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THE BEST THINGS I SAW | By Becky Bartkowski
2013, it's been real — and really, really busy. That was especially true when trying to take in as much art, culture, comedy, architecture, and anything else I could get my eyes on this past year in Phoenix. In no particular order, here are the best things I saw.
Topia at Desert Botanical Garden: Sitting in a parking lot during Arizona's early summer sounds plenty unappealing, but during Ballet Arizona's Topia, that initial setting dissatisfaction fell by the wayside quicker than the sun set behind the dancers. With the Papago Buttes as its backdrop, the corps of dancers took to the 80-foot-long stage installed in Desert Botanical Garden's parking lot and performed artistic director Ib Andersen's Beethoven-soundtracked choreography for the second year in a row. Unfortunately, the show didn't make it onto the company's 2013-14 performance schedule, but here's hoping they'll remount the site-specific work in 2015.
Alison King's "Where Cantilever Meets Coyote" lecture: As the founder of ModernPhoenix.net, Alison King is one of this city's most valuable resources when it comes to local architecture. That made her lecture "Where Cantilever Meets Coyote" a must-attend event for folks looking to delve deeper into Phoenix's postwar architecture boom. King gave a rundown of the city's big-name architects — Al Beadle, Ralph Haver, Paolo Soleri, Jimmie Nunn, Ed Varney, and Fred Guiery — complete with a timeline of each man's life and career and swoon-worthy images of buildings preserved and long gone.
"Generations: Inspiration of Bird City" at Willo North Gallery: Though Joseph "Sentrock" Perez left Phoenix for Chicago in the summer of 2012, the artist whose style is rooted in street art returned to his hometown for a group exhibition at Willo North Gallery in August 2013. "Generations: Inspiration of Bird City" showcased three generations of Phoenix street artists through Martin Moreno, Luis Gutierrez, and Perez. Pulling their works together made for a colorful, thoughtful show that traced the impact and influence these artists have had on one another. And the backstory between Moreno, the elder statesman of the crew, and Perez, the youngest, is nothing short of inspiring: Moreno came to Perez's elementary school to create a mural, and that first experience with art propelled him to become a painter.
Phoenix Comicon 2013: In a word, Phoenix Comicon 2013 was overwhelming. There's so much to do and way too much to see, and, honestly, it's kind of a panic attack waiting to happen. But, no matter, more than 55,000 nerds turned up this year to catch celebs including John Barrowman, Wil Wheaton, and Jewel Staite. The costumes were, as always, awe-inducing creative works worthy of marvel (heh). The best part of Comicon is discovering other people who share your pop culture obsessions. That is why, though there were more technical and spot-on cosplayers, my favorite Comiconner was a woman carrying a martini glass and wearing a banana suit with blue handprints across it and a sign that read, "I Need a Favor." Arrested Development fans, c'mon!
The Most of Lit Lounge: A little rock 'n' roll and a little This American Life is how emcee Tania Katan describes her ongoing storytelling series Lit Lounge. For the program's one-year anniversary, Katan gave her audience The Most of Lit Lounge, "because we're already the best." Scribes and funny folks took to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts stage to talk about camping bathroom anxiety, juggling and joking on The Gong Show, and enduring a nauseating lesbian cruise, complete with a trio of musical guests. I laughed. I cried. I went to Lit Lounge.
There Is a Mountain by Mary Shindell: Artist Mary Shindell makes a habit of opening up her subjects to see what's inside. And when she took on South Mountain, the results were mesmerizing. For the group show "Creature-Man-Nature" at Mesa Contemporary Arts, she pasted a 25-foot-wide digital rendition of the mountain in pinks and browns onto the back wall of North Gallery. With chunks of rock imagery and vegetation throughout the drawing, it was a simultaneous look at the land mass' interior and exterior. The second element of the installation was a chandelier of bluish tubes, called "cacti," that mimic the radio and TV towers that top the mountain in real life. The X-Files-meets-National Geographic vibe was exciting, scary, and made for the most memorable work of art I saw all year.
Aidy Bryant at Tempe Improv: There's no getting around it: Aidy Bryant is freaking hilarious. The Saturday Night Live repertory player (yep, she got a bump up this year) is part of a new school of players on the sketch show, and she's making her giggle-inducing mark. Before the fall 2013 season started, Bryant came home to Phoenix for a weekend of shows with costar Tim Robinson, who's now on the show's writing staff. The duo played off one another with improvisational, audience-engaging games and showed off some of their in-the-works characters and bits. Aidy's exploration of a childhood journal full of doodles, stickers, hopes, dreams, and other assorted girlish weirdness had me in stitches. Brava.
"Diving Lady" Relighting in Mesa: Calling her "The Diving Lady" is a misnomer, as the famed neon sign at the Starlite Motel in Mesa actually is composed of three 10-foot women. When illuminated, it looks as though one woman's diving into a pool. But the famed lady, erected in 1960 to advertise the hotels' swimming pool (which is no more), halted her jumps when she was struck by lightning in 2010. It wasn't until April 2013 that she was reconstructed and relit, much to the oohs and aahs of preservationists and vintage lovers alike.