Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cirque Du Soleil Coming To Duluth: Interview with Aerial Performer Tarek Rammo of Dralion

Tarek Rammo is a featured performer in the travelling Cirque Du Soleil show Dralion, specializing in an Aerial Silk duet as well as his solo Aerial Straps and other acrobatics. Rammo, who was born in Beirut, moved to Holland with his family at age one. At nine years old he took an interest in gymnastics. After eight years of competing he saw his first Cirque du Soleil show which generated a spark, and produced an interest in performing. He has now performed all over the world with companies such as “The 7 Fingers”, “DanceWorks Rotterdam/Andre Gingras” and “The Ulrike Quade Company”.

EN: Did you have an interest in the Olympics while young and competing?

Tarek Rammo: I was doing competitive gymnastics for about ten years. I was on the national junior team of Holland and I did have a dream of going to world championships and the Olympics but the urge to pursue the performing arts was a lot stronger. When I was about 17 I decided to switch careers?

EN: How many Cirque performers come out of a background in the Olympics.

TR: Not sure of the number but there’s quite a few who have competed at a very high level, including some who have won medals in the Olympics, that find a new career at the Cirque du Soleil after they finish competing.

EN: Do performers who become part of the Cirque choose the show they want to be part of? How does that work?

TR: Basically what happens is you do an audition, which is a general audition if you’re a gymnast for example. If you can make it through a rigorous day of auditioning you end up in a database, a big file where all the potential artists for Cirque du Soleil end up. Once they have an opening in a show, they look specifically in the database for someone who will fit that part. Then they may or may not contact you. It may be a month or a year or three years before you get a spot on the show. It depends on your skills and availability.

EN: What makes Dralion so exciting.

TR: It’s an interesting show. As the title suggests, East meets West, Dragon and Lion… drawing the most supreme acts from all over the world. All this combined with lights and a live band makes it a spectacular show.

EN: What are the challenges?

TR: In terms of personal challenges…. As artists we’re living out of our suitcases. We’re moving every week. So you really have to adapt your life, knowing that you have to be portable.

It’s also, of course, being away from home. Away from your family. Away from your friends. And though we choose this because we love it, it’s not an easy part.

EN: Do you have a wife and kids?

TR: I have a wife. And funny enough, she just arrived here this week because my old partner who I was doing the aerial duet with unfortunately had an injury. My wife is also an acrobat and she was also in the database for the Cirque du Soleil. Because we’d worked together, they just brought her in to replace my old partner for the upcoming weeks, so I am actually the luckiest guy right now in the Cirque.

EN: It must be demanding.

TR: We’re doing about 7-8 shows a week. It’s all very physical, and with the travelling combined it’s quite an effort because in every city we have to do rehearsals and make sure everything is all right in terms of height. Everything is different everywhere, but we have a very good technical team that makes sure everything is exactly the same in every city we go to. We have to do the checks; we have to do the rehearsals, because it’s all high risk.

EN: Do you have any favorite acts in this particular show?

TR: I really enjoy doing my own act, but some of my favorite acts in the show… I would say the hoop diving number by the Chinese troop. It’s a number where they stack circular rings on top of each other and they do all kinds of crazy jumps through them, landing on the stage. It’s a very high stakes number and very energizing.

We have a very good juggler, too. He’s a great dancer as well, in perfect harmony with the music. Very energetic and engaging.

EN: How do performers maintain high energy levels for these shows and not get jaded so that it’s routine?

TR: That really depends on the person. Some people need a lot of sleep, for example. They go to bed quite late after the show but spend most of the day in bed. Others will wake up early – I’m an early riser. I need to go outside for a bit, get some fresh air, do my personal work, relax a bit.

Some people are really focused on their diet, their eating habits, to maintain their energy level. Others are more casual with that, so I would say it’s really different for everyone. Some people work out every day before a show because that’s what they feel they need.

EN: What was the first Cirque show that you saw?

TR: I saw Alegria when it was in Amsterdam in the Big Top. I’ve seen about three or four others after that.

EN: Costumes for this show originate from Africa, India and China. Are the performers also from Africa, India and China?

TR: They’re from all over the world. We have a very large troop from China. One of the main characters is from Africa, she’s an African dancer. The Water Element has an Indian background, though she was raised in the U.S. her heritage is Indian. I’m from Holland with a Lebanese background, and there’s Russian, Ukrainian, people from Argentina… a total of 18 nationalities on this tour.

EN: You go to different cities for a week at a time…

TR: We usually travel on a Sunday. After our show or shows, we board a bus and travel through the night. We’ll have Mondays and Tuesdays off. Wednesday is usually the busiest day because we have to do all the checks. That’s really the start of our work week.

* * * *
Dralion will be performed this coming week on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the AMSOIL Arena. Check Ticketmaster for details.

The photos here are publicity stills provided by Cirque Du Soleil. My full story on Dralion is featured in this week's Reader.

* * * *

Friday, November 21, 2014

Veikko and Jason: How Bad Coffee Brought Them Together to Form Wood Blind

On this day in history Rene Magritte, another of my favorite artists was born in 1898.

* * * *

The other day, while having another great soup for lunch at Beaners Central, I overheard Veikko Lepisto and Jason Wussow discussing a press release regarding their show next Friday night and their new record, a 7" split vinyl which the cut, both in conjunction with Teague Alexy of the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank. Those who follow the scene know that Jason is the founder and owner of Beaners, which has established itself as an important music venue here in the heart of Spirit Valley/West Duluth.

Beaners is one of those places that seems like it has always been there. What was Duluth before Beaners? One of Jason's life passions is music, hence it's only natural that music would be central to the venue Beaners has become, including a recording studio downstairs among other things. I think it's his gentle good-hearted cheer that brings people in the door, though.

Veikko is a former L.A. musician with a strong pedigree whose parents home is in Morgan Park. With every visit to his parent’s home in Morgan Park from Los Angeles, Veikko would end up across the counter from Jason at Beaner’s Central. “My mom makes terrible coffee. Just terrible.” This is another reason Beaners' regulars weave there way in to Jason's java joint. Good coffee.

Invariably, the two would start talking about music while Jason steamed his tall latte. Veikko, the stand-up bass player for eight years with The Royal Crown Review, instantly connected with Jason’s tenacity for life and passion for music. But, year after year, Veikko would return to LA, lose track of Beaner’s and Jason would lose track of him.

If you followed what he was doing, it's easy to see why Veikko might forget Duluth for a season now and then. In addition to his years with The Royal Crown Review, he did studio work with the likes of Bette Midler, Mike Ness of Social Distortion, and the producer Ted Templeman.

For those unaware, Jason himself has quite a background in music beyond the home turf, touring the country with his band Flux Skapacitor, and opening for The Skatalites.

After over twenty years in L.A., Veikko finally made his move to the Duluth area in last year. Naturally Jason and Veikko wanted to make music together. Their first practice was thrown together on the spot behind Beaner’s (it must have been summer) and within a week they had written two originals and worked out two covers and soon became Wood Blind, an acoustic Ska duo.

There is balance between them. Veikko is the detail orientated planner and Jason brings the energy and his perpetually positive attitude. “He’s the happy little bird and I’m the hawk,” explains Veikko. Jason describes Wood Blind as “a simmered reduction of all my favorite things, the energy of my young bands and the maturity of the later ones.” They have a shared vision to do as much as they can with the time they’re allowed. “We strive to master the style, but first we strive to have a good time,” says Veikko. Derived from the Ska style is what the two call “Ska Box” – or Toasting, the Jamaican version of beat-boxing, rhythmic sound effects to enhance the already big sound of Veikko’s bass and Jason’s acoustic guitar.


The two have recently connected with Teague Alexy of Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank to collaborate on a 7” split vinyl. Coffee was the catalyst between Jason and Teague as well when they met at Beaner’s 13 years ago. The three recorded and Wood Blind produced two tracks this fall in the Beaner’s studio. The release is set for November 28th at 7:00 p.m. at Beaner’s Central where they will share the stage with local favorite Jack Campbell.

Beaner’s Central
Friday November 28th
7pm   $5
Wood Blind * Teague Alexy * Jack Campbell
Single Release and Vinyl preorder party

Tuesday January 6th Official Vinyl Release Date

Saturday January 24th Minneapolis Release Harriet Brewery

If you want more details than this, stop in a see Jason. In the meantime... listen to the music.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

More Local Art Seen: Plys at the PRØVE

Before talking about Plys at the PRØVE I wanted to remind you that you won't want to miss Cecilia Lieder's "Reflections" show this Saturday.

Also worth noting, the call has gone out for the annual Art in Bayfront Park event that is now of feature of Duluth summer events.  These events are a great way to see a wide variety of artists' works, though the downside is that they can be so weather dependent. Artists will find details in the A&E section of today's Trib.

* * * *
Last Friday evening the PROVE had a show featuring skateboard art that I believe is headed toward becoming an annual tradition. From what I hear it really draws in a large crowd of young people. It's amazing how embedded the skateboard has become in our culture. It's only natural that the boards themselves would become the canvases for artists' imaginations.

To be honest, I was not familiar with the term "Plys", but it's easy to see where the word derives from. Plywood is layers of material molded or joined together. One definition includes the notion of twisting. Here are some of the things I saw there early in the evening before hitting the road.

FWIW Dept.
On this day in 1978 Georgio de Chirico died.

Tomorrow evening at ten the late nighters might wish to find their way to the Red Herring Lounge to experience Ellipses Presents: My Duluth. Ellipses is a Twitter name for Brittany Sanford, creator of the #duluthart hashtag for those who follow the arts scene via Twitter. The event is a celebration of all things Duluth in the arts and music. There will be a five dollar cover, but you can win door prizes... and probably should.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Don't be afraid to join the dance.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Local Art Seen: American Indian Artist Leah Yellowbird Spreads Her Wings

If you've never been to an art show or event at the Gimaajii Mino-Bimaadiziyaan American Indian Center then it's time you put this on your radar. Located on Second Street in the former Y, there seems to be an ongoing swirl of activity here that is worth noting. Leah Yellowbird's art show last Friday was only the latest. 

In addition to inconceivably detailed beadwork, the American Indian artist showed varieties of other creative expressions utilizing porcupine quills and other natural materials. Here are some images from this event. In addition to beautifully intricate art, we shared music, food and the the fellowship of new friends.

Detailed close up of beadwork.
Each bead in the cherries of this piece represents a documented death on the Trail of Tears.

Thank you, Leah, for sharing your work last week and to the AICHO for giving the arts a home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Local Art Seen: Phantom Galleries Superior Features Broc Allen and Michael R Smith

Friday evening was another special night in the Twin Ports with visual arts happenings on both sides of the bridge. Phantom Galleries Superior had an opening featuring the ceramics work of Broc Allen and paintings by Michael Smith. The American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) had a opening reception for American Indian Artist Leah Yellowbird, whose work I will share tomorrow. And then there was the Plys show at the PROVE, which is becoming a popular event displaying the latest and greatest skateboard art from our region. Edgy is an understatement for some of it. Images from this show will be shared here Wednesday.

The Phantom Galleries Superior (PGS) began in 2011 with support from the Wisconsin Arts Board along with funds from the state of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts. PGS was a unique partnership between Superior Public Art Creating Community Environments (SPAC2ES) and Superior Business Improvement District (BID), the property owners, the artists, and the community. Use of properties is generously donated by the owners. Over the years additional support comes from multiple artistic resources, the BID, and the Morgan Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

John Heino and I did our first collaborative show -- Red Interactive -- with support from Phantom Galleries Superior. The spaces provided have opportunities for a range of exceptional work by numerous artists in the region since its founding. Curator for this show and current director of PGS is Alison Price.

Pedestals showcased Broc Allen's work, walls were alive with Michael Smiths.

For what it's worth, if you happen to be in London... Dexter Dalwood's first exhibition at the Simon Lee Gallery opens today. Details here

Meantime... art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Local Arts Scene: Upcoming Events for the Weekend Ahead

"Reservoir" by Cecilia Lieder
Time is a gift. How you spend it is up to you, but here are a couple things for consideration.

Saturday November 22 from 2 - 7 p.m. there's an opening reception for Cecilia Lieder's solo exhibition titled "Reflections."

Ms. Lieder has become a masterful printmaker and woodcut artist and this show features the evolution of her creative work over time with samples from her earliest prints to the present, in tandem. The press announcement states:

Some of her seldom seen drawings will be on view, as well as other examples of her eclectic creative life as it has intertwined with her primary medium of printmaking. In reviewing the changes – as well as the similarities and timelessness – of an artist’s production over an extended period, insights may be gleaned about the artistic journey itself. This is an opportunity to deepen your understanding and familiarity with the work of this local printmaker-artist whose creative expression has largely been shaped by her experience of living in Duluth.

When you go you'll get a chance to explore the process of printmaking in general and the processes involved in making her works specifically. If you'd like she'll even give you the opportunity to make a print yourself, which you can keep and frame.

A SPECIAL EVENT AT THE OPENING will be poetry readings on world and national peace by five of Duluth’s most accomplished poets: Deborah Cooper, Linda LeGuarde Grover, Sheila Packa, Gary Boelhower and Ellie Schoenfeld. Lieder will also participate.

The Northern Prints Gallery is located at 318 North 14th Avenue East, a block above the old Farmer's Market and across the street from Burrito Union.

* * * *

Down Home Creations’ Visit With Friends & Christmas Sale 

Friday Eve November 21, 5-8 and Saturday, Nov. 22, 10-4

This coming weekend Susie and I are having a variation on an open house, in our garages. Here's a list of what you will find...

Offering Various Art and Susie’s Usable Products Such As:
Wrapping Paper
Goosefeather Quill Pens
Decorative Notebooks
Art Folder Envelopes
Garden Raspberry Products including ▪ dehydrated berries ▪ raspberry sugar ▪ raspberry teas ▪ raspberry liqueurs in decorative gift bottles (These will go quickly, I am certain.)
You will find lots of Stocking Stuffer Ideas here with many products under $5
Drawer/Closet Sachet Bags
Lavender Pillow Spray
Doggie Biscuits
Multi-Purpose Fresheners

Original Paintings and Drawings by “Ennyman”
Plus Joan Hendershot’s Fine Pottery Creations

A SPECIAL FEATURE OF THIS EVENT is that I will have copies of my new illustrated children's book, A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd. For those who can't make it, it will soon be in select area bookstores. You may purchase it online here at or at

We have two garages with my art studio in the garage nearer the road. If you visit, the place to be will be down in the Down Home Creator's garage. But I will have my garage heated and as welcoming as possible for those interested in seeing more of my work.

You will FIND US @ 4042 Sandberg Road, ten minutes from Proctor our Highway 2 or ten minutes from the Mall out Maple Grove.
From Proctor via Hwy. 2: 1.8 miles past Midway Road, turn right at yellow house
From Mall via Maple Grove: 1.5 miles past Midway Road, turn left

* * * *

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stephanie Johnson Talks About Her Wilderness-Inspired Art

This month the work of Stephanie Johnson is featured in the Zeitgeist Atrium. Johnson lives in the Gunflint/Arrowhead region in a primitive setting with no modern amenities. In other words, it is a throwback to the good old days of propane lights, a dog and many good books. A self-taught artist, Ms. Johnson’s muse has always been wilderness and its minute to majestic inhabitants. “I have been creating art for over 4 decades,” she says. “It is as much a part of me and my life as nature is.” In recent years she has been sharing her arts experience with her daughter, Angie Arden. In 2012, they started the "Wolf=Flow" concept as a team and produced much of their work for the wolf art projects together at her cabin home.

EN: How would you describe the work your do?

Stephanie Johnson: Plein Air and organic. Most of my work celebrates nature.

EN: Where were you trained?

SJ: I have no formal training. I work instinctively; creativity has come to me naturally.

EN: Where have you been showing your work?

SJ: I have had little experience with exhibits and exposure in the arts. I have had a few showings of my work in local coffee house venues and have participated in a few art competitions, in which I occasionally was acknowledged. I consider the first "Wolf=Flow" exhibit at the Zeitgeist earlier this year to be my (our) biggest accomplishment.

EN: What are your primary themes?

SJ: At this time nature and our concerns for protecting and preserving it.

EN: Where does your inspiration come from?

SJ: My inspiration obviously comes from my "backyard" which consists of wilderness, the wildlife that lives within it and freedom. God generously gives through nature inspiration and subject matter. I believe if you are truly grateful for what God has given us, he will give and give...

EN: Can you tell us about the Zeitgeist show... what, when, why?

SJ: We are very excited about our 2nd show at the Zeitgeist this year, "Wolf Flow: 2nd Drift" is a collaboration of art (my work) and poetry (Angie, my daughter) celebrating the wolf. The opening reception was Monday November 3rd (6-8pm). This show encourages respectful attitudes toward nature and we are hoping to inspire compassion for our wild canines. The work will be on display through November 29th.

EN: Is there anything especially unique in how you create?

SJ: What is unique about our creation for this show is that we are collaborating by relaying interpretation; what I mean by this is that I begin the process by seeing what comes out of the woodwork in its natural pattern. Through painting, I integrate the grain into wolf figures and background scenes; then I pass it on to Angie and she translates my visual work through poetry. Another unique feature to this exhibit is an opportunity for attendees to participate in a community poem!

EN: When did you realize you were going to be serious about art?

SJ: Do I take my art serious? I take my cause serious and my contribution is my art.

EN: How did that come about?

SJ: The earth and all of its causes have been around for a long, long time.

EN: What kind of formal training have you had?

SJ: Again, I am self-taught... Monet-inspired.

EN: Is there a question you would like me to ask that will elicit something deeper about what you are about?

SJ: Yes, we would like you to ask us: "Would you consider your views to be mainstream?"  We hope yes, but we really don't know. We pose the questions through the work we do together, asking people if they want to be Stewards Of The Earth or Takers? -- The Wolf: Wilderness Icon or Statistic?

* * * *
If you're downtown this month and need to step out of the cold, step inside the Zeitgeist and take a little time there to engage this thought-provoking artist's work.

Meantime, art goes on...