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The 2013 Spring Arts Preview 

A show celebrating our continued existence headlines the season in Tucson culture

Who would stage an art show to mark an event that fizzled?

Raices Taller 222, that's who. The feisty little gallery with a Latino bent—which created the pointed show How Brown Am I? in the wake of the SB 1070 anti-immigrant bill—this time around has organized an exhibition around a massive misinterpretation of Mayan cosmology.

¡No Pasó! —It Didn't Happen!—is billed as an "art exhibition celebrating the world not ending." As all of us now alive know, our Earth has soldiered on since Dec. 21, the day that Anglos, misinterpreting Mayan beliefs, identified as the day all seven billion of us passengers on Spaceship Earth would be annihilated. And right before Christmas, too.

Confident that the world would continue, the prescient little gallery that could rounded up a gang of local artists whose paintings, sculptures, prints and photos rejoice in the continuation of the human race.

Local painter Richard Zelens, for one, made a cheerful painting of pink posies and titled it "Ode to Spring, Twenty Thirteen," to signal his optimism that spring would indeed arrive.

And a good thing, too, what with all the arts events Tucsonans have been planning so diligently for the coming months. Art lovers of the Old Pueblo can see and hear everything and everyone from Verdi to Arlo Guthrie, from the Indigo Girls to Lila Downs, from Shakespeare to Jessica Dickey (a playwright premiering a new play), and exhibitions from painter Jim Waid to photographer Joel-Peter Witkin.

I've gathered as many of these happenings— art exhibitions, concerts, plays and readings—as I could on these few pages, but there's so much going on that not everything can fit here. Consult Linda Ray's monster listings in the Weekly for every single event now set to happen in Tucson, in the absence of the Mayan Armageddon. And, as always, check out music maven Stephen Seigel's pages for all the music fit to print.


MEDIA MIXES

Some of the most interesting performances mix up the art forms. The big shindig this Saturday night, Jan. 19, at the Tucson Music Hall may not exactly combine media—it's an all-music concert—but for sure its artists jump genres. The Indigo Girls—feminist singer-songwriters Amy Ray and Emily Saliers—sing orchestral versions of their popular tunes, joining forces with the classical musicians of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. On their first national symphonic tour, the Girls sing works from the 1980s all the way up to songs from their latest CD, Beauty Queen Sister.

Tucson's own Chamber Music Plus has pioneered a new genre that's a mélange of music and drama, and on Jan. 27, its Confidentially, Chaikovski adds a third element: television. Michael Learned and Richard Thomas, who played mother and son on TV's The Waltons, re-unite to bring to life Tchaikovsky and his mysterious female patron. Tucson playwright-musician Harry Clark contributes the script and cello music; his wife Sanda Schuldmann does the honors on piano. Clark promises an explanation in a preshow talk for his eccentric spelling of the great Russian composer's name.

The first-ever Tucson Desert Song Festival brings together seven different local arts organizations for a 10-day extravaganza of classical music, lectures and master classes. (See tucsondesertsongfestival.org for all the participants.) Ballet Tucson brings dance into this heady brew in Passionately Piazzolla, a collaboration with Chamber Music Plus and the Tucson Guitar Society. A celebration of the great tango composer Astor Piazzolla, Passionately pairs choreography by Chieko Imada and John Dahlstrand (himself a credible tango dancer) with a script by Harry Clark. Actor Robert Beltran plays the composer. Ballet Tucson's Daniel Precup, tall, lean and dark, is made for the role of the male tango dancer. Feb. 15 through 17.

Art.if.Act Dance Project dances only to live music, and the Kingfisher String Quartet will play for the company's new narrative dance, I Wonder if My Name Is Alice. As usual, film backdrops unfurl behind the dancers. And, for the first time, muralist Joe Pagac (of Rialto Theatre fame) will paint sets live on stage while the audience watches. Inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice, the evening-long concert follows a teenage girl who's trying to center herself by conjuring up the adventures of Alice. March 21, 22 and 24.

Music pairs with poetry when poet Nathaniel Mackey (Nod House) and jazz pianist Marilyn Crispell share the stage March 28 at Pima Community College, at an evening sponsored by the UA Poetry Center and POG, a local poetry organization. On March 26, Tucson poet Lisa Cooper leads a discussion at the center about works by Mackey, who won the National Book Award for poetry in 2006.


ART

The Old Pueblo is a photography town, and the snapshot season opened with a startle last weekend at Etherton Gallery. In Surface Tension, a dwarf in a corset and nudes of a hunchback and a woman with brutally deformed arms inhabit the sacred precincts of Joel-Peter Witkin's intricate photos. Holly Roberts pairs paint with her photos, reducing images of humans and animals to primitive shapes. And Alice Leora Briggs, while not a photographer, slashes into wood to create graphic black-and-white woodcuts conjuring up the violence in murderous Ciudad Juarez. Through April 13.

Alejandra Platt-Torres tackles a similar subject in black-and-white photos at the Arizona State Museum. Her solo show, A World Separated by Borders, records the travails and tragedies of migrants slogging across Sonora and the Arizona desert. March 8 through Oct. 19.

Desert Grasslands, opening Jan. 26 at the Tucson Museum of Art, looks at the same landscape from an ecological point of view. Part of the Desert Initiative Project, which has already seen shows this season at Pima College and the UA Museum of Art, this one exhibits 16 artists who work in photography, computer scans, resin and paint. Through July 7.

Language of the Land at the UA's Joseph Gross Gallery, also part of the Desert Initiative Project, zeroes in on interesting new terrain: the new wave of contemporary art being created by "Indigenous Nations." Through March 29.

The Jazz Loft Project: Photographs and Tapes of W. Eugene Smith from 821 Sixth Avenue, 1957-1965 continues through March 10 at the Center for Creative Photography. Two hundred black and white prints by a pioneering photographer—and companion recordings—document an important moment in jazz.

The dazzling photographer Kate Breakey, she of the luminous dead coyotes and painted birds, opens a show of new work, Surveillance, at the Temple Gallery on March 1.

David F. Brown is already showing his charming but psychologically insightful paintings and drawings at the Temple, through Feb. 26. And public artist Simon Donovan, he of the Rattlesnake Bridge, pairs with David Longwell in Action/Reaction, a collaborative show there April 5 to June 4.


PAINTING

The painting show of the season may well be Peter Young: Capitalist Masterpieces at MOCA Tucson. A modernist who won fame in New York in the 1960s, Young has been living quietly in Bisbee for decades. His reputation revitalized by an acclaimed show at New York's Museum of Modern Art a few years ago, he now fills MOCA with his brightly colored abstractions. Through March 31.

Amy Metier, an engaging abstractionist from Colorado, has so far shown her work in Tucson only in bite-size pieces at the annual Small Works show at Davis Dominguez. She goes full size in her current exhibition, with painter David Pennington and sculptor Steve Murphy, through Feb. 9. The gallery, often a landscape stronghold, goes fully abstract with a one-woman show of paintings and works on paper by Katherine Josten from March 28 to May 4.

Tucson grand master painter Jim Waid makes a rare appearance this spring, with paintings at Etherton from April 20 to June 8. And speaking of Tucson masters, The Drawing Studio is having a monthlong celebration of the Contemporary Masters of Tucson in a pair of exhibitions, an auction and a series of talks and workshops throughout the month, including a lecture by yours truly this Friday evening, Jan. 18. Through Jan. 31.


THEATER

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm still shaking from the exhilarating/horrifying Next to Normal, a rock opera about mental illness staged by Arizona Theatre Company last fall. It ranks among the finest pieces of theater I've ever seen.

Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children, brought to us by the intrepid folks at The Rogue Theatre, has a shot at being just as hair-raising. This classic meditation on war and its aftermath—Mother Courage profits from the war that kills her children one by one—couldn't be more timely: Our nation has now been at war for a longer time than any other period in our history. Through Jan. 27. (See the review in this issue.) Rogue doesn't ease up, following up Brecht with dramatizations of Monkey and Metamorphosis by Kafka, no slouch in the social criticism department. Feb. 28 to March 17. The season ends with Shakespeare, but not with one of his comedies. The antihero of Richard III is a "charming monster [who] murders his way to the throne of England." April 25 to May 12.

ATC continues its mental health theme in Freud's Last Session, a witty play about a meeting between Freud, the atheist father of psychoanalysis, and C.S. Lewis, Anglican author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Opens in previews Jan. 19 and continues to Feb. 9. Next up is The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon, a playwright more profound than he's usually given credit for. This one is an affectionate comedy about two comedians at the end of their lives. March 2 to 23. ATC finishes the season with another funny-but-serious play, Clybourne Park, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Set in the same house in Chicago 50 years apart, the play "spins the events of A Raisin in the Sun into an unforgettable new story about race and real estate in America." April 6 to 27.

August: Osage County, by the acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts, comes to Tucson for the first time, courtesy of the ambitious Winding Road Theater Ensemble. The 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner is a modern drama of middle-class family life in all-American Oklahoma. Jan. 24 to Feb. 10. Next is a world premiere by Pennsylvania playwright Jessica Dickey. Her Row after Row, keying in to the 100th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, is about two Civil War re-enactors at the battlefield. April 18 to May 5.

Live Theatre Workshop is midway through its run of The Chosen, the theatrical adaptation of Chaim Potok's beloved novel of Jewish life in Brooklyn in the late 1940s. Through Feb. 9. Paul Rudnick's Regrets Only, a comedy of manners, is also set in New York, but in a Park Avenue penthouse, light years from immigrant Brooklyn. Feb. 14 to March 24. In The Cemetery Club, three widows go to a graveyard monthly to pay their respects to their late husbands. One upsets the cozy club when a butcher catches her eye. March 28 to April 27. Two in One is a political sex farce in which an MP plots to bed the PM's secretary. Oh those wacky Brits! May 2 to June 9.

Etcetera, Live Theatre's late-night branch, continues its experimental work in a series of performances gathered under the rubric Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theater of the World). Episode 1, Turkey, is Feb. 1 and 2. Ireland is March 8 and 9; Japan is April 5 and 6; and our hometown of Tucson gets the nod April 26 and 27. Tales, songs and beer from these far-flung destinations are all on the theatrical menu.

After taking on Luis Alfaro's Chicano rendering of Oedipus el Rey a few seasons back, Borderlands presents his Bruja (Witch), as explosive contemporary version of Euripides' Medea. She's the spurned woman of myth who murders her children as an act of vengeance. March 28 to April 4.

Beowulf Alley also finds modern lessons in ancient theater. In the perennially timely Lysistrata, the Greek comedy by Aristophanes, the women deny the men you-know-what to stop them from making war. March 8 to 24. And Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love is from 1997, but he uses classical Greek allusions to look at the life of poet A.E. Housman. March 29 to April 14. Before that, from Feb. 15 to 20, Craig Wright's wistful The Pavilion from 2000 goes back to a staple of contemporary times: a small-town high-school reunion. And Three Hotels continues through this weekend.

The UA student players at Arizona Repertory Theatre investigate the meaning of love—familial and otherwise—in the oddball contemporary comedy Love Song, Feb. 3 to 24. Next, they try on the Bard for size, performing Shakespeare's lesser-known Cymbeline, a story of jealousy in the early days of Britain's Celtic kings. Feb. 24 to March 24. Then the ART team does a 180-turn in Nine, a musical based on Fellini's movie , set in Italy in the swinging '60s. April 7 to 28.

Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, now playing at Arizona Onstage, deploys a squad of Tucson's best actresses to play the bridesmaids in a comic wedding tale. Through Jan. 27. (See the review in this issue.) In April, on dates not yet set, the troupe delves into another female trope—the beauty contest—in the musical Pageant. Following a hiatus, The DaVinci Players of Studio Connections are back on the stage in the musical Nunsense, through this weekend.

Hedwig & the Angry Inch is a musical, too, but it's literally cutting-edge. Hedwig is an East German rocker left with just an "angry inch" after faulty sex-change surgery. Ouch. The production is put together by the newly formed Bastard (Theatre) and directed by the respected Christopher Johnson. Feb. 14 to 23. Look for more outrageous work at the Tucson Fringe Theater Festival, March 1 to 3 at Club Congress. The lineup of plays has not yet been released.

In the mood for song-and-dance Broadway musicals? Turn to the traveling productions presented by Broadway in Tucson. Memphis, Feb. 26 to March 3, is a newish show about the country music world. The phenom Wicked sashays into town for a nearly three-week stay March 20 to April 7. Blue Man Group, April 23 to 28, deploys a trio of performance artists in blue face paint juggling comedy, technology and music. Million Dollar Quartet, May 7 to 12, goes back to a fateful day in 1956 when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins jammed together.

And Chamber Music Plus' final show of the season, Sister-in-Law Beethoven, stars Margot Kidder (yes, that Margot Kidder) as the relative of the great composer. The Clark Schuldmann Duo play the music of Ludwig von live. April 7. In a rare theatrical outing, UApresents offers up FELA! a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about the Nigerian musician Fela Kuti. The show is choreographed by the noted Bill T. Jones. April 12 and 13.

Finally, the new Puppets Amongus continues staging its artful puppet plays. The Silken Thread is Feb. 2 and 3; Irish Rover steps out March 16 and 17; and Archipelago takes over April 27 and 28.


DANCE

The count of local modern dance troupes has been low throughout the recession, and, sadly, old standby NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre is sitting this season out. But Art.if.act Dance Project is still going strong, fueled partially by its annual summer tours of China (see Media Mixes above for its March show). And so is ZUZI! Dance Company, which kept itself afloat by renting out its theater and teaching classes.

ZUZI obliges the local dance community by putting on regular choreographers' showcases. Lee Anne Hartley, co-director of the old FUNHOUSE movement theater, expects to be among the many choreographers showing a piece in No Frills—Have a Heart—Dance Happening Feb. 15 and 16. On the Spot, an improv night, is March 23, and the troupe's main spring concert, with its own dancers performing modern and aerial dance, is set for April 26, 27 and 28.

Ballet Tucson, the only local pro company, beautifully keeps classical dance alive in the Old Pueblo. Following the collaborative concert Passionately Piazzolla (see Media Mixes above), the troupe stages its popular annual Dance & Dessert concert. The show will be a collage of dances by six choreographers, including the late, great Antony Tudor, followed by smorgasbord of sweets. April 5, 6, 7. The youth company BT2 dances Hansel & Gretel and the classic Les Syphides May 18 and 19.

Coincidentally, the advanced teen dancers of Tucson Regional Ballet dance their version of Hansel & Gretel April 20 and 21 at the TCC Leo Rich Theatre, along with excerpts from the romantic ballet Paquita.

UApresents does its part for ballet by sending the Alonzo King Lines Ballet onto the Centennial Hall stage Feb. 10. The acclaimed San Francisco troupe, known for dancing in the liminal space between ballet and modern, performs "Dust and Light" and "Scheherazade." Momix is next up on Feb. 24 with Botanica, a concert inspired by nature. An offshoot of Pilobolus, the popular Momix has great athletic dancers, but choreographer Moses Pendleton too often forces them into icky-cute steps and costumes. Limón Dance Company evokes the exhilarating era of early modern dance. Mexican-born Jose Limón, a major modern choreographer, fled with his family to Tucson when he was a child to escape the Mexican Revolution. Performing at Centennial March 24, the troupe's dancers alternate between classic works by the late Limón and new compositions by contemporary artists. The laugh-a-minute Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo brings the UApresents dance season to a rollicking end on April 20. The joke is simple—all the ballerinas are men, complete with hairy chests—but the pleasure is great: they're all wonderful dancers.

At the UA School of Dance, the young dancers perform eight shows of Premium Blend February 14 to March 3. They'll dance "Jewels" by Balanchine, along with pieces by faculty, including the inventive Doug Nielsen. Rainbow Bound, a student spotlight, runs April 18 to 27. Spring Collection, with students performing faculty dances, runs concurrently from April 19 to 28.


MUSIC

The Arizona Friends of Chamber Music is in anniversary mode this year. The Friends, who regularly bring world-class chamber musicians to Tucson at near rock-bottom prices, is celebrating its 65th birthday, its 50th commission of a new piece of music and the 20th edition of its annual Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival. Unique among small arts groups, the Friends regularly pays composers to create new work. The 50th piece, a piano trio by Lowell Liebermann, debuts next Wednesday, Jan. 23, at a concert by the Trio Solisti. The Friends presents a half-dozen more regular concerts this season, in addition to the Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, a weeklong extravaganza of concerts by 13 musicians, master classes and open rehearsals. The festival runs March 17 to 24.

Opera means "the works," and opera has everything: full-throttle singing, drama and live music. Arizona Opera, Tucson-born but now based in Phoenix, comes down the road to stage Puccini's Tosca Feb. 2 and 3. Soprano Jill Gardner stars as Tosca, a woman torn apart by 19th-century Roman politics. Verdi's Il Trovatore has not been performed in Arizona for 20 years. This gypsy story set in Spain features the "Anvil Chorus," a famous piece even nonopera lovers will recognize. March 9 and 10. The incomparable Mozart based The Marriage of Figaro on a witty French play about a servant outwitting his master. Figaro will be sung April 13 and 14. All three operas are sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Verdi also turns up in a concert given by Tucson Symphony Orchestra as part of the Tucson Desert Song Festival. George Hanson conducts Verdi's Requiem, an 1874 work of mourning intended as a Catholic funeral service. Four soloists sing the high Mass, accompanied by a choir and full orchestra. Feb. 15 and 17. In between the two performances of the Requiem, famed violinist Joshua Bell plays with the TSO, performing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto in a Valentine-oriented concert. Feb. 16. In one of its many other concerts, the orchestra plays a well-known opera work, Wagner's stirring Ride of the Valkyries, April 19 and 21.

Coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, superstar soprano Kathleen Battle sings an evening of African-American spirituals in Underground Railroad at Centennial Hall. An opera singer who revels in the challenging works of Mozart and Handel, Battle turns to the haunting vernacular songs created by slaves. March 22.

At the Fox Theatre, the jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli and his quartet play Feb. 16, Ladysmith Black Mambazo of South Africa are onstage March 3, and Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs goes on April 14. Arlo Guthrie rolls into Tucson with his Here Comes the Kid tour to honor the music of his famed father, Woody. Woody Guthrie was born in 1912, but the centennial celebration just keeps going.

For Irish season, Don Gest of In Concert has lined up the traditional band Goitse, a quintet of young musicians from the Ould Sod, for a show at Berger Performing Arts Center on March 1. The National Dance Company of Ireland steps out March 8 at the Fox and Irish eminences Kevin Burke and John Carty perform April 25 at Plaza Palomino.


BOOKS

This year's Tucson Festival of Books, a sprawling homage to all things literary, is March 9 and 10 at the UA, both inside and outdoors. Look for author talks galore, signings and fun stuff for kids to do. And the chance to buy books! Among the hundreds of authors making appearances is Tucson's own Adam Rex, a UA grad and author-illustrator. He did the illustrations for the new picture book Chu's Day, by Neil Gaiman, and he has a host of his own titles, including the kids' best-seller Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. Rex will participate in the panel discussion "No Animals Were Harmed in the Process of Making This Book."

The UA Poetry Center soldiers on yearly with an enviable roster of readings by nationally known poets and prose writers. (See Media Mixes above for a poet-pianist collaboration.) Cathy Park Hong kicks off the new semester Jan. 24 with a reading of her work. A prize-winning poet, she is the author of three collections; her most recent is Engine Empire.

Casa Libre en la Solana, on Fourth Avenue, also has a packed author calendar. Check out a book release party Feb. 16 for local author and Pima Community College writing teacher Elizabeth Frankie Rollins. Her book, The Sin Eater and Other Stories, is charmingly illustrated by her husband, artist Ben Johnson. Casa Libre advises that attendees dress warmly for the post-reading fire-pit revels in the courtyard. Antigone Books, Tucson's stalwart indie bookstore, offers a cornucopia of readings. Two first-time Tucson authors read on Feb. 15: Miriam Ruth Black, author of the novel Turtle Season, and Camille Gannon, whose memoir, Woman Overboard, details her two-year sail through the South Seas. On March 15, former Tucson Weekly classical music critic Linda Kohanov introduces her latest book on horses and healing: The Power of the Herd: Building Social Intelligence, Visionary Leadership and Authentic Community Through the Way of the Horse.

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