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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) A red ribbon is stretched across the stage during the grand reopening ceremony for the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, December 4, 2013.
Utah’s performing arts in 2013: Staging change

Dance, theater » Standout performances marked the range of Utah-created works.

First Published Dec 28 2013 01:01 am • Last Updated Dec 30 2013 08:41 am

The arts world was on the move in 2013, as Utah arts companies and patrons prepared for the remodeling of the venerable Capitol Theatre. But that didn’t stop producers from staging a raft of impressive works that spotlighted local talent.

Transitions » In the local arts world, one of the year’s themes was change. Before its 50th-anniversary season, Ballet West welcomed new executive director Scott Altman, former general director of Arizona Opera, to replace Johann Jacobs, who resigned in 2012 after 15 years in the post. In September, Ririe-Woodbury welcomed new artistic director Daniel Charon, and Repertory Dance Theatre promoted Nicholas Cendese from dancer to the newly created position of assistant artistic director. Meanwhile, at Abravanel Hall, Utah Chamber Artists artistic director Barlow Bradford took on the additional role of Utah Symphony chorus master. Caleb Harris will take charge of the Utah Opera Chorus. The two conductors replace Susanne Sheston, who left to focus on other opportunities, including a long-running job as chorus master at the Santa Fe Opera.

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On the move » Capitol Theatre renovations forced Utah Opera to get creative. Instead of presenting one conventional opera on the proscenium stage in the fall, the company went in two wildly different directions: an inventive staging of Richard Strauss’ "Salome" in Abravanel Hall and the light-hearted pastiche "Fatal Song" in the Jeanné Wagner Theatre.

Beyond the proscenium » Utah’s emerging dance companies — such as Ashley Anderson’s lovedancemore and Charlotte Boye-Christensen’s NOW ID — are staging performances in nontraditional dance spaces, such as the Masonic Temple or the Ladies Literary Club. The trend has its roots in the rental costs and the packed calendar of the stages at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, yet by necessity site-specific choreography serves to alter conventional thinking. That also was a hallmark of "The Wedding," the first work by Boye-Christensen’s new company. The idea of wedding ceremonies was a big theme for Boye-Christensen and NOW ID’s co-founder, architect Nathan Webster, who were married a day before the performance.

A major boost » Utah Symphony | Utah Opera kicked off the ambitious Campaign for Perpetual Motion with a $5 million gift from the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation. The $20 million fundraising campaign will help finance national and international tours, at least one recording and other projects tied to the orchestra’s 75th-anniversary celebration. Meanwhile, onstage, the orchestra and music director Thierry Fischer continued in fine form. Fischer even brought his flute-playing skills out of retirement to give a surprise encore with brilliant flute virtuoso Emmanuel Pahud at a September concert.

Earning national ink » When former Dance magazine editor-in-chief Wendy Perron traveled to Salt Lake City in early December to promote her book, "Through the Eyes of a Dancer," she drew a Who’s Who of dancers to her reading. That event, along with the summer’s second season of the Ballet West reality show, "Breaking Pointe," on The CW, underscores how Utah dancers are showing up in the national press. More evidence came in October in Vanity Fair, which focused on the romance of New York City Ballet principals Tiler Peck and Utah-raised Robert Fairchild, who trained at the Ballet West Conservatory.

Watching genius » Last summer, Utah dancers had the chance to attend dancer/choreographer Kyle Abraham workshop at the University of Utah’s intimate SaltDanceFest, while dance patrons were able to watch him perform. Since then, the 36-year-old was awarded a coveted MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," with a financial award of $625,000. Which raises the question: Could Department of Modern Dance chair Stephen Koester know something the rest of us don’t know? Or is it the risk-taker in Koester that prompted him to select Abraham for the SaltDanceFest slate? Next summer, maybe more local dance lovers will attend the free performances at the U. festival to witness the cutting-edge of genius.

Starring Utah playwrights » It proved to be another banner year for local playwrights at Utah theaters. Among the premieres were Shawn Fisher’s "How to Make a Rope Swing" at Salt Lake Acting Company; Julie Jensen’s "Cheat" and Matthew Ivan Bennett’s "A Night with the Family" at Pygmalion Productions; and Bennett’s "Eric(a)," Matthew Greene’s "Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea" and Jenifer Nii’s "Suffrage" at Plan-B Theatre Company. Beginning with "Nothing Personal," Plan-B launched an entire season of works by Eric Samuelsen. The range of subjects in these Utah-penned works was impressive — from racial discrimination in a small New Jersey town to transgender identity; from the problems of Utah women workers during World War II to political issues of the women’s vote.

Staging standouts » Among the year’s most notable theatrical performances: Jayne Luke in "How to Make a Rope Swing"; Theresa Sanderson in "Eric(a)"; Richard Scott in "Death of a Salesman"; Max Robinson in "Twelve Angry Men"; Henry Woronicz in "The Tempest"; Marza Warsinske in "Venus in Fur"; April Fossen and Kirt Bateman in "Nothing Personal"; David Ivers in "Richard II"; and Nell Gywnn in "Good People." This list reminds us of what makes live theater so memorable — the emotional power of actors to hook us into the truths of human experience.

Regional, first » The Utah Shakespeare Festival demonstrated again why it’s one of the finest regional theaters in the country with its Utah premiere of "Peter and the Starcatcher," crafting a magical production that played to sold-out audiences through the summer and fall seasons. The theater continued its journey staging all of Shakespeare’s English history plays in order with "King John" in the summer and "Richard II" in the fall; both productions were compelling and visually stunning. Stay tuned for "Henry IV, Parts I and II" next season.

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High notes » The state’s best-known musical entity, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, had another robust year — touring the Midwest, making an album with Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and performing with artists as diverse as hip-hop violinist Lindsey Stirling, superstar soprano Deborah Voigt and beloved singer-songwriter James Taylor.

Fond farewells » Paul Pollei, the gregarious founder of the Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation and one of the state’s leading advocates for piano music, died in July. The Utah Symphony’s longtime principal cellist, Ryan Selberg, died a few days earlier. Other notable arts figures who died in 2013 included philanthropist Beverley Taylor Sorenson, Utah Youth Symphony founder Robert Lentz and popular violin teacher Natalie Reed.

Tribune reporters Catherine Reese Newton and Ellen Fagg Weist and freelance critics Kathy Adams and Barbara M. Bannon contributed to this story.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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