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Cowles Center readies for its grand opening

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The Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts may have a forklift parked outside, scaffolding all around the inside of the main theater, and dust everywhere, but the new dance complex, consisting of three buildings on Hennepin Avenue and 6th Street, is gearing up for the premiere of its first season.  

The grand opening weekend is set for September 9 through 11, and will feature James Sewell Ballet, Zenon Dance Company, and Minnesota Dance Theater, along with Savion Glover, Jonah Bokaer (from Merce Cunningham Dance Company), Minnesota Chorale artists, and other performers. Tickets for the first night of the grand opening will go for $1,000 a pop, according to executive director Frank Sonntag. The next evening, the same program will be offered for $150, with 200 seats up for free to the dance community. The performance will be followed by a big party.  

The list of performing companies set for the upcoming season at the Cowles looks remarkably similar what past seasons at the Southern Theater might have looked like, before its recent financial struggles and subsequent re-organization into a rental facility. Nearly all of the companies scheduled have performed on the Southern's stage, which calls to question whether a new dance venue will be able to draw in audiences that the Southern couldn't. 

Is this a case of "If you build it, they will come?" It's certainly an impressive looking complex, made up of three buildings, including two historic buildings: The 1888 Masonic Tempe (known since 1979 as Hennepin Center for the Arts) and the 1910 Shubert Theatre, which was moved two blocks from its original location in 1997 over 12 days (recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest building--at 5.8 million pounds--ever to be moved on rubber tires).  
The inside of the new theater has very little remaining of its historic features, though much of it is built to resemble its original design. The space offers a stage with fly space, an orchestra pit that fits 47, and new technology in light and sound equipment. It even has temperature-controlled piano garages and "star" dressing rooms. The theater seems to be nice and intimate, with curve-around seats. 

Dance performance isn't the only aspect of the Cowles Center. The Hennepin Center of the Arts will continue to house two dance schools (Minnesota Dance Theatre and Zenon Dance Company), as well as rehearsal space for dance companies. The Cowles will also provide its partnering dance companies with administrative space, including a copy machine that serves 20 different nonprofits, according to Sonntag.  

The center will also continue its education programming, begun in 2004, which provides interactive and multimedia educational materials to arts educators around the country.  

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Because the space has such extensive facilities, it has the possibility of becoming a central hub for dance conferences as well. For instance, the Cowles was instrumental in hosting the Regional Dance Development Initiative, held last week, where nearly a dozen choreographers were chosen to spend a week watching and writing about their own and each other's work, along with more established nationally known choreographers, and regional and national dance presenters.  

The center does have a lot of momentum building toward it becoming what arts supporters and dance lovers dream of: a place for innovation to happen, where the current dance community can grow and be nurtured, and broaden to a wider audience, where national and international dance artists can come and perform and work with local artists, and where Minneapolis gets just a little bit closer to becoming on par with other large arts-supporting cities.  

Take a look below at a video taken on a media tour inside the Cowles.