Arizona has nothing on Tucson.
The state is turning 100 years old on Feb. 14, prompting a flurry of arts events—but the city is far older than the state. The Old Pueblo celebrated its 236th birthday last August, and that's only counting the years since Irishman Hugo O'Conor claimed the place for the Spanish crown. Indian habitation of the spring-fed plain at the base of Black Mountain goes back for thousands of years.
This old burg has attracted traveling artistes for well more than 100 years, and artistic eminences still come trooping through in abundance. This spring, cellist Yo-Yo Ma will turn up at the UA's Centennial Hall, and so will modern dance innovators Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown. The Tokyo String Quartet travels here to play at the Winter Chamber Music Festival, and the Tucson Museum of Art is feting Frida Kahlo all spring, albeit through photographic portraits by Nickolas Muray. And local artists will perform the works of the immortals, from Beethoven and Stravinsky (Tucson Symphony Orchestra) to Shakespeare (Arizona Repertory Company and The Rogue Theatre).
But this historic city is not mired in the past. The lively local arts scene has cutting-edge visual artists mixing their media every which way, at venues from Conrad Wilde to MOCA. The Arizona Friends of Chamber Music debuts brand-new classical pieces, and the Arizona Theatre Company spices up its regular season with new plays by young writers in its Café Bohemia reading series.
It's impossible to include everything here, but it's our pleasure to serve up this small sampling from the spring's eclectic fine-arts menu. For comprehensive information, please check our expanded listings section. And consult the Music section each week for rock, pop, folk and jazz.
Arizona Centennial Celebrations
Arizona became the 48th state on Valentine's Day 1912, and just 17 years later, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra was born. At its first concert, on Jan. 13, 1929, at Tucson High, the fledgling orchestra played Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. (This weekend, TSO continues the tradition, playing Beethoven and Stravinsky on Friday and Sunday at the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall.)
Proudly claiming to be the oldest performing arts organization in the state, the 83-year-old TSO celebrates Arizona's big day in birthday concerts on Feb. 10 and 12. The musical selections honor the state's indigenous, Hispanic and Anglo heritage. Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai joins the symphony musicians, led by conductor George Hanson, for a program that includes Copland's ringing Fanfare for the Common Man, Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite and Marquez's Danzón No. 2; www.tucsonsymphony.org.
The UA's new mega-college, the Colleges of Letters, Arts and Science, has organized a host of free arts and science activities marking the anniversary. (See a complete list and reservation info at az100.arizona.edu.) The Arizona Radio Hour kicks off the festivities Jan. 21 at the 1915 Scottish Rite Cathedral downtown. Members of the student musical theater troupe Encore! compress 100 years of statehood into an old-time radio show, complete with singing and dancing.
Two early Arizona writers are in the spotlight at the UA Poetry Center. Sharlot Hall and Hattie Lockett: An Arizona Centennial Exhibition gathers together photos, hand-written manuscripts and published works by two women whose writing "bridged the period before Arizona became a state and after," says Wendy Burk, the Poetry Center's senior library supervisor. "They helped shape what Arizona is today." Hall's once-famous poem "Arizona" is credited with cutting short a move in Congress to combine Arizona and New Mexico into one state, demonstrating, Burk says, "the power of poetry." Celebrate these pioneer writers at a party at 5 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 26, at the Poetry Center. Exhibition through March 31; poetry.arizona.edu.
Delving into the state's Spanish history, restoration architect Bob Vint leads a tour of Mission San Xavier del Bac on Jan. 28 (space is limited to 40), followed by a concert by the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus. Reservations required; 626-3454. On Feb. 11, a grand finale at Centennial Hall features student performances and talks by UA professors, including Tohono O'odham poet and linguist Ofelia Zepeda.
Apart from the free events, the Poetry Center and the UA School of Dance collaborate on Love Notes, a dance, music and spoken-word concert at Stevie Eller that opens on the Valentine's Day birthday. Faculty choreographers compose works to accompany Richard Siken's live readings of his poetry; Catherine Wing's poems are read by a student. Feb. 14 through 17; $18 and $15; www.arizona.tix.com.
Other arts groups are using the birthday to reflect seriously on the city's past and future. At its Silent Stories concert March 31 at ZUZI!, Safos Dance Theatre will perform a new piece about the urban-renewal projects that ripped out Tucson's heart in the late 1960s, displacing hundreds of poor, mostly minority residents from their homes. The dance is inspired by La Calle: Spatial Conflicts and Urban Renewal in a Southwest City, a book by UA prof Lydia R. Otero; search for Safos Dance Theatre on Facebook.
A river once ran through Tucson, and NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre investigates our desert burg's improvident use of water over the years. The company will perform its FLOW dances on a series of dates yet to be named in March and April. For one show, they'll dance right in the dry riverbed of the desiccated Santa Cruz; www.newarticulations.org.
Even The Border Project at the UA Museum of Art is conceived of as a centennial project. Crossing borders geographically and artistically, the sprawling exhibition zeroes in on the contentious borderlands of today. It covers both Sonora and Arizona, and jumps genres, exhibiting everything from videos to soundscapes. The show even spills outside of the museum's boundaries. Wrenching art depicting a blazing sun and death heads—the work hung for years on the Mexican side of the border wall that slices through Ambos Nogales—is now suspended on the facade of the UA Architecture building across the way. Through March 11; artmuseum.arizona.edu.
Tucson, of course, was part of Mexico until 1854. A good companion show, Many Mexicos: Vistas de la Frontera (Views From the Borderlands), at the Arizona State Museum, examines our shared histories. Through November; www.statemuseum.arizona.edu.
As always, much of the art in local galleries and museums reflects a sense of place. Daredevil photographer Jeff Smith chases lightning during Arizona's monsoons; he made the color images in Drivescapes from inside his car. Lightning bolts flash in the sky in his photos like hallucinations. Smith's camera also captures urban sprawl creeping across the desert. Reception, 5:30 p.m., Jan. 20; through Feb. 21 at Temple of Music and Art; www.ethertongallery.com.
In contrast to Smith's compromised desertscapes, Ansel Adams' black-and-whites at the Center for Creative Photography picture a pristine West. The View From Here gathers together 40 classic Adams landscapes. Through Feb. 5; creativephotography.org.
Texas artist Camp Bosworth has a sinister take on the Southwest borderlands in Plata o Plomo at MOCA Tucson. Bosworth makes enormous wooden sculptures inspired by the narco trade and by the narco corridos that lionize the smugglers in song. Through March 25; www.moca-tucson.org.
Continuing the Latin theme, the Tucson Museum of Art exhibits Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray. Fifty portrait photos in color and in black-and-white capture the artist from 1937 to 1941. The color photos are elaborately composed, bearing a fair resemblance to Kahlo's own paintings. A companion show, Tesoros del Pueblo (The People's Treasures): Latin American Folk Art, exhibits colorful work that grew out of the cultural collision between Europe and America. Both shows run Jan. 28 to June 3.
Nancy Tokar Miller, one of Tucson's best painters, has two major exhibitions. Tokar Miller typically paints abstracted landscapes, and at a show at the Pima Community College Louis Carlos Bernal Gallery, EAST/PACIFIC/WEST: CONFLUENCE, she turns her attention to Hawaii. She shares the space with fiber artists Claire Campbell Park and Mary Babcock. Jan. 30 to March 9. Gallery talk 1:30 p.m., reception 5 p.m., lecture, 7 p.m., Feb. 9, in the Center for the Arts Recital Hall; www.pima.edu/cfa.
At Etherton Gallery, Tokar Miller participates in a show that gallery director Hannah Glasston says will be organized around the theme of water. Tokar Miller will exhibit paintings; Lisa M. Robinson will show her ocean photos (last seen locally in the TMA Biennial); and Joe Forkan will unveil his plein-air paintings of Ireland. Begins March 20, right after St. Patrick's Day, and continues to May 26; www.ethertongallery.com.
Tucson isn't the only one having a big birthday. The 50th anniversary of the studio-glass movement is upon us, and glass artist Tom Philabaum is the master of ceremonies. Philabaum has an exhibition in his gallery, Glass 50-40-30, from Feb. 4 to April 28, and there are lectures by eminent glass artists. Fritz Dreisbach speaks at TMA and gives a demo at Philabaum Gallery Feb. 4; Henry Halem speaks at TMA March 3; www.philabaumglass.com.
Take a guess at the most-popular playwrights among local theater companies. If you took a chance and said Shakespeare, you'd be correct. But you might not have thought of Arthur Miller, or of Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologues fame. Two plays by each of these three dramatists will be on the boards in Tucson this spring.
The UA students at Arizona Repertory Theatre take a stab (literally) at the bard's familiar Julius Caesar, from Feb. 26 to March 25 (www.cfa.arizona.edu/theatremarketing/2011-12-season), while the adventurous Rogue Theatre assays his less-well-known The Winter's Tale, April 26 to May 13; www.theroguetheatre.org.
Live Theatre Workshop already has the Miller classic All My Sons on its small stage (through Feb. 12, see the review in this issue); www.livetheatreworkshop.org. This tragedy about a father and son is a counterpoint to Miller's A View From the Bridge, a story of immigrant dockworkers, presented by Studio Connections March 1 to 18; studioconnections.net.
Ensler, known for her episodic play about women's genitalia, looks at the rest of the female anatomy in The Good Body. Etcetera, the daring light-night branch of LTW, performs it May 3 to 19; www.etceteralatenight.com. Arizona Repertory also dives into a challenging Ensler work, Necessary Targets, about violence against women in wartime, from Feb. 5 to 26.
Rogue has already dived into its season with the impressively titled Shipwrecked! An Entertainment: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told by Himself). The family-friendly show is a fictionalized rendering of the life of a 19th-century adventurer who survived a shipwreck and lived for decades in remote Australia. And Rougemont is not the only one traveling: In June the cast sets sail (actually flies) to India, where it will perform the play for three weeks at a theater in Bangalore. Through Jan. 22; see the review in this issue.
John Amos, a visiting star of stage and screen, soars in Halley's Comet, a two-day presentation by Invisible Theatre at the Berger Performing Arts Center this Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 14 and 15. (See City Week for details.) The company, now 41 years old, follows up with a world premiere, Look Ma We're Dancing, by Janet Neipris. The comedy about two grown sisters still divided by sibling rivalry runs Feb. 8 to 28; www.invisibletheatre.com.
Winding Road Theater Ensemble tries out an inventive musical form in Jason Robert Brown's one-act, The Last Five Years, a play about a couple. The woman recounts the demise of their relationship by beginning at the end; the man tells it from the start. Through Jan. 22; see the review this issue. Next up: another view of marriage in Edward Albee's terrifying Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? April 6 through 22; www.windingroadtheater.org.
Arizona Theatre Company mixes its media, staging a trio of plays that spring in turn from a movie, a novel and art. First off is a theatrical take on Alfred Hitchcock's movie The 39 Steps, an über-convoluted murder-mystery comedy. From Jan. 14 to Feb. 4, counting previews. Next comes a stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott's Fitzgerald's beloved Jazz Age novel, Feb. 25 to March 17. The season ends with Red, the acclaimed play about the painter Mark Rothko, the gifted but tormented abstract expressionist. April 7 to 28; www.aztheatreco.org.
Rambunctious Arizona Onstage Productions invites the audience to attend a prom of yesteryear in the interactive musical The Marvelous Wonderettes, Jan. 21 to Feb. 5, at the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theater. The play is studded with hits of the '50s and '60s, from "It's My Party" to "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me"; www.arizonaonstage.org.
We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! at Beowulf Alley, is a Marxist comedy out of Italy. The farce involves a housewife who liberates a bag of groceries as part of a 300-woman protest. Jan. 26 to Feb. 19; beowulfalley.org.
Borderlands tackles the conundrum of immigration in Agnes Under the Big Top: A Tall Tale, Feb. 9 to 26. Set in an unnamed U.S. city, the tragicomedy brings together a group of immigrants—including a Bulgarian ringmaster and a Liberian caregiver—in a clattering subway car; www.borderlandstheater.org. Lidless, a political play about a female soldier who served at Guantanamo Bay, follows April 5 to 22.
Broadway in Tucson, known for traveling productions of musical comedy, also tackles immigration in In the Heights, April 24 to 29. Described as "uplifting," the classic story tells of immigrants striving for a better life in America. Other shows on the program are the arena-rock vehicle Rock of Ages, March 13 to 18, and Mary Poppins, May 16 to 20; www.broadwayintucson.com.
The Two Amigos are already riding the range, through March 25, at Gaslight Theatre, the home of the goofy and tongue-in-cheek; www.thegaslighttheatre.com.
Comedy Playhouse continues to stage humorous sketches constructed around assorted authors, commencing with Mark Twain, through Jan. 15, and continuing on through G.K. Chesterton, March 9 through 18. In between are mystery plays by olden-days authors, including four Father Brown mysteries by Chesterton, Jan. 20 to 28; www.thecomedyplayhouse.com.
Other shows of interest: Acclaimed local actor Carlisle Ellis stars as Shirley Valentine at LTW, Feb. 16 to March 18. Tucson playwright Toni Press-Coffman's play Touch, about a brainy astronomer who loses the woman he loves, runs April 5 to 21 at Etcetera.
For complete season schedules, check out the troupes' websites or the listings.
Two world-dance troupes open the UApresents season in separate concerts at Centennial Hall. On Jan. 27, Forever Tango performs the dance that was born in working-class Buenos Aires and spread round the world. (Originally scheduled for Jan. 21.) The National Dance Company of Colombia follows on Feb. 4, serving up folkloric moves and music, and dancers in spectacular costumes.
UApresents then does a 180, pivoting to a trio of modern-dance stars. Trisha Brown, a postmodernist icon who was a founder of the landmark Judson Dance Theater, brings her eponymous troupe to Tucson for the first time on Feb. 18.
Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company arrives for a repeat visit on March 3. Jones presents the evening-length work Story/Time, a mélange of dance, music and story that changes in each performance. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a regular visitor to Tucson, performs March 23. Now post-Judith Jamison and post-Alvin Ailey, the troupe has been under a new director, Robert Battle, since July. In a time of change, there's one thing we may be sure of: the concert will end with Ailey's beloved "Revelations."
Following the modern triad, River North Dance Chicago changes UApresents' dance direction once again, sashaying into jazz on April 14; www.uapresents.org.
Among the local companies, Art.if.Act Dance Company is preparing for another monster tour to China in June, following up on last summer's exhausting, exhilarating three-week journey. On a date in May yet to be scheduled, ADP will give Tucsonans a preview of The Great American Dance Tour 2012, an eye-popping show-bizzy concert that serves up nothing less than a history of American dance; www.artifactdanceproject.com.
ZUZI! Dance Company offers its stage to outside local choreographers and dancers in the No Frills Dance Happenin' March 9 and 10. ZUZI itself reprises last year's popular Beatles' Come Together concert, on May 11 to 13. The evening of live music and dance includes a Peter Max-inspired set; www.zuzimoveit.org.
For concerts by Tucson's other modern troupes, Safos and NEW ARTiculations, see the section on Centennial celebrations earlier in this preview.
Ballet Tucson, the city's only professional ballet troupe, stages its popular Dance and Dessert concert March 9-11 at the UA's Stevie Eller, the same weekend that the Tucson Festival of Books swarms the campus. Two reconstructions of Antony Tudor works are on the program—Continuo, and an excerpt from The Leaves Are Falling. On May 5 and 6 at Centennial Hall, the troupe returns with a full-length fairytale ballet: Cinderella; www.ballettucson.org.
Tucson Regional Ballet, a troupe of advanced students, performs a fairy tale of its own, Thumbelina, on April 21 and 22, as well as Swan Lake Act II, at TCC's Leo Rich; www.tucsonregionalballet.org. Coincidentally, All Together Theatre, the children's troupe of Live Theatre Workshop, is staging a kids' play of Thumbelina in the same time period, from April 15 to June 10.
The Arizona Friends of Chamber Music, in existence for 60 of Arizona's 100 years of statehood, prides itself on bringing world-class musicians to Tucson. "You can see the same musicians here who are playing in New York," says board president Jean-Paul Bierny.
Foremost among the Friends' achievements is its annual festival, an extravaganza of chamber concerts, open rehearsals and master classes. Curated by artistic director Peter Rejto, the festival brings in the Tokyo String Quartet and Apollo's Fire Baroque Ensemble, March 4 to 11, at Leo Rich. The program features such reliables as Beethoven and Bartók, as well as living composers like Lera Auerbach. Commissioned by the Friends to create new music, pianist Auerbach will debut her Trio herself, playing it with the Tokyo String Quartet. The Friends also produces CDs and presents monthly chamber music concerts by visiting artists. Next up: Jupiter String Quartet on Jan. 25; arizonachambermusic.org.
Cellist extraordinaire Yo-Yo Ma performs at Centennial Hall with pianist Kathryn Stott and the Assad Brothers, guitarists who have studied intensively with South American musicians. Known for his adventurous musical tastes, Ma has organized a program of Brazilian music. April 21; www.uapresents.org.
Arizona Opera drives down from its new home in Phoenix to its Tucson birthplace for performances of the perennially popular Madama Butterfly by Puccini on Feb. 4 and 5, and Verdi's Aida on March 3 and 4, at the Music Hall. The company's first-ever production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice is scheduled for April 21 and 22. All three operas are sung in Italian with English surtitles, to music performed by a live orchestra. The company routinely enlists traveling guest stars; www.azopera.com.
Just for fun, here are some Irish bands. The Chieftains, celebrating their 50th anniversary, descend on Centennial Hall on Feb. 19, injecting Tucson with Irish craic (good times), in the form of traditional Irish music and dance; www.uapresents.org. Goitse, a Dublin band, turns up on Feb. 25, and Karan Casey, John Doyle and John Williams play on March 16, St. Patrick's Eve. Both shows at Berger; www.inconcerttucson.com.
Tucsonan Katherine Larson hit the big time last year when her first volume of poetry, Radial Symmetry, won her both the designation of Yale Younger Poet and publication by Yale University Press. A working scientist whose knowledge of the natural world shapes her poetry, Larson reads at the UA Poetry Center on Feb. 2. Poet Jeffrey Yang also reads; poetry.arizona.edu.
Besides the Poetry Center, POG and Casa Libre en la Solana have regular rosters of literary readings. On Jan. 18, Casa Libre presents Edge Reading, with Amina Gautier, Alison McCabe and Rodney Philips; casalibre.org. POG (gopog.org) next hosts two poets, Myung Mi Kim and Jamison Crabtree, on Feb. 18 at The Drawing Studio.
Hundreds of authors and thousands of book lovers hit the UA campus like a tsunami last year for the third Tucson Festival of Books; the fourth iteration, March 10 and 11, is sure to be even bigger. All the author talks and presentations are free, but books—real bound volumes of ink on paper, no less—are for sale everywhere; tucsonfestivalofbooks.org.
And for those who want to be writers, the Winter Pima Writers Workshop runs all day this Saturday, Jan. 14, at Pima Community College West. (Full disclosure: I am teaching a class.) Aspiring authors can immerse themselves in classes in fiction and nonfiction, and even pen a few words while they're at it; www.pima.edu.