The Force of George RR Martin

george-r-r-martinBack in 1979, when George R.R. Martin first arrived in Santa Fe, both he and his newly adopted city were relative unknowns outside of their respective genres: GRRM’s fantasy, horror and sci-fi; Santa Fe’s the visual arts market. But for this already-successful writer of novels and TV shows, the world was about to expand far beyond that niche, as even then, he’d begun envisioning the shape and pulse of what was to become his epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, from which followed HBO’s blockbuster TV series Game of Thrones. And as his own world morphed, he would help catapult ours into a whole new future, as well.

From the beginning, he was one of us. Over almost four decades, his celebrity has grown, but he’s remained an actual resident, one of Santa Fe’s biggest fans of small-town friendliness and scale along with its many cultural treasures, historical and more recent, including our penchant for small, independent movie theaters. He’s a movie palace aficionado all the way back to his New Jersey childhood; he’s mingled in audiences with us, and like us, he grieved the loss when the Jean Cocteau theater went out of business, standing empty for years. In fact, his first widely witnessed public stand for our arts potential was in deciding that someone should buy this gem—why not him? If this sounded initially like a typical celebrity impulse buy, we know better now. Continue reading

Shadowland: Pilobolus at the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet

B 2015_SL_Ian Douglas 1 copyIn a town that consistently punches above its weight vis a vis the arts, the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet is a leading light, and on the heels of its 20th anniversary, the multifaceted company continues to raise the bar (perhaps even the barre?) on local culture.

Its mere presence has gone a long way toward educating Santa Feans about dance (it also encompasses two educational programs, the School of ASFB and ASBF Folklórico), yet the organization is decidedly reluctant to dictate meaning or interpretation to its audiences. “We don’t want to intellectualize dance,” ASFB Executive Director Jean-Philippe Malaty says. “We take a step back from that approach. We believe dance is a very visceral experience, and that is how you respond to it.” As a result, he and his colleagues prefer to let dance to speak for itself, allowing it “to provide an escape, to provide beauty, to provide the pure human spirit of expression.” At the same time, however, he adds, “We feel it’s important for us to have an audience that’s been exposed to different styles.”

That’s where ASFB Presents comes in. One of the country’s largest dance-exclusive presenters, it brings roughly a half-dozen companies to perform locally each year. “It’s important to provide a well-rounded experience for our audience,” Jean-Philippe says. “Usually we bring in a dance company that’s different from what we do.”

Since ASFB Presents was created in 1999, it has hosted companies from the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago to Paul Taylor Dance Company and Twyla Tharp to Mark Morris Dance Group, as well as international ensembles like the Peking Acrobats and Les Ballets Africains. The practice, Jean-Philippe says, is unusual in the field. “It’s part of the hybrid model we have,” he explains. “It’s a great collaboration with our colleagues in the field—giving back and helping another dance company. It keeps us on our toes. There are few other dance companies that bring other companies on their turf.” (Then again, ASFB has always done things a little bit differently. Founded in 1996 in Aspen, Colo., the company expanded its reach to Santa Fe in 2000, creating a dual-city company model.)

On Feb. 28, through ASFB Presents, the organization is bringing Pilobolus to Santa Fe to perform its new show, Shadowland. “We have always been very fond of the work of Pilobolus,” Jean-Philippe says. “They are an American icon in the dance world, and we’ve brought them to Aspen and Santa Fe a number of times over the past 20 years. The exchange went even a little bit deeper when we took one of Pilobolus’s ballets [Untitled] in our repertoire.” Continue reading

Chill Out at The Oasis

The Oasis, (left to right) Jeff Young, Tony Wise, Katy Cole, Blake Williams, Barbara Fox, Don Davis and his dog, Tess

The Oasis, (left to right) Jeff Young, Tony Wise, Katy Cole, Blake Williams, Barbara Fox, Don Davis and his dog, Tess

At noon on Feb.14, 2012, Don Davis and the team behind The Oasis were set to launch a new, independent radio station. After years of waiting to revive smooth jazz on local airwaves—and an ill-timed computer crash that morning that nearly scrubbed the launch—they pushed play on Pat Metheny’s “Last Train Home” and never looked back.

Five years later, the radio station has cemented its place in the hearts and ears of Albuquerque listeners tuning in to 103.7 at any given time for jazz, Latin guitar and chill music. Shortly before its fifth birthday, the station made Santa Fe’s version, broadcasting at 95.9 FM, distinct. The frequencies share a similar music stream and hosts, but the Santa Fe station transmits specific events to devoted City Different listeners.

“The question was never were we going to make it,” founder and owner Don Davis says. “The question was how are we going to do it.” Continue reading

In Good Company – Shakespeare in Santa Fe

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We mingle in the sunlit classroom like old friends. The choppy static of multiple conversations—spiked with the éclat of festive pockets of laughter—pervades the room. Everyone peels a post-it note from the board with the part they choose to read scribbled on it. Most people clip on plastic tags with their first names announced in bold. The tinny bell rings. Let’s begin!

Every Sunday, more than 30 people show up to read Shakespeare together in Santa Fe. Robin Williams—an expansive, spirited woman with an eye-catching pageboy haircut—has been leading Shakespeare groups since 2002. Right now, Robin is guiding a discussion of Troilus and Cressida—a love tragedy comparable to Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra, except that it’s delivered in the same dark, difficult cadence as gloomy Hamlet, which was written around the same time in roughly 1601. It is a cynical story about the legendary figures Troilus (a symbol of “fidelity”) and Cressida (a stand-in for “unfaithfulness”) enacted against the backdrop of the Trojan War.

In this play, the puffed-up Greek leader Ulysses delivers many airy, abstract speeches, and each one contains a number of intellectual snarls to pick apart. The following excerpt read aloud from Act III is no exception when it comes to Ulysses’ challenging cerebral knots: Continue reading

Muertos y Marigolds in Albuquerque’s South Valley

diadelosmuertos-diannawrightimg_0254Querencia. Rich with cultural and emotional connotations, the word is variously translated in Spanish-English dictionaries as fondness, homing instinct, homeland, haunt, and homesickness. But it means something more than any one English word expresses. Muertos y Marigolds volunteer organizer and altar artist Sofia Martinez describes querencia as a place that makes you who you are. Sofia’s helping me understand the theme of this year’s South Valley Día de los Muertos Celebration and Marigold Parade: “Sheep don’t vote, feed the Chupacabra. Reclamando nuestra querencia!” Reclaiming our querencia.

The celebration of Day of the Dead began in this country back in the ’70s as a reclamation of querencia as cultural heritage in the midst of the Chicano Movement—a 1960s civil rights movement encompassing voting, political and land rights, along with cultural awareness that inspired literary and visual creations. Most Chicanos, Nuevo Mexicanos, and American Latinos at that time had grown up Catholic, observing not Día de los Muertos but All Soul’s Day. According to Regina Marchi, a historian of religion with expertise in ritual studies, the intentional integration of Day of the Dead reflects the efforts of Chicano Movement activists “to reaffirm and celebrate the contributions and achievements of the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas.” Continue reading

Meet the Supers

Santa Fe Opera - Supernumeraries

Photo by Gabriella Marks

One might be your neighbor down the street, another the guy beside you in the gym. One could be standing behind you in the grocery checkout line, or be in the car behind you at the stoplight. If you meet them, you notice nothing unusual.

But these seemingly average people have a hidden side: such a burning love for the stage, they can’t wait to be part of an opera. They live for that moment when they’re front and center—or to be more precise, probably upstage and to the right—and filling a part, however small, in the performance. And opera wouldn’t be the same without them.

They’re known by many names, from extra or actor to spear carrier or supernumerary. Call them any of those––just don’t call them late for their cue.

At The Santa Fe Opera, supernumeraries, or supers for short, are ubiquitous extras in virtually all operas.

In the 2011 season, Charles Gounod’s Faust boasted several supers as freak characters in a manic sideshow, as well as a number of voluptuous historical beauties who tempted the hero. Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd in 2008 included acrobats who climbed and hung in the complicated high rigging of the battleship HMS Indomitable. In 2006, a super played the huge, looming executioner in Richard Strauss’s Salome, a silent but deadly onstage presence. In 2005, a child super was the unfortunate, abused apprentice in Britten’s Peter Grimes.

Yet where and how are supernumeraries found? According to the opera’s Director of Artistic Administration Brad Woolbright, the process of finding who the audience sees onstage in any given season or opera actually begins several years prior to the show. “The need is determined years out, in design meetings,” Brad says. “We see a production at least two years in advance in preliminary-model fashion. At the time, we are focused on details like, how many bodies do you need to make this happen, specifically with regard to supers. We try to accommodate directors insofar as possible.” Continue reading