We lost power at about 7:30 p.m. It was as if the gods were telling us—yes, you must go down to Northern Spark! But if that was the message, then why all the rain?
With a few candles placed here and there and with headlamps strapped to our foreheads, we sat in the living room reading as the trees watusied outside the window. At 8 p.m. it started to rain hard. But at 8:30 it eased off again. The sky grew lighter. At 8:45 we said, “What the heck!”
Fifteen minutes later we were parked under the freeway just west of the Basilica of St. Mary. We walked across the small park in front of the church, made a dash across Hennepin Avenue, and entered the On Being store front where Krista Tippett runs her radio show. (I don’t really know what goes on there, but she has something to do with it.)
The gods were with us once again. No sooner had we entered the room that we spied our friend Margaret gesturing at us from the front row of seats. We hesitated—she didn’t know we were coming and obviously wasn’t saving those seats for us—but then we sat down next to her. A few feet in front of us a barefoot dancer in a green and gold dress was painting a simple but elegant floral design on the floor with white powder.
I was amazed by her ability to create a perfect arc, again and again, and I said to myself: I think she’s done this before.
Then a second woman stepped up to the microphone and read a few lines from a poem by Rabindranath Tagore about the earth. I had a hard time following it. It wasn’t complicated or obscure, but there were people talking in the hall behind us, others were coming in the door a few feet to her left, the rain was still coming down outside, and cars were passing by.
The wall to our right was filled with books to a height of eighteen feet.
Then the music started. And the dancing. Three women moved back and forth ten feet in front of us, making distinctive hand poses, squatting, extending their arms and legs as bells jingled on their anklet’s. Two of the women reminded me, not of India, but of Crete. The third had a pleasantly cherubic face. The foot-stomping occasionally brought flamenco to mind, but for the most part, the dancing was much more formal and precise, like an Egyptian hieroglyphic in motion. As if they were telling us a story in a language we couldn’t understand.
There were no slow passages, nor were there frenzied interludes. A premium was being placed on grace and body control. Yet a sense of the loveliness of the female form, and what it could do, shone forth with every gesture, every head-bob and foot-stomp and glance. This, perhaps, was what the poetry had been about.
In the course of their dance the women obliterated the ornate designs (called kolums) they’d drawn on the floor. When the piece came to an end, the creative directors of Ragamala, Ranee Ramaswamy and her daughter Aparna, explained the function of these kolums in village life as a means of greeting the day, honoring the goddesses of prosperity, and inviting them into the house. They also briefly explained what a few of the gestures mean and how they relate to village life in India today, and also as depicted in the art of the Warli, a tribe from southwestern India who have been painting murals along the same lines for upward of two thousand years. One such mural, painted by a Warli artist invited to the United States by the Ramaswamys for precisely that purpose, was hanging on the wall to the left of the stage.
I know next to nothing about Indian culture, as you can probably tell, but the dancing reminded me of the frescos at Knossos and the footwork of Carmen Amaya and Christina Hoyos. The rain outside the window reminded me of the scene in the film Lagaan when the monsoon comes and everyone rejoices. And to my mind, the half-hour length of the program was perfect.
After chatting for a while with Margaret, her husband, Dave, and their two late-arriving friends, who had just returned from a four-month educational cruise around the world, we drifted out into the night, heading south toward Loring Park.
Rain or shine, this is the prettiest block in Minneapolis. It’s triangular, it has the Basilica to its north, a wonderful urban park to its south, a nice alley running down the middle of it—and the buildings themselves look like they belong in Paris.
A rock band was setting up in the first bar we passed. Next door, in Spyder Trap, a web design firm, two kids in their twenties were being filmed as they zoomed around on scooters.
Bar Lurcat was elegant and largely empty, like a scene from Midnight in Paris. People were out on the street or hanging from doorways, not because of Northern Spark, but because that’s what goes on down on Harmon Place every night.
We were headed for Luna Lux, a letterpress printing outfit. They were giving demonstrations and handing out miniature posters.
“Have you ever been to the Hamilton Wooden Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin?” I asked the woman who was pulling a little poster for us.
“I love that place,” she replied. “In fact, the director, Jim Moran, will be here in an hour. We all love Jim. His family has been in the business for centuries.”
From there we were faced with the choice of heading south across the park to the Walker Art Center, where literary folk recruited by Rain Taxi were offering to write you a personalize poem based on a Tarot layout, or proceed east, deeper into the city. Choosing the later alternative, we hoofed the quite streets for seven blocks to the plaza in front of Orchestra Hall, where a crowd had gathered.
The food trucks looked enticing but we prudently went inside and found two seats in the performance hall. The orchestra was already deep into Kevin Puts’s Symphony #4, and the sound was immense. I had forgotten how much fuller, richer, and, well, more impressive the Minnesota Orchestra is than its cousin across the river.
It took me a while to register the fact that a light-show was being projected onto the cubes behind the orchestra. I found these shifting images mesmerizing, then realized that they were distracting me, not from the music, but from the pleasantly random reveries that classical concerts always inspire. So I closed my eyes.
Out in the lobby after the performance (once again a perfect length at 25 minutes), we watched people form lines, touch electronic panels on the pillars, and generate digital sounds that filled the room and occasionally erupted into rock-n-roll for no apparent reason. The lobby itself, recently expanded, didn’t seem much bigger to me than the old lobby, but it’s definitely more antiseptic—not much of an improvement, perhaps, though difficult to judge in the weird blue light.
Quite a few people were dancing to a rock band playing in the new, glass-walled, annex west of the lobby. Meanwhile, the drizzle was intensifying. We bought a Thai pasty at Potter’s Pasties food truck--0h, that was good, what with the ginger and the sweet potatoes--and headed east for a few blocks toward the convention center plaza where Zeitgeist was due to perform at 11. (Incidentally, the festival goes on all night long.)
Then we turned around. We were getting wet.
By the time we got to Hennepin Avenue the drizzle had turned into a deluge; we were soaked by the time we got back to the car.
Hilary (the goddess of endless energy) was eager to move on to the events down on the riverfront, or at least pay Northrup Auditorium a visit to hear the gamelan orchestra or perhaps a half-hour of Eric Satie's short and extremely repetitive piano piece, "Vexations," which was scheduled to be played ad nauseam throughout the night (just as the composer intended). I dutifully drove down Hennepin Avenue, where neon lights glowed in the rain and large crowds of people (most of whom, I’m sure, had never heard of Northern Spark) hugged the sidewalks, clustered under the theater marquees, and dashed in and out of bars and restaurants.
It took a long time to get to the river, which looked pretty quiet. Suddenly the idea continuing on to the university campus, parking at a ramp, and racing through the rain to Northrup, just didn’t seem that appealing to me. It was time to go home.
At least we’d gotten a taste of Northern Spark. And when you consider our day had also included a visit to the farmers market, a stop at the Midsummers Festival at the Swedish Institute, a few hours at the Japanese festival at Normandale Community College (where a book I worked on was being launched), and a few hours in front of the computer watching Italy defeat England in World Cup play, I think it's fair to say it had been a pretty full day.