2012 Artists of the Year

From poets and directors to comedians and dancers, the Twin Cities are teeming with creativity

Other dancers may be brave, but what makes McClellan memorable is the way she combines her derring-do with top-notch technique (in modern, tap, and swing dance, to list just a few of her skill sets), an impeccable sense of timing, whip-smart intelligence, a rebellious spirit, and laser-like focus. Add a natural flair for comedy and vaudevillian nuance (particularly evident in Sossy's audience favorite Trick Boxing) and you have the makings of an artistic quintuple-threat. No wonder choreographers like Joe Chvala, Carl Flink, and Joanie Smith, among others, seek out her talents time and again.

Even in her more contemplative moments (as in the reprisal of a 1971 piece by Judith Brin Ingber at Choreographer's Evening) McClellan seems to radiate possibility. And that's where this artist's brilliance really shines. The most compelling performers — particularly dancers — are the ones who keep you on the edge of your seat wondering how they will shift the energy in the theater. McClellan always responds to this question. And she does so with such strong emphasis that you will never forget her answer.

Caroline Palmer is a freelance dance writer and attorney living in Minneapolis.

Lydia Millet

Kate Casanova's Mushroom Chair
Kate Casanova's Mushroom Chair

By Michelle Orange • Photo by Ivory Orchid Photography

Arizona writer Lydia Millet has had a number of good years. There was 1996, when her first novel, Omnivores, was published; 2003 brought her the PEN-USA award for My Happy Life; in 2011 her short-story collection Love in Infant Monkeys was short-listed for a Pulitzer; and this year a Guggenheim fellowship preceded the publication of her seventh book, Magnificence. I realize Wikipedia could catch you up on all of this, but it feels right to repeat a few highlights. Because despite turning out exceptionally well-regarded, forward, and even prescient work at a rate few of her contemporaries can match, and despite being consistently honored in her field, Millet is not as well known or widely read or, let's just say it, famous as she should be.

I have wondered about this for years now: Why do certain less accomplished or just less prolific authors occupy more than their market share of whatever space the cultural conversation now leaves for writers? And is it wrong, when one is well published and well reviewed and otherwise well rewarded, to feel the lack of what might most accurately be called glory?

Millet's new novel, the third in a trilogy that began with How the Dead Dream, is another in the remarkably steady series of confirmations she has been sending the literary world that we have a giant among us. In Magnificence the recently widowed Susan Lindley (who appears in Ghost Lights) is installed in the taxidermy-stuffed mansion bequeathed to her by a rich uncle, and there unfolds an exquisitely sideways story of grief and restoration. The book draws many of Millet's themes and strengths — decay and death, environmental havoc and extinction, the indomitable female voice — to a fine and typically essential point. As one of Millet's fans and a fellow writer, I marvel most at the exuberance of her talent, which seems to know no earthly bounds or discouragement. She deserves recognition this year for that spirit of persistence especially, which I suspect feels not at all like persistence to her but simply living and breathing, in stories and language, natural as it could be.

Michelle Orange, a frequent contributor to City Pages' film section, is the author of This Is Running for Your Life, an essay collection to be published by FSG in February. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney's, the New York Times, The Nation, the Village Voice, and other publications.

Tig Notaro

By Bryan Miller • Photo by Kate Lacey for The Daily

"Good evening, hello. I have cancer," Tig Notaro says in the opening seconds of a half-hour comedy set later released online as Tig Notaro: Live. The audience laughs right away. You can't hold it against them. Notaro is famous for her distinctive deadpan delivery, and she's prone to dole out heavy doses of irony and unblinking sarcasm. Thanks to the proliferation of podcasts that allow fans to see behind the curtain to the business and process of standup, comedy audiences have grown exponentially savvier to the art form's provocations. They can't be blamed for anticipating a wry punchline lurking just around the corner, yet as Notaro presses forward, repeating "I have cancer" like an odd mantra, the crowd becomes increasingly, if temporarily, unsettled. This is no setup. For the next 30 minutes Notaro walks listeners through the past few traumatic months of her life, which began with a bout of pneumonia that led to a serious bacterial disorder in her stomach, followed shortly by a breakup from her longtime partner and the accidental death of her mother. Then, just one week before the recorded performance, she was diagnosed with cancer in both breasts. It's a parade of bad luck that seems perhaps too dark to be even darkly comic, but Notaro processes her colossal misfortune into an extraordinary, cathartic half-hour that bluntly acknowledges the pathos of the situation but never stops aiming for (and achieving) laugh-out-loud hilarity. It's the Cirque du Soleil of emotional balancing acts.

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