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Fall Arts Preview

This season's must-see lineup of music, film, theater, dance, and fine art in the Mile-High City.

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Denver Fall Arts Preview
Not long ago, a cultural night out in Denver consisted of a trip to Paris on the Platte, where you might’ve found a goateed 20-year-old spouting poetry through cigarette smoke and the thick aroma of coffee. But in the last decade, the birth of new independent theater houses and art galleries; the expansion, renovation, and completion of our art museums; and the addition of daring programming from our go-to performance halls means that Denver now hums with top-tier local and visiting national exhibitions and productions. The creative landscape we’ve craved has finally arrived—and now is the time to get out and start experiencing it. As cooler weather pushes us inside, the local arts community cranks up its offerings. Read on for this season’s must-see shows.

DANCE

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Robert Moses Kin Dance Co.
In the midst of the roiling American civil rights movement, poet Langston Hughes, playwright Lorraine Hansberry, and author James Baldwin sat down and talked about race—openly, honestly, and without even the thinnest coat of sugar. Hansberry criticized the superficial method with which white writers depicted blacks; Baldwin described the schism between being a writer and an African-American; and Hughes portrayed himself as a “propagandist.” Their conversation—which San Francisco’s Pacifica radio taped for posterity—raised questions of self-awareness as well as public perception. Years later, San Francisco-based choreographer Robert Moses heard the discussion and, inspired by its provocative social questions, went to work setting his almost-gymnastic choreography to the cadences of the interview. Biography, a larger-than-life dance that brings to light decades-old questions of race, is one of five pieces Moses will perform at the Newman Center this fall. Sept. 27, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 2344 E. Iliff Ave., 303-871-6200, www.du.edu/newmancenter

21st Annual International Association of Blacks In Dance Conference
Legendary for her triumph over childhood heart disease and her meteoric rise in performing arts, Denver native Cleo Parker Robinson says she believes dance is a universal language. To wit, this year her local dance ensemble, which has been Denver’s lighthouse for black dance for nearly four decades, will join groups from around the world to take part in the 21st Annual International Association of Blacks In Dance Conference. Troupes such as Philadelphia’s Philadanco and Los Angeles’ Lula Washington will make appearances in the Mile-High City during the conference, which will offer diverse performances that are open to the public. Jan. 29-Feb. 1, 303-295-1759

David Dorfman Dance This New York-based group performs Underground, a story about the fine line between activism and violence. Feb. 28, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 303-871-6200, www.du.edu/newmancenter

Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet Acclaimed choreographer and director of Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet Robert Sher-Machherndl performs a new offbeat but thoughtful ballet. Nov. 15, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 303-871-6200, www.lemonspongecake.org

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THEATER

Slanguage
If they aren’t careful, New Yorkers Steven Sapp and Mildred Ruiz might forget they don’t live in Denver. For the past few years, this artistic duo has altered Denver’s theatrical landscape by writing and premiering the War Anthology and the Denver Project here in the Mile-High City.
This fall, the couple brings its acclaimed New York ensemble, Universes, to perform Slanguage at the University of Denver. A passionate series of vignettes about slang, Slanguage combines poetry, beat poet references, and rap to create a provocative look at language, racial tensions, and American culture.
Sapp and Ruiz are already talking about premiering their next play, Ameriville, in Denver during the 2009­-2010 season—which would be just one more way for locals to revel in their raw and emotional work. Oct. 2, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 303-871-6200, www.du.edu/newmancenter

Speech & Debate
Last year, this spunky, offbeat musical comedy widely impressed New York City: Critics raved and audiences lined up for an extended, sold-out run. Now, this little-musical-that-could hopes to do the same in Denver. Speech & Debate tells the story of three eccentric high school students who expose a male teacher’s sexual misbehavior. But watch closely. Beneath the narrative are intimate stories about individual students. While uncovering the truth about their teacher, Howie confronts his homosexuality, Solomon becomes a hound-dog reporter, and Diwata writes and records a sidesplitting musical using her Casio keyboard. Both poignant and entertaining, the play’s depiction of a teenager’s transition to adulthood feels just as uncomfortable as you remember it. Nov. 1-Dec. 13, Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., 303-623-0524, www.curioustheatre.org

The Pearl Fishers
For more than 30 years, British fashion designer Zandra Rhodes has created flowing, exotic dresses, layering colorful, mismatched silk, polyester, and chiffon. Her designs—expensive and one-of-a-kind—have graced the statuesque figures of both Princess Diana and Elizabeth Taylor. But since 2001, Rhodes has expanded her reach into the world of opera. Her brilliant use of gold, turquoise, and orange set the stage for Egypt-based Aida. And this February, when her blue saris and pink floral garlands decorate the stage of Opera Colorado’s The Pearl Fishers, a tale of friendship and love set in Sri Lanka, she not only introduces high fashion into Colorado opera, but also blows tropical warmth into the Denver winter. Feb. 14-22, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 303-778-1500, www.operacolorado.org

Avenue Q
This Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of Princeton, a college grad who ends up living on New York’s Avenue Q because it’s the only neighborhood in his price range. He meets his neighbors, all of whom seem to have their own compelling story. Brian is an out-of-work comedian. Kate is a cute teaching assistant. And Rod is an investment banker with a secret. This mature parody of Sesame Street, which illustrates the dilemma of big dreams and tiny budgets, is recommended for adults and kids ages 13 and up. Sept. 9­-21, Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org

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Inana The tale of an Iraqi museum director trying to protect a valuable statue on the eve of war, this world premiere takes a close look at the often unfortunate relationship between war and art. Jan. 23-Feb. 28, The Ricketson Theatre, 1101 13th St., 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org

Dusty and the Big Bad World When the fictional producers of Dusty and the Big Bad World decide to do a program about a family with two dads, they overestimate the tolerance of government. Written by Cusi Cram, the play holds a magnifying glass up to children’s television. Jan. 23-Feb. 28, The Space Theatre, 1101 13th St., 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org

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ART

Damien Hirst
He’s been called one of “the most successful artists of our times” and one of just three “brand name” artists—along with giants Picasso and Warhol. And whether or not a life-size human skull made of platinum and diamonds is your idea of high art, there’s no debating Hirst’s contribution to the contemporary art world. His “Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain,” an arrow-pierced steer locked in a formaldehyde-filled tank, which will be on exhibit this fall for the first time at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, is a thoughtful and brutally graphic nod to the Christian saint’s martyrdom and Christian iconography. “Incorruptible Crown” (butterflies under glass), which will also be part of the show, is equally bizarre and remarkable. Oct. 7-Aug. 30, 2009, Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, 1485 Delgany St., 303-298-7554, www.mcadenver.org

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Houdon from the Louvre
The invention of the Internet may be up there on the list of all-time great ideas, but even Al Gore couldn’t have kept up with the great thinkers of the 18th century. Men such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Benjamin Franklin birthed radical ideas that have rarely been matched since. If you’d like to ruminate on your next big idea among the greats, check out French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon’s marble busts next month at the Denver Art Museum. Oct. 11-Jan. 4, Denver Art Museum, 100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org

Jules Feiffer
Many artists claim fame only after their deaths—but not Jules Feiffer. His inky illustrations, gorgeous in their simplicity, have graced American coffee tables far too often for him to remain in artistic anonymity. His Village Voice comic strip, which ran for 42 years, claimed a Pulitzer Prize; his play Little Murders won an OBIE (Off-Broadway Theater Award); and his animated short Munro received an Academy Award. Of course, Feiffer is best known for his good-humored, pencil-outline-style drawings in the New Yorker and Rolling Stone, as well as for his children’s book illustrations. This fall, Feiffer fans can move him from the coffee table to the wall with a purchase of a vintage or contemporary print from Denver’s Michele Mosko Fine Art. Feiffer will hold a reception on Friday, Sept. 19. Exhibit runs through Nov. 2, Michele Mosko Fine Art, 136 W. 12th Ave., 303-534-5433, www.michelemoskofineart.com

Dynamic Duo
This fall two Denver galleries investigate the vibrant relationship between poetry and art, one from the past and one from the present.

Then In Plain Sight: Street Works and Performances, 1966-1971
Wandering down the streets of New York in 1969, you may have encountered writer Eduardo Costa translating the advertisements gracing 14th Street into flamboyant Spanish. Or perhaps you would have caught poet Bernadette Mayer dusting 65th Street with blue powder. Either way, New York’s new version of performance poetry—dubbed Street Works—would have confronted you right in the streets. Eventually the Street Works became so elaborate that poets performed in bookstores, gymnasiums, and even the Whitney Museum of American Art. “In Plain Sight” brings to Colorado the surviving costumes, props, video, and audio of Street Works. Sept. 24-Jan. 4, The Lab at Belmar, 404 S. Upham St., Lakewood, 303-934-1777, www.belmarlab.org

Now Forecast
A quirky mixed-media show that pairs poems by Oregon-based writer Drew Myron with abstract paintings by Denver painter and RiNo founder Tracy Weil, “Forecast” playfully examines the horoscope. Myron’s poems, each about a specific sign, inspired Weil’s brilliantly colored and lighthearted abstract paintings. Sept. 26-Nov. 15, Weilworks, 3611 Chestnut Place, 303-308-9345, www.weilworks.com

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Process
If local artist Ethan Jantzer were to write a recipe for his piece “Charms,” it might call for wild botanicals, a bottle each of Windex and Gatorade, a dark room, and a flash. Mix, develop, and voilÀ, a photogram—an image captured by flashing light through a colored liquid onto a square of photo paper. Jantzer’s multihued, crisp images will be featured in Process, a collection of works from Colorado artists employing unusual techniques. Sept. 5-30, Art & Soul Gallery, 1615 Pearl St., Boulder, 303-544-5803, www.artandsoulboulder.com

Daniel Richter: A Major Survey The first major U.S. exhibit by this contemporary German artist displays his abstract, large-format oil paintings, which embrace mass media and popular culture. Oct. 4-Jan. 11, Denver Art Museum, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org

In Contemporary Rhythm: The Art of Ernest L. Blumenschein A collection of oil paintings, many with Southwestern themes that reflect Blumenschein’s work as a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. Nov. 8-Feb. 8, Denver Art Museum, 720-865-5000, www.denverartmuseum.org

Paul Soldner When this Aspen-based artist used a wood-burning kiln to make abstract clay sculptures in the 1970s, he broke all the rules of ceramics and shaped the future of the genre. Sept. 5­-Oct. 11, Sandra Phillips Gallery, 744 Santa Fe Drive, 303-573-5969, www.thesandraphillipsgallery.com

Frank O’Neill and Jonathan Hils This joint exhibition of a photo-realist painter and an accomplished steel sculptor juxtaposes realism with abstract works. Nov. 7­-Jan. 3, Walker Fine Art, 300 W. 11th Ave., 303-355-8955, www.walkerfineart.com

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FILM

They Killed Sister Dorothy
Edge-of-your-seat thrillers don’t have to come out of Hollywood. In fact, Denver filmmaker Daniel Junge’s new documentary, They Killed Sister Dorothy, has all the dramatic storytelling of a big-budget feature film. Yet it’s the movie’s introspective questioning and attention to detail that will grab viewers’ attention. Weaving story lines of murder and manipulation, Junge illustrates the fight over the rapidly depleting Brazilian rain forest. Junge’s protagonist, Catholic nun Dorothy Stang, wants to protect the Amazon and its native people. But Stang runs afoul of opposing Brazilian ranchers, two of whom arrange to have her killed. As Junge investigates Stang’s murder, he peels back the layers of culture, corruption, and government bureaucracy that may one day lead to the mass destruction of a natural wonder. Nov. 13-23, Denver Film Festival, Starz FilmCenter, 900 Auraria Parkway, 303-595-3456, www.denverfilm.org

Colorado Film Festivals 2008-2009

Telluride Film Festival
This intimate festival celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, and although the line-up isn’t revealed until opening night, filmmakers and actors like Ken Burns and Meryl Streep show up for the edgy films nearly ever year. Aug. 29-Sept. 1, various locations, Telluride, 510-665-9494, www.telluridefilmfestival.com

Starz Denver Film Festival
Last year, Keri Russell personally opened her film August Rush at Denver’s iconic festival. After 30 years with its founding leader, Ron Henderson, the festival has a new director in Britta Erickson, who is focused on developing the festival’s documentary programming and its relationship with emerging filmmakers. This year’s event promises 10 days of thought-provoking documentaries, feature films, and shorts. Nov. 13-23, Starz FilmCenter, 303-595-3456, www.denverfilm.org

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Boulder International Film Festival
Going on its fifth year, this festival has grown rapidly because of its diverse programming. Showing 50 to 60 films each year, the festival offers potential Oscar nominees as well as little-known documentaries like this year’s The Monastery, the tale of an elderly man who donates his home to the Russian Orthodox Church. Feb. 12-15, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-449-2289, www.biff1.com

Aspen Filmfest
Aspen’s five-day festival offers a comparatively manageable 24 films, which means you can see nearly every documentary or foreign film you want. Last year’s line-up included Into the Wild as well as a series of small foreign flicks like Small Engine Repair, an Irish movie about a man who longs to be a country singer. Sept. 24-28, Wheeler Opera House (320 E. Hyman Ave.) or Isis Theatre (406 E. Hopkins Ave.), 970-925-6882, www.aspenfilm.org

Hollywood Hits
We’ll admit it: You can only see so many artsy, intellectually stimulating independent films before you just want a good dose of Hollywood absurdity. These upcoming national releases are worth the $10 ticket and $6 popcorn.

Burn After Reading
George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton star in this new Coen brothers movie. Dark humor permeates the story of a CIA official (Malkovich) whose memoir falls into the hands of two ill-intentioned Washington, D.C., gym employees. Opens Sept. 12

Choke
Based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Chuck Palahniuk, this movie follows the antics of a sex-addicted con man (played by Sam Rockwell) who repeatedly feigns choking to death in an attempt to win sympathy—and money—from his rescuers. It’s a twisted plot to be sure, but this comedy’s one-liners and bizarre turns are brilliant and laugh-out-loud funny. Opens Sept. 26

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Quantum of Solace
When British actor Daniel Craig returns to the role of 007 this year, he makes it his personal mission to understand why Vesper, his lover, betrayed him in Casino Royale. It’s a dicey undertaking. But, as always, Bond travels the globe—flying planes, steering boats, racing cars, fighting the bad guys—and, ultimately, getting the girl. Opens Nov. 7

MUSIC

Either/Orchestra, Ethiopiques
Just as blues, ragtime, brass band music, hymns, and spirituals influenced what would become American jazz, jazz inspired other musical traditions, some as far away as Africa. In the mid-20th century, just as jazz was really coming into its own, musicians in Ethiopia began paying attention to the brassy trumpets and dark winding rhythms. They wove the characteristic sounds coming out of New Orleans into their own tunes. When the 10-piece Either/Orchestra plays “Ethiopiques” this winter, the saxophones, trumpets, flutes, trombone, bass, and drums will pay homage to that mix of American and African sound. Feb. 14, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 303-871-6200, www.du.edu/newmancenter

Azul
Acclaimed South American composer Osvaldo Golijov redefines classical music with his recent work “Azul.” Electronic beats, South American folk, and cello melodies come together to make this piece a toe-tapping blend of modern classic symphony and world music. Golijov wrote “Azul” to be accompanied by one of two world-renowned cellists, Yo Yo Ma or Alisa Weilerstein, the latter of whom will join Golijov and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra when they perform the Denver premiere of “Azul” this winter. Jan. 16-17, Boettcher Concert Hall, 1000 14th St., No. 15, 303-623-7876, www.coloradosymphony.org

Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile
As one of the world’s top classical bassists, Nashville-based Edgar Meyer can easily handle a complex symphony. But, as evidenced by past performances, he can also hold his own with country’s Garth Brooks, rock’s Indigo Girls, and folk’s James Taylor. For his September concert in Boulder, Meyer pairs up with Nickel Creek mandolinist Chris Thile. Meyer’s on-stage energy and Thile’s quick-picking bluegrass sounds promise to generate a lively and varied show. Sept. 25, Macky Auditorium Concert Hall, University of Colorado’s Boulder campus, 303-492-8008, www.cuconcerts.org

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Dawn Upshaw The four-time Grammy-winning soprano sings with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. Sept. 12-14, Boettcher Concert Hall, 303-623-7876, www.coloradosymphony.org

London Symphony Chorus One of the world’s most highly acclaimed singing groups belts out Verdi’s “Requiem.” Oct. 15-16, Newman Center for the Performing Arts, 303-871-6200, www.du.edu/newmancenter

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