The Tucson Museum of Art has this art season's biggest get: Ai Weiwei, the brightest contemporary art star today.
No, TMA is not bringing the mega-famous Chinese activist/artist himself to town. But it's reeled in his sculptural installation "Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Gold" for his first Southern Arizona exhibition. Opening Feb. 13, the show of 12 bronze animal heads will continue clear through June 26.
A photographer, installation artist (one project was Lego portraits of dissidents, exhibited in the Alcatraz prison), and now sculptor, Ai Weiwei imbues his zodiac heads with multiple meanings. They represent the 12 beasts in the traditional Chinese zodiac—a monkey, a dragon, a ram—but they also conjure up the ways such images were used, re-used and abused by western imperialists in China in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Old Pueblo, as always, has assembled a spring calendar jammed with visual art exhibitions, music, theater and dance. Big-time acts from out of town—"The Book of Mormon" and the Chieftains in February, modern dance troupe Pilobolus in March—will alternate on Tucson stages with such talented locals as Ballet Tucson's dancers, The Rogue Theatre's actors and TAG (Tucson Artists Group) painters. Herewith a small sampling of this cascade of arty events:
TMA is the art place to be, thanks to the indefatigable chief curator, Dr. Julie Sasse. Into the Night: Modern and Contemporary Art and the Nocturne Tradition, an exhibition of some 65 artists strong, showcases nocturnal paintings and photos, including Mark Klett's "Six quarter moons, 3/12/05." It's a time-lapse black-and- white that pictures a half-dozen luminous moons. Opens Feb. 27; closes July 10. Already on view are Big Skies/Hidden Stories, Ellen Wagener's show of dark pastels of Southwest places; the provocative Water Flow: Under the Colorado River, Photograms by Kathleen Velo; and "String Theory," a fun fiber arts exhibition.
The University of Arizona Museum of Art goes contemporary with Fires of Change, a multimedia exhibition that uses both art and science to look at the rise of wildfires in the Southwest. Through April 3. Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo, timed to coincide with Tucson's Rodeo Days, documents the gay rodeo circuit of the late 1980s, through March 6. (www.artmuseum.arizona.edu)
Next door at the UA's Joseph Gross Gallery, Wynne Neilly's Female to `Male' chronicles the artist's gender transition through photos, voice recordings and objects. Through April 8.
Turner G. Davis, a Phoenix artist with Tucson roots, exhibits at the new Merci Gallery, 630 E. Ninth St., 465-8858, showing paintings that straddle the "crumbly edge between autobiography and the fantastic." Through Feb. 7. Davis's closing reception Feb. 6 is the same night as "Art Safari," the Central Tucson Gallery Association's evening of multiple art receptions in and around Downtown. Most of the parties start at 6 p.m. http://www.ctgatucson.org. Safari highlights: fiber art by Claire Campbell Park, a Tucson weaver extraordinaire, at Davis Dominguez, and glass by California artists at Philabaum Glass Gallery. Glassblowing demos all afternoon; reception starts at 5 p.m.
Etherton Gallery champions a "new school of figurative painting" in "Portrayal," a lavish show by Chris Rush, Titus Castanza and Wes Hempen, through March 5. A group show at the Temple Gallery celebrates the "Re-Emergence" of the TAG artists. Through Feb. 21. (www.ethertongallery.com)
MOCA Tucson runs three shows Feb. 13 to May 29: "1991-2016," paintings and sculptures by Max Estenger; "Every Word Said: History Lessons from Athens and Tucson," a video installation by Nicole Miller; and "For All," work by disabled artists with Arts for All. Opening reception Feb. 13.
The LA dance explosion finally erupts in Tucson. BODYTRAFFIC roars into Tucson Friday, Jan. 29, for a one-night only concert at Centennial Hall. The acclaimed LA troupe does up-to-the-minute contemporary dance but "we have a commitment to precision and clarity," says co-founder Tina Finkelman Berkett. "All the dancers are classically trained. We have heavy ballet influences and real strengths in syncopation and percussion."
Berkett, formerly a dancer with Azsure Barton and Artists and Mikhail Baryshnikov's now-defunct Hell's Kitchen Dance, co-directs BODYTRAFFIC. She also dances with the company. She and the troupe's other eight dancers will perform three pieces here. "And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square...," is a dance theater work by choreographer Barak Marshall. "Dust," with choreography and music by Hofesh Shechter, is a somber dance for six.
The finale, "o2Joy,", a quintet by Richard Siegal, is danced to jazz classics sung by Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. "It's our signature work," Berkett says. "We love doing it. There's so much joy in it."
Starts at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 29, Centennial. $25 to $50; discounts for seniors, faculty, military. No-fee tickets at box office, 621-3341; Ticketmaster tickets for a fee. (UApresents.org)
Centennial Hall also hosts Pilobolus, the popular modern troupe whose dancers twist the human body into heretofore-unimagined shapes. March 6.
Ballet Tucson will stage Rhythms of the Americas, a collaboration with the Tucson Guitar Society, Feb. 5-7. The concert at the UA’s Stevie Eller Dance Theatre, in the final weekend of the Tucson Desert Song Festival, will feature an array Latin dances, from flamenco to tango to bossa nova, performed to live music and song. Choreographer Daniel Precup debuts his “Mosaico.” (http://ballettucson.org/).
At the “Dance and Dessert” concert, March 18-20, the dancers will perform “Serenade” by George Balanchine, the late great neoclassical choreographer. First performed in 1934, the dance was the first work the Russian émigré created in America. Not to be missed. Other short works will also be performed. Concert is followed by dessert tastings. At Stevie Eller.
Artifact Dance Project, a local modern company, takes over the grand Tucson Scottish Rite Cathedral downtown March 18-20, to stage The Grand Parlor. A Southwest-style vaudeville show, Parlor honors the 100th anniversary of the Cathedral, designed by architect Henry C. Trost. Live music. (artifactdanceproject.org)
Filmmaker Cylan Shaffer collaborates with Artifact dancers on creating seven dance/music movies, titled 7 Deadly Sins. The works will screen at The Loft Cinema April 14.
The troupe’s season finale, “Surrounding Dillinger,” is a dance/music drama about Tucson’s favorite outlaw, John Dillinger. Star dancer Max Foster plays the Chicago gangster, captured here in 1934. Tucson band Ryanhood provides the music. At the Temple of Music and Art, May 20-22.
The UA School of Dance tackle dances by modern masters Jerome Robbins and Ohad Naharin. In Color Wheel, Feb. 24-28, dancers perform “Antique Epigraphs,” choreographed by the late Robbins in 1984 for the New York City Ballet. Spring Collection, April 22-May 1, follows up with masterworks by Naharin, a renowned Israeli choreographer. Both concerts also include works by UA dance faculty. Jump Start —Student Spotlight, April 21-30, showcases student choreography. At Stevie Eller. (dance.arizona.edu/performances) ZUZI! Dance hosts its twice-yearly No Frills choreographers’ showcase. March 4 is for teen dancemakers, March 5 for adults. At ZUZI!Theater in the Historic YWCA. (zuzimoveit.org)
From Neil Simon comedies to August Strindberg dramas, with a sprinkling of Shakespeare, a big dollop of Broadway razzle-dazzle and a few brand-new plays tossed into the mix, there'll be a lot to see on local stages over the next few months.
The main event for musical theater fans is undoubtedly The Book of Mormon, which comes to Centennial Hall Feb. 16-21. The smash hit from the creators of South Park has earned rapturous reviews (the New York Times called it "the best musical of this century") is presented by Broadway in Tucson, and if you don't already have a ticket, well, you are probably out of luck.
If big, splashy musicals are your thing, Broadway in Tucson will also bring 42nd Street (March 30-April 3) and Chicago (April 22-24) to Centennial Hall.
Arizona Repertory Theatre, a reliable showcase for theater arts students at the University of Arizona, will present Jonathan Larson's AIDS-era stunner Rent (April 11–May 2), which opened on Broadway 20 years ago and ran for more than 5,000 performances. The drama students at Pima Community College, meanwhile, will kick up their heels with Crazy for You, a Gershwin musical running Feb. 25-March 6 at the West Campus Center for the Arts.
Students at the UA and PCC will also show what they can do with Shakespeare. The Comedy of Errors and The Tempest will run in rotating rep Feb. 7-May 7 at the UA, and Pima will present Love's Labour's Lost April 14-24.
At Arizona Theatre Company, August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Fences closes its acclaimed run on Feb. 6. Next up at ATC is Sex With Strangers (Feb. 11-21), a Laura Eason comedy presented with Tempe's Stray Cat Theatre. The Arizona Republic described the 2011 play, which ATC offered in Phoenix a few months ago, as "a supercharged drama about sex, art and commerce in the digital age."
ATC will close its season with a wrenching classic (John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men March 5-26) and a new play by former Tucsonan Scott Carter, executive producer of HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Carter's comedy is a battle of wits called The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord (April 9-30).
Borderlands Theatre continues to bring new plays to the Old Pueblo. Barrio Stories Project (March 3-6) is a site-specific theatrical event (location not yet announced) crafted by playwrights Elaine Romero, Virginia Grise and Martin Zimmerman. The piece is about the former residents of the neighborhood demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Tucson Convention Center.
Borderlands will wrap its season with the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Ghosts of Lote Bravo. The play, by Hilary Bettis, is about a woman whose daughter disappears in the desert outside Ciudad Juarez. It's scheduled for April 14-May 1 at the Temple of Music and Art's Cabaret Theatre.
Also due at the Cabaret Theatre is Joshua Harmon's Bad Jews from Arizona Onstage Productions (May 6-22).
Winding Road Theater Ensemble will give us the Arizona premiere of Emilie Beck's Sovereign Body (Feb. 4-21). It's described as a complex "story of a woman's struggle to reclaim her body after being struck by a neurological illness." David Lindsay-Abaire's Kimberly Akimbo, a heartbreaking and unpredictable black comedy, will close the troupe's season March 24-April 10.
The Rogue Theatre will take on Strindberg's Miss Julie Feb. 25-March 13, followed by Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey (April 21-May 8).
Invisible Theatre continues its 45th anniversary season with Deelmayker (Feb. 9-21), a world premiere by Warren Bodow about "aging, relevance and making the deal." Kathleen Clark's Let's Live a Little will run March 10-13, and Neil Simon's I Ought to be in Pictures is set for April 19-May 1.
Live Theatre Workshop has three shows remaining in its mainstage season: Douglas Cohen's No Way to Treat a Lady (Feb. 18-March 19), billed as a "musical comedy thriller about a publicity-crazed actor-turned-killer and the endearing detective who pursues him; Lewis Black's One Slight Hitch (March 24-April 30), a farce about a wedding that goes off the rails; and Gina Gionfriddo's Rapture, Blister, Burn (May 5-June 11), a new play described by the New York Times as "intensely smart and immensely funny."
Finally, we should say something about Something Something Theatre Company, an ambitious new ensemble that will present Amy Herzog's 4,000 Miles (a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize) Feb. 12-28 at the Cabaret Theatre and Nilo Cruz's Anna in the Tropics, winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for drama, April 14-May 1 at the ZUZI! Theatre at the Historic Y.
Spring Arts Addendum: The Don’t Forget List
1 The Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures new show Feel Big Live Small runs through April 17 at the 4455 E. Camp Lowell Dr. museum. The show, organized by Elan Smithee of apexart in New York City, includes 21 mixed media works created by 11 artists from across the globe who chose miniatures to explore conceptual and theoretical views of modern life. If you've never been to Mini Time Machine, this show gives you plenty of reason to head there before it closes. www.theminitimemachine.org.
2 The new boys on the gallery block have an interesting first show that happens to coincide with Gem and Mineral Show season. Granada Gallery Fine Natural Design, 338 N. Granada Ave., downtown. Reception is Thursday, Feb. 4, 6 p.m. There's a special exhibition of fossils from Solnhofen, Germany, and work from artists who use natural resources in the works they make and design. www.granada-gallery.com.
3 We are a lucky city when it comes to the literary arts. In march the Festival of Books takes over the UA campus, but don't forget about other literary offerings happening in town, like the UA Prose Series curated by the creative writing program faculty. The series, hosted at the UA Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen St., starts off with James Hannaham, author of author of Delicious Foods and God Says No, on Thursday, March 3, 7 to 8 p.m.
4 For the comic lovers in your life, consider Con-Nichiwa, anime convention at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church, March 18-20. www.con-nichiwa.com.
5 Back to the written word, our friends at Casa Libre continue their good work with their April Fair Weather Reading Series with Selah Saterstrom, Lisa Birman and Elizabeth Frankie Rollins on Saturday, April 16, 7 p.m. at 228 N. 4th Ave. Birman is the author of For That Return Passage—A Valentine for the United States of America. Rollins published a collection of short fiction, The Sin Eater & Other Stories. Saterstrom is the author of The Pink Institution, The Meat and Spirit Plan and Slab. www.casalibre.org.