Top picks by a washed-up, used-to-be arts editor by no means create an immutable list of the best art events of 2008. My initial list was about 30 deep, and trimming it down to 10 was quite an exercise, but it had to be done. So here they are, my top 10 picks for 2008 in no particular order.
Albuquerque Theatre Guild
While the Albuquerque Theatre Guild started in 2007, it really blossomed into the mainstream in 2008. Building a foundation of communication between theaters is the first step in cultivating a successful performance arts community, and Albuquerque is already well on its way to standing out as a top theater city in the Southwest. Creating a formal forum for discussion, brainstorming, collective promotions and talent sharing is a no-brainer for Burque theater. A standing ovation to the Albuquerque Theatre Guild.
The Cradle Project
Years of planning went into the successful execution of The Cradle Project. The multi-artist, venue-hopping exhibit was conceptualized by Naomi Natale after she spent a year in Kenya photographing children in slums and tribal reserves. She put out a call to artists to submit cradles made in any medium to make up The Cradle Project. The proceeds from the project went to the Firelight Foundation to benefit orphaned children with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. It all came together in June of 2008 at The Banque in Downtown for a stunning (and moving) exhibit. Art meets social change at its finest.
King Lear at The Vortex
Many things were perfect about this staging of King Lear, which ran in April at The Vortex. First, there was the Fool. Played by local physical theater enthusiast turned Barnum and Bailey’s clown Alan Ware, he stopped just shy of stealing the show (though he definitely stole a few scenes). And, of course, there’s Paul Ford. Known in the theater community for his love of Shakespeare, Ford made a fantastic Lear. The duo of the King and his Fool (aided by a unique theater setup, sharp costuming and a killer supporting cast) made King Lear a top theatrical pick for the year.
New Mexico Ballet Company Turns 35
It was quite a year for New Mexico Ballet Company. In April, the Company performed its 35th Anniversary Gala with re-created choreography from its entire lifespan. The performance stirred up emotion from the visiting dancers from NMBC’s past and brought new audience members up to speed with how far the company has come. To make 2008 even sweeter for NMBC, this year’s performance of The Nutcracker with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra was the best I’ve seen to date.
Camino Real Tierra Adentro
Some exhibits are so stellar they etch a time-spanning impression—Camino Real Tierra Adentro was one of those. The series of 50 black-and-white panoramic photos by Eniac Martînez hung on the walls of the Open Space Visitor Center in January before moving to the Camino Real International Heritage Center south of Socorro. The whole aesthetic of this exhibit was brilliant—the natural lighting within the visitor center, the composition of the photographs and the journey along El Camino Real the layout created. I still mill about Martînez’ photos in my head, nearly a year after seeing them in person.
New Mexico’s own sci-fi convention, inspired by the bubonic plague and our multitude of science fiction writers, entered its quadragenarian phase in 2008. We sure do have a lot of sci-fi nuts here in Albuquerque (and New Mexico in general), and we love ’em. Keep the Star Wars and J.R.R. Tolkien fans coming to the Duke City, Bubonicon. We [heart] you!
A Bigger Boat
The slam poetry scene is a gem among gems in the Albuquerque arts community. In 2005, Burque slam poets secured themselves a place in slam history by winning the national championship title on their home turf. A Bigger Boat, published this year by UNM Press, goes back into the history of slam in Albuquerque and how it grew into a national contender.
The Bad Seed at The Desert Rose Playhouse
It’s hard to go wrong with any production by The Dolls, but The Bad Seed was exceptional. The Dolls transformed the small black box space at The Desert Rose Playhouse into ’50s America, where every child was perfect, every housewife was prim, and every family harbored a secret or two. The Penmark family’s little secret was 10-year-old Rhoda, impeccably played by A.J. Carian, whose super-sweet exterior masked her rotten core. This performance was meticulously detailed, down to the ice cubes in the bourbon, and absolutely fantastic. How about a revival in 2009?
Working Classroom’s 20 Years 20 Artists
Striving to live up to its motto, “Creating art, changing lives, transforming community,” Working Classroom has been giving young artists the opportunity to learn and grow in their craft for 20 years. To celebrate, 516 Arts hosted 20 Years 20 Artists, an exhibit featuring artists from all over the globe who’ve dedicated time to make Working Classroom a success. The exhibit paired with every 2008 project Working Classroom initiated made the organization as a whole stand out this year.
Jumper Hits the Big Screen
OK, I realize this is a bit of a stretch for a best art pick for 2008, but you can’t argue what a tremendous triumph it is for local sci-fi author Steven Gould to have Jumper made into a blockbuster. It’s reassuring to know the Hollywood folks aren’t just taking advantage of our tax incentives and perfect natural lighting. They’re actually putting New Mexico-made scripts and stories on the silver screen. Gould said it best with a T-shirt he often wears: “Don’t judge a book by its movie.” Amen to that, brother.
The “New” Tricklock
The Revolutions International Theatre Festival was a smashing success this year. I’m still enamored with Tricklock’s performance of Cowboys Are My Weakness and continue hearing compliments about Melancholy Play, which ran in October at Rodey Theatre. It is so great to see Tricklock take an established script and mold it to the company’s own unique brand of theater.