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AWARDS: The Inaugural Spice Awards in the Performing Arts

It’s been a whiplash year for awards and the Twin Cities performing arts scene. In fact, it’s just been a whiplash year, period. In 2018, allegations of sexual assault and other misbehavior emerged at several local arts organizations. Cornerstone organizations such as Intermedia Arts and the Soap Factory remain shuttered by crushing financial debts, while groups such as Patrick’s Cabaret and the Rose Ensemble pursued planned sunsets. Even the Ivey Awards called it quits after a period of caretaker administration.

For all the turmoil and trouble, though, the Twin Cities are still home to one of the most active and most vibrant performing arts scenes in the country. This is the fruit of both individual and collective endeavor, fueled by some of the highest levels of arts funding in the country (as measured per capita and adjusted for cost of living). Soon after the Ivey Awards closure was announced, the local theatre organization Four Humors announced that it was going to go ahead and organize its own MN Theater Awards ceremony. That’s a can-do, pro-community spirit that captures the heart of Minnesota; it was therefore not too much of a surprise when Four Humors decided to just announce the nominees and party, rather than reel off a more traditional list of winners.

Here at the Arts Reader, we have our own way of doing things, including with awards and some strong thoughts about whether theatre should end with -re or -er. (Sorry, Four Humors, Guthrie, and Minnesota Theater Alliance – your spelling is wrong, and we’re sticking to that statement.) With no further ado, here are the recipients of our 2018 Minnesota Spice Awards in the Performing Arts.

Dance Company of the Year: Ananya Dance Theatre

You might think that the Twin Cities would be the last place to find an internationally renown, award-winning Indian contemporary dance company. If so, you should think again – and make sure to see one of Ananya Dance Theatre‘s riveting performances. Under the leadership of artistic director Ananya Chatterjea, ADT delivers thrilling performances with powerful choreography, virtuosic dancers, and incisive social themes. Like other Spice Award recipients, its impact resonates well beyond the local; in November, for example, the company was featured at several dance festivals in India.

Ananya Dance Theatre next appears at the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference in New York City next month. ADT will showcase excerpts from its 2018 work Shaatranga: Women Weaving Worlds, which features choreography by Ananya Chatterjea and a score by Dameun Strange.

–Basil Considine

Music Organization of the Year: Twin Cities Early Music Festival

A promotional photo for the Twin Cities Early Music Festival’s Incantare concert.

There’s a lot of musical richness to go around in this region, but a few gems catch a special light. One of these is the Twin Cities Early Music Festival, which gathers players and ensembles from across the country for two packed weeks of concerts in late July and August. The 2018 festival schedule included 20 performances, the return of its well-respected Baroque Instrumental Program, and appearances by ensembles such as Incantare, the Mirandola Ensemble, and Lyra Baroque.

Orchestral and choral activities have long distinguished Minnesota’s place on the nation’s musical map. The growth of organizations and the events such as the Twin Cities Early Music Festival showcase the state’s broadening musical maturity, diversity, and depth. We hope for more lutes, a recorder consort, and a host of sackbuts in the next festival incarnation.

–Amy Donahue

Theatre Company of the Year: Penumbra Theatre

For more than four decades, St. Paul-based Penumbra Theatre has been a creative force to be appreciated and reckoned with. A nationally renown organization centered on African American theatre, its diverse programming also includes book discussions, movie nights, and workshops as part of its deep community engagement. The company has continued its traditions of excellence under artistic director Sarah Bellamy, raising a strong and nationally respected voice that shapes conversations about theatre in America.

How best to summarize Penumbra Theatre‘s groundbreaking work, track record of excellence, and history of boundary pushing? Perhaps the words of St. Paul’s mayor, Melvin Carter, sum it up best:

Penumbra‘s moving and relevant depictions of the African American experience has brought our community together for more than 40 years. They are truly a local treasure in Saint Paul and national leader for the performing arts. Congratulations to my friends at the Penumbra Theatre!

We couldn’t have said it better.

–Amy Donahue

Performing Arts Administrator of the Year: Hannah Holman

Hannah Holman. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Theater Alliance.

Behind every successful performance is an administrator who keeps the lights on, paychecks coming, and trains running. Behind every arts administrator is a sea of support, network of connections, and deep framework that they tap into to multiply personal labors and extend organizational reach. As we made inquiries about the most influential arts administrators in the region, one name was voiced again and again: Hannah Holman of the Umbrella Collective and Minnesota Theater Alliance.

As the Managing Director of the Umbrella Collective, Holman knits together diverse and interdisciplinary forces to curate art informed by queer and feminist perspectives; on a given or production, she might don any number of hats to help turn ideas into moving works of art. As the Program Manager of the Minnesota Theater Alliance, her work supports creative efforts by hundreds of performing arts companies – a professional multiplier that literally extends to the far corners of the state. Look back through Holman’s resume and you’ll see that this is far from the compass of her work – she’s worked directly with a dizzying array of Minnesotan performing and non-performing arts organizations, many of whose representatives were quick to voice their endorsements.

In summarizing Hannah Holman’s contributions, the Minnesota Theater Alliance’s Executive Director Joanna Schendler said,

The Minnesota Theater Alliance connects, supports, and advocates for the statewide performing arts community. This community includes over 450 organizations across our beautiful state, and thousands of practitioners who make this amazing art happen. Hannah Holman is one of two part-time staff working hard to bring this mission to life, and we are beyond fortunate to have her on this team.

Prior to being on staff for the Theater Alliance, she was an involved member, believing in the value of theater-makers learning and sharing for the common good of our collective performing arts ecosystem. As Program Manager, she is always thinking about the dynamics affecting the wide array of theaters and their teams. I am especially grateful for her passion for serving theaters in Greater Minnesota, and working to bridge connections across the state. This is a really unique aspect of our Theater Alliance, and one that I believe makes Minnesota that much stronger than other theater communities across the country. Hannah is a determined and creative leader in the Twin Cities theater community, the statewide performing arts ecosystem, and one to watch in the coming years. 
We heartily echo this endorsement.
–Hanne Appelbaum, Basil Considine, & Amy Donahue

Off the Beaten Path: Wicked Wenches Cabaret

Art-making doesn’t always fit into neat traditional categories or, err, garments. Northeast Minneapolis-based Wicked Wenches Cabaret doesn’t fit into any one cake, either. The troupe uses the term vaudevical (a portmanteau of vaudeville and musical) to describe its performances, which in any scene might erupt into elements of circus, aerial arts, comedy, dance, singing, and burlesque…to name just a handful. Its shows brim with humor, energy, and an engaging eclecticism that makes you wonder what we lost when movies came into fashion.

Off the beaten path? Absolutely, in delicious ways – which is why Wicked Wenches Cabaret is one of this year’s Minnesota Spice Award recipients.

–Hanne Appelbaum

A past Wicked Wenches Cabaret production.
Hanne Appelbaum