2016 / 2017

Season Standouts, part one

Before we turn our attention to the upcoming performing arts season, we’d like to take one last look at the 2016/ 2017 lineup that officially ended last month. Some of our staff writers decided to put their heads together to share their favorite productions. In retrospect, we all agreed that it was a very good season to be entertained. Here, in no particular order,  are three of our selected “standouts.”

PHOENIX THEATRE & BLACK THEATRE TROUPE:

The Scottsboro Boys

It’s all too common to attend a performance that is enjoyable, but quickly forgotten. This was not the case with Phoenix Theatre/ Black Theatre Troupe’s production of The Scottsboro Boys. It has stuck with me and, by all accounts, will remain so.

Set in 1931, this musical recounted the true story of nine African-American teenagers in Alabama accused of the crime of raping two white women: a crime they did not commit. Scene after scene, the story threw a searing light on a shameful episode from the past that’s all too familiar today.

Race is a delicate, complex, yet necessary topic for discussion. Vehicles like The Scottsboro Boys help us to understand the tragic consequences of prejudice and encourage us to take responsibility to affect positive change.

 

In addition to expertly dealing with the topic, the production was extraordinary on other levels. Firstly, as a theatrical piece, the cast was exceptionally talented – singing, dancing and acting their way through this powerful story with great skill.

Secondly, the collaborative efforts of Phoenix Theatre, Black Theatre Troupe and the ASU Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and Arizona Humanities must be noted. Uniting with other local organizations can enhance the experience. A series of free events including community panels and post-show talkbacks were held, allowing audience engagement and participation.

And lastly, The Scottsboro Boys demonstrated the power of live theater to inform, educate, create dialogue, change perceptions, promote understanding and develop respect. The arts can make a difference.

BALLET ARIZONA: All-Balanchine

As a protégé of George Balanchine, Artistic Director Ib Anderson brings a keen eye and solid background to his leadership of Ballet Arizona. Despite the absence of an orchestra, the company’s All-Balanchine show in May was an extraordinary display of precision, grace and enthusiasm.

Ballet Arizona dancers in Agon. Choreography ©The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

The program turned the spotlight directly on the iconic choreographer with three of his ballets. Opening the evening was Agon, a provocative piece that is one of Balanchine and Igor Stavinsky’s most famous collaborations. The pace picked up with Square Dance, a Ballet Arizona premiere, showcasing the dancers’ nimble footwork.

Ballet Arizona dancers in Square Dance. Choreography ©The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

The finale, Western Symphony, was spirited and humorous. The accomplished ensemble of cowgirls and cowboys brought the house down, ending the evening on an upbeat note. Mr. Balanchine would be proud.

Ballet Arizona dancers in Western Symphony. Choreography ©The George Balanchine Trust. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

ARIZONA OPERA: Riders of the Purple Sage

Photos by Tim Trumble

After years of development, the world premiere of Riders of the Purple Sage, the new opera based on Zane Grey’s Western novel of the same name, was unveiled by Arizona Opera in March. This opera represented a major accomplishment for Arizona Opera: their first world premiere in the company’s 45-year history.

 

Thanks to generous funding from arts patrons Billie Jo and Judd Herberger, Arizona Opera commissioned the creation of the new opera. Being the first opera to focus on the American West, it was fitting that this groundbreaking piece made its debut in Arizona.

Billie Jo and Judd Herberger

Talent was assembled. Known for his graphic style and striking desert landscapes, Artist Ed Mell was brought onboard as Scenic Designer. One of the most respected contemporary artists of Arizona, he created magnificent paintings and backdrops for Riders. Craig Bohmler, who has composed numerous operas and musicals, developed a rich score, reminiscent of Hollywood westerns, with melodic themes to signal the central characters’ motivations and actions.