The Artist’s Way: How to look forward and move on in 2022
By Lou Fancher
Saddle up with five days into 2022 and a new year in which, realistically, there will be profound hope and absolute horror, habits to break and others to hold onto, friends and arguments made and lost, positions taken and abandoned, and many murky moments that defy binary right/wrong definitions. To find escape or dip into happiness or simply travel a passageway that allows one to experience awe and inspiration, turn the gaze to human beings in the Bay Area who create, portray, reveal, embody or extend through language or imagery amazing things and ideas that startle open eyes and minds to the world outside themselves. Art will get us through another day, week, month and year, and in this it is of unsurpassed value.
Honestly? The greatest wish in making this three-month outlook list is that there is something that’s off the radar. If the coronavirus has taught anything, it is that life and death and everything that happens in between are unpredictable. In a blink, everything we call “normal” can be revised. So, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s limit ourselves to a three-month outlook and roundup of just a handful of categories: movies, music, dance, literature and large art museum openings.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
OK, it had a limited release on Dec. 25, so it’s technically possible people have seen it. However, a first or second viewing is warranted—and something to look forward to—because the movie is written and directed by Joel Coen, based on a play by William Shakespeare and stars Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand—who also produced the film. Far from chicken fodder. A second pick that warrants anticipation is Pixar’s release of Turning Red on March 11. Women and girls reign supreme in the Emeryville-based company’s newest animated coming-of-age fantasy comedy film that is directed by Domee Shi, in her feature directorial debut, written by Shi and Julia Cho, and produced by Lindsey Collins. The film stars the voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hyein Park, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho and James Hong. It is the first Pixar film to be solely directed by a woman.
The nine-member, Oakland-based, women’s vocal arts ensemble is unparalleled in presenting repertoire inspired but not limited by traditional songs and vocal techniques from Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Kitka’s concerts are jubilant celebrations of humanity and harmony. But don’t stop there: check out the group’s workshops, singing residencies, albums and other offerings by visiting the website. (www.kitka.org)
The venue has a thick stack of shows coming in 2022, among them, Anaïs Mitchell joins forces Jan. 28 with Bonny Light Horseman, a folk trio composed of Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson and Josh Kaufman. Bonny Light Horseman will perform selections from their two-time Grammy-nominated album before Anaïs takes the stage to share songs from her forthcoming album as well as from her back catalogue. (theuctheatre.org)
Move fast and grab tickets to Charli XCX’s March 27 show. The first night is sold out, but don’t miss the chance to catch the one-woman powerhouse. The singer, songwriter, documentary maker, radio host and record-label boss puts on a stunner of a show. A side note of interest: She has uncorked her process of recording, writing, artwork, music videos and more, and allows access to song stems to make remixes and greenscreen footage that can be edited according to users’ own creativity. Add to that the $50,000 in album merchandise proceeds Charli XCX donated to L.A. Alliance for Human Rights, an organization that advocates for the Los Angeles homeless peoples; this is a start with shine.
Marc Anthony doesn’t need your money, but on March 17, give some of it to him anyway. That is, if you admire the three-time Grammy Award and six-time Latin Grammy Award winner with 12 million album sales worldwide. Anthony is an American singer, songwriter, record executive, actor and television producer who knows entertainment forwards, backwards and upside down.
Interested in swing country, pop, folk? Then don’t miss Kacey Musgraves on Feb. 19 when the American singer and songwriter—who matches Marc Anthony’s G-wins with six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year in 2019—rocks the house. With an additional seven Country Music Association Awards and three Academy of Country Music Awards to her name, Musgraves’ fifth studio album, Star-Crossed, was released in September 2021.
Having lost, this past Aug. 20, its venerable music director, Michael Morgan, the symphony has retained his vision. In a season planned by Morgan, two highlights early on are composers Amy Beach’s Sanctuary Road (Jan. 21) and Beethoven’s marvelous Symphony No. 7. (Mar. 25). Both will be conducted by Dr. Leslie B. Dunner, who arrives on the podium in Oakland’s Paramount Theater with notable pedigree that includes a Pulitzer Prize-winning appearance and numerous awards and recognition as a master conductor and music director. Beach’s Gaelic Symphony makes its West Coast premiere and comes with an oratorio by Paul Moravec and Mark Campbell, based on the writings of William Still, conductor for the Underground Railroad. The Beethoven program includes a guest-artist appearance by Aaron Olguin, double bass (Sphinx Competition 2020), a commissioned world premiere by Jack Perla and Andrés Martín’s Bass Concerto No. 1. (www.oaklandsymphony.org)
Cal Performances: Jazz Series
This is, arguably, the one new must-see opera. Iphigenia reimagines the art form as it reexamines stories we inherit and weaves them into contemporary relevance with the choices we make as a society. Bringing a radical new take to Euripides’ ancient Greek play, Iphigenia in Aulis, 11-time Grammy-winning composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter wrote the music. Joining him, Esperanza Spalding—2022 Grammy nominee for Best Jazz Vocal Album and four-time Grammy-winning bassist, composer and vocalist—provided the libretto and plays the title role. The fully staged work is performed Feb. 12 at Zellerbach Hall on the UC campus and includes a 28-piece chamber ensemble; the rhythm section of Shorter’s venerated quartet, note: Shorter himself does not perform; a cast of nine vocalists and a chorus of 10 singers; with set design by icon Frank Gehry and Lileana Blain-Cruz directing. Need we say more?
Carrying no less vibe and sizzle on Mar. 26 is jazz-prodigy Matthew Whitaker, a remarkable keyboardist considered a virtuoso on piano and Hammond B-3 organ since childhood. Whitaker made his debut virtual appearance before Berkeley audiences during last fall’s Cal Performances at Home streaming season. Included in his repertoire are classic and contemporary jazz, hard bop, R&B and Latin music. His compositions recently received two Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers awards. (calperformances.org)
Dance so often consists of recycled ballet choreography or the latest So You Think You Can Dance trendsetter attempting to pass off as new, innovative or revolutionary. There is, however; an unbridled enthusiasm for two dance shows in early 2022: the West Coast Premiere, Feb. 25–26, of Memphis Jookin’: The Show and the return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in the company’s annual, multi-day residency on the UC Campus March 29 to April 3. If there are going to be eye-opening, joyful, rich and exquisitely executed dance performances early in the new year, place your bets on these two shows.
The following are just the tip of the iceberg, as new releases in 2022 arrive hot on the heels of last fall’s new books. Bryant Terry’s Black Food is stunning, with rich content, wonderful recipes, intriguing backstories, powerful artwork, brilliant design and a vision fully realized. Those who feel similarly, and can actually put Bryant’s book down for a day, should try one or more of these books with Bay Area connections:
Violeta, a novel from Isabel Allende, the New York Times-bestselling author of A Long Petal of the Sea and many other books, tells the story of Violeta Del Valle, a woman whose life spans 100 years and encompasses the 20th century’s great upheavals. Historical fiction at its best.
A Hole in the Clouds is the true story of Maryles Casto, an unemployed flight attendant from the Philippines who became the CEO of the go-to travel agency for Intel, Apple, Syntex, Kleiner Perkins and more. IMaryles tells how she built Casto Travel from a $1,500 startup to a $200 million company and gained the respect of Silicon Valley leaders and others.
Women and Salt is a debut adult novel by Gabriela Garcia. The story of a daughter’s fateful choice and a mother motivated by her own past begins in Cuba before either of them were born. Garcia is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and a Steinbeck Fellowship from San Jose State University. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in Best American Poetry, Tin House, Zyzzyva, Iowa Review and elsewhere.
Trust, Hernan Diaz’s multifaceted novel that pits fact against fiction and encompasses issues related to power, class, relationships and money, has a May release date but can be ordered now. This book is set in New York in the 1920s, and Diaz’s proven track record--In the Distance, his first novel, was a Publishers Weekly Top 10 Book of the Year and one of LitHub’s Top 20 Books of the Decade—combined with early buzz, places this at the top of this list.
Love & Saffron, by Kim Fay, is a trim novel that leaves me hoping the pandemic allowed Fay time to write more books. The narrative involves the correspondence of two women who, despite a 32-year age difference, form a friendship birthed by one of the women sending the other a packet of saffron. Chatting about food and recipes evolves and deepens when they begin to share stories about love, mental health, uncompromising sadness, impossible decisions and surprising joy. Written primarily in the form of letters sent between 1962 and 1965—Fay is a master at this novel’s format.
Lastly, I’ll tap a few local authors who travel under the best-selling-novelist radar but whose debut books deserve attention. Bay Area-based Jonathan Howland’s Native Air comes courtesy of the small, woman-owned, Vermont-based Green Writers Press. Howland spent 36 years teaching and working in independent schools and decades climbing in the Western United States. The narrative, set in the mid-’80s, involves two men who meet in college and spend 10 years living at the base of scalable rocks, many of them near Yosemite and California’s High Sierra. Their friendship is constructed on a shared obsession for climbing, but universal relevance arrives as actions and memories lead them to encounter grief, love, the thrill of adventure and more.
Award-winning Young Adult author, Nina LaCour, serves up a story about two women in her debut adult novel, Yerba Buena. One woman ran away from home at age 16 after her girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances. The other woman is Creole and a lesbian, and on a search for authenticity after passing for years as white and straight. LaCour writes not so much a love story, as an exploration of two women seeking truth and clarity about identity, desires, family and their place in society. The novel didn’t hit me over the head, but LaCour writes with grace and enthusiasm, and I found myself repeating or adopting well-turned sentences and ideas in the following weeks.
Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA)
“Lines of Thought: Gestural Abstraction,” in the BAMPFA Collection (opens Jan. 5), and “Spiritual Mountains: The Art of Wesley Tongson” (opens Jan. 12). The latter showcases 11 paintings by the Hong Kong artist Wesley Tongson (1957–2012). His work employs and expands upon traditional Chinese painting techniques and processes, including painting with his fingers and hands. The exhibition combines Tongson’s works with historic paintings from BAMPFA’s impressive Chinese painting collection. (bampfa.org)
Oakland Museum of California
The East Bay’s long investment in—and wealth of talent related to—ceramics is without question an overlooked asset. Setting the record right, visit “Edith Heath: A Life in Clay,” opening Jan. 29 at the downtown Oakland museum. Heath, the founder and designer of Heath Ceramics, created fine and everyday dinnerware from California clay with impeccable design and a commitment to craft. Her stoneware and tile, produced for 70 years, is noted for being “durable, not delicate, simple, yet stylish,” and “an icon of American design.” The exhibit includes historic objects, photographs, documentary video and Heath’s personal memorabilia. (museumca.org)