMORA is not an institution you should be concerned with boycotting. It exhibits and collects work from Russia but also other countries from the region, as well as émigré artists, and maintains its independent voice.
This weekend, the museum is co-presenting with Skylark Opera Theater a new adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, based on the novel by Russian writer Alexander Pushkin. No, you don’t have to deprive yourself of long-dead Russian masters just because of Putin’s actions. You can still show solidarity with Ukraine (TMORA lists several organizations to support on their website) and catch the satirical work about bourgeois Russian society with a new adaptation by Gary Briggle. The work stars Eric Smedsrud in the title role, with music direction by Carson Rose Schneider. Eugene Onegin runs March 25-27 and April 1-3 at The Museum of Russian Art ($60). More information here.
Molly Maher & the Gilded Quadriga + Dylan Hicks & Small Screens
Paint your Friday evening with gold leaf at the Icehouse this week, for an evening of excellent songwriting by Molly Maher and Dylan Hicks. Maher, whose music sits in between blues and Americana, is going to be trying some new things with the Gilded Quadriga (ya know, a gold-coated chariot of four horses, like the one in front of the Minnesota state Capitol). In this case the Quadriga consists of Nikki Lemire on large scale harp, Erik Koskinen on electric guitar, Stephen Murray covering the bass and Richard Medek on drums. Afterwards, Dylan Hicks performs with the six-piece group the Small Screens, sharing work from their as-yet unreleased album. Doors at 5:00 pm, showtime at 8:00 pm Friday, March 25 at Icehouse ($15 advance, $20 show). More information here.
Judith Hill’s career rise came as a backup singer. In 2009, she sang with Michael Jackson during the beginning of his “This Is It” concert tour, and after he died, gained national attention for her performance at his memorial service. She’s performed with Josh Groban, John Legend, had her songs featured in a Spike Lee Film, and she won a grammy for her performance in the film “20 Feet from Stardom,” a documentary about backup singers. Oh, and she also recorded her first album with Prince at Paisley Park. You might recognize Hill as a contestant on The Voice in 2013. These days, she holds her own as a solo act, sharing her powerful vocals and musicianship with audiences. Her latest LP, “I’m Hollywood,” mines her personal journey through soul, funk and lyricism. 7 & 9 pm Friday, March 25 at the Dakota ($25-35). More information here.
Cantus: A New World
Cantus highlights two great artistic collaborations and friendships. One is between the Black composer and performer Margaret Bonds, who had a fruitful creative relationship with the poet Langston Hughes. Cantus will sing the recently discovered “Fields of Wonder,” written in 1963 and first performed at the Lincoln University Men’s Glee Club in 1964. They’ll also be sharing works by Czech composers Antonín Dvořák and Leoš Janáček, who were friends and correspondents and had a great influence on each other. Both composers wrote low voice choral music, and found inspiration from folks songs of Eastern Europe. 7:30 pm Friday, March 25 at Westminster Hall, 3 pm Sunday, March 27 at Capri Theater, and 11 am Thursday, March 31 at Colonial Church of Edina ($34, students $5). More information here.
Infinite Beach and Moon Spiral Heart Attack
The Northeast Minneapolis gallery Dreamsong opens two new exhibitions this weekend. The first is “Infinite Beach,” featuring surrealistic paintings that are time and shape bending and curious. Objects and materials melt together in sometimes frightening ways in these amorphous works. Also opening at Dreamsong will be a group show called “Moon Spiral Heart Attack,” curated by Night Club, made up of Lee Noble and Emma Beatrez. The show features 11 emerging artists from the United States, Canada, France and Argentina working in a variety of mediums, seeking a riotous new queer punk ethos. The opening reception is 5-8 pm Thursday, March 24, with exhibition dates running through April 30 at Dreamsong (free). More information here.