Art Hounds: 2011 Highlights, part one

We've asked our Art Hounds to tell us about their Minnesota arts and culture highlights of 2011. Here is the first installment (look for parts two and three next week):

Center of the Margins Festival at Mixed Blood Theatre

This one-of-a-kind theatre festival featured three plays delving deeply into disability. One play spotlighted Asperger's, autism, and what is "normal," another show was performed completely in American Sign Language, and the third dealt with race, adoption, and disability -- both mental and physical. Each piece challenged the audience and their conceptions of disability. Part of Mixed Blood Theatre's new Radical Hospitality concept, Center of the Margins pushed Minneapolis theatre into new directions.

-Michael Merriam, author and storyteller

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg at Orchestra Hall

Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg's performance at Orchestra Hall on October 22 blew me away...all the way to Buenos Aires! She is likely the only solo violinist on that stage to wear bright red leather pants, and her energetic performance was just as fiery, with spirited movements and enthusiasm accompanying every note. Astor Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires was an ideal choice for the dynamic musician, seducing us with tango and Latin rhythms that flowed into or were interrupted by familiar Vivaldi melodies.

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-Laura Westlund, managing editor of University of Minnesota Press

The Free Range Film Festival in Wrenshall

It's a film festival showcasing many local filmmakers, created by local filmmakers, taking place in a barn outside of Wrenshall. What's more Minnesotan than that? Also: they had good popcorn.

-Joshua Carlon, filmmaker and film editor

"I Wish You Love" at Penumbra Theatre

Actor Dennis Spears truly channeled Nat King Cole in voice, mannerisms and spirit. Penumbra used its intimate space to recreate a television studio where Cole's show was being shot, turning the Penumbra audience into a live studio audience. Television "monitors" were strategically placed around the theater for us to see Spears in black and white, as well as to show vintage advertisements which created an immediate sense of nostalgia and a growing sense of corporate imposition in the artistic process.

-Rie Gilsdorf, integration and arts specialist for FAIR Schools