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Best of Utah Arts 2015

Your votes and our picks for the Best in local arts



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Bare (Utah Repertory Theater Co.)
Because who didn't go to high school in a suffocatingly restrictive, religiously oppressive environment and have a secret, cataclysmic gay affair? Utah Repertory Theater Co.'s high-school musical, Bare, used the very heightened nature of theatre itself to evoke the emotional truths of the adolescent experience. Love at that age always feels like life or death, a terrifying secret that would yield Armageddon if disclosed. And so, this very specific tale of Catholic-school teens and their debauchery becomes universal.

David Wolske, Vessels
The art of the printed word is not a new one, but artist David Wolske breaks new ground with his studio and printing press, bringing the word to life. Wolske incorporates color and form creatively into letter and word, to not only present an attractive image, but to convey meaning beyond that which is spelled out by the letter and word. He did just this in his solo show at the Art Barn in March, 2015, creating letters, words, styles and colors in sequences that allowed viewers freedom to create their own meanings, both new and original.

Lindsay Frei, The Painted Edge
In a decisive break from the still-life photorealistic images she is widely known for, artist Lindsay Frei took on another form of capturing life, with surprising results. At the Gittins Gallery at the University of Utah in September 2014 with her show, The Painted Edge, Frei grappled with the hard and soft "edges" of being a woman and realities that convey hard or soft edges with moments captured in time. Frei explores the reality of beauty in hard edges—such as intensity of emotion—and softer edges, the masking of the self, such as the sublime, or calm control. Beauty is not one thing, says Frei, but many.

Sarina Villareal (15 Street Gallery)
Sarina Villareal did not depart from working with intensive ideas—even when married, surrounded by the kind of art to be found in any luxury home—in her 15th Street Gallery show in August-September 2014 (note: Villareal's work currently can also be seen at 15th Street Gallery through Sept. 15). Surprisingly, her work is more about notions of memory and temporality than the lush and colorful floral bursts occupying them. Villareal is always scientific in her approach, asking hard questions, searching for truth. Here, she explored a question of memory: Given a span of time, what will be retained, what will be lost and what distinguishes the two? No easy task, but one this gifted artist takes with aplomb.

Aaron Kramer & Derek Gregerson, The Little Dog Laughed (Wasatch Theatre Co.)
Wasatch Theatre Co.'s production of The Little Dog Laughed was hampered a bit by the demands of presenting an opulent milieu on a limited budget. But there was nothing lacking in the performances, with a particularly affecting pair at its center: dissolute movie star Mitchell (Aaron Kramer) and prostitute/boyfriend Alex (Derek Gregerson). Kramer and Gregerson played off each other in a way that, while lacking in the smoothness often facilely mistaken for "good" chemistry in acting, was reflective of the awkwardness their characters felt. Real romantic chemistry is rarely smooth, as these actors showed splendidly.

5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche (Silver Summit Theatre)
The title ensemble of 5 Lesbians Eating a Quiche not only performed the post-apocalyptic comedy but welcomed the audience to the bunker, as it were. Silver Summit Theatre managed, in no mean achievement, to create one of the most pleasantly unobtrusive systems of audience participation yet seen in the theater, allowing audience members—given badges with the names of auxiliary characters—the chance to choose the degree to which the performers, skilled improvisers all, included them in ad-libbed banter. The easygoing framing of the participation befits such subjects as lesbians and quiche, themselves quite pleasant.


A Year With Frog and Toad (Salt Lake Acting Co.)
It is an achievement requiring meticulous calibration to create a live performance piece for dozens of young children and not end up with a riot. A salute of great respect must be given to Salt Lake Acting Co.'s production of A Year With Frog and Toad, part of its ongoing commitment to producing an annual family-friendly show. That its clockwork precision and elegant simplicity made for compelling viewing for parents (and critics) may seem like icing on the cake, it is indeed the cake itself. Hook 'em when they're young with quality stagecraft, and kids will grow up to love theater.

[title of show] (Utah Repertory Theater Co.)
Due to infrastructural realities in the theater, and New York City being the nation's most populous city, a very high percentage of plays are set in New York. But not all of these plays manage to transcend the writing of "Setting: New York City" on the page to the point of actually resembling the place—which may be trivial to people not from there, but natives can get possessive about their home. Thus, a show like [title of show], splendidly enacted by Utah Repertory Theater Co., hits a particularly sweet note. It was a deeply felt work, marvelously rich in texture.


Jessica Day George, Thursdays With the Crown and Silver in the Blood
Utah author Jessica Day George has been such a prolific creator of charming fantasies for young readers that it's easy to take her for granted. But in the last 12 months, she both continued a popular series, and created a brand-new world. Thursdays With the Crown picked up the cliffhanger of her books built around the mysterious Castle Glower; Silver in the Blood introduced a pair of 1890s New York debutantes who discover that they have strange family connections in Romania. That's a lot of transporting delighted readers for one year.


Self_Created Identity (Mestizo Institute of Culture and Arts)
How do we perceive ourselves? How do we fit in? How do we create individuality in a world divided and categorized by cultures, ethnicities, genders, ethnographic and demographic divisions, social and political groups? Such a vast inquiry was the aim of director and curator of Mestizo Gallery Renato Olmedo-González, in Self_Created Identity, which showcases the work of Ali Mitchell, Willard Cron, Alex Moya and Mari Hernández. Ultimately, identity is a myth, said Olmedo-González, and to find true individuality, one must break through such labels, to transcend limitations, boundaries and parameters, to connect with the authentic self.

Once I Was a Beehive
For many secular moviegoers, the label "faith-based film" has generally been an indicator of pandering, self-righteous, often paranoid nonsense. How refreshing to find writer/director Maclain Nelson crafting something that works as satisfying storytelling no matter what your own personal beliefs might be. This story of a non-Mormon teenage girl on a Young Women's campout with her new step-cousin explores grief, doubt and belief with humor, sensitivity and genuine respect for its characters' varying points of view. Filmmakers who want to do more than get the like-minded to pat themselves on the back could stand to take a few notes.


Christiana Bennett, Ballet West
Like many little girls, Christiana Bennett started dreaming of becoming a ballet dancer at a very young age—2 years old, in fact. Soon after, she started her rigorous training. At 16, she first danced the White Swan pas de deux and, at 18, she signed her first professional dancing contract. This is one ballerina who clearly took to the stage naturally and has been celebrated ever since. But retirement is always a ticking time bomb, and the choice to go out on top is much better than to be forced out against the mirrored wall. So, for Bennett, calling it quits by dancing Odette/Odile this past season after a 16-year-long professional career at Ballet West, is just one more dream come true.

Adams Memorial Shakespearean Theatre (Utah Shakespeare Festival)
For more than 50 years, the Utah Shakespeare Festival has been one of the nation's most impressive showcases of the Bard's works. For nearly 40 of those years, they've been presenting the beloved plays in the Adams Theatre, an outdoor space so 17th-century authentic that even the Royal Shakespeare Co. and the BBC used it as a filming location. A new, more accessible outdoor theater will open next season, allowing one final opportunity to enjoy great drama the way it might have been experienced 400 years ago.

Tim Sullivan, Ways to the West
Those of us who live in the sprawling American West have resigned ourselves to our need for individual cars to deal with the way cities have been designed. But does it have to be this way? Tim Sullivan packed a bicycle on a plane bound for Las Vegas, and began a solo, car-free trip through Western population centers—including Denver, Phoenix, Portland and, yes, Salt Lake City—to discover how cities are exploring alternatives for moving their people. And, as often happens when you get out of your car, what he discovers is fascinating—and even encouraging.

Utah Symphony at Gallivan Center
On a summery evening in June, the Utah Symphony played a free open-air concert at the Gallivan Center, with a program that featured pieces from operas like Rossini's Overture to The Barber of Seville and Verdi's Prelude from La Traviata. The main feature of the performance was Beethoven's bold and triumphant Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92. The central location downtown, the absence of a generally costly ticket and a shorter running time than average symphonic performances made for a relaxed and joyful evening at the symphony.

Grassroots Shakespeare Co.
In an attempt to be as authentic as possible, the members of Grassroots Shakespeare Co. give themselves only a few weeks to choreograph, create the set, engineer the music and rehearse their productions. As a true democracy, the troupe has no set director, and they make everything—even the music—themselves. The simplicity and sparseness of the set and absence of lighting allows the company to travel and perform in outdoor venues, such as farmers markets. Costumes and props are found by the actors, and the audience is often included in the performance.

Oh Yeah (Municipal Ballet Co. & Holy Water Buffalo)
Salt Lake City's Municipal Ballet Co. partnered with local folk-rock band, Holy Water Buffalo, from Heber City, in an unusual and annual wedding of the arts. A rock ballet was the result (each year, the ballet company chooses a different local band to tour with). Accompanied by live rock music—not the musical accompaniment generally associated with the grace and elegance of ballet—gives the dancers a chance to prove their playfulness and versatility, a point underscored in their choices of venue, from The State Room to Red Butte Garden and Ogden's Art Fest. Municipal Ballet Co.'s founder and artistic director is Sarah Longoria, who is married to City Weekly staff writer, Colby Frazier.

Collective Experience, Rio Gallery
"Scenius" is the combination of "scene" and "genius" coined by musician/artist/producer/designer Brian Eno to describe the effect of artists working in a collective environment, in which the whole adds up to more artistic inspiration than the sum of its parts in isolation. This "ecology of talent" was celebrated by the Utah Division of Arts & Museums at Rio Gallery with an exhibition curated by Saltgrass Press' Stephanie Dykes. The collection of local art ranged from painting and prints to mixed media and performance works, and revealed the particular "scenius" of Salt Lake City in the commonalities of themes and approaches.

Chris Coy, Real Sex
You might say the most provocative imagery exists in the mind's eye, and in Chris Coy's exhibition Real Sex at CUAC, his videos, paintings in "chroma key" green paint used for green-screen video, and other works require the viewer to fill in the blanks and see what is hidden: pixilated images and outlines of figures from pornography and other explicit content. The tension between what is seen on the surface and what is perceived in their subtleties reveals an immensity about the nature of looking and the object.

[con]text, Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Art incorporating language or text is so often identified with modernism that it's surprising what an extensive history the use of language in art has had. [con]text at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts illuminated the development of text-based art tied in with the development of language itself, going all the way back to an ancient Egyptian wall relief, then proceeding to the Plexiglass postmodernism of John Cage and the repercussions of digital culture on language. If "the medium is the message," the fact that these works all came from the university's permanent collection made the exhibit even more astounding.

Browser by Korey Daniel Martin
Martin's works go beyond just being meta, and delve into stronger issues that some zine readers may not have expected to be reading about. Which is what makes Browser an interesting read, as you're forced to examine the world through the eyes of someone who isn't satisfied with the way things are. What should be disjointed—and possibly a turnoff—is actually quite blissful to read, as Martin's artwork gives you a simplistic universe with complicated issues.

Guerrilla Gallery (Cecilia Anthony)
Being both everywhere and nowhere at once, Guerrilla Gallery adopted the idea that a gallery doesn't need to be a physical place or even feature a selective theme. Every few months, the "gallery" will select a satellite location—maybe an apartment, maybe a parking lot—set up artwork and performances, and give people who are out on Gallery Stroll a one-time-only experience that will never be replicated. In the winter of 2014, they took the concept online with a live video display, showing that even those who aren't up to walking around in the cold could get a fantastic exhibition right at home.

Pocket Film Festival
Utah has cornered the market on film festivals with the biggest ones taking over Park City every year, but filmmakers are also starting to get creative in the way the smaller ones are presented. The Pocket Film Festival challenged filmmakers to create a film of any length using only the video apps available on ordinary smart phones. The results were fantastic, with movies as short as 12 seconds to as long as a full-length movie, which has already pushed organizers into putting on the second festival September 2015.

Chloe Christine
Putting a focus on a side of the local community that rarely gets highlighted, Chloe Christine has donated her time and talents to giving members of the LGBT community a place to shine. Her photography has showcased many members of the trans community, bringing out a beauty that many may choose to overlook, but can't be overshadowed by intolerance. Her daily work as a photographer is exemplary, but her generosity in this particular field is second-to-none.


Alpine Garrison
It doesn't matter what your personal feelings about Star Wars might be; there's something about watching hundreds of Stormtroopers marching to the Emperor's theme music that will give you goose bumps. For 16 years, the Alpine Garrison has been having its members attend events throughout the state, dressed in every form of official Empire garb from the loneliest Death Star staffer to the highest-grade Royal Guards. But it isn't just for cosplay or love of the franchise; they do it for the fans and for charities when possible, making the Empire seem not so evil after all.

Deep in the dark recesses of Ryan Hudson's mind rests a universe where people speak their damned minds, and even the most tragic of outcomes has a morbid silver lining. For nearly eight years, Hudson has been animating his personal thoughts, opinions and insane sense of humor on his website, garnering a dedicated fan base and respect from his peers. He's taught us the valuable life lesson of learning to do a perfect impression of your twin brother.


Ed "Big Daddy" Roth: Rat Fink!
"Big Daddy" Roth was a legend in the California hot-rod scene of the '60s and '70s, with his custom-car designs and the grotesque cartoon character Rat Fink he created. He later converted to Mormonism and came to live in Manti, until his death in 2001. He's been memorialized by the "Rat Fink Reunion," held annually in Manti and Southern California, and, this year, his art was put on display concurrently at the Granary Art Center in Manti. If you caught a glimpse of the events, with all the memorabilia and even a custom-car parade in Manti, you saw an example of how the counterculture lives on in a cookie-cutter world.

Comedy & Other Opinions
Stand-up comedian Jason Harvey has spent the better portion of his career busting his ass on stage and watching others do the same. So, when the chance to host his own show came about, Harvey turned the evening into a chance for audience members to get to know the comedians a little more. After every set (now at Club 50 West in downtown Salt Lake City), Harvey brings up his talented friends one by one to ask them random questions and see how they do on their feet, both testing their comedic skills beyond a pre-planned set and giving the fans something extra they might not see at other shows.


Howa Gallery
The former vice president of Howa Construction, Thomas Howa, recently turned his sights toward opening an art gallery in Bountiful, where as an artist, he has had a studio for a number of years. His time pursuing his second career as a painter provided him opportunities to network with local artists, and, as such, the gallery's opening in May 2015 provided a potpourri of local artistic genres and styles, a cross-section of some of the best local art. Set in a strip mall, it's decidedly more friendly than some venues that keep the viewer at a distance.

Utah Fashion Week
The Salt Lake City fashion scene may be moving at a slower pace these days when it comes to runway shows, but that just gave Provo the opportunity to pick up the slack. The weeklong semi-annual event (formerly Provo Fashion Week), gives Utah County fashion designers, from the established names to those making their way up the designer career ladder, a chance to show off their goods, from casual wear to bridal gowns. The fall gala scheduled for Oct. 17, Provo fashionistas are looking to step up and make themselves known.

Radical Hospitality Theater
Stepping beyond your ordinary theater productions, Radical Hospitality adds arts and dining to the mix to provide a comfortable viewing experience. Playing to their name, the company hosts theatrical productions—like A Streetcar Named Desire—or weekly events like Monologue Monday, and stages these performances in nontraditional venues in Murray and Salt Lake City, then adds a meal and surrounding artwork to create a completely different environment than your typical theatrical setting.


Obake Style
Formed out of the artistic collaboration between married artists Nick Burke and Magen Mitchell, the two have taken their love for anime, monsters, Japanese culture and pure geekdom to make these badass handcrafted and painted jewelry pieces. Everything from necklaces to earrings to pins can be found in their shop, featuring unique designs not found anywhere else—and most of them for a limited time, as their inventory tends to get plundered during conventions.

Art 270
Salt Lake City's Main Street has seen a number of changes over the past few years. One of the brightest additions came in the form of Art 270. The contemporary art gallery features works from some of Utah's newer names who haven't been given a gallery experience yet while also providing a space for experienced hands to experiment with their craft, all while capturing audiences who may be passing by on public transit.

The Bee: True Stories From The Hive
There's no better story than the one you've never heard, and that very attitude drives The Bee at its bi-monthly events, as new presenters join in on the fun. After picking a topic and finding a venue such as The Leonardo or Urban Lounge, the creators select 10 random names from a hat to present their original stories to a crowd that has no idea what to expect. The showcase has become the ultimate in random-experience art.

12 Minutes Max
Borrowing the format from a Portland-based group, 12 Minutes Max selects performers of multiple disciplines—including music, art, dance, theater, film, even puppetry—and gives those participants 12 minutes to do whatever they'd like in front of an audience filling the Salt Lake City Main Library's auditorium. It's completely free to the public, and it doesn't matter whether you like or hate what you just saw; something new will be coming around in just a few moments.


Desarae Lee
Lee's illustrations have a dark but romantic side to them, with intricate detail that still feels messy. She's able to create an entire universe with nothing but a pen, telling stories of circus freaks, trees made from octopus tentacles, a beautiful ghost haunting a theme park in the night, or flightless birds using a hot air balloon to join their brethren. Other mysteries deep within her works are left for the viewer to decipher, but trust us, it is well worth a look.

Josh & Heidi Belka's Joe Hill Mural
2015 marks the 100-year anniversary of the death of labor organizer Joe Hill, who was executed at the Utah State Prison for what some say was a trumped-up murder charge. Two members of the IATSE local 99 stagehand's union commemorated Hill's legacy with a mural on an exterior wall of the union hall at 526 W. 800 South. Within days, the mural was replaced with a U.S. flag design by somebody who disagreed with Hill's radical pro-labor words. The artists believe the vandals were not management stooges, but may have been union members—which, if true, goes to show how far to the right even the labor movement has shifted over the past century.

Johnny Worthen
Prolific local multi-genre fiction author Johnny Worthen says, "I was told at my first Grateful Dead show that you wear tie-dye not for yourself, but for your friends. You're welcome." So ex post facto thanks are in order for the man who has brightened our days not only with his garishly colored T-shirts, but with his award-winning young adult fiction (e.g., The Unseen Saga), political thrillers (e.g., The Brand Demand) and supernatural occult horror/love stories (e.g., Beatrysel). Not everyone can dye with honor, but Worthen pulls it off.

Pioneer Theatre Co.'s Alabama Story
In spring 2014, PTC reignited its play-reading series, Play-by-Play, and in so doing, brought playwright Kenneth Jones to Salt Lake City for a weeklong residency to work with a professional director and cast. The result was Alabama Story, a play that received a full production at PTC in spring 2015 to rave reviews. Based on a real-life controversy over censorship of a children's book from 1958, the production merged civil-rights history and personal stories to great effect. For the American theater to remain vital and relevant, new works such as Alabama Story need to be encouraged. PTC's Play-by-Play program helps foster those new voices.

Excellence in the Community's Gallivan Center dances
During summer's sunset hours, on various Tuesday and Thursday evenings, the outdoor amphitheater at Gallivan Center came alive with swingers—to clarify: nimble souls dancing to the big-band sounds of Evening in Brazil, Wasatch Jazz Project and David Halliday & the Number Ones, to name but a few. Gallivan Center rolled out a magnificent dance floor while rolling in upscale food offerings served by the Food Truck League. Did we mention the evening's entertainment (and dance lessons) were free? Kudos to Excellence in the Community's founder Jeff Whiteley for showcasing Utah's top-drawer artists in a swank setting, providing the ambiance to elevate the arts experience.


RDT Presents ... Bill Evans, 75
In August 2015, dancer Bill Evans celebrated his 75th birthday onstage at the Rose Wagner Center, showing just what someone named one of the country's top tap artists (according to a Dance Magazine reader poll) can do with a pair of tap shoes. His smooth, elegant body moves fused with his quick, rhythmic feet, delighting those in attendance. Evans interspersed his tap and modern-dance pieces with video and slide presentations highlighting his life as a dancer. The Lehi native recalled fondly his early years with Repertory Dance Theatre, after which he went on to choreograph more than 200 works, 18 of them for RDT. That RDT is also celebrating its 50th anniversary made the occasion ever sweeter.