The Orpheum Theater opened in downtown Minneapolis in 1921. It was designed after the Beaux Arts style and seats about 2,500 people. The first performers included the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny and Fanny Brice. In the 1940’s it became a major cinema theater. Over the next thirty years it showed movies and touring productions such as My Fair Lady and Fiddler on the Roof. It became run down and eventually closed.
Bob Dylan and his brother David purchased it as an investment in 1979. They gave it a light facelift and then brought A Chorus Line to be the opening show. In 1988 they sold it to the Minneapolis Community Development Agency who spent $10 million to restore the theater. It re-opened in 1993 and in 2005 it was transferred to the Hennepin Theatre Trust.
During the renovation they found some gems including six Pompeiian friezes that had been hidden under fake window grids and a false wall. The chandelier that dominates the main auditorium is 15 feet high and weighs 2,000 pounds. Today the Orpheum shows theater productions and concerts.
The hallway ceiling at the Orpheum We went to the Orpheum recently to see the Book of Mormon, a funny musical written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame. It irreverently pokes fun at the young Mormons who are sent out into the world to proselytize without really knowing anything about the places they are being sent to. This particular group ends up in Africa and is faced with war lords, aids and female circumcision.
It has some dark moments as most satire does but everything turns out okay in the end and lessons are learned. During one scene a missionary has a dream about Hell and my favorite part are the two dancing Starbucks coffee cups.
The following week we saw something very different.
The Washington Monument is now draped in scaffolding. We had an earthquake several months ago and the monument was damaged. It looks like and interesting art object.
On my way to the museum I passed by a street filled with food vendors. They were selling kabob, falafel, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, Italian sandwiches, frozen yogurt, ice cream. People were spread out on the lawn picnicking.
I went to see “Edvard Munch: A 150th Anniversary Tribute” at the National Gallery of Art. It was one room of drawings and etchings. It took me 15 minutes to see it all. The only one I really liked was the Madonna.
I wandered around a bit after that and stumbled upon “Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: When Art Danced with Music”. It was a large exhibit with costumes, set designs, and film. I am a big fan of ballet and I was easily sucked in.
I discovered Sergei Diaghilev was an expat. He was born into nobility. His family owned an estate outside of Perm, Russia, and had the monopoly on distilling vodka in the region. He grew up and was edcuated in St. Petersburg. When he was 18 his father went bankrupt and Sergei was forced to earn his living. He was heavily involved in the arts and put on an exhibit of paintings and portraits in 1905, sponsored by Tsar Nicholas II. In 1907 he took an exhibit of Russian art to Paris and in 1908 he introduced Paris to several Russian operas. He was invited to return the following year and added ballet to the performances. When in 1909 the Tsar withdrew his financial support, Diaghilev carried on but dropped the operas. Ballet was much cheaper. Things were heating up in Russia and the future was uncertain. By 1911 Diaghilev had formed his own dance company drawing from dancers in exile. He returned to Russia briefly in 1914 but it was the last time he set foot in his homeland. Paris was his new home.
In Paris he formed the Ballet Russes. It was to become the most influnial ballet company in the West. He gathered around him the most talented and avant garde artists he could find. His set designers included Picasso and Matisse. Picasso married one of the Ballet Russe dancers, Olga Khokhlova.
His choreographers started with Vaslav Nijinsky and ended with George Balanchine. Diaghilev was in love with Nijinsky and they were involved until Nijinsky shocked everybody by getting married while on tour in South America. Diaghilev was very hurt and fired him on the spot. Nijinsky was later diagnosed with schitzophrenia thus ending his career. Balanchine was working at the Marinsky Theater in 1924 when he defected while on a tour of Germany with the Soviet State Dancers. Diaghilev invited him to join the Ballet Russes as a choreographer. He later became one the greatest American choreographers.
Igor Stravinsky was hired to compose music for the ballets. He composed the music for The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Right of Spring. In the last one the rhythm was revolutionary and it caused a riotous reaction from the audience when it was first performed in Paris in 1913.
In 1924, Coco Chanel desgined the clothes for the ballet “Blue Train”, which was all about frolicking on the French Riviera. The backdrop on the set was Picasso’s painting of two voluptuous women running, creating a contrast to the adrogenous women dancing in Chanel outfits.
Diaghilev’s life was cut short by diabetes. He died at the age of 57 in Venice. The Paris, London, and New York ballet companies all emerged from the Ballet Russe dancers and choreographers. Some believe these ballet companies never would have existed if it weren’t for Diaghilev.
Most of the items in the exhibit live at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London but can be seen in Washington, DC until September 2.