After years of dividing staff time and resources between separate offices and rehearsal space, Arizona Opera has at last consolidated most of its operations in one location, thanks to the capital culture bond approved by Phoenix residents in 2006. The company’s new home, formerly a space for office furniture belonging to Walsh Bros., is directly across the street from the Phoenix Art Museum and near the light rail on the northwest corner of Central and McDowell.
Singers and administrators alike are enjoying the novelty of in-house rehearsals at Arizona Opera’s new center, says General Director Ryan Taylor. “Now we’re all under one roof,” he explains. “We’ve got our costume shop…our wig and makeup department…marketing…development…” Taylor pauses and smiles. “Everyone who needs to know exactly what’s going on with the art form can just wander in and see what’s happening that day.”
This weekend offers everyone that rare behind-the-scenes opportunity with plenty of great music, beginning at 6 p.m. this evening and continuing through Community Day celebrations on Saturday, October 5. First Friday options include a professional makeup demonstration in preparation for the Zombie Walk, tours, food trucks ranging from Short Leash Hot Dogs to Paradise Melts to Paletas Betty, and rehearsals of H.M.S. Pinafore, which opens Arizona Opera’s season.
Be sure to grab a spot for tonight’s performances of Craigslistlieder, written in the spirit of classical German art songs but using mature-audience-only lyrics from online ads with tongue tucked firmly in cheek. This offbeat 2006 work for voice and piano was composed by Gabriel Kahane, son of pianist/conductor Jeffrey Kahane, and includes titles like “You Looked Sexy,” “Neurotic and Lonely,” “For Trade,” and “Half A Box of Condoms” performed by baritone Chad Sloan.
Seating is somewhat limited in the new center, since the flexible performance area seats only 235. This allows greater intimacy between audience and performers, says Taylor, hopefully eliminating not only physical distance but also the stereotypical formality of opera. “I think the other thing that I like is just the sunlight,” Taylor adds with a laugh. “Here it’s just a joy, and the acoustic is so good in this new hall; we’re rehearsing in a space that…really is an integral [part] of that downtown corridor in the center of the…arts district.”
Saturday begins with an 11AM presentation from Steinway & Sons, more tours and food trucks, and ongoing performances by members of the Phoenix Youth Symphony, the Arizona School for the Arts Middle School Chorus, and six singers from the Marion Roose Pullin Opera Studio. The evening brings Opératif, a $25 behind-the-scenes preview with Taylor and a glass of wine at the final rehearsal of Pinafore.
Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir William S. Gilbert wrote Pinafore as their fourth collaboration in 1878, creating a burlesque satire of nautical melodramas. The British operetta features veteran baritone Robert Orth, young soprano Sara Gartland, popular Arizona Opera regular Curt Olds, and Grammy-nominated conductor Rob Fisher, while English supertitles projected above the stage make it easy to follow along.
General Director Taylor enjoys casting young artists appropriate to the age of their roles, and rising star David Portillo is a fine example in the role of Ralph Rackstraw, the hero of the piece. Portillo is a Mexican-American tenor from Texas, still in his mid-30s but already boasting appearances with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Washington National Opera, along with performances in Switzerland, Japan, France, Italy, and Luxembourg. He previously sang Beethoven’s ninth symphony with The Phoenix Symphony, and he’s been praised by Opera News as “a sharp performer” with a “warm, sexy lyric tenor.” Portillo also delivers a Spanish-language recital on Arizona Opera’s voiceLab series at the Musical Instrument Museum on October 27.
Arizona Opera stays with a maritime theme by following Pinafore with Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in November. Shorter than most of Wagner’s famous Ring operas, Dutchman is a thoroughly enjoyable spine-tingling romance soaked with plenty of supernatural forces and the composer’s trademark musical sound effects, from spinning wheels to storms. Soprano Lori Phillips sings the heroine role of Senta, in which she debuted at the Metropolitan Opera.
Dutchman’s title role showcases another Metropolitan Opera favorite: baritone Mark Delavan, who grew up in Phoenix and earned a degree in art at Grand Canyon College (now Grand Canyon University) before studying music in Oklahoma. Delavan’s parents were both major figures in the Valley’s choral music scene. Over-the-top reviews for the singer — especially in performances of Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini — include praise for his “half-divine, half-human voice” (and really, who could resist that quote). Intriguingly, Delavan crafts knives as a hobby.
For 2014, Arizona Opera’s season includes Symphony Hall performances of Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème – the inspiration for the musical Rent — in January along with Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic La Traviata in February and March, and nine April performances of Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera Don Pasquale in the new Opera Center.
1636 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Grand opening weekend: Oct. 4 First Friday, 6 to 10 p.m.; Oct. 5 Community Day begins at 11 a.m.
- H.M.S. Pinafore
Oct. 11-13 at Symphony Hall
- The Flying Dutchman
Nov. 15-17 at Symphony Hall
David Krietor has served as President/CEO of the newly-formed Downtown Phoenix, Inc. (“DPI”) since April 8, 2013. In that time, he has begun work with community stakeholders to develop the downtown we want. “Your Downtown” shares his thoughts and DPI’s progress with the downtown community and beyond. Read the first chat here.
The Fall semester is now in full swing. By the numbers, how many students do we now have in downtown?
Yes, school is back in session and joining us in downtown Phoenix are over 20,000 students.
- 18,500 students in a variety of disciplines at Arizona State University downtown Phoenix campus.
- 1,300 future attorneys at Phoenix College of Law.
- 289 future scientists and researchers at Phoenix Union Bioscience High School.
- 282 future physicians at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.
- 172 future allied health professionals at Northern Arizona University’s Phoenix Biomedical Campus facility.
- 90 Grand Canyon University students happen to reside at the just-opened Roosevelt Point.
Let’s welcome them with open arms and strive to ensure their “home away from home” is the best possible experience.
What is the latest regarding DPI’s organizational capacity?
The Phoenix Community Alliance (PCA) Executive Committee approved its affiliate agreement with DPI similar to the agreement signed with the Downtown Phoenix Partnership (DPP). The agreement designates PCA as DPI’s membership affiliate. PCA’s Executive Committee also reviewed a revised PCA mission statement that is focused in part on broadening and deepening their membership base consistent with the makeup of our emerging downtown community. An active group of PCA members and friends drafted the new mission statement.
With agreements in place with our two key affiliates, DPI now must produce a consolidated DPI/PCA/DPP program of work and budget for 2014 that creates synergy, fills in program gaps, and eliminates overlap and inefficiencies.
What are some examples of downtown’s economic and cultural vitality?
Downtown is connected to a diverse collection of neighborhoods whose vibrancy is vital if we are going to have a true downtown “community.” I was reminded recently how diverse we are when I attended the Grant Park Neighborhood Association meeting. The cultural heritage and sense of commitment to a strong urban core are very evident in Grant Park. While there are challenges more complicated than in other downtown neighborhoods, there is also a sense of optimism. The meeting was held in the Grant Park gym. As I was leaving the evening meeting the park was filled with young families and kids playing basketball. In some ways it represents what our aspirations are for community engagement and activity at Margaret T. Hance Park. DPI Advisory Committee Member Eva Olivas and her organization, Phoenix Revitalization Corporation, are very much involved in the Grant Park community.
An easy way to get involved? Attend or support an Event!
Here are just a few as event season kicks into high gear:
Downtown, Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Row
Hance Park/Historic Roosevelt
A.E. England, Downtown
The Duce, Downtown
Downtown, Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Row
I also had an opportunity to attend the Central City Village Planning Committee and Evans Churchill Community Association meetings since my last communiqué to you. At the latter, Nichelle Zazueta-Bonow with the City of Phoenix Community & Economic Development Department provided a timetable on sidewalk and shade improvements for Fifth Street from the Phoenix Biomedical Campus to Roosevelt Row. This project, conceived with significant stakeholder input, will improve walkability in the neighborhood. In addition, Bob Diehl of the City of Phoenix Complete Streets Citizens Advisory Committee encouraged interested individuals to review and comment on the City’s Draft Complete Streets Policy. A “complete street” is a design concept that offers guidelines to ensure roads, sidewalks, and other streetscape elements are accessible, convenient, and safe for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
The Hance Park Master Plan Design Team, comprised of internationally recognized design experts, held a series of community and stakeholder workshops to seek ideas for an improved Margaret T. Hance Park.
In other good news… Did you hear that the Phoenix Public Market was just rated the fourth best farmers’ market in America by The Daily Meal website? Also, word on the street (Jefferson to be exact) is that the crane over the Hotel Palomar came down and leasing for CityScape Residences atop the hotel will begin soon.
Historic preservation is a hot button issue for many in the community. How is this type of advocacy and leadership carrying over to other development issues?
While the City of Phoenix has a long-standing and nationally recognized ordinance supporting historic preservation, we continue to have instances where buildings that represent our past are demolished or threatened. One only needs to look at the Orpheum Theatre, Bentley Projects, Ellis Shackelford House, Winship House, and Hanny’s to see how historic properties can contribute to the richness of downtown.
Circle K wants to abandon their current store on the northeast corner of Seventh Street and Roosevelt and expand on the block south on an empty lot where a vintage warehouse once stood. Over significant neighborhood objection a year ago, Circle K rescinded their plan. The company is back with a revised plan and application for a liquor license. Councilman Michael Johnson and DPI have strongly encouraged Circle K representatives to communicate with the impacted neighborhood associations.
Why are neighborhood and downtown advocates opposed to Circle K’s expansion? Linked here are letters from numerous downtown and neighborhood groups, including several DPI partners (City of Phoenix, Downtown Phoenix Partnership, Downtown Voices Coalition, and Phoenix Community Alliance) outlining concern about crime, noise, traffic congestion, and/or lackluster building and site design at the northeast gateway into our downtown. View the proposed site plan here.
Several City-led efforts are underway that may help the situation in the future:
- Mayor Greg Stanton is seeking the advice of historic preservation advocates, urban planners, and developers with significant experience in historic rehabilitation on finding additional incentives for preservation, refining city procedures and processes to encourage preservation, and prioritizing key preservation projects citywide. I’m happy to serve on the informal panel, and I’m learning a great deal about our city’s heritage, including our “place in the sun” with nationally acclaimed post-World War II architecture.
- This spring and summer, two citizen panels examined the strengths and weaknesses of existing urban infill policies, programs, incentives, and requirements. On October 9 at the A.E. England Building in Civic Space Park, these Infill Advisory Groups and city Planning and Development Department staff will present the groups’ discussions, work plans, and Phase I recommendations. I encourage you to attend the public meeting if your schedule permits.
What do you hear from the Downtown Voices Coalition?
For over nine years, the Downtown Voices Coalition, today chaired by DPI Board Member Tim Eigo, has met on the second Saturday of each month to discuss downtown issues from a grassroots and neighborhood perspective. A diverse group of 25-plus community members attended Saturday’s meeting and their agenda was lengthy and lively (which they readily admit is usually the case).
- Richard Stanley from ASU previewed plans to move the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law from the Tempe campus to downtown Phoenix into a new Arizona Center for Law and Society on the site of the demolished Sahara/Ramada motel.
- Ray Dovalina with the City of Phoenix Street Transportation Department provided an update on the city’s move to approve a Complete Streets Policy and news of upcoming improvements on Grand Avenue and First Street between Washington and Moreland.
- Catrina Kahler of Artlink Phoenix outlined several significant organizational moves to further engrain art – and Artlink – into downtown’s revitalization. (Kahler is also publisher of DPJ)
- Sean Sweat of Thunderdome Neighborhood Association for Non-Auto Mobility outlined a street parking plan for the Evans Churchill neighborhood that is now being vetted by local stakeholders and city officials for adoption.
There are few “sounding boards” like the Downtown Voices Coalition, and the open exchange and frank debate have made for a better community.
There are a few key indicators that the Phoenix art scene is growing up and coming into its own while still crackling with the edgy energy of a scene that is nowhere near ready to rest on its laurels. A dynamic example of this electric mix of increasingly sophisticated talent and “hey kids let’s put on a show” enthusiasm is embodied in what is arguably THE do-not-miss show of the year, Legend City’s Chaos Theory.
Now in its 14th year, Chaos Theory, an annual invitational exhibition, is the brainchild of Phoenix-based painter, Randy Slack. It grew out of a conversation he had with another local artist, Jeff Falk, back at the turn of this century, about how cool it would be to do a show and get every Phoenix artist they knew to submit one piece each, so “we could see what everyone was doing.”
Artists tend to work in isolation, tucked away in their studios, and Slack saw this as a chance to bring everyone together in one place. “Basically,” said Slack, “I just made a list of artists I knew and started calling people up. It didn’t seem like it would be a big deal.”
But a “big deal” is what it has become, not only in the depth and breadth of the work on display, but in the eager anticipation of the art-loving public that turns out in huge numbers each fall to see what comes together. Over the years, many of the core people are still participating, but both the show…and their careers have grown and evolved over time.
Slack still gets on the phone and personally invites people to submit and still has no idea what the work will be until they drop it off. The point of the show is really about the range of people in it, not just the art. While the majority are dedicated artists, some are full-time arts advocates/part-time artists and Chaos Theory is a chance for them to showcase their own creative work.
Now 41, Slack was 27 when he organized the first Chaos Theory in 1999. He stopped drinking two weeks before the first show opened and has spent the ensuing years creating his own successful career, as well as leading what he calls “a kind of double life” as a loving husband and soccer dad to two girls.
Fourteen years later, Chaos Theory is still entirely a labor of love. He is quick to point out that there is no money involved, no corporate sponsors, no big marketing campaign and he doesn’t take a cut of the sales. There is a minor $20 fee that each participating artist pays to help Slack cover the cost of hanging the work, getting lights, and buying food. People buy the pieces directly from the artists.
“Chaos Theory is a barometer of the downtown art scene,” says Slack. “People are really attracted to the show because it is a culmination of the pure love of making, creating and sharing art.”
Legend City is a full-time working studio for both Randy and his studio mates – photographers Jon Balinkie, Jason Grubb, and Brandon Sullivan. Because it is a full-time working studio space, the Chaos Theory exhibition has traditionally only been up for the one night – the First Friday in October. “Because it only lasts a minute,” Randy says, “it’s the freshest show in town.”
The only real marketing collateral is a postcard that Slack creates each year, mainly so people can have a keepsake of the event. The postcard is usually completed about two weeks before the show and serves as “the reveal” of the participating artists that year.
This year for the first time, the show will be open a handful of times beyond First Friday. There will be a private showing for the Phoenix Art Museum’s Contemporary Forum members on Saturday, October 5 and it will be open to the public again on Third Friday (October 18) and for the Grand Avenue Festival on Saturday, October 19. Finally, it will be open to the public when Legend City hosts the Downtown Chamber Series on November 16.
These additional opportunities to see the work are an example of the ways in which the show and the scene is changing. Public demand has made it necessary to extend the options beyond one night. Additionally, more and more artists are eager to be a part of the show. That is, perhaps, the most difficult part of the whole process for Slack. “It’s getting to be that I’m tugged in a bunch of directions.” Since he is involved in every part of the exhibition, from inviting the artists,to creating his own painting for the show, to creating the postcard, to hanging the work, to hosting the event, it’s an exhausting undertaking.
But, just as he has grown older and wiser, the show has grown better and better, but still carries the integrity of its original purpose with it. And while it is tough to turn people away, Slack remains dedicated to his first intention – inviting his fellow artists and friends, many of whom are now extremely successful – to bring their work together in one place, “to see what everyone is doing.”
Of course, Randy Slack is more than just the guy who puts together the Chaos Theory exhibition every year. He’s a native Phoenician, a talented and prolific artist, a dedicated husband and father, a keen surfer (ask him about Big Surf), and has spent the last five years bringing a 1951 VW Beetle (pictured above) back to its glistening former glory. He’s a true Renaissance guy with a seemingly bottomless reservoir of generosity when it comes to creating a place where artists and the public can come together and revel in the talent and the love that makes the Phoenix art scene unbeatable.
Photography by Steve Dreiseszun.
Special thanks to Legend City boys for their technical assistance.
If You Go
Where: Legend City Studios, 521 W. Van Buren (parking and entrance on south side of the building), turn south on 5th Ave and right into the parking lot.
Friday, October 4 from 7 – 10 p.m.
Friday, October 18 from 7 to 10 p.m.
Saturday, October 19 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Grand Avenue Festival)
Saturday, November 18 (Downtown Chamber Series)
Catch the final performances of the original Broadway musical version of Seussical this weekend as Valley Youth Theatre (VYT) concludes its two-week run at the Herberger Theater Center. Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and co-conceived by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, this family-friendly production enters the world of Dr. Seuss as young performers offer a fantastic, magical extravaganza.
In Seussical, the Cat in the Hat tells the story of an elephant named Horton who protects the infinitesimal Whos from danger while guarding an abandoned egg. A paean to friendship, loyalty, and community support, the children’s classic includes vivid costumes, full-scale staging, and enthusiastic acting by talented youngsters, some of whom may go on to performing careers.
All images courtesy Valley Youth Theatre.
If you go:
- Valley Youth Theatre
- Remaining showtimes (all at the Herberger Theater Center):
Friday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 28 at 2PM & 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 29 at 2 p.m.
Under the sky, ballet has a completely different feel from the formality and tension of an indoor performance. Anything can happen — wind, stars, insects, and audience all add layers of natural art to even the most carefully planned production.
Each September, Ballet Arizona continues a 15-year tradition of free outdoor community performances at parks across the Valley, this year making stops in Casa Grande, Sun City West, Goodyear, Fountain Hills, Phoenix, and Tempe. On a portable elevated stage complete with lighting and music, costumed dancers share choreography by the iconic George Balanchine, up-and-coming young artist Alejandro Cerrudo, and Ballet Arizona’s own artistic director, Ib Andersen.
On Saturday, September 28, Ballet Under the Stars comes to Steele Indian School Park at 7 p.m., and downtowners can experience a bit of the glorious uncertainty of a live outdoor performance. While the professionals warm up, it’s not uncommon to see a handful of tiny would-be dancers leaping and spinning on grass and sidewalks between lawn chairs and blankets. They’re perfectly prepared to see scenes from Andersen’s luscious Cinderella, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev and featuring fairies, cavaliers, Cinderella, and her prince.
From the classical Cinderella, en pointe in tutus, the program shifts to a contemporary work: Cerrudo’s Second to Last, commissioned by Ballet Arizona for a world premiere this past March. The Spanish-born dancer, who works with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, cites major influence from choreographers Jiří Kylián, Ohad Naharin, and Mats Ek as well as Freddie Mercury.
“I have influences from choreographers that I don’t even like,” Cerrudo declares. “I think everybody does — I think everything that you see, touch, smell, read, see, will influence you for good or for bad. Sometimes you see something and you’re like, ‘Oh, I really need to go the opposite of that in my work, because I see how that makes me feel, or I just don’t like the aesthetics’…and then the opposite way, as we grow up…you create your idea of beauty.”
He continues, “Europe is ahead of us right now in dance, in the sense that they produce more and they’re more progressive. But…I feel like I have a little place here where I can help and promote that growth and…evolution of dance in the States very humbly.”
Second to Last was a lovely revelation at its spring performances, a sensual exploration of every possibility of movement between two dancers. “People should come and see it,” says Cerrudo earnestly, “because it’s not meant to be explained with words…[it’s] meant to be experienced.”
During Ballet Under the Stars, students from Clarendon Elementary School take the stage as Class Act, an after-school program guided by Ballet Arizona dancers in which the students choreograph and premiere a new work.
The evening ends with Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, with music for strings and piano commissioned from Paul Hindemith by the choreographer in 1940. Three themes danced by three successive couples broaden into variations named after the four humors of the human body specified in medieval cosmology, beginning with melancholic (analytical), continuing with sanguinic (sociable) and phlegmatic (calm), and ending with choleric (ambitious).
If you can’t make it to Ballet Under the Stars, consider visiting Ballet Arizona’s huge new dance center during its grand opening on October 12 from 10:30 a.m to 2 p.m. — it includes free performances, classes, and tours with a drawing for season tickets.
- Ballet Under the Stars
- Ballet Arizona’s Cinderella – Oct. 30 through Nov. 3 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall
- Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo
- George Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments
- The Balanchine Trust
- The Balanchine Foundation
- Ballet Arizona’s past program Director’s Choice
- Ballet Arizona’s past program All Balanchine
- Ballet Arizona’s grand opening on Oct. 12
2836 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 85034