An organist will play on Northrop’s stage in September. Then there will be film screenings and virtual happy hours. But live shows won’t ramp up until February, when the University of Minnesota’s concert hall will host a flurry of dance performances as part of a new season announced Tuesday.
That 2020-21 season was delayed and reshaped by COVID-19, said Kristen Brogdon, Northrop’s new director of programming. The pandemic also led to a new focus: commissioning. As tours were scrapped and performances pushed back, Northrop began paying artists to create new works.
“We turned cancellations into commissions,” Brogdon said. “How do we keep those commitments to artists? How do we find ways to keep them engaging with our audiences and communities?”
The first product of those investments will come at season’s end. Ragamala Dance Company will premiere an original work May 1, “Fires of Varanasi,” featuring Bharatanatyam choreography and an original score. In the months leading up to the performance, the dance company will hold events with students and audiences “to get people excited about the work,” Brogdon said.
The season starts Sept. 29, when organist Katelyn Emerson makes her debut on the venue’s Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ. The audience is limited to 250, which is “about the size we see for an organ concert anyway,” Brogdon said. “It’s a nice way to welcome people back to the theater.”
Northrop invested in misters to disinfect seats. And, thanks to its recent remodel, it already had “state-of-the-art HVAC systems,” she said. Masks will be required.
Virtual events include an online premiere Dec. 3-5 with Kinetic Light, a disability arts ensemble led by dancer and choreographer Alice Sheppard, co-presented with Walker Art Center.
There will also be an online film premiere Nov. 19 that makes the most of Northrop’s two specialties, dance and organ. Adapted from “Boat,” by dancer/choreographer Andrea Miller and her Brooklyn-based company Gallim — “a phenomenal piece of dance,” said Brogdon — it features a score recorded on Northrop’s organ by Dean Billmeyer with the Twin Cities-based PopUp Choir.
Highlights of Northrop’s Dance Series include February performances by Ronald K. Brown’s Brooklyn dance troupe Evidence, including their signature work “Grace,” with music by Duke Ellington, and a new companion piece, “Mercy.” On April 7, American Ballet Theatre will perform “Don Quixote,” a three-part story ballet never before staged at Northrop.
That performance, like many others, will also be livestreamed. That’s new for Northrop and uncommon in the dance world. “I don’t think without COVID we would have even been able to open that door,” said Brogden.
This is the first Northrop season shaped by Brogdon, who started in 2019. The last live Northrop event was in late February. Opening its doors again will be “incredibly emotional,” she said.
“We are committed to continuing to provide arts experiences,” putting them online if need be, but “to be back in the building will be a marker for everybody — that we’re able to share arts in its most powerful, in-person, communal form.”
Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168