Left of Center

Rosie Thomas,Singer/Songwriter

You should know her because Last year’s Sub Pop album These Friends of Mine—a collection of delicate ballads featuring fellow indie popster Sufjan Stevens—has established the Cornish alum as a quirky voice on the rise.

What she’s up to now Thomas’s audiences expect the unconventional—they’re often treated to her alter ego, a pizza-delivery gal named Sheila, whom she incorporates into concerts. But late 2007 saw the Ballard resident acting out again: She spent a week filming the upcoming Calvin Marshall with another disarming oddball, Hollywood character actor Steve Zahn. “We had a kiss!” Thomas proclaims in her endearingly childlike squeal. “I can’t even do public displays of affection normally.” The movie experience energized her: “For the first time in my life I felt so brave and full of life because I was so out of my league.” In addition to touring this spring she plans to record new material with Sam Beam, the one-man alt-folk force who performs as Iron and Wine. But she wants to keep her celluloid options open. “If I had four lines in a film every year,” she says, “I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

See for yourself Rosie Thomas, visit www.rosiethomas.com for tour info and film release dates

Lust Laugh

Ellen Forney, Cartoonist

You should know her because She continues to draw a fine funny line between laughing with sex and laughing at it.

What she’s up to now Lust, Forney’s first solo hardback collection, combines some of her weekly illustrations for personal ads in The Stranger with interviews she conducted with people who placed those ads. The talk is refreshingly frank and her cartoons demonstrate a playful grasp of how wonderfully varied human sexuality is: One male seeking a very particular kind of assistance is depicted as a box of “Hand Bugger Helper”; a woman’s Bainbridge ferry fantasy finds itself on a “Wish You Were Here” postcard. Levity moves Forney closer to her goal. “I think if I have an agenda, a lot of it is about being sex positive,” she confesses. “People grow up with a lot of shame around it, and it doesn’t fit into their idea of what a healthy life is. But it leads into accepting yourself. It’s easier to understand other people if you understand yourself.”

See for yourself www.ellenforney.com

Heaven Sent

Holcombe Waller, Performance Artist

You should know him because He has a poet’s gift for language, an avant-garde imagination, and a voice that follows you out of the theater and into the night.

What he’s up to now Into the Dark Unknown: The Hope Chest, which Waller describes as “a performance art piece masquerading as a folk show,” takes the stage here after debuting last September at the TBA Festival in Waller’s home city of Portland. The show features a small band, video projections, and songs (all but one of which he had a hand in writing) about what Waller calls “the search for something greater than yourself…getting at that sense of opening your heart through religion and love and lust.” Waller sings like a fallen angel—untainted yet earthbound and unwilling to forget the sky. He sounds positively holy when, barefoot and soul-baring, he serenades the audience with a desire “to see every leaf on every tree.” Walt Whitman is humming along somewhere.

See for yourself www.ontheboards.org

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Man of the People

Rajan Krishnaswami, Founder and Artistic Director, Simple Measures

You should know him because His chamber ensemble is in its third season of making classical music come alive in the cafés, clubs, and community centers of the greater metropolitan area.

What he’s up to now This month, Simple Measures connects dance music across the centuries with an ensemble that includes Krishna-swami on cello, movement from Seattle Early Dance, and a performance by Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Stanko Milov. Audiences and performers are encouraged to make observations or ask questions throughout; there’s a relaxed, exploratory quality to each event and no presumed foreknowledge of classical composition. A Juilliard grad and Fulbright fellow, Krishnaswami moved to Seattle with his wife in 1992, played Nutcracker 250 times with the PNB orchestra, and decided that “we are on the cusp of another wave of change in the way that this music is presented.” Last fall found Seattle Symphony’s principal cellist Joshua Roman merrily thumping jazz in a café for a Simple Measures program that considered improvisation through the ages. “I hope that this format gets people interested,” says Krishnaswami. “And then they might be more inclined to try the symphony.”

See for yourself www.simplemeasures.org

History Teacher

Tina Landau, Director

You should know her because Whether guiding unconventional new work (the man-trapped-in-a-cavern musical Floyd Collins) or contemplating classics (The Time of Your Life for Chicago’s Steppenwolf theater), Landau requires audiences to ponder modern society.

What she’s up to now Landau finds present-day resonance in Greek myth with The Cure at Troy, the Nobel Prize–winning poet Seamus Heaney’s lyrical look at Sophocles’ Trojan War play. “I love the formality of the language and the ideas of the play,” she says. “However, pretty much everything I’m doing with the design, the acting, and the music is going to intentionally rub up against and mess with all that.” In this story of a young man who deceives an embittered hero to own an all-powerful weapon, the Greek chorus sings to a driving beat, the landscape of the set challenges the actors’ movements, and the play’s “open-wound” quality comments on our own point in history.

*See for yourself * www.seattlerep.org

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Faces in the Crowd

Diana Falchuk, Visual Artist

You should know her because Since 1999 her installations have literally been making a mark on the city.

What she’s up to now Collages of the Virgin Mary and Superman on utility poles, legwarmers on USPS mailboxes—Falchuk’s work shows up in the most unexpected places. Lately, she has been creating delicately rendered drawings of impossible hybrid contraptions—for example, a birdlike form with crutches for legs—that suggest organic matter and the “tattered remains of human society.” It’s art that conveys a sense of decay in a cheerful sort of way, as though the future holds promise despite evidence to the contrary. For her show at McLeod Residence she promises cryptically that “something will happen to the wallpaper in the foyer and it will continue to happen to the wallpaper in the gallery…” Whatever “happens,” it’s sure to be as thoughtful as the artist herself.

See for yourself www.dianafalchuk.com

Happy Hoofers

Susan Stroman, Director/Choreographer

You should know her because Since 1992, when her Crazy for You dances met Gershwin note for note, she’s been making Tony-winning musical steps that keep crowds happy. Ask Mel Brooks.

What she’s up to now While she loved controlling the chaos in Brooks’s Broadway blockbusters The Producers and Young Frankenstein, Stroman didn’t hesitate when Pacific Northwest Ballet artistic director Peter Boal asked if she’d set some work on the company. She offered a world premiere. “And then,” Boal joked at a winter rehearsal of the new piece, “I think I fainted.” Take Five…More or Less, Stroman’s 13-minute ballet, is swoon-worthy, letting 11 dancers strut, hoof, and vamp to music from the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s classic jazz album Time Out (arranged for a full orchestra at PNB). The choreography catches the propulsive, insouciant elegance of Brubeck’s music while each dancer’s enthusiasm contributes to a palpable ensemble energy—like a team of athletes excited to be on the playing field—which Stroman noticed before she even taught them a step. “There seems to be a wonderful happiness in the air,” she says. “They seem to enjoy each other’s company.”

See for yourself www.pnb.org

Handel with Care

Mark Morris, Choreographer

You should know him because He’s a Seattle native who for three decades has earned an international name as the unruly maestro of modern dance.

What he’s up to now “I was miserable most of the time I was working on it,” Morris says about creating his masterpiece L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. The 24-dancer tour de force is an emotional celebration set to Handel’s oratorio on John Milton’s poetry. Further inspired by William Blake’s watercolors of the Milton poems, Morris’s dance is a lush, twirling, rump-slapping triumph of bodies inhabiting music of pastoral transcendence. Live music is essential to Morris—“I’m old-fashioned enough to strive for excellence,” he quips—so the Seattle Symphony, a pair of sopranos, a tenor, and a baritone accompany L’Allegro here. And Morris acknowledges a promising relationship with the Paramount. “It’s expensive and complicated to do this—I’m not doing this as a favor,” he notes. “We haven’t had a chance to do a lot of my work in Seattle. So it looks like that’s changing, and I’m very happy about that.”
See for yourself L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, May 16–18, Paramount Theatre, 206-628-0888; www.theparamount.com

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Dance Captain

Kara O’Toole, Executive Director,Velocity Dance Center

You should know her because By throwing open the doors to her studio for movement classes, touring companies, and local choreographers, she’s making all the right moves for contemporary dance to thrive in town.

What she’s up to now In October, Velocity worried it might close after its Oddfellows Hall home was sold and rent went up. Negotiations with the new owner to keep it open through 2008 have gone nowhere. O’Toole has already relinquished the fourth floor’s second stage to focus finances on new digs elsewhere (the old On the Boards at 14th and Fir is a possibility). “Dance artists need space—uninterrupted space—to explore what they do,” she says. The mix of talents that have established the venue’s reputation haven’t all come from here. Scuba, a touring alliance among dance centers in Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, has an upcoming stopover. The program includes Seattle’s poetic Scott/Powell Performance and Philadelphia’s Kate Watson-Wallace, whose choreographic experiments (in houses, cars, churches) demand risks Velocity audiences like to take. “It’s not just a center because it’s convenient,” O’Toole declares. “It’s a center because we do something particular for people who live all over the city.”

See for yourself www.velocitydancecenter.org

Three’s Company

Byron Schenkman, Pianist

You should know him because He’s a cofounder of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra and a nationally acclaimed solo musician whose relentless investigations into the music of the past are imbued with contemporary panache.
What he’s up to now “I’ve always believed in the importance of artists growing and exploring,” Schenkman says. The pianist will debut his Mira Trio, which includes violinist Gabriela Diaz and cellist Alexei Yupanqui Gonzales, at Seattle’s Town Hall. “It’s been a vision of mine for years,” explains Schenkman. “I love the dynamics of working in a group of three people. There’s a lot of intimacy and a lot of room for individuality.” The concert begins with Beethoven’s Piano Trio op. 1, no. 1 before moving on to Haydn and Schubert. But why not premiere in New York, where Schenkman relocated last fall? “Town Hall has been such a champion for doing new things,” he answers, remembering his first piano recital there, in 2001, after years as a harpsichordist. “It just seemed like the appropriate place.”
See for yourself www.townhallseattle.org

Down with Love

Stephin Merritt,Singer/Songwriter

You should know him because With the 1999 release of the Magnetic Fields triple CD 69 Love Songs, far more than 69 pop-music followers felt the invisible draw of Merritt’s bravura.

What he’s up to now Merritt has several recording aliases—the Gothic Archies, the 6ths, Future Bible Heroes—and a variety of projects, including a collaboration with Chinese musical-theater and opera director Chen Shi-Zheng. He even had the opportunity in 2000 to be one of 14 celebrities to name a new Pantone color (Carolyn Eve Green, if you’re wondering). Now he’s touring with the Magnetic Fields for the first time since 2004. On Distortion, the band’s newest album, he makes yet another departure. Whereas previous Merritt-helmed efforts are brazen in their nonrock sound, this one lives up to its title with plenty of fuzzy feedback drenching the songs. But those songs are as wryly ironic as the famous 69: “California Girls” twists its Beach Boys title and melody with the refrain, “I hate California girls.”

See for yourself Magnetic Fields, March 6 & 7, Town Hall, 206-628-0888; www.townhallseattle.org

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A Maverick Marriage

John Kazanjian and Mary Ewald,Founders, New City Theater

You should know them because Whether in a SoDo warehouse or in their own home, their experiments in theater and language have produced bracing political experiences for audiences for over 25 years.

What they’re up to now “We tested the waters with residencies at various places,” says Ewald. “But nothing permanent came of it.” The couple has never lacked for daring—last fall they once again used their own house as a theater with jaw-dropping results: Ewald played a rapt Laura Bush reading Dostoevsky in Kazanjian’s production of The Grand Inquisitor. And, uncertain financial market or no, they invested in a 900-square-foot performance space, called the Shoebox, on Capitol Hill (no surprise that the curtain rises this month on a staging of notorious NEA artist Holly Hughes’s cutting, queer Clit Notes). Spring will find the new venue filled with New City tradition: a showcase of “any and all genres up to 90 minutes in length” staged by local directors, playwrights, and actors. “It’s about access,” says Kazanjian with passion. “Some of these programs are bridges. They’re ways to get artists to want to live and create new work in Seattle.” Now that’s city planning.

See for yourself The Director’s Festival, May 7–June 7, The Shoebox, 206-271-4430; www.brownpapertickets.com

Literary Enchantress

Isabel Allende, Writer

You should know her because Since her first novel The House of the Spirits debuted in 1982, the Chilean author has continued to stir up magic on the world’s literary scene.

What she’s up to now Though Allende spent a week in Seattle in 2004 when her young-adult novel City of the Beasts was selected for the public library’s Seattle Reads program, she’s more widely known as an international author of books for grown-ups. In a natural move for someone who began her writing career as a journalist, she dropped the protective shroud of fiction for Paula, a 2003 memoir about the death of her 28-year-old daughter, which earned critical acclaim. Recently she’s finished a bold, bald new chronicle about life after Paula’s death, The Sum of Our Days. Since the subjects in the new work are still very much alive, Allende, whose stop here is part of University Book Store’s lineup, sought clearances from everybody before publishing. She jokes, however, that when it comes to writing nonfiction, it’s much easier to apologize afterward than to ask for permission ahead of time.

See for yourself Isabel Allende, April 4, University Temple United Methodist Church, 206-634-3400; www.bookstore.washington.edu

Rocket Man

Ron van der Ende, Visual Artist

You should know him because He turns reclaimed lumber into bas-relief cars and jets and ships that sell at the speed of light.

What he’s up to now In his giant studio in Rotterdam, Holland, van der Ende stays for months at a time creating large-scale wall sculptures with a pop-art-meets—industrial-chic vibe, including a seven-by-five-foot replica of Arctic explorer Robert Edwin Peary’s schooner, the Roosevelt. “My sculptural strategy,” says van der Ende, “is not dissimilar to that of a passionate modeler.” Though he tends to work with typical boy stuff—boats, spaceships, stereo equipment, fast cars—the appeal of his work is not limited by gender or genre. Combining elements of architecture and fine art, he creates work that people without a background in either can relate to: “I bring life back to things we see every day, the things we tend to forget about enough to render them invisible.” His OKOK show is his U.S. debut, and he’s sold every piece he’s produced. If you’re interested in collecting, don’t dawdle.

See for yourself Ron van der Ende, May 10–June 9, OKOK Gallery, 206-789-6242; www.okokgallery.com

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