The 10 Best Things New Times Culture Editor Becky Bartkowski Saw in 2015 | Phoenix New Times


The 10 Best Things I Saw in Metro Phoenix in 2015

Perhaps 2015 blew by. Or is it that the year flew by? To say that it sprinted, rushed, or flashed past feels more accurate. That's because we've reached a point where, thanks to great and near constant programming at venues and institutions across the Valley, there's almost too much to...
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Perhaps 2015 blew by. Or is it that the year flew by? To say that it sprinted, rushed, or flashed past feels more accurate. That's because we've reached a point where, thanks to great and near constant programming at venues and institutions across the Valley, there's almost too much to do, too many options on any given night whether you're looking for dance or fashion, theater or literary happenings. Of course, that makes looking back — regardless of how quickly it went — all the easier. Here are the 10 best things I saw in the Phoenix area this past year.

The Sunset from the David & Gladys Wright House
Soon after news broke that the David and Gladys Wright House in Arcadia would likely be opened to the public for regular tours and used as a rent-able event space, Alison King of architecture history blog Modern Phoenix helped organize a small-scale educational walk-through of the 1952 home, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's last designs created for his son and daughter-in-law, David and Gladys. Walking through the space and around the sprawling grounds was plenty beautiful. But hanging around long enough take in views of the surrounding neighborhood (whose residents are perpetually at odds with plans for the home) and Camelback Mountain from the roof, accessible by a swirling staircase and typically off limits, proved most memorable of all.

Samantha Lyn Aasen's "Sparkle Baby"
ASU master of fine arts student Samantha Lyn Aasen lured Step Gallery goers into her thesis show with the words "Sparkle Baby" emblazoned in shimmery silver Barbie font on a bright pink wall. It was a full-on assault of contemporary womanhood, complete with glittery cum shots, brutally honest self-portraiture, and customized vajazzling kits reading "sexy bitch" and "wet n ready." Aasen pointedly reflected on how girls and women are taught to bedeck themselves, behave, and aspire to a fairly fucked-up version of princesshood — regardless of how unrealistic and belittling it may be. She turns that sparkly dream on its ear, exhibiting her blemished butt in a thong and slouching in heart-shaped leopard print pasties.

Janet Jackson
Janet Jackson is not The Beatles, but to imagine my reaction to her performance at Comerica Theatre in October, please mentally conjure footage of screaming lunatics in A Hard Day's Night. While my fan-girl antics were less high-pitched and manifested more through a manic internal dialogue of I might cry am I crying yep a little bit she is right there and what is life, you likely get the picture. Serving up her hits like a jukebox, Jackson's clear, slight voice took the audience through her decades-long career from "Rhythm Nation" to "Together Again" and all the way to "No Sleeep." And the dancing. Jackson moved forcefully and gracefully as ever, but turned over the spotlight to a team of dancers who deserved every bit of it they got — including a pair of tweens who are bona fide divas in the making. What is a superstar? Janet Jackson is a superstar.

"The White Shirt According to Me, Gianfranco Ferré"
Upon walking into Phoenix Art Museum's Steele Gallery, where "The White Shirt, According to Me. Gianfranco Ferré" is on view through March 2016, there's a moment you must take to reckon with the drama. Spotlighting the late Italian fashion designer, who helmed Dior from 1989 to 1997, the show exhibits 27 shirts he dreamt up and crafted, inspired by everything from Latin American dance costumery to the imaginary swirls that sword blades cut into the air. It's all presented in stark black and white, save for the auxiliary cases full of conceptual sketches, fashion spreads, and advertisements. It's a complete look at the designer's process — and one of the most exciting shows the museum's hosted in a while.

Diane Keaton
Changing Hands Bookstore brought style icon, actress, writer, and architectural preservationist Diane Keaton to a high school auditorium in Mesa to sign paperback copies of her second memoir, Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty. Keaton read from the book a piece about how she collects images of famous men to hang on a wall in her home. It encapsulates the goofy giddiness Keaton's known for, that same silliness she brought to the Ellen DeGeneres Show when asked if she might like to date Justin Bieber as she sipped red wine with ice cubes (her favorite). Every bit as funny and toward the tail-end of signing books for what must've been three — four? — hours, she told me she liked my dress. I will never get over it.

Bruce Munro's "Desert Radiance"
If you've somehow avoided seeing the name Bruce Munro in the past few months, you might need your eyes checked. In a coordinated effort between Lisa Sette Gallery, Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Public Art, and Desert Botanical Garden, the British light artist's work, collectively called "Desert Radiance," has proved all but inescapable. The chance to see various large-scale works from one artist in a variety of settings (a museum, gallery, on a canal, and in a desert landscape among native flora) isn't typical metro Phoenix fare. But here's hoping this rings in an era of institutional collaborations that bring us world-class must-sees.

The Tonight Show Live at The Orpheum
Yeah, Jimmy Fallon is exhausting. The laughing, the over-excitement, the constant injuries — all too much. But his bringing The Tonight Show to downtown Phoenix to close out the Valley's Super Bowl madness was totally fitting. Tickets were borderline impossible to score, but those who snagged seats were treated to an all-star lineup at the Orpheum, where The Roots played and Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart talked about their prison-comedy movie. Fallon brought Drew Barrymore out for a Dirty Dancing reenactment. And Ferrell's uncomfortably sexual lip-sync rendition of "Drunk in Love" made the whole thing worthwhile.

Beth Hebrew Synagogue
The 2015 DoCoMoMo Tour of Phoenix took a small bus full of architecture fans to various locales, ranging from a 1950s time capsule ranch complete with a pristine pink tub in the Phoenix Country Club neighborhood to a small, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired office space in the Melrose District. Though each stop on the tour, presented by the Postwar Architecture Task Force of Greater Phoenix, piqued interests, we could've spent the entirety of the day at the very first stop: the Beth Hebrew Synagogue. Synagogue owner and rehabber Michael Levine gave a lecture on the space, which features hieroglyphics and astronomically influenced elements and will serve as a nondenominational community venue once its renovation is complete.

Wendy Whelan
Though she retired as a principal dancer after 30 years with the New York City Ballet, Wendy Whelan doesn't seem keen on slowing down. No complaints here, as she brought her show, Restless Creature, to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts in February. With four duets choreographed by contemporary luminaries, Whelan performed each piece alongside its creator. Most moving was its closing work, Brian Brooks' First Fall, set to music by Philip Glass. In the piece, Whelan and her forever long limbs succumb to gravity, so Brooks lifts and moves her across the stage. Sweat poured from Brooks' forehead, and Whelan fell over him again and again.

Pierce & Seventh Street Mural
J.J. Horner, Tyson Krank, and Tato Caraveo's collaborative mural on the north side of the building that currently houses Palabra is one of downtown Phoenix's most recognizable and large-scale street art additions of 2015. Each artist is responsible for one figure. Horner's has a cosmic body with a Lisa Simpson-ish head of pyramids, Caraveo's lithe and androgynous character stares out melancholically, and Krank's masked figure is tattooed in geometric patterns on patterns. In a rapidly changing Roosevelt Row arts district and on a building that's rumored to be leveled sooner than later, this work takes on an of-the-moment aura. It could all be gone tomorrow; might as well enjoy what's pretty while it lasts.
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