On the Townsend

By John Townsend July 31, 2009

Categories: Arts & Culture, Our Scene

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The Ballet Russes 100 Year Festival / Aug. 7-8 / O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, College of St. Catherine, 2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul / (612) 673-0404 / www.metroballet.org

Renowned Prima Ballerina Nina Novak hosts Metropolitan Ballet and Kenwood Symphony’s centenary tribute to penultimate gay dance figure Sergei Diaghilev, founder of The Ballets Russes. In less than three years, Metro Ballet already has become a treasure for revitalizing dance work reflecting such gay composers as Aaron Copland and Tchaikovsky from a sumptuously classical perspective. And Kenwood’s musicians are first-rate.
Metro Ballet Founding Artistic Director Erik Sanborn says, “Diaghhilev’s passion for the art of dance blurred with his passion for Nijinski himself. The two men were lovers for many years, and what was born of their tumultuous relationship changed the course of performing art history forever. I am particularly enthralled with what went on in those early years of The Ballets Russes, as I have personally been the catalyst for a new organization combining talents of local and international artisans. I feel as though in some small way that I am connecting with these great genius minds of the era that moved a society forward. Every patron and artist interested in dance and music for dance needs to see works such as these to appreciate the heritage our current world of movement art is based upon.”

When a Man Loves a Diva / Through Aug. 16 / Lab Theater, 700 N. 1st St., Mpls. / (612) 333-7977 / www.thelabtheater.org

Men singing songs composed for women may sound like grist for the gay stereotype mill, but when done as vulnerably, wittily, and effervescently as in this show, it becomes truly universal, whatever your sexual orientation. The always-hip Sanford Moore directs the music of the newly remounted revue you can take your queer buddies to, as well as your grandparents.

Beloved singer/actor Dane Stauffer shares, “There are certainly men who sing about vulnerable emotions like Smokey Robinson, but there’s a certain range of songs that seem to be the woman’s domain, from ‘I’m Nothing Without You’ to ‘I Will Survive.’ She is triumphing over those emotions that invite us to despair. I think that’s why Divas is so popular with GLBT folks. Gays, lesbians, and women in general share the status of being ‘outside the mainstream’ in so many ways that when a ‘diva’ gets up on a stage, and sings the shit out of some pop anthem, she is triumphing over the pain of separation. She is standing up to the ‘powers that be,’ and saying, ‘I matter! I count!’ She is making something of herself in the arena of power. Watching a woman empower herself in performance is liberating to the audience as well.”

Is There a Doctor in the House?
/ Through Aug. 29 / Minnesota Centennial Showboat, Harriet Island, St. Paul / (651) 227-1100 / www.showboat.umn.edu

The gleefully glorious Is There a Doctor in the House? is the freshest and funniest summer Showboat offering in years. Kenneth Noel Mitchell’s inspired, free-wheeling adaptation of The Imaginary Invalid may not jive with original playwright Molière’s savage take on religious hypocrisy, but it certainly thrusts lots of juicy digs on neocon-led resistance to public option health care.

Mitchell, who is also the director, relishes a flourishingly excessive style that brazenly overdoes French accents, and sends up sexual rebelliousness in spades—like Anna Hickey’s sinister dominatrix Nurse Fannay, costumed naughtily by Jason Lee Resler.

Two extraordinary young comic talents to watch out for: Skyler Nowinski’s deliriously hypochondriacal Argan, as well as Noah Putterman’s Cleante and Emcee, seem to spring from the mystical vapors where the spirits of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin frolic. Along with Hickey and Elizabeth Griffin’s magnificently savvy Toinette, I swear, this show dazzles with some of the most luminous young talent to tread local boards in years.

Denise Prosek’s music direction bounces with Moulin Rouge vitality, though some vocals could be fuller and broader. Sari Ketter’s movement consulting also breathes buoyant zest into this outrageously wonderful production.

The Brave New Workshop Saves the Planet; or Yes We Can, but Do We Have To? / Through Oct. 31 / Brave New Workshop, 2605 Hennepin Ave., Mpls. / (612) 332-6620 /www.bravenewworkshop.com

This vibrantly performed collaboration illuminates how current geopolitical madness wears and tears on average folks.
An Old MacDonald’s Farm kiddie sing-along is thwarted by fears of swine and bird flu. Global terror is spoofed, as slick Kim Jong-Il (Josh Eakright) constantly mispronounces the name of his harried partner in crime, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Joe Bozic).

A weirdly hilarious segment involves heteroeroticim, homoeroticism, and bestialeroticism, with Eakright looking hot in body tights as an oil-drenched seal. Also oddly sexy is Ellie Hino as Megan Fox with a Barbie-filled uterus.

Poor Bobby Gardner is left holding the bag with three grotesque stereotypes: Asian tyrant, gay femme, and homely middle-aged virgin. The fab Lauren Anderson fares better as a gal who sees Jews as the center of all ills.

The problem with not putting such figures in a bigger context is that they flirt with the Michael Savage school of psychocomedy. That said, with a smart cowriter or dramaturg—like, say, Kenneth Noel Mitchell or Ben McGovern—director Caleb McEwen could explore and flesh these figures out more adventurously.

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