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Fine Arts

’22-23 Fine Arts Programming series starts with Soweto Gospel Choir on Oct. 14

Tanya Gertz has been executive director of Fine Arts Programming at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University for six years. In that time, she’s never been more excited about a performing arts schedule than the one on tap for 2022-23.

“They’re all major artists,” she said. “Every show is a firework of its own and I am confident audiences will leave the theater feeling like they’ve been a part of something special. This is going to be a season where hopefully everyone sees something on the list of performances that they just can’t miss. These are world-class artists and you’re going to be able to see them right here in Central Minnesota.”

Tickets are on sale now and are available at a discount through Sept. 23. The first event features the three-time Grammy winning Soweto Gospel Choir on Oct. 14 in the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at Saint John’s. Their performance, titled “Hope, It’s Been a Long Time Coming,” will commemorate the freedom movement in South Africa and the Civil Rights movement in the United States. The 20-member group, which derives its name and hails from South West Township, a town outside Johannesburg, South Africa, will sing renditions of works by Billie Holliday, James Brown, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield and Aretha Franklin.

The Soweto Gospel Choir formed in 2002, when its first album hit No. 1 on the Billboard World Music Chart. In 2007, the singers won a Grammy for best traditional world music with their second CD, “Blessed.” They won a second Grammy for their third album, “African Spirit,” and followed that with another in 2019 for their latest album “Freedom.” 

“The title for their performance – ‘Hope, It’s Been a Long Time Coming’ – is the best that I could imagine to kick off the schedule,” said Gertz, who had many events interrupted and modified if not outright canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic the past two years. “This is going to be a great way to rebound. We are excited to share the magic of live performance with our audiences again and this will be a joyful performance to start the season. It’s going to be an experience you can feel.”

The series was to continue Oct. 29 with an appearance by Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, performing Anne of Green Gables at the Escher Auditorium at Saint Ben’s, however visa travel issues have forced cancellation of the playful, fully staged story ballet that transports audiences to early 20th century Atlantic Canada and vividly brings to life the 1908 novel by L.M. Montgomery.

On Nov. 5, the spotlight returns to the Humphrey Theater for Pride and Prejudice, performed by the Aquila Theatre Company. The troupe, which formed in 1991 and is based in New York City, will use inventive sets and add modern influences to Jane Austen’s 1813 romantic comedy that skewers the hypocrisy and absurdity of the class system.

Another Grammy-nominated group, Tiempo Libre, plays Humphrey Theater on Nov. 11. A Miami-based ensemble with classical training at premier conservatories in Cuba, Tiempo Libre performs timba music, a mix of jazz harmonies and Latin rhythms. Its seven members have appeared on The Tonight Show and Dancing With the Stars. Their concerts are likened to parties audiences are hard-pressed not to want to dance in the seats.

Each campus will be home to a holiday performance in early December. At SJU, violinist Mark O’Connor will perform “An Appalachian Christmas” on Dec. 8. And on Dec. 10, Lightwire Theater will present two performances of “A Very Electric Christmas.”

O’Connor, accompanied by his wife and adult son – both award-winning instrumentalists, will play a combination of jazz, bluegrass and classical music. His album of music by the same name hit No. 1 on the Billboard bluegrass chart in 2011.

“A Very Electric Christmas” is an innovative show that combines vibrant, luminescent lighting, dance and puppetry to tell the tale of a misguided bird named Max who ends up at the North Pole for Christmas. Dancing toy soldiers, caroling worms and performing poinsettias light up the stage in this magical tale of family, friendship and hope set to timeless holiday hits. Lightwire Theater is internationally recognized for its electroluminescent artistry and poignant storytelling with no spoken words.

Versa-Style Dance Company

The Versa-Style Dance Company will perform Feb. 4 at Escher Auditorium at the College of Saint Benedict. The group, which originated from Los Angeles, celebrates the essence and power of hip-hop. The show will explore the limitless possibilities of improvisational street dance.

If you need some energy in mid-winter, the Versa-Style Dance Company will provide a major recharge on Feb. 4 at Escher Auditorium. Founded in 2005 by two Los Angeles natives, the group of approximately 10 dancers celebrate the limitless possibilities of hip-hop – including Afro-Latin styles such as salsa, merengue and cumbia. Their latest show will explore improvisational street dance.

On Feb. 18 at Saint Ben’s, Cirque Mechanics will celebrate the power of the wind in its newest production, Zephyr. This professional touring cirque company will use man-powered apparatuses to combine storytelling and high-level acrobatics. The company’s most recent visit to campus sold out quickly, so tickets will be precious for this high-energy show where performers will fly, balance, float on air and defy gravity.

The a cappella group Voctave, 11 powerhouse vocalists from Central Florida, will combine gospel, contemporary Christian, barbershop, pop and choral song at “The Corner of Broadway & Main Street,” Feb. 24 at CSB. The group’s video performances have accumulated more than 150 million social media views.

The memoir of Minnesota writer Kao Kalia Yang will come alive March 16-17 at Saint Ben’s when Literature to Life presents The Latehomecomer. Yang, who came to the U.S. as a Hmong refugee from Thailand, has told the story of her journey and themes of home, family, opportunity, acceptance and obligation. The story will be told by Gaosong Heu, who earned a bachelor’s degree in theater from the University of Minnesota and has worked for Vineyard Theatre in New York and the Minnesota Opera. She will be the sole actor, performing all the characters.

Humor will take center stage on March 25 at the Humphrey Theater with One Man Avengers. Charlie Ross will portray Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Thanos and Black Widow in hilarious parody. Ross, who is from Prince George, British Columbia, and has been performing all over the world for 20 years, previously has produced shows including One Man Star Wars, and One Man Lord of the Rings.

Finally, an act that has sold out Carnegie Hall in New York, the Royal Albert Hall in London, and Sydney Opera House in Australia, will aim to do the same April 14 at Escher Auditorium. The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain sold out the Humphrey Theater on its most recent visit in 2018, and now will bring its wit and passion for their little guitars to a larger venue at Saint Ben’s. Audience members are invited to bring their own ukuleles and participate in a string-and-sing-along during the show.

“That will be the most unexpectedly delightful show you never knew you needed to see,” Gertz predicted. “Once we opened sales for this season, the first tickets we sold were to see the Ukulele Orchestra. They only do a short tour every 2-3 years and bringing them back has been on hold since the pre-COVID days. It’s going to be something you won’t want to miss.

“This season was intentionally crafted to create amazing date nights, special family memories or a trip around the world. It’s a year with plenty of oooh’s and aaah’s and a lot of joy!”

Call the box office at the Benedicta Arts Center at 320-363-5777 or order online at www.csbsju.edu/expect.

These activities are made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board operating support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain will appear April 14 at Escher Auditorium at the College of Saint Benedict. The group has sold out Carnegie Hall in New York, The Royal Albert Hall in London, Sydney Opera House in Australia, and played to capacity during a visit several years ago to the Stephen B. Humphrey Theater at Saint John’s University.

Call the box office at the Benedicta Arts Center at 320-363-5777 or order online at www.csbsju.edu/expect.