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Dancing in the dark

You can’t start a fire without a (Northern) Spark
Hui Niu Wilcox of the Ananya Dance Theatre rehearses a piece titled ìBlue Dream Journeysî with other dancers from the troupe on Sunday outside Barbara Barker Center for Dance. The group will perform the piece with the public during Northern Spark, a city-wide all-night art festival.
Image by Chelsea Gortmaker
Hui Niu Wilcox of the Ananya Dance Theatre rehearses a piece titled ìBlue Dream Journeysî with other dancers from the troupe on Sunday outside Barbara Barker Center for Dance. The group will perform the piece with the public during Northern Spark, a city-wide all-night art festival.

The idea of an all-night arts festival is hardly novel — its roots reach back to 1984 with Nuit Blanche (“White Night” in English) in Paris.

They are celebrations of a city’s assets and a good excuse for the curious to wander in and out of museums, galleries and concerts based on whatever strikes their whimsy. Nuit blanches have since popped up in other cities; Minneapolis’ riff on the concept is Northern Spark, which manages to maintain a Parisian élan.

Northern Spark was founded in 2011 by local arts impresario Steve Dietz, who believed the Twin Cities needed an all-night festival to showcase its breadth and depth of artistic talent.

“We have this culture in the summertime that, once it gets warm, people flood outside,” Northern Spark’s Associate Director Sarah Peters said. “We have such a rich infrastructure of museums, galleries and theaters.”

This year’s Northern Spark theme, “Projecting the City,” emphasizes turning prosaic urban surfaces and structures into canvases for artists’ work.

The University of Minnesota, host to 20 events, is one of six different zones that divide the festival.


Get up in the evening

Individuals from the University are an integral part of this year’s Northern Spark, which aims to create a participatory environment to greater engage the community.

Dance associate professor Ananya Chatterjea’s studio, Ananya Dance Theatre, is presenting “Blue Dream Journeys,” which explores empowering women’s dreams. The dance starts at Northrop Auditorium’s entrance and meanders to the Hubbard Broadcasting Rehearsal Studio, where the dance will culminate under a sculpted cloudscape by Forecast Public Art Executive Director Jack Becker.

 Chatterjea’s past experiences with interactive dance at Northern Spark fired her up for this year.

“One of my most favorite memories from last year is at 4 a.m. — it’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s drizzly — and we were dancing with 100 people who I had never seen before,” she said. “That was so refreshing.”

Interactivity at Northern Spark goes beyond rhythmic movement. University District Executive Chef Scott Pampuch will prepare a 100-course dinner.

“From a culinary standpoint, we are founded in a craft of cooking, a trade [like] carpenters, masons — things of that nature,” Pampuch said. “When people in their craft become competent and get to a point of doing something well, there are perceived artistic moments. If it comes across in an artistic way, that’s more in the eye of the beholder than necessarily my intention.”

Pampuch’s focus on locally sourced and environmentally friendly cuisine is something Christine Baeumler, a University associate professor in the art department, is sure to appreciate.

Her work centers on ecological issues, and at the festival, she’ll put a metaphysical spin on it with tarot-like cards. Festival organizer Dietz saw Baeumler give a similar performance at the Regis Center for Art and thought her brand of environmentalist mysticism would be a perfect fit.

“Everybody sees these cards as a psychological prompt, where people can reflect on these words and how they can change their behavior, which in turn could impact the environment, hopefully positively,” Baeumler said. “The images on the cards are based on paintings, photographs and different artworks from the Weisman Art Museum’s collection.”

If a night at the museum is in the cards, Bell Museum of Natural History resident artist Andy DuCett has it covered. He’ll present RARP!, which comprises work he’s done in the past semester that is inspired by his tenure at the museum .

DuCett’s portraits of the museum’s staff and surroundings pepper the museum, but the highlight of DuCett’s showcase is a hidden video component. Mum’s the word on its location in the museum.

“Another thing I want to work with is the idea that you may not see everything — which I’m OK with,” DuCett said. “I want to play with this idea that when you go to a museum, you check your suspicion at the door because you suspect everything that happens in this place is based in scientific fact.”

With all the activity, it’s prescient to take time out.

The Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs, an intercollegiate social justice organization, is presenting “Crazy Cozy” on Coffman Union’s lawn in partnership with Saint Paul Neighborhood Network. The course, which is part of the program “Making Media, Making Change,” is an ode to rest and a reminder of its importance in our lives.

“When I think of the stereotype of a city, I think of it as constantly moving, constantly awake,” said University senior Mara Emmons, who is also a member of HECUA.

Making Media, Making Change’s program director Erin Walsh said that rest allows people to step back from chaotic routines, especially those involved in the festival frenzy.

 “Even when [you’re] sleeping, it’s almost like you’re checking your Facebook status,” Walsh said. “And so [we’re exploring] what does it mean to truly at rest in both a city that’s harried and awake and in a digital world that never stops,” Walsh said.


There’s magic in the night

Faculty and students aren’t the only ones feeding the fire at the University events. The community at large curates a myriad of the showcases.

The largest of these performances is Gossip Orchestra, a fan favorite from last year. Approximately 20 local musicians comprise the improvisational orchestra.

 Seated in a circle, they can be “turned on” or “turned off” on a whim by pressing a button. In the center of the circle sits an iPad featuring a grid of colors, which symbolize certain emotions and moods for the musicians to play in.

Orchestra organizer Benjamin Kelly attributed last year’s success to audience members’ inherent musicality.

“The really big highlight [was] the people who understand the arc of music — maybe not musicians, but they understand it can start out low and build, reach a climactic point and then fall,” he said. “The audience would erupt — it’s like a game-show.”

There’s more spontaneity in “Circumstances for We.” It’s put on by local dance troupe SuperGroup, art rockers Brute Heart, playwright Rachel Jendrzejewski and installation artist Liz Miller. Situated at Northrop Auditorium, the activity propels festivalgoers to get into motion.  

“The visitors to Northern Spark will be the performers,” Jendrzejewski said. “Participants can take a prompt and, either by themselves or with their friends, explore the prompts within their own bodies. We’ll have a stage set up where people can perform what they’re playing with.”

Brute Heart will be there 9 p.m. to midnight, she said, and accompanying any other performances on the stage.

Culling from the throngs, Anne Labovitz will ask 500 festivalgoers a series of questions about their Northern Spark experience and how they’re feeling in that moment. She then will assign a color to the feelings they say.

Titled “Conversant Portraits,” Labovitz will also pull selfies from her Twitter followers’ feeds and incorporate them into the piece. These conversations will morph into four 4-by-4 portraits, combining the participants’ facial features and words.

As a perennial Northern Spark attendee, Labovitz said the event is an immense boon for the Twin Cities.

“You have this really intimate experience with art and this larger conversation of valuing the arts in our community,” she said.

Northern Spark ushers in a new urbanity where residents feel free and safe to roam the city and to dance in the dark.

 “When we see other ways that our city can be – the way people interact with each other on the night of Northern Spark, which in general is one of curiosity, kindness and generosity — we’re able to envision a different kind of being together in the city,” Peters said.

What: Northern Spark
Where: Various locations around Minneapolis
When: 9:01 p.m. Saturday, June 14–5:26 a.m. Sunday
Cost: Free


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