Downtown Art

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February 14, 2005 // UPDATED 1:52 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Anna Pratt
Anna Pratt

Everything and more

"Maria de Buenos Aires" is an artful legend about the city's struggle yet ultimate survival. It has energy - both real and imagined. A so-called "tango opera" that's sung in Spanish with English subtitles, this fable comes to life in the all-encompassing character of Maria, a fantasy icon who emerges from unlikely origins.

With a logic that's justified in dreams, Maria defies a fateful drowning when the sea spits her up (very Jonah and the whale). Within the context of this make-believe place, we're able to rationalize, via metaphors, what's upside-down.

Maria's superhero resilience abstractly signifies the strength of Buenos Aires itself. Her physical footsteps or dance moves not only propel the story from one scene to the next, but also show how she's a pedestrian heroine and vagrant. Set to the soundtrack of a live orchestra (local group Mandragora Tango), her transcendental journey is a poetic one. Chockfull of minstrels, man-sparrows, brothel-keepers, funerals, shadows, amnesia, psychoanalysts, goblins, puppets, spells, magical masons, spaghetti kneaders, skyscrapers and birth-death, there's almost everything here and maybe a bit more.

Although the plot is a bit fragmented, the whimsical spectacle overrides the enigmatic narrative structure. Three actresses portray Maria's evolution from youth to maturity, including artistic director Steve Epps' 11-year-old daughter Nora who wades in an aquarium onstage. In one striking scene Nora/Maria negotiates the perilous waves while an older Maria peers through the tank's translucent walls. Older Maria's concentrated gaze is only visible after the lights come on. Such creative visions aren't without real dangers, not just allegorical ones (which make for interesting technical problems). For example, because the aquarium is outfitted with ambient lights, the electrician/lighting technician had to be sure little Maria de Buenos Aires wasn't going to get electrocuted. Now that's some power.

Th-Su Feb. 19-Mar. 26; Th-Sa 8 p.m., Su 7 p.m. Theatre de la Jeune Lune, 105 N. 5th St. $20-$30. 333-6200,

'Dancing Henry Five'

Choreographer/Director David Gordon turns dance and theater into Silly Putty with his innovative combinations. Remember how Silly Putty captured the imprint of comics and other colored pages, then with just a little bit of kneading erased it? Likewise, Gordon lifts old ideas and manipulates them into his own. Irreverently, the graceful athlete ignores definitions. Hence, Gordon is the director of the Pick Up Performance Company.

In fact, he has no qualms about editing Shakespeare. He turns the play "Bard's Henry V" into an original product, "Dancing Henry Five," but still ably remains true to the spirit of the first script, updating Shakespeare's sarcasm for today's viewers.

F-Sa Feb. 18-19, 8 p.m. Pantages, 710 Hennepin Ave. S. $23-$29. 673-0404,

Sunday funnies

When I was little I tore through the newspaper ravenously, in search of sibling-coveted pages, including the ads (I was totally addicted to catalogs back then), the variety section and the colorful Sunday funnies. I loved the way certain character's eyes were just dots but really said something about their respective characters. I cut out my favorite panels and horded them in various drawers or stuck them up on the refrigerator.

I still come across comics that I'd tucked away for their special meaning.

So, in order to capture these pages before anyone else (I have six other brothers and sisters), I ran out to the mailbox as soon as I woke up. On mornings when the newspaper hadn't yet arrived, I stalked the mailbox from the living room window. Every vehicle I heard whizzing by was up to inspection, although I had an instinctive reaction to the sound of the postal truck.

Now this impulse has a sociable but industrious outlet. Here's a sticky note to fledgling and professional cartoonists. The local jam comics group, the Cartoonist Conspiracy, added a second monthly meeting - offering an extra opportunity to sketch spontaneously with others artists and to socialize. For those potentially intimidated by a table of strangers whose heads are bowed just like in art class: these meetings are pretty relaxed.

Su Feb. 20, noon-3 p.m. Grumpy's Bar and Grill, 1111 Washington Ave. S. Free. 340-9738,