State of the Arts
Acclaimed artists, composers, and filmmakers create a robust roster for the East Bay arts season opening this fall.
Photo courtesy of Cal Performances
August Muth: Tactile Radiance
Santa-Fe artist August Muth has been working with holograms, those three-dimensional projections (now familiar from Star Wars and other movies) for 30 years. He creates his own works (with a proprietary emulsion) as well as assisting other artists; the James Turrell holograms shown recently at Pace Gallery in Palo Alto are collaborations presumably. Muth’s holograms convey not desperate appeals to Jedi knights, but geometric forms floating in color fields, hovering almost tangibly in the viewer’s space. Muth considers light to be a tactile medium, and these holograms are not illusions, but “photonic truth. ... Through my work, I strive to record with precision the perceptible light-space-time phenomena. As these three elements intertwine, a three-dimensional topography of pure light is formed, revealing a window into the elusive realms of the light-space-time paradox. Luminous veils of light invite the viewer into a multi-dimensional journey. ... Light is the faithful archivist of time.” First Friday reception, Sept. 1, 6-8 p.m.; exhibition continues through Sept. 28; Chandra Cerrito Contemporary, 480 23rd St., Oakland, ChandraCerritoContemporary.com.
Earth, Wind, and Fire
Remember when postmodernist art theory declared nature dead a decade ago, and long live culture? It’s not worked out exactly as we in the fact-based universe would have hoped, but maybe the sullen kid at the G-20 meeting in Hamburg will take a hike. This show, Earth, Wind, and Fire, explores the reality of our place in the natural world through the artifice of art. This is art by the social landscape (for lack of a better term) painter Chester Arnold, the conceptual artist Paul Kos, the figurative glass sculptor Clifford Rainey, and the painter Abel Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a exiled member of Colombia’s Nonuya people who shares his intimate knowledge of the Amazon ecosystem entirely from memory: “I had never drawn before; I barely knew how to write, but I had a whole world in my mind asking me to picture the plants.” Reception is Sept. 9, 5-7 p.m. (tentative); exhibition Sept. 12-Nov. 18; Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond, RichmondArtCenter.org.
About Abstraction: Bay Area Women Painters
The recent regressive turn in American politics points up the fact that the social progress many foolishly took for granted was never safe from attack. It’s no surprise, either, that women artists are still underrepresented; some change has taken place since the 1970s, but too little, and too late. Still, shows like this one, focusing on local living artists who happen to be abstractionists and women are valuable in keeping things moving forward. The 16 painters are Lorene Anderson, Eva Bovenzi, Donna Brookman, Heather Day, Amy Ellingson, Linda Geary, Rebekah Goldstein, Danielle Lawrence, Naomie Kremer, Michelle Mansour, Alicia McCarthy, Mel Prest, Cornelia Schulz, Ema Sintamarian, Michele Theberge, and Canan Tolon. Sept. 24-Dec. 17, Bedford Gallery, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, BedfordGallery.org.
Garry Knox Bennett
Oakland’s master of witty and immaculately fabricated art furniture (including hippie-era Art Nouveau-ish roach clips) returns to the East Bay gallery scene, 12 years after his 2005 Oakland Museum show at the large lobby at 555 12th St. Details at press time were sketchy but might include lights and lamps. However things evolve, the show, which could also include chairs, desks, clocks, and tables, will be amazing, delightful, and a testament to old-school craftsmanship, freewheeling imagination, and irrepressible humor. Bennett: “Some people call me an artist. It’s flattering, but I’m not. I have friends that are artists, but I’m a damn good furniture maker.” Reception Dec. 1, 6-9 p.m.; exhibition shows Dec. 1-Jan. 20, Transmission Gallery, 770 W. Grand Ave., Oakland, TheTransmissionGallery.com.
Flyaway Productions, The Right to Be Believed
Choreographer Jo Kreiter knows what she wants: to show women as strong individuals, willing to defy conventional concepts of dance and eager to take on issues of injustice and blinders. She has produced a remarkable repertoire of imaginative, finely calibrated works that throw their challenges with elegance and a celebratory perspective of the human body. The Right to Be Believed—taking women’s voices seriously—receives its Oakland premiere in free outdoor performances Oct. 6, 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.; Oct. 7, 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., free, 1100 Broadway, Oakland, CalPerformances.org.
Onward and Upward–AXIS’ 30th Anniversary Home Season
For the last 30 years AXIS Dance Company has opened perspectives on what dance can do for disabled dancers and audiences. For this anniversary concert, recently appointed Artistic Director Marc Brew—Australia-trained with a UK career for the last 20 years—has scheduled two world premieres. Brew is collaborating with Oakland’s JooWan Kim’s Hip Hop Orchestra Ensemble Mik Nawooj for his first creation for AXIS. Ballet choreographer Amy Seiwert fashioned The Reflective Surface for these dancers with original composition by Darren Johnston.
Oct. 26-28, 7:30 p.m., and Oct. 29, 3 p.m., ticket info TBA, Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, 1428 Alice St., Oakland, AXISdance.org.
Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker
Nutcracker season is not everybody’s cup of tea. But the Oakland Ballet Company’s take on the classic is so much fresh fun that it just might convert skeptics. Choreographer/Artistic Director Graham Lustig set his version in early 20th century Vienna or thereabouts—the time of the Secessionists’ modernist bend. Its sunny snow-covered mountain views and the most delightful snowballs ever having graced the Paramount Theatre are irresistible. Lustig also includes a lot of children in what, after all, is a children’s tale. The Oakland Symphony will do its part, accompanying dancers. Dec. 23, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., and Dec. 24, 1 p.m., $23-$90 plus fees, Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland, OaklandBallet.org/wp.
Photo Courtesy of Diablo Ballet
Diablo Ballet may still be small, but sometimes small is beautiful—and powerful. In its 24th season, this Walnut Creek company’s Harmonious Beauty program celebrates the power of dance and has scheduled the Ballroom Pas de Deux from Val Caniparoli’s A Cinderella Story; a yet-to-be-named world premiere by ballerina Danielle Rowe, formerly of the Netherlands Dans Theatre; Walter Yamazaki’s film Libera; and Robert Dekker’s Milieu live score by Daniel Berkman. Feb. 2, 8 p.m., and Feb. 3, 2 p.m., subscription and single-ticket sales available, Del Valle Theater, 1963 Tice Valley Blvd., Walnut Creek, DiabloBallet.org.
And Then They Came for Us
Lawyer-turned-documentary filmmaker Abby Ginzberg is outspoken about the imperfections of American justice. Her latest film, And Then They Came for Us, made in collaboration with editor Ken Schneider, revisits the great shame of FDR’s 1942 executive order setting in motion the displacement and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The film makes powerful use of recently rediscovered photos by the great Dorothea Lange and internees such as George Takei. Many films have been made on this subject whose primary goal was to illuminate a forgotten wrong; Ginsberg and Schneider want us to consider the parallels in contemporary deportations, travel bans and other forms of institutionalized discrimination. Screens Sept. 5 with Ginzberg in the house in the New Parkway Theater’s ongoing monthly series of new and recent films by local doc makers. Sept. 5, 7 p.m., $10-$12, The New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St., Oakland, TheNewparkway.com.
Short Film Competition and International Film Showcase
The East Bay boasts not one but two monthly showcases of hard-to-see foreign and independent films. Under the auspices of John Bennison, the Mountain Shadow Film Society in Walnut Creek launches its fall season with its third annual Short Film Competition on Sept. 14 and 15 at the Las Lomas High School Theater. For membership and other information, visit MountainShadow.org. The International Film Showcase, the brainstorm of film buffs Efi Lubliner and Jo Alice Canterbury, kicks off fall at the Orinda Theatre (date TBA) with Serbian writer-director Milos Radovic’s Train Driver’s Diary, a warmhearted black comedy with an offbeat father-son spin that won the audience award at the Moscow International Film Festival and was Serbia’s official submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. For more information, visit InternationalShowcase.org.
Ingmar Bergman Retrospective
Few filmmakers in the history of movies understood, let alone exploited, the power dynamics between men and women—and women and women—better than Ingmar Bergman. Surely no director has examined the combustibility of intimate relationships with the persistence and fearlessness of the Swedish master of theater, film, radio, and television. From Summer with Monika through Scenes from a Marriage, Bergman rigorously explored the pursuit and, perhaps, the impossibility of romantic happiness. One of cinema’s deep thinkers, he was equally obsessed with man’s fascination with God, and the limits of faith in the face of the abyss of eternity. BAMPFA’s massive Ingmar Bergman retrospective is tentatively scheduled to begin in February; how perfect, with its short days and gloomy, rain-swept streets. For more information, visit BAMPFA.org.
More than half a century after he debuted in the pages of Marvel’s beloved Fantastic Four comic books, the first black superhero gets top billing in a mega-budget studio epic. Truth be told, our excitement and rooting interest derives primarily from the fabulous news that Oakland native Ryan Coogler is at the helm. The talented writer-director broke onto the scene in 2013 with Fruitvale Station, a gripping and insightful reenactment of the last day of Oscar Grant’s life. Coogler followed that indie success with the acclaimed Rocky Balboa sequel, Creed, a hit that showed he could maneuver around big-studio suits and Sylvester Stallone’s ego. Black Panther, scheduled for national release Feb. 16 with a knockout cast featuring Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Michael B. Jordan, and Chadwick Boseman as the titular king of a fictional African nation, is another major step up for The Town’s favorite son.
Photo courtesy of Cal Performances
There’s no doubt that Berzerkeley folks like to talk, but at the Berkeley Talks speaker series, audiences practice the art of look and listen. First up is a giggler with 40-year buddies Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and Lynda Barry, cartoonist/author of Ernie Pook’s Comeek (Oct. 7). Swift on their heels comes a giant: Garrison Keillor, freshly sprung from the Midwest and retired but tireless after 40 years on the award-winning NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion (Oct. 23). Expect stories of potluck and bad luck, the latter likely having to do with recent political shenanigans in Washington, D.C. You’ll need to hold your horses until Feb. 21 for playwright Tony Kushner and author/radio personality Sarah Vowell in a conversation about Abraham Lincoln, American history, democracy, and culture. But don’t worry: The smart gang at Cal Performances knows that Berkeley will talk during the three months between the October events and February’s resumption. CalPerformances.org
Berkeley Arts & Letters
Two early fall events continue the venerable author series season that has included local authors Ayelet Waldman, Rebecca Solnit, Jeff Chang, and Frances Dinkelspiel. Those discussions have covered everything from LSD to feminism to wine swindlers to the history of the internet and startups and more. Indie bookseller The Booksmith provides books for signature and purchase at the informal, evening presentations of the series, launched in 2009. Coming soon: Bill Nye the Science Guy introduces how to tackle big problems like climate change using engineering principles and critical thinking in Everything All at Once. Then Masha Gessen’s nonfiction narrative, The Future is History, unfolds the mysteries of Russia during the past three decades as the country shifts from and is reclaimed by totalitarianism. Mind expanding and provocative, the roughly 90-minute programs linger in memory for weeks, if not months and years. Bill Nye,
Sept. 10, 7 p.m., $42.50, UC Theater, 2036 University Ave., Berkeley; Masha Gessen, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m., $12-$20, Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St., Berkeley; BerkeleyArts.org.
Celebrating 18 years of bountiful Bay Area literature and reaching legal voting age, this annual festival features nearly 600 events in nine days at locations mostly in San Francisco. Crossing the Bay Bridge, you’ll be making the trek in good company: Many local authors, writers, poets, filmmakers, and journalist appearing at Litquake Oct. 6-14 hail from the East Bay. This year, it’s all about the F word—fun. But it’s also about literature’s presence in film, theater, cable, television, radio, and on the internet. There’s the season two premiere screening of O Network’s Queen Sugar, with author Natalie Baszile; Jill Soloway’s I Love Dick, the basis for filmmaker Chris Kraus’ new Amazon series; a live, staged reading from Word for Word on the 50th anniversary of Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem and more. Panel discussions dispense writing and publishing advice; author talks touch on LSD, “Poetry and Protest,” the Black Panther Party, fiction from Italy, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands, and other don’t-miss topics. Without losing sight of writers’ role in exposing injustice and issuing a call for action, Litquake 2017 is choosing to party. Have fun. Litquake.org
The fifth annual festival of ideas boasts an impressive roster of speakers and gurus of thought and discovery. Presented Oct. 27-28 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, the two-day beehive of brilliant sharing and brave question-asking this year makes a leap from people offering mindful words to pioneers engaged in activity. Speakers not only write, they are also involved in end-of-life policy decisions, overcoming class cluelessness, defining black male or multiracial identity, fostering far-right reformation, changing the criminal justice system, building socially responsible partnerships with farming communities worldwide, eliminating sex trafficking, improving health care, education, Silicon Valley, and understanding Muslim immigration and fundamentalism. At the heart of each story, study, or serious investigation, human lives emerge like fragile tendrils, connecting speaker to audience, neighbor to neighbor, and so on. Further connections are made during spotlight presentations, lunch breaks, and the fabulous parties that close each day with a chance to unwind at your own, uncharted pace. BerkeleyIdeas.com
Korean National Gugak Center Creative Traditional Orchestra
Photo courtesy of Cal Performances
The unwieldy name of this amazing 55-member ensemble encompasses the animating tension between centuries-old tradition and cutting-edge innovation. The National Gugak Center Creative Traditional Orchestra is steeped in the protean percussion and keening vocals of Korea’s ancient courtly music and various folk traditions. But this two-concert Cal Performances residency also highlights the group’s commitment to new music, with an afternoon concert featuring world premieres of newly commissioned work and an evening concert focusing on traditional court and folk music. Oct. 28, 3 p.m., tickets start at $20, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CalPerformances.org.
La Misa Negra
Inspired by old-school cumbia, the dance-inducing Afro-Colombian party music that swept across Latin America in the 1950s and rapidly morphed in each new country it conquered, Oakland’s La Misa Negra is an eight-piece ensemble that delivers a fierce combination of riffing horn, surging accordion, and Caribbean percussion. Over the past six years, the band has shared stages and held its own with a diverse roster of heavyweights including Stevie Wonder, Thievery Corporation, George Clinton, Julieta Venegas, Ozomatli, and Bomba Estereo, earning an avid fanbase and stoking anticipation of a follow-up to the impressive 2013 debut album Misa de Medianoche. Sept. 22, 9 p.m. (doors open at 8 p.m.), $15 advance, $20 day of show, The New Parish, 1743 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, TheNewParish.com.
In the mid-1990s, Paula Cole earned international attention collaborating with Peter Gabriel on his Secret World tour. She went on to a distinguished career as a vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist with a small but deeply rewarding discography (including “I Don’t Want to Wait,” which became a fixture in the pop cultural firmament as the theme song for the teen drama Dawson’s Creek). With her new album Ballads (675 Records), the Berklee-trained vocalist returns to her early musical romance with the American Songbook, interpreting standards such as Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and Rodgers and Hart’s “Blue Moon.” Oct. 26, 8 p.m., $29-$65, Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, Yoshis.com.
Born in Senegal and raised in Mali, Habib Koité is one of West Africa’s most enduring stars, a gritty guitarist, soulful singer, and trenchant songwriter with 400-watt charisma. As a bandleader and arranger, he has crafted a rhythmically latticed sound built on the entrancing cadences of the hollow thump of the gourd calabash and the woody chimes of the balafon. He has been championed by blues greats like Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt (who’s been known to sit in on his Bay Area gigs). But it’s his laidback incantatory vocals that tie the band together, as he intones his incisive lyrics in Bambara, French, and English. Nov. 2, 8 p.m., $30 advance, $34 at the door, Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley, TheFreight.org.
Better known as fiendishly macabre children’s author Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), San Francisco’s Daniel Handler first worked with the Berkeley Rep to create Lemony Snicket’s The Composer Is Dead in 2010. Now, Handler returns with the world premiere of a typically tangled new comedy for adults, Imaginary Comforts, or The Story of the Ghost of the Dead Rabbit, in which grieving Sarah has to contend with her inconsolable mother, a rabbit that fouls up her father’s funeral, and a ghost rabbit that won’t leave her alone. Oct. 5-Nov. 19, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley, BerkeleyRep.org
Photo courtesy of Aurora Theater
Boxer Jack Johnson, who became the first African-American heavyweight champion in 1908, has inspired plays before, most notably Howard Sackler’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Great White Hope. A fictionalized 2013 version by Marco Ramirez, The Royale has won its own acclaim for its taut focus on the internal battles of an up-and-coming fighter struggling to make his mark in a society that’s nowhere near ready for him. Ramirez is a screenwriter and producer of TV’s Orange Is the New Black, Daredevil, and Sons of Anarchy. Nov. 3-Dec. 3, at Aurora Theatre Company 2081 Addison St., Berkeley, AuroraTheatre.org.
First seen locally at American Conservatory Theater in 2004, Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets is a bewitching musical from a truly phenomenal creative team, written by William S. Burroughs with songs by Tom Waits and original direction by Robert Wilson. It’s a grim fairy tale about a file clerk who strikes a deal with the devil to win the approval of his true love’s huntsman father with some magic bullets. Now director Mark Jackson crafts a new production for Berkeley’s Shotgun Players with music director David Möschler, the same team that delivered the stunning 2012 Shotgun production of Waits and Wilson’s Woyzeck. Nov. 9-Dec. 31, Shotgun Players, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, ShotgunPlayers.org.
Berkeley’s TheatreFIRST radically refocused on inclusivity last year, creating new works with diverse creative teams from a wide variety of perspectives. More than any play the company has done yet, Participants exemplifies that mission, unveiling 12 short plays with the audience seated in a storytelling circle. Geared toward generating discussion about how we move forward individually and collectively in troubled times, the pieces are by an amazing team of local playwrights, including Star Finch, Christopher Chen, Anthony Clarvoe, Dipika Guha, Aaron Loeb, Carl Lumbly, Rohina Malik, Linda McLean, Geetha Reddy, Octavio Solis, Nick Hadikwa Mwaluko, and Torange Yeghiazarian. Opens Dec. 3, TheatreFIRST, 1301 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, TheatreFIRST.com.