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Spring Arts Preview 2015 

Arts Alive, Arts Renewed

Robert Barber normally has a thousand artworks crammed into his garage studio in Tucson. And no wonder. He's 92 years old and has been making art almost every day for the last 75 years.

Right now there's a little more room in that cramped space. The work of the unknown Barber has been exhibited only rarely, but this month MOCA, Tucson's Museum of Contemporary Art, opened a major Barber retrospective, filling its walls and firehouse spaces with some 200 of Barber's boldly colored modernist paintings, drawings and sculptures.

MOCA usually shows edgy work by younger contemporary artists—sheets of scorched metal instead of paintings, say, or found-object constructions instead of traditional sculptures. But in 2013, at the Tucson Museum of Art Biennial, MOCA director Anne-Marie Russell and curator Jocko Weyland spotted a gorgeously painted Barber still life.

"It was of a twisted, folded six-pack carton," Russell says. "It knocked our socks off. I ran to it. Jocko ran over and had the same reaction." The two looked at each other, and Russell said, "This is a painting.'"

Classical painting techniques are not taught so much in art school today, she noted, but Barber studied in the 1940s, under such luminaries as painter Philip Guston.

"He clearly trained at another moment in time. He's highly skilled in his ability to build up paint."

When the two MOCA curators tracked Barber down and visited his studio, they found that his work amounted to a mini-history of the art of the last 50 years. He was doing abstract expressionism in the 1950s, pop art in the '60s, figurative painting in the '80s. In the '90s, he jumped into "lyrical abstraction and color block, like what's happening now."

Those works are on view at MOCA through May 31, and Barber is giving a talk at MOCA at 6 p.m., March 5.

The unveiling of a masterful unknown artist living right here in Tucson—the World War II vet taught sixth grade in TUSD for 30 years—has to rank as one of the chief delights of this packed art season. Yet there's plenty more to tempt the ear and eye. Opera, ballet, modern dance, classical music, films and plays galore grace Tucson's stages, and its galleries are filled with everything from colored glass to beeswax and old-time Polaroids.

Limited by space, the compendium below touches on only a portion of what's on offer. For complete information, check the arts organizations' websites and the Weekly's listings, and consult The Range blog for late-breaking events. And check the music section weekly for the skinny on rock, pop, jazz and other musical genres.

ART

The brilliant colors of Robert Barber reappear in the works of Henry Halem at Philabaum Gallery Feb. 7 to April 25. Head of glass studies at Kent State from 1969 to 1998, Halem mixes glittering glass with other objects in his poetic glass boxes series. Squares of colored glass are scattered across the boxes' clear surfaces, and wood and metal are positioned on the inside. Halem gives a free talk on the evolution of his work at 3:30 p.m., Feb. 14.

Laura Moriarty likewise revels in the bright tones of the modernists. Her solid pigmented beeswax constructions are built as "sedimentary beds," their stacked layers conjuring up slices of geologic earth. At Conrad Wilde, Feb. 7 to 28; reception 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday evening, Feb. 7, during Art Safari, the joint openings of the Central Tucson Gallery Association. Moriarty teaches a workshop, "Waxing Geologic," Feb. 8 and 9.

And a couple of painting exhibitions coincidentally tie in with the Barber bonanza. "Breaking Down Surface Tension," a five-artist show at Pima's Bernal Gallery, relates to the "abstract art movements of the '50s, '60s and '70s," says curator David Andres. Three Tucsonans, painter David Longwell, contemporary mixed-media artist Katey Monaghan and photographer Kathleen Velo, share space with ex-Tucsonan Mark Pack, a painter. Out-of-towner Rebecca Crowell, a mixed-media painter, lectures at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 17. The show runs Feb. 2 to March 13.

Abstract expressionism is also on the schedule at Davis Dominguez, where painter Josh Goldberg and sculptor Steve Murphy show their works Jan. 29 to March 14; a reception is Feb. 7, during Art Safari. James Cook gets a solo outing with his thick landscape paintings, whose bold shapes and brush strokes straddle the divide between realism and abstraction. March 19 to May 2; reception March 21.

The marvelous Mark Klett, a photographer who teaches at ASU, is justly famed for his "Rephotographic Survey," which positioned his modern-day shots of western landscapes alongside 19th century expedition photos of the same locations. His new solo show at Etherton, "Then + Now," exhibits recent color images that track the 1860 journey of engineer Raphael Pumpelly along the Camino del Diablo. It also reprises some of Klett's older black-and-whites and exhibits new pigment prints of earlier photos, including the lovely lunar "Time Studies." Through March 27.

Elsewhere in photography, the Center for Creative Photography also beams in on the skies. "Astronomical: Photographs of Our Solar System," organized by new curator Joshua Chuang, draws on works in the collection to document photography's significance in the science of space, Jan. 31 to May 17. The third and final installment of Edward S. Curtis's Arizona photographs runs through July 18 at the Arizona State Museum; multi-media Native responses to his Indian portraits are exhibited through March 31.

The biggest surprise in photography is "Beauties: The Photography of Andy Warhol," on view at the University of Arizona Museum of Art Feb. 14 to June 14. It turns out that the wealthy Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts donated some 160 Warhols to the UAMA a half dozen years ago.

"They're mostly Polaroids," which Warhol used as notes and working tools, registrar Kristen Schmidt says. Some color screen prints, including images of Marilyn Monroe and Queen Elizabeth, are also in the windfall, which until now has remained invisible to its new owners, the people of Arizona. A host of other regional museums also got Warhols, with the stipulation that the works be exhibited periodically.

To fulfill that mandate, the UAMA enlisted UA grad student Erica Gilliland to sift through the collection, and she selected 40 to 50 pieces for "Beauties." The show is one of a wave of exhibitions around the country, triggered by the donations. Locals who want a full Warholian immersion can also visit the Phoenix Art Museum, which goes Warhol from March 4 to June 21 with a show of color portraits.

THEATER

If the visual arts scene is leaning toward mid-century modernism, the theater world is inclining toward the classics. Shakespeare, as always, is well represented, and the first on the Old Pueblo's bardic bill is the story of the woe of Juliet and her Romeo.

Arizona Theatre Company performs its first-ever rendition of the tragedy of the star-crossed lovers March 6 to 21. Between the direction by the award-winning Kirsten Brandt and the set, lighting and projections by David Lee Cuthbert, the company promises this will be a "'Romeo and Juliet' like you've never seen before."

The Rogue Theatre takes on "The Merchant of Venice," a dark story steeped in anti-Semitism that manages to have a comic side; it also has Portia, one of Shakespeare's great female heroines. (April 30 to May 17). Winding Road Theater Company doesn't exactly tackle the canon, providing instead "Rough Magic," a contemporary spoof of "The Tempest." In it, playwright Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa places Caliban in today's New York City (April 16 to May 3).

And in an even lighter vein, Drama Queen Productions and Tucson Fringe Theatre Festival undertake the roving "Beer with the Bard," a bar crawl on April 25, on the eve of Shakespeare's 451st birthday. The program: "Fourth Avenue, four pubs, four scenes from four of Shakespeare's best-loved plays."

 The Rogue, as is its habit, also honors modern masters. Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" finishes its run this Sunday, Jan. 25. "The Lady in the Looking Glass" follows from Feb. 16 to March 15; the plays is crafted from seven short stories by Virginia Woolf.

And Winding Road boasts a premiere by a contemporary playwright, one of Tucson's own. Toni Press-Coffman debuts her long-awaited "United," about the passengers and crew who seized a plane over Pennsylvania on 9/11, and crash-landed it in hopes of saving others. The play runs Feb. 5 to 22 at the Cabaret in the Temple of Music and Art. Old Pueblo Playwrights showcases no fewer than twelve local playwrights in the Annual New Play Festival. Their dozen new plays are work-shopped in a drama/comedy marathon over four days at the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre, Jan. 29 to Feb. 1.  

In this political season, when we're already seeing a battle between a Democratic president and a Republican Congress, ATC is running "Five Presidents." A world premiere by Rick Cleveland–who wrote several episodes of "The West Wing"—"Presidents" imagines the conversation during a real-life event: the day in 1994 when four living ex-presidents, Ford, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and the sitting president, Clinton, met up for the funeral of still another ex-president, Richard Nixon. Through Feb. 1.

ATC turns from politics to art in "A Weekend with Pablo Picasso," April 10 to April 26. The one-man show stars the multitalented Herbert Siguenza. Not only does he play the great artist, he wrote the script—based on Picasso's own writings—and promises to dash off six new paintings in every performance.

"The Savannah Disputation" at Live Theatre Workshop is a "hell of a good time," according to TW critic M. Scot Skinner. He means what he says: The play injects some sorely needed comedy into the war between religions. It runs through Feb. 14. "Move Over Mrs. Markham," a British bedroom farce, stages a whole lotta bed-hoppin' Feb. 19 to March 28. "Enchanted April" recounts the 1920s story of four English ladies fleeing rainy England for a sunny Italian spring, April 2 to May 10. The durable tale—first a 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, then a 1925 play and a 1992 movie, became a play for the second time in 2003, written by Matthew Barber.

LTW has also gone once again into the late-night biz. "These Watches Can't Tell Time," penned by UA undergrads Laura Bargfeld, Andrea Head and Simon Ridley, is a memory tale for two characters, playing Jan. 30 to Feb. 7.

At Invisible Theatre through Feb. 1, acting veterans Molly McKasson and Roberto Guajardo star in "Stella & Lou," a romantic comedy set in the unlikely location of a South Philadelphia bar. During a short run from Feb. 12 to 15, artistic director Susan Claassen reprises "A Conversation with Edith Head," her one-woman show about the famed costume designer (Joan Rivers called her "vivid portrayal ... astonishing."

In "Cannoli, Latkes and Guilt—The Therapy Continues," March 7 and 8, Steve Solomon comically conjures up the culture clash in the "mixed" marriage of his parents—an Italian and a Jew. "Shear Madness," starting April 8, enlists the audience in a participatory comedy whodunit set in a salon.

Arizona Repertory, populated by the UA's talented theater students, embarks on "This," a play by Melissa James Gibson that speaks to the heart of any 20-something, past or present. On stage Feb. 8 to March 1, it chronicles four young people moving on from "that"—their childhoods—to "this"—blossoming adulthood. March 8 to April 5, Brent Gibbs directs the young thespians in the dark tragedy "Othello." In a semester-ending extravaganza April 15 to May 3, the musical theater hopefuls put on Stephen Sondheim's beloved 1973 "A Little Night Music," a romantic story set in Sweden in the early 1900s.

And speaking of musical theater, fans have plenty of options. Broadway in Tucson continues to import traveling companies for shows of greater and lesser quality. (Last June's "Jersey Boys" was excellent, November's "Flashdance" appalling.) The spring's offerings look promising. The classic "Guys and Dolls," the 1950 Tony winner for best musical, deploys its gangsters and molls on the Centennial Hall stage from Feb. 24 to March 1.

The Irish charmer "Once," based on the 2006 movie and re-written for the stage by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, runs March 31 to April 5, at the tail end of St. Patrick's season. "Newsies," the story of 19th century New York City paperboys, was a 1992 Disney movie that turned into a Broadway stage hit in 2012. April 21 to 26.

Tucson's two homegrown musical comedy theaters, longtime Gaslight and newcomer Great American Playhouse, stage their own spoofs of popular movies. Gaslight is already deep into "The Ballad of Two-Gun McGraw"; timed to coincide with Rodeo Days, it runs through March 29; "Hot Rod Lincoln," a '50s vehicle, roars in April 2 to June 7. Great American is presenting "Mindy Anna Jones and the Lost Ark of Time" through March 21. "Toy Tales: A Western Saga" gallops in March 26 to June 6.

An Irish play is on the boards through Sunday at ZUZI courtesy of the new Something Something Theatre. In "The Weir," by Conor McPherson, a young Dublin woman disturbs the denizens of a country pub with a terrifying tale. Also closing Sunday is "Women and Guns," a new play by Steve Gold about female vets suffering from PTSD. Winner of a TADA! playwriting contest, "Women" is playing at the Cabaret Theatre. Among the other newish small troupes in town, Speak the Speech has scheduled "The Lion in Winter" at Community Players Theatre in April.

DANCE

The most exciting show of the spring may well be by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. In a follow-up to its spectacular concert by Jessica Lang Dance last November, UApresents brings Aspen Santa Fe Ballet March 26. Like Lang, Aspen Santa Fe does an exhilarating contemporary take on ballet; the troupe's inventive choreography and athletic dancers wowed Tucson on its last stop in 2010. Among its gifted performers is native Tucsonan Seia Rassenti.

The beloved Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns to Centennial Hall for the umpteenth time April 12, also courtesy of UApresents. Its dancers are renowned for their extraordinary skill. The concert, as always, ends with Ailey's 1960 masterpiece "Revelations," a work that remains a revelation no matter how many times you see it.

Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, an American company that draws on the traditions of Spain while pushing innovations, arrives at Centennial Hall for a Feb. 13 concert.

Ballet Tucson, the city's excellent professional ballet troupe, stages audience favorite "Dance & Dessert" March 20, 21 and 22 at Stevie Eller. The lively concert is always a tasty confection of short pieces, in many styles, by multiple choreographers, followed by a feast of sweets. Among the guest choreographers this year is Kiyon Gaines of Pacific Northwest Ballet. On May 2 and 3, Ballet Tucson closes its season with the traditional fairy-tale ballet Sleeping Beauty, an 1890 Petipa classic set to the music of Tchaikovsky.

Tucson Regional Ballet, a company of well-trained young dancers, performs "Josefina Javelina," a ballet based on Susan Lowell's children's book about a javelina who sets out to become a ballerina. Also on the program at the April 18 and 19 concerts at Leo Rich is "La Bayadère Act III," another Petipa classic, this one from 1877.

On the local modern dance scene, the young troupe Artifact Dance Project collaborates with music trio Copper and Congress in "Until." Artistic directors Claire Hancock and Ashley Bowman choreograph new dances to the band's original songs; the concerts are Feb. 6 and 7 at Artifact's downtown studio on Toole.

Artifact returns to Stevie Eller to reprise "Speak Easy," a 2014 evening-length work about the Jazz Age—and Prohibition—in the Big Apple. A collaboration with composer/musicians Chris Black and Naïm Amor, the fun and glittery show has plenty of sultry dances and sparkly flapper dresses. April 3 to 5.

Students at the UA School of Dance star in "Color Wheel" Feb. 25 to March 1 at Stevie Eller, dancing Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" along with works by Doug Nielsen and other faculty members. In the concert "Boundless—Student Spotlight," the dancers in training perform their own works, while in "Spring Collection" they dance pieces by their profs, including Nielsen, Elizabeth George and Barbea Williams. "Boundless" runs five times April 23 to May 1; "Spring Collection" has six outings April 24 to May 3, with the shows alternating on the Stevie Eller stage.

ZUZI! Dance Company gathers in local choreographers of all styles and levels for its regularly scheduled "No Frills Dance Happenin'", March 7 in its own theater in the Historic YWCA. The troupe's big "Spring Concert" May 1 and 2 is a collaboration with ConDanza Repertory, a company founded by César R. Degollado, formerly known as César Rubio, who danced for many years with Ballet Tucson.

The adventurous modern troupe Safos Dance Theatre stages a site-specific dance theater performance March 27 and 28 at the House of Neighborly Service, 243 W. 33rd St., on the Southside. The show, "Dancing the Mural," celebrates the unveiling of a mural created by community members over the last two years.

MUSIC

The Tucson Desert Song Festival cranked up last weekend, but there's still plenty of beautiful singing to hear, clear through to Feb. 1. Local classical groups team up with invited guests from around the country to give renditions of a wide range of music. For a complete schedule, see www.tucsondesertsongfestival.org.

Here are highlights:

Tenor Rufus Müller is accompanied by guitarist David Leisner at a Tucson Guitar Society concert at 7 p.m. tonight, Jan. 22, at the UA’s Holsclaw Hall in the music building. Orff’s “Carmina Burana”—the chamber version—will be sung three times this weekend in concerts presented by the Tucson Chamber Artists: at 7 p.m. Friday, at Valley Presbyterian Church in Green Valley; at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Catalina Foothills High School; and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“Canción Amorosa: Songs of Spain” will be sung at 7 p.m. this Saturday at Leo Rich, courtesy of soprano Corinne Winters (who’ll also sing in “Eugene Onegin” the following weekend) and tenor David Margulis.

Next Thursday, Jan. 29, mezzo soprano Susan Graham, accompanied by pianist Malcolm Martineau, sings at Crowder Hall in the UA School of Music. Another mezzo soprano, Tamara Mumford, and tenor Dean Griffey sing works by Mozart and Mahler, with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, on Friday, Jan. 30, at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Oro Valley, and at 8 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 3, and 2 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 1, at Catalina Foothills High.

The grand finale is “Eugene Onegin,” the 1879 Tchaikovsky opera based on Pushkin’s novel in verse, a classic of Russian lit. David Adam Moore sings Onegin and Winters is Tatiana. Produced by Arizona Opera, the performances are at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 31 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 1 at the TCC Music Hall. Once the festival is put to bed, the music groups get on with their regular schedules. Arizona Opera stages Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” March 7 and 8, and Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment” on April 18 and 19, both at the Music Hall. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra has a crowded schedule of classic and pop concerts. (See www.tucsonsymphony.org for a complete schedule.) Just for instance, coming up on Feb. 13 and 15, Kimberly Toscano, TSO’s principal timpanist, makes her solo debut with TSO on William Kraft’s Timpani Concerto No. 1. The concert also includes Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5.

In the non-classical category, the full orchestra—accompanied by singers and a rock band—plays “Music of the Moody Blues and More” on Feb. 7 and 8. Not to be outdone, the Bill Ganz Western Band does a Valentine’s Day show with TSO, singing beloved cowboy tunes backed by the entire symphony.

Arizona Friends of Chamber Music does a splendid job bringing in top artists—and young up- and-comers—to perform at Leo Rich throughout the season. The German Auryn Quartet, for example, flies in to perform a Beethoven concert on Feb. 25. The highlight of the Friends’ year, though, is the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. Running from March 15 to 22, the festival is eight days of superlative concerts and master classes. On the agenda this year are two world premieres commissioned by the Arizona Friends, one by Czech composer Jiri Gemrot and one by American Lowell Lieberman. More than a dozen musicians do the performing honors; among them, the Prazak Quartet returns for its ninth appearance.

Away from the classical music stage, Celtic acts converge on Tucson at the beginning and end of Irish season, in shows presented by In Concert. The Outside Tracks, hailing from Ireland, Scotland and Nova Scotia, teams up with the Irish trio Socks in the Frying Pan Feb. 27 at Berger. Brothers David and Tucsonan Peter McLaughlin and his brother David perform bluegrass with DeDe Wyland and members of Sonoran Dogs on Feb. 7 at the Unitarian Universalist Church.

BOOKS

The seventh annual Tucson Festival of Books, March 14 and 15 at the UA, draws in such big names as Amy Tan, J.A. Jance, Leonard Pitts (whose column is carried in the Arizona Daily Star), Luis Alberto Urrea, Scott Turow and children’s author Katherine Paterson. But among these luminaries are plenty of other writers, including locals (yours truly among them) and new authors. Cochise College English instructor Jay Treiber, for instance, gets a shot at presenting his first novel, “Spirit Walk.” On the evening of March 13, the all-star authors of the band Rock Bottom Remainders deploy their comical music talents in a benefit concert.

Independent bookstore Antigone’s does an estimable job year-round, staging author readings and talks most Friday nights. Renowned UA astronomer Chris Impey turns up Feb. 20 to present his book “Humble Before the Void: A Western Astronomer, His Journey East, and a Remarkable Encounter Between Western Science and Tibetan Buddhism,” with a foreword by the Dalai Lama, no less.

Likewise, the UA Poetry Center runs a packed schedule of readings and workshops in all literary genres. Just one example: coming up on Feb. 12, Sherwin Bitsui, a Diné poet raised in Arizona on the Navajo Reservation, reads from his books of poetry, “Flood Song” and “Shapeshift.” And Casa Libre en La Solana on Fourth Avenue sponsors the Edge Reading Series and writing workshops. Stay tuned also for readings staged by POG, the Friends of Poetry group, and at Clues Unlimited, an independent mystery bookstore that also focuses on Southwest books.

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More by Margaret Regan

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