Best of Utah Arts 2015 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Best of Utah Arts 2015

Your votes and our picks for the Best in local arts



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Mama (Plan-B Theatre Co.)
Mama, by Carleton Bluford (Plan-B Theatre Co.)
Carleton Bluford's debut full-length play Mama was one of those resonant nights at the theater, all too rare, that stick in the mind months and even years afterward. The script was a marvelously intricate text: straightforwardly meta-theatrical, affectingly clever, thoroughly embracing its central contradiction of being a deeply personal text woven together from others' stories. That it was the author's first is simply astonishing. Equally astonishing is the manner in which Plan-B staged it: stark, precise, a framework to highlight the text and the cast's (excellent) performance of it. Jerry Rapier's direction revels in the elegant form of function, artful exactly in its ability to cede the stage to the play. Mama is worth all this praise and more, and Bluford's follow-ups are eagerly awaited.

Latoya Rhodes, The Color Purple (Wasatch Theatre Co.)
If one actor defined the 2014-15 season in Salt Lake City, it was Latoya Rhodes. She wasn't in every show, but at times it seemed that way. And to be clear, this is in no way a complaint—indeed, quite the contrary. A versatile performer, Rhodes turned up in everything from Mama to The Music Man, but the highlight of her season was unquestionably her starring role in The Color Purple. A demanding role in its own right, there's also the precedent of the film and the novel to reckon with. Rhodes' performance was a great achievement in technique, with verve.

The Book of Mormon (Broadway Across America-Utah)
It may have been the most foregone conclusion in any category this year—but that doesn't mean it wasn't deserved. The long-awaited arrival of the satirical Broadway smash—about Mormon missionaries in Africa fighting against cultural barriers and their own doubts—allowed plenty of cathartic opportunities to chuckle at the peculiarities of Mormon beliefs. But the play is also a surprisingly effective celebration of the power of mythic stories to give people hope. And plenty of locals are now hoping that Elder Price, Elder Cunningham and company will be returning soon.

WTF! (SB Dance)
The "SB" in SB Dance, of course, refers to the dance company's founder/director Stephen Brown. The ever-creative Brown employs the initials for various iterations of the group's name. Currently, on SB Dance's website, SB stands for "Sweet Beast" Dance Circus. SB is playful like that, known for employing multimedia effects in any given performance to create a multi-dimensional effect. Even its annual WTF! fundraiser is a multimedia affair, incorporating dance, music and video into an effervescent showcase that includes multi-faceted fun: wine, theater and food (hence, WTF).

Almost Tango (Ballet West)
Nicolo Fonte, Ballet West resident choreographer, created a masterpiece with Almost Tango, a piece originally choreographed for the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2002 but which made its Ballet West debut in spring 2015. Almost Tango has the precision and technique of the best ballet, the seething sensuality of the most passionate tango and the experimental composition of modern dance. In all of the above aspects, it succeeds. An especially courageous touch was the addition of dancers obscured by a screen and elevated above the stage. It could have detracted from the movement on stage but instead added intensity and depth to the work.


The Pearl Fishers (Utah Opera)
Utah Opera's canny ability to match the eye with the ear on its productions was once more confirmed by the delights on display during its performance of George Bizet's challenging tale of a romantic tangle between two best friends over a priestess they both love, Pearl Fishers. Martin Lopez's gorgeous costume designs perfectly showcased bravura performances by Craig Irvin and Derrick Parker as the best friends, and soprano Andrea Carroll as their love interest. Despite the libretto's at times lumpen implausibility, this UO production was yet another feather in the cap of a company that seems to rarely, if ever, miss.

Charlotte Boye-Christensen, Nowhere, (NOW-ID)
The most impressive element of the work by Salt Lake City performance company NOW-ID, founded and directed by Charlotte Boye-Christensen and Nathan Webster, is the company's scope of artistic vision. This summer, NOW-ID presented Nowhere, a site-specific performance set at Libby Gardner Hall. No other work of art in Salt Lake City brought together as many artists and disciplines as this performance. Based around movement choreography by Boye-Christensen, Nowhere included works of original music, light design, film, performance art and an on-site sound installation.


Bashaun Williams
One of the highlights of Ririe-Woodbury Dance Co.'s ensemble, Bashaun Williams brings his own majesty to the stage with every performance. A University of Utah graduate who spent time in both the ballet department and the U's resident dance company, Williams joined up with RWDC nearly five years ago as one of three men currently performing with the company. The elegance, grace and determination he brings to the stage shines through every performance along with an innate passion for every role he's given—a true standout in Utah dance.

Natashia Mower
Not one to shy away from the unspeakable taboos or the socially awkward topics of today, Natashia Mower has become an unabashed force on the microphone. With four years of local gigs under her belt, Mower has risen from being an alternative comedy player to local indie figurehead. She has done so by embracing her own personal experiences and offbeat observations, pushing herself beyond her boundaries to find an enthusiastic audience looking for something both funny and chill.

Provo/Orem collective ImprovBroadway are a triple threat, adding a musical element to the already tricky comedy-improv mix, making up show tunes and choreography on the fly while still bringing the funny. In addition to being family-friendly, ImprovBroadway also proclaim to be first-date-friendly: "How exciting will it be to tell your future children that you and your spouse suggested 'Nacho Cheese' as the title of an improvised musical?" reads the IB blog.

No Fixed Address (The Leonardo)
No Fixed Address was one of The Leonardo's top exhibitions in 2014—perhaps even the top exhibition—not for its vibrating lights, hypnotic colors and catchy themes, but because of its subject, homelessness, which affects us all in Salt Lake City. Curated by Jann Haworth, the gallery's walls were covered with Lynn Blodgett's large-scale photo portraits of those who reside in Salt Lake City—neighbors in the city, living everyday lives. In essence, the homeless who call Salt Lake City home are no different than anyone else, each aiming for their best.

Liberty Blake
Sometimes collage and assemblage artworks found in contemporary galleries are a sculpture on the wall with a stuffed bird and a toy car, or cutouts of maps, newspapers and book pages. Liberty Blake raised the bar on the fine art of collage at her Dibble Gallery show in March 2015. Her subdued yet dynamic collage featured rough cuts of softly toned paper. The patterns in the collages have a quality of action to them, created by the raw-cut paper and soft colors, creating an ensemble that is playful and easy on the eye, yet applied with sophistication.

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art (Utah Museum of Fine Arts)
With ever-growing numbers of Latino residents in Utah, this exhibition—hosted by the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and established by the Smithsonian American Art Museum—could not be more relevant. The exhibition showcased the lives of Hispanics of every national origin, through artist representatives, showing audiences just what it is like to make art as Latino artists, and how Latino art enriches modern American art.

Sal Velluto
No newcomer, Salt Lake City artist Sal Velluto has been drawing comics since the late '80s, bouncing between Marvel, DC and various indie imprints, as well as non-superhero gigs. His vivid, classic illustration style practically leaps off the page, simmering in black and white, or exploding in full color. "Comic books are not to be taken for granted," Velluto says. "There is so much behind this art form which involves the mathematics of visual perception, the psychology of forms and the mythology of modern urban legends. These are the comics I like to draw."


UMOCA Art Truck
Taking to the streets initially in 2008 under the initiative of former director Adam Price at what was then known as the Salt Lake Art Center, the Art Truck has been one of the most successful outreach programs in the history of Utah arts. The truck is a wonderfully educational vehicle, roaming the state and visiting schools, community groups and artistic venues. Utilizing the interior as well as exterior surfaces of the truck as canvases to showcase local and national artists, in the past year, the truck featured Brooklyn, N.Y.-based artist Meridith Pingree, who created geometric compositions to provoke questions about art and how it's made.

Of One Heart, by Doug Fabrizio, Joseph LeBaron & Travis Pitcher
The story has all the elements of a classic tear-jerker: Tom Brickey relating the story of his daughter, Mia, and the heart transplant that saved her life. But the VideoWest team took that story—which also includes that of the young boy who became Mia's donor—and told it with restraint and confidence, finding the humanity without resorting to pathos. The result is a wonderfully heartbreaking character study of a loving father wrestling with the realization that a child had to die so his could live.

Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E. Maetani
A thriller that was also a strong coming-of-age story, Ink and Ashes told the story of Claire, a Japanese-American teenager who begins to discover long-buried family secrets about her father, who died years earlier. Maetani proved effective at life-and-death excitement as Claire's investigation takes her into dangerous places, while the story incorporates a compelling romantic sub-plot. But the story may have been best at exploring a girl gradually emerging from a cocoon of being protected by her family and friends, and claiming the adulthood that can sometimes mean finding out things about the world that change you forever.


The Year of Living Virtuously (Weekends Off), by Teresa Jordan
Author and visual artist Teresa Jordan set to herself a unique task: a year of meditation on virtues such as temperance, moderation, cleanliness, chastity and humility in the form of an online diary, taking the weekends off for a few vices. The result, however, was far from an uptight series of lectures on right living. Instead, the funny, deeply personal essays crafted by Jordan offered insight into the way we think about virtues, and how they manifest themselves in our lives in ways we don't always expect.

Ultimatum from Paradise, by Jacqueline Osherow
There's an almost-casual conversational quality to many of the poems in Jacqueline Osherow's masterful collection, so at times it's easy to forget you're reading verse. But there's meticulousness beneath the colloquial, in precisely structured works that explore subjects like memory, her Jewish heritage and architecture—from the echoed first and last lines of the stanzas in "A Crown for Yiddish," to "At Peter Behrens' House," where the refrain "he would join the Nazi Party" betrays a struggle with appreciating the artistic creations of someone associated with evil. It's a language of the soul, spoken as though Osherow were in the room with her reader.


Rebecca Campbell, Boom (CUAC)
It's been a long time since we've seen anything in a local gallery as explosive as former Salt Laker, and bi-coastally represented art star, Rebecca Campbell's oil paintings show under the title Boom in October 2014 at CUAC. These metaphorically apocalyptic images don't erupt with a dull roar, but there is a sense of precision and exactitude in her brush strokes that serves to heighten the drama. In Campbell's works, all the technical flash on elaborate, exuberant display is never for its own sake, but works to illuminate the subject matter.

Peach Treats
With an eye for the elegant, Tif Blue has been crafting out her unique line of earrings for a public buying them faster than she can keep creating them. Each design is carefully made with earth-friendly products, customized to desired stud size, featuring designs that cater to each customer's whims and needs. Whether that involves some standard loops, ear weights, butterfly wings, tentacles, chains, hooks, flowers or whatever else your heart may desire—Peach Treats will have something fantastic for your ears.


Sorry Clementine
With a keen ability to mix and match, Suzanne Clements, owner of the Sorry Clementine brand, is all about giving women adorable and affordable outfits, all handmade and one of a kind. Every item has been re-purposed and freshly designed to give new life to older pieces of clothing. You'll also find interesting combinations of materials that others might not think to combine. Her shop may be gone and her Etsy store closed, but you can still find Suzanne touring local markets and festivals, which has helped make looking for her items a veritable treasure hunt.


CJ Fishburn, Cathedral Tattoo
There's a playfulness and sense of humor in CJ Fishburn's tattoo art not often seen in deadly-serious ink; his flourishes of cartoon-y goofiness, rendered in painstaking detail, would seem as at-home in a comic strip as they are on the human body. "I learned in a shop where there was no flash and our only references were really fine-art books and comics," Fishburn told's Gavin Sheehan. "From there, I got to know as much as possible what the old guys were thinking when they made them. That's why I seek out history so seriously."