Fall Arts Preview 2012

Fall Arts 2012: State of the Arts

An election-season primer to a winning field of candidates in theater, dance, music, and more.

By Laura Dannen and Seth Sommerfeld Illustrations by Michael Byers With Duke Sullivan August 18, 2012 Published in the September 2012 issue of Seattle Met



Courtesy Debby Goldman

Tommy Smith’s Demon Dreams
Oct 18–Nov 10, West of Lenin, westoflenin.com

Demons as we know them—from Dante or Leonardo da Vinci, Hollywood or the Bible—usually come with pitchfork in hand, leaping from one fiery pit to the next. They exist underground, far enough away from humanity that we don’t have to think about them until it’s too late. But read as many Japanese folk tales or supernatural stories as playwright Tommy Smith has (by his count, about 600), and you’ll have a whole new idea about devilry.

“A demon, or oni in Japanese folklore, is a human being,” Smith said over the phone from his home in Brooklyn, New York. “If you did enough bad things, you start growing a horn and then you just run off into the wilderness and tear your clothes off and wear rags and, like, live in a cave and eat babies. There’s no demon with a pitchfork in Japan.” It’s a more complex view of humans, Smith added, one that’s now the subject of his latest play to open in his native Seattle.

The synopsis of Demon Dreams is too good not to repeat: “In a future where demons rule the earth, three demons and three immortals gather in a broken-down temple to tell stories and spit rhymes about the goodness and wickedness of the human race. Demon Dreams fuses traditional Japanese storytelling with a hip-hop aesthetic to bring you a fast-paced, enchanting allegory about the complexities of human nature.”

Imagine if C. S. Lewis’s morality tale The Screwtape Letters had a dose of hip-hop—how much smoother would the lessons go down? But the Japanese stories that inspired Smith (see also: childhood obsession with anime and love of Akira Kurosawa films) have a murkier definition of good and evil. The immortals in the play—a trio of wizened women—argue on behalf of the now-extinct human race, while the demons pull back the curtain, showing heroes at their worst. Smith doesn’t shy away from tough topics; his last two plays performed in Seattle, Sextet at Washington Ensemble Theatre and White Hot at West of Lenin, had characters who were sadistic and self--loathing by turns, mature theater for mature theatergoers. He also has a self--described affinity for “complicated swearing.” That’s why local audiences might be surprised to hear that a child could watch Demon Dreams.

“It’s purposely written so anyone can enjoy it,” Smith said. “Kind of like a Pixar film, the aggressiveness of the subject is rounded out by the fact that it wants to be an appealing, a more baldly entertaining show than the other two. The Seattle plays happen to be my more aggressive ones. I actually have a kind of side career writing for family theater.”

And remember: The demons rap. –LD


Wicked Oz’s good witch and bad witch return for the first time since 2009. Oct 10–Nov 17, stgpresents.org

Antony and Cleopatra Husband-and-wife Hans Altwies and Amy Thone star; things get real. Nov 1–18, seattleshakespeare.org

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PNB in Morris’s Pacific, 2011.

Two World Premieres by Mark Morris
Oct 4–6, On the Boards, ontheboards.org. Nov 2–11, McCaw Hall, pnb.org

Mark Morris doesn’t understand what I’m asking—he never does. Interviewing the modern dance pioneer is akin to sparring with a feisty veteran of the epee, someone who’ll needle you, poke you until you ask the question the right way. (There’s always a right way.) If he wasn’t so frustratingly good at his day job—choreographing -jubilant modern ballet with a maestro’s ear for classical music—he’d make a great trial lawyer.

Me: What do you like about working with Pacific Northwest Ballet?

Morris: That’s a leading question.

Me: Do you like working with PNB?

Morris: I like working with very good dancers, so yes.

This summer Morris shuttled between his home in New York City and his native Seattle, where he had been commissioned by PNB artistic director Peter Boal to compose a new work for the company’s All Premiere showcase in November. This is Morris’s first main-season commission for the Seattle ballet; he’s been prolific with his own Mark Morris Dance Group, creating some 120 works over 32 years, but he’ll only choreograph for another company if he’s seen it perform one of his dances. PNB recently got the green light—despite requesting a commission from Morris years ago. “Now, with Peter Boal, it’s a different situation,” he said. “I like it. I haven’t actually choreographed on these people—I’ve rehearsed them and met them and seen them dance. But to actually work with them is a new thing. Everybody’s a surprise.”

The world premiere at McCaw Hall will have 12 dancers in motion to Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik no. 3, op. 36, a 1925 cello concerto that will feature Morris’s childhood friend Page Smith, principal cellist of the PNB orchestra. Music selection is tantamount to any Morris piece; “I’m a musician,” he once said, “and my medium is dancing.” That’s long been the case, ever since the Mark Morris Dance Group got its start with On the Boards (then in Washington Hall) in 1980. “On the Boards was part of a touring circuit for dance companies, a network of small performance spaces that promoted new work,” Morris said. The organization has since relocated to Lower Queen Anne, but its mission hasn’t changed. Morris will revisit his roots this October with Mark Morris Dance Group and a brand new work for On the Boards. He might not admit it, but two world premieres in a month is a lot of love for -Seattle, his “ancestral home.” –LD


Kidd Pivot: The Tempest Replica Crystal Pite reinvents Shakespeare’s storm with film and faceless dancers. Oct 23–25, ontheboards.org

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Ballet’s cool kids, who cameoed in The Adjustment Bureau, perform a program of local premieres. Nov 15–17, uwworldseries.org

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 Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: The Heist World Tour
Oct 12, WaMu Theater, wamutheater.com

We thought 2011 was going to be the year of Macklemore, when Capitol Hill native Ben Haggerty became Seattle’s greatest export. His socially conscious raps railed against commercialism, appealed across genders, and sold out venues around the country—including three nights in a row at Showbox at the Market, a feat most local artists can only journal about. His boyish freckled face graced the cover of The Seattle Times, beneath the headline Seattle rapper’s star rises as he gets down to business.” Mack even became an unofficial mascot for the Seattle Mariners, penning an anthem in tribute to late broadcaster Dave Niehaus, “My Oh My,” that brought Niehaus’s wife to tears. He was the kind of rapper you’d want to grab a beer with, could leave your baby with—if he wasn’t too busy.

But that was just the prologue. Macklemore’s Future: Act One begins this year when he releases his first full-length album with DJ-producer Ryan Lewis, a collaboration that’s been three years in the making. The Heist, set to drop October 9, has humble origins in a 500-square-foot studio that borders a sheet metal factory and a painting company—a step up from working in their parents’ basements, they say. In their video trailer for the album, they talk of logging about “eight- to nine-hundred days inside that room,” a workingman’s journey that didn’t leave time to flirt with OxyContin, which Mack has admitted doing in the past.

The result of their labor, based on the few singles they’ve leaked, is a diverse collection of storytelling tracks laid over piano, trumpets, and dance-club beats. He’s Macklemore on the mount, delivering a sermon on the dangers of brand hype (the Nike Swoosh is the villain on “Wings”) and the need for marriage equality. With the proceeds from his 99-cent track “Same Love” supporting gay marriage in Washington state, he’s now Macklemore, civil rights leader.

Seattle hip-hop is already a crowded scene with plenty of artful pioneers, from Blue Scholars to Shabazz Palaces, eking out a following with sociopolitical mantras and fuzzy experimental beats. So what is it about Macklemore, an Opie-looking white boy? Just listen to “Same Love.” It’s both personal, a tribute to his gay uncles, and a psalm (“love is patient, love is kind”). There’s beauty and vulnerability to his music that doesn’t always come through in the macho world of rap. It has heart. How refreshing. –LD


My Morning Jacket with Shabazz Palaces Southern psychedelic rock meets experimental Seattle hip-hop. Sept 7, concertsatmarymoor.com

David Byrne and St. Vincent Like a hipster fever dream: Talking Head meets indie rock. Oct 17, cityartsfest.com

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Star Anna makes her Benaroya debut.

 Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s Sonic Evolution
Oct 26, Benaroya Hall, seattlesymphony.org

One fateful night a year ago, an army of hipsters invaded Benaroya Hall, stopping only to retie their Converse and check their iPhones. They marched in twos, claiming seats next to patrons in suits and gowns, until the storied concert hall became a sea of denim cresting with a wash of white hair. It wasn’t your average night at the symphony.

Under the direction of spirited new conductor Ludovic Morlot, a 38-year-old who can legitimately attend the Seattle Symphony’s young patrons events, the orchestra introduced a new Sonic Evolution program of world premieres by young composers inspired by Seattle’s rock and jazz legacy—Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, Nirvana. For the second half of the evening, local chamber-pop band Hey Marseilles made its symphony debut, wearing ties and worried grins as they looked out over cavernous -Benaroya Hall. It was a night designed to introduce the so-called “enemies of the symphony”—as Morlot cheerfully described people who’d rather stay home than sit through a Chopin recital—to classical music in the modern era.

Considering the energetic fury with which the orchestra members opened the performance, they were pretty excited about the idea, too. Vladimir Nikolaev’s The Sinewaveland: Homage to Jimi Hendrix was charged with frenetic glissandi, strings working together like Jimi’s whammy bar. Though the music itself didn’t mimic the guitar master’s chords, it was still exhilarating, conjuring an image of Hendrix atop Bald Mountain, lighting his guitar on fire. The audience left buzzing—an encouraging sound for any arts organization in the throes of a recession.

SSO is bringing back Sonic Evolution for a second season, this time with new works inspired by hardcore rockers Alice in Chains, hip-hop duo Blue Scholars, and British prog-rock band Yes. Seattle-based Yes drummer Alan White is slated to play on Alexandra Gardner’s Just Say Yes; and maybe if we talk about it enough, Blue Scholars’ DJ Sabzi and MC Geologic will add some beats to Ken Hesketh’s Knotted Tongues. Or not. Just an idea.

To close out the evening, Star Anna and the Laughing Dogs will make their symphony debut. With a new shock of white-blond hair and an unexpectedly mellow record slated for 2013, 26-year-old Star Anna (yes, it’s her given name: “Mom’s a big hippie and wanted to name me Louie”) is ready to break out of the alt-country box the band’s been in since its first album. And what better time to make a statement than at Benaroya? “That’s probably one of the places I never thought I would get to play,” she said. “Seattle’s such a cool town.” –LD


Beethoven’s Fidelio Ludwig’s only opera is a dramatic two-act prison break. Oct 13–27, seattleopera.org

An Evening with Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso A pioneer in minimalism and an African kora player and percussionist Adam Rudolph. Oct 25, kpcenter.org

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Elles: Women Artists from the Centre Pompidou, Paris
Oct 11–Jan 13, Seattle Art Museum, seattleartmuseum.org

Dora Maar, Untitled (Hand shell), 1934, French; gelatin silver print, 15.8 x 11.3in. Collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Image courtesy Seattle Art Museum.

Testosterone is at an all-time low at Seattle Art Museum this fall, when a century’s worth of modern and contemporary art—more than 125 works by female artists—travels to Seattle from the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Some artists stand out in bold face: Frida Kahlo. Dora Maar. Diane Arbus. Others have only recently received their due; Claude Cahun’s daring self-portraits (circa 1919), which were as sexually androgynous as her name, existed in a limbo of inconsequence until the last decade. She was a radical, too gender-bending for her time—and this was during the height of surrealism.

And then there’s that word: radical. Even in the twenty-first century, critics wondered out loud if the Centre Pompidou was taking a big risk by excluding male artists in its original exhibition in 2009, a monumental show of 500 paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, videos, and installations by more than 200 women. “I think with any forward-thinking exhibition risks are part of the conversation,” said Marisa Sánchez, associate curator of modern and contemporary art at SAM, who cocurated Seattle’s Elles with Camille Morineau from the Pompidou. “For me, it wasjust experiencing very ambitious work by artists. Period. These are women artists, but they’re artists first and foremost.”

In the same way that Tacoma Art Museum’s Hide/Seek exhibit last spring reexamined American art history through the lens of homosexuality, Elles offers a survey of modern and contemporary art, 1909 to 2007, from a new perspective. Beyond the shadow of Dalí lurks talented surrealists Cahun, Kahlo, and Maar; Joan Mitchell represents the next generation of abstract expressionists after de Kooning and Pollock. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that artists such as Martha Rosler (Semiotics of the Kitchen) and self-portrait photographer Cindy Sherman were openly exploring so-called “female” issues: gender roles, body, and ideas about beauty. In one of the exhibit’s most provocative pieces, 1994’s Foreign Body, Beirut-born video and installation artist Mona Hatoum uses her body as both subject and material, sending a medical camera on a cruise through her interior, from mouth to vagina. At SAM the images are projected inside a walk-in sculpture. “It’s dealing with surveillance and violence and issues of the self and self--representation like nothing you’ve -experienced before,” said Sánchez.

Marina Abramovic, 
Art Must Be Beautiful, Artist Must Be Beautiful, 1975.

 Elles is part of a larger transformation of Seattle this fall; SAM will reinstall 25 additional female artists, featuring its Imogen Cunningham photographs, and hang a small collection of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings on loan. The Henry Art Gallery, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and Seattle Arts and Lectures will also offer programming that celebrates women. Not that it’s just about women.

“Camille Morineau had this great quote” about the Pompidou’s exhibit, said Sánchez. “‘[We’re] exhibiting only women, and yet the goal is neither to show that female art exists nor to produce a feminist event, but to present to the public a hanging that appears to offer a good history of twentieth-century art. The goal is to show that a representation of women versus men is no longer important.’ That’s an important note for our public. This isn’t a feminist exhibition.” –LD


MW [Moment Magnitude] The love child of top Seattle performance artists marks the Frye’s 60th anniversary. Oct 13–Jan 13, fryemuseum.org

Susan Robb Her interactive installations get people to walk miles and squat in high-end buildings. Oct 24–Dec 13, cornish.edu

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 The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller

Sept 11, Moore Theatre, stgpresents.org

To say Buckminster Fuller was ahead of his time is like saying the Internet was a nifty little invention. The early twentieth-century Renaissance man was a designer, architect, engineer, mathematician, philosopher, and poet who ultimately held 2,000 -patents despite getting kicked out of Harvard—twice. He dreamed big: of mile-high floating cities free of air pollution and three-wheeled cars. His geodesic dome was designed to address the post–World War II housing shortage, though its most famous example is “the Epcot ball.” Modestly put, “he was an oracle,” reads one quote in The New York Times. So it’s appropriate that a documentary about Fuller, the one-night screening of The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller at the Moore Theatre, is also an experiment in forward thinking.

Oscar-nominated documentarian Sam Green (The Weather Underground) brings Fuller’s futurist vision to life in a format he calls a “live documentary.” Green narrates onstage for the film (cuing it from his laptop) and alt-rock stalwarts Yo La Tengo play a live score. The format also gives the film tremendous adaptability. While the work was originally commissioned by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and placed more emphasis on Fuller’s connections to San Francisco, this version will focus on his Seattle ties. A former student of Fuller's, T. C. Howard, designed two domes for the 1962 World’s Fair (including the still-standing Laser Dome at Pacific Science Center) and Bucky's cousin Richard Fuller founded Seattle Art Museum and served as its director for the first 40 years.

Despite Fuller’s many contributions, Green thinks what really keeps the late brainiac (he died in 1983) relevant are his ideas on sustainability. Fuller believed the planet had enough resources for everyone to live a very comfortable life—but the challenge was how to distribute them fairly. Keep in mind he was saying this in 1929. “It’s a radical idea,” said Green, “especially now, because we’re living at a time where we accept the moment of scarcity and cutbacks. But it is still true…[and] it opens people’s sense of possibility.”

With luck, the live documentary will deliver the fullness of Fuller’s genius in a way modern movies can’t. “[We’re] in an era when, as a filmmaker, you sort of realize, Fuck! People are going to be watching my stuff on iPhones? I’m still a big fan of the cinema experience. This piece will only exist a couple times. There’s no documentation of it, nobody’s gonna record it, it’s not gonna be on YouTube, it’s not gonna be streaming later. And hopefully that will be memorable in a way that you can’t get from a Netflix DVD.”  –SS


Universal Pictures: Celebrating 100 Years To Kill a Mockingbird. Pillow Talk. Jaws. The list goes on. Nov 2–8, nwfilmforum.org

Ya Gotta Believe! with Ryan Boudinot, Emily Kendal Frey, and Claire DedererBig-deal regional writers create new work about faith. Nov 16, hugohouse.org

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