Wednesday, December 31, 2008

More best of 2008

I try to cover as much of the arts scene in Boston as I possibly can on the Hub Review, although my focus was originally on theatre, and that's probably still my first love; hence the "Top 20" list of two days ago. Still, I've written about, and constantly attend, music and dance events, and have resolved to cover the visual arts scene in greater depth in 2009. So I would be remiss if I didn't mention a few of what were really my greatest non-theatrical artistic experiences of the past year. Indeed, perhaps only the best of the best of my theatrical Top 10 equalled the impact of the following events -

To my mind, Antonio López García's retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts was the show of the year, although the "buzz" was about the Kapoor and Donovan shows at the ICA, because they were cool and kid-friendly, and dealt in the amplification of simple ideas that appeal to a lot of folks who think the pop and high-culture worlds should merge (with, they unconsciously assume, pop taking the upper hand). López García is the antithesis of all that: his work is in a time-honored mode - "realism," for lack of a better word - and the virtuosity of his craft (yes, he actually makes his art himself!) cannot be fully appreciated in any mediated form (the image at left, of one of his views of Madrid, is nothing next to the original). López García is somewhat like a Spanish Vermeer - he's a gnostic realist: there's a secret spiritual reality illuminating his paintings and drawings from within. Standing in front of a Kapoor or a Donovan, you giggle at how cool it is to see one million straws in one place, or to hear your voice echo from behind your head. Looking at a López García, you remember the mystery of your own existence.

The Boston Ballet had an exceptionally strong season last spring - they mounted a gorgeous production of John Cranko's version of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet in February, then just a month later presented four premieres by young choreographers, perhaps the strongest of which was Helen Pickett's Eventide (with John Lam, above). But the Ballet's most electrifying achievement came in May, with Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room; reviews were weak, due to a few (pretty serious) problems on opening night, but by the time I saw it the piece had largely cohered, and was almost overwhelming. I've rarely seen an audience as cranked as the one at the ballet that night; by the climax of the dance, you felt ready to jump out of your seat with crazy joy. Truly a night to remember.

Another under-sung local event was Boston Lyric Opera's striking production of Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann (at left) last November. A co-production with companies in St. Louis and Colorado, Tales was directed and designed by a world-class team, Renaud Doucet and André Barbe, who brought an astonishingly level of wit and inventive insight to their conception. With its living statues and gondolas, and contraptions seemingly borrowed from Jules Verne, this was easily the most fantastic - in both senses of the word - production design seen in Boston for years. And the singing, particularly from Georgia Jarman and Michèle Losier, was just as memorable. Boston Lyric recently completed an administrative transition, and its new artistic director, Esther Nelson, has big dreams. Let's hope Hoffmann is a harbinger of more greatness to come.

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