Next year should be big for Seattle dance, with new work and greatest-hits remounts by hotshot choreographers Pat Graney, Dayna Hanson, Amelia Reeber, and more. But these days, the most colorful career—literally and figuratively—belongs to Rainbow Fletcher, the choreographer for the subterranean dance club Can Can Cabaret. Her story is almost Flashdance: She started out as a cocktail waitress and kick-line dancer at Can Can, then got a chance to choreograph for people who expected burlesque. Instead, she gave them sexy, expert bits of modern dance set to popular songs by the White Stripes, MGMT, etc. In essence, she tricked people into spending their weekend nights at a modern-dance club—and people love it. Now she's moving in on statelier stages: Her offering for Northwest New Works (The Buffoon, inspired by Edward Gorey's The Doubtful Guest) had the audience at On the Boards standing and screaming. Fletcher has spent the past few years learning how to give the people what they want and do what she wants. She might just take over the town. BRENDAN KILEY
Young puppeteer Kyle Loven moved from Minneapolis without a job, a friend, or even a memory in Seattle—he'd never seen the place before. Why? "I love being by water and mountains," he wrote in an e-mail the week his solo puppet show my dear Lewis opened at Annex Theatre. "And perhaps I'm a little crazy." Perhaps—but in an exciting and generative way. My dear Lewis was a fractured exploration of a dying man's mind, his memories, his inner dialogues, his delusions. But the magic was in Loven's method, which, as I wrote at the time, is "a little bit Edward Gorey, a little bit Samuel Beckett, and a little bit Czech surrealism." He uses all the puppets you know (marionettes, shadow puppets, finger puppets) plus all kinds of new tricks with newspapers, fire, hidden pools of water, and faces that pop out of his stomach. He's amazing. Loven has won a grant from the Jim Henson Foundation, which puts him in the company of Basil Twist, Ping Chong, and Mabou Mines, which he thoroughly deserves. This young man could change the face of puppetry not only in Seattle but across the world. BK
Actor (and former ballet dancer) Hans Altwies brings a stately centeredness and a feline grace to every role. I first noticed him in a production of Romeo and Juliet, where he completely stole the show as Mercutio giving the "Queen Mab" speech—it was a polyphonic trip through fantasy, lust, longing, and even anger that emotionally distilled the entire play into one monologue, yet never seemed excessive or actorly. He's gone from strength to strength since then, playing a recovering Irish alcoholic in a game of cards with the devil (ain't that Irish?) in The Seafarer, romping around with his wife, Amy Thone, in Much Ado About Nothing, and delivering a mesmerizing solo performance in An Iliad this past spring. He came across like a mendicant poet from a Cormac McCarthy novel in An Iliad, a bearded and battered old man doomed to wander through time retelling the story of Troy; the entire 842-seat theater was held in thrall. And he's a cofounder of the New Century Theatre Company, a promising actor-driven ensemble. He's one of the best things about Seattle's theater landscape. BK
"Watching a great Scot Augustson play is like having a conversation with someone much cleverer than you, someone who is always a few steps ahead, delivering punch lines before you realize he is telling a joke," wrote Brendan Kiley in 2007, and the statement stands. Best known as the creator of the brilliant shadow-puppet troupe Sgt. Rigsby & His Amazing Silhouettes, Augustson traffics in everything from lyrical human drama (Gilgamesh, IA) to filthy farce (the Catholic-bashing late-night serial play Penguins). Whatever his chosen style, his strengths shine through: deep cleverness, biting wit, and a good old-fashioned skill at putting words on the page that sing on the stage. Someday, he'll likely win this damn award. Seattle is exceedingly lucky to have such a devoted talent making his life's work right here. DAVID SCHMADER
Karen Finneyfrock's debut poetry collection, Ceremony for the Choking Ghost, was possibly the best book published by a Seattleite this year. If you've never enjoyed poetry once in your whole life—if even the word "poetry" makes you want to fall asleep, or die, you still should read Ghost. In the summer of 2011, Finneyfrock has a young adult novel, Celia, the Dark and Weird, coming out from Penguin/Viking. Word has it that Celia, about a young woman who falls in love with poetry, could be good enough to make Ghost look like merely a preamble to something greater. (Sherman Alexie, who won the Genius Award in Literature in 2008 and is himself the author of an award-winning young adult novel, is rumored to be very impressed with Celia.) We know she's a very fine poet, and we know she's a skilled reader of her own work, but if Finneyfrock manages to snag the trifecta—a compelling novelist, too?—then she's got the award all wrapped up for next year. PAUL CONSTANT
Jonathan Evison's 2008 novel, All About Lulu, was a solid debut about teenage obsession with hints of early (good) John Irving. And his sophomore novel, West of Here, is gathering the kind of prepublication buzz (it'll be released on February 15, 2011) that could result in a crossover hit that makes him into a household name. Here looks like a huge, Steinbeck-y epic about the people who settled the Northwest. If it's as good as they're saying, Seattle could have another literary star on its hands by next spring. PC
If you've ever attended one of Brian McGuigan's signature events—he's the mastermind behind the Cheap Wine and Poetry and the Cheap Beer and Prose reading series at Hugo House—you know that, contrary to popular belief, "going to a literary reading" and "having a kick-ass time" are not mutually exclusive. The trick is that McGuigan curates his readings with care. He doesn't invite authors unless he knows they know how to put on a goddamned show. And audiences have been kind in return: If you show up less than a half hour early for a CW&P or a CB&P, you're going to be in the crowded standing-room- only space way in the back of the house. So it was exciting to hear that McGuigan will be organizing more Hugo House events in the coming months—his job description was recently broadened from marketing director to marketing and events director, giving him more of a say in the regular schedule. If his past events are any indication, we can expect more spirited, quality nights coming from Hugo House in the near future—and cheaper booze, too. PC
Paul E. Nelson
They don't get much more inventive than this: Paul E. Nelson's A Time Before Slaughter is a book-length epic poem about Auburn, Washington. (Fun fact! Auburn was originally named Slaughter in honor of fallen U.S. lieutenant William Slaughter. Slaughter residents quickly got cold feet and changed the name.) It's not the one long, boring spray of stanzas you're picturing. Nelson split up his epic into dozens of smaller poems, varying in length and content. There are elegies, sonnets, prose poems, images, and even testy e-mail exchanges with easily outraged Auburn civil servants, forming a literary collage of a little city that usually escapes notice. Nelson brings a cacophony of voices together to form a chorus. That chorus sings the stories of dozens of men and women—full of regrets and muddled memories, complaining about traffic while piloting their SUVs, murdering and being murdered, feeling unseen and abandoned. In other words, he has built a city out of words. A city named Slaughter. And Auburn. It's a brilliant achievement. PC
Gretchen Bennett knows that nothing in the world is original or will sit still, so she makes art that captures and isolates the glimmers, the aftereffects, the ventriloquisms. In her work, images and voices are always in circulation—being passed around inside living systems. Bennett's two favorite systems are music and the streets of a city.
In the glinting smudges of her 2010 "Crazy in Love" drawings wheat-pasted on a wall on Broadway, based on YouTube stills, Bennett cracked open Beyoncé's pop megahit to reveal a moaning interior voice. In the Kurt exhibition at Seattle Art Museum, Bennett's drawings of YouTube stills featuring Kurt Cobain—brightly colored this time—restored dimension to the flattened iconic rock star by turning him into a sparkling landscape unto himself. Meanwhile, Bennett finally took advantage of one of her best unemployed assets: her girlish yet husky voice (it's amazing). Training a video camera on her hand holding an orchid blossom—it looked like a baby hippopotamus, too young to have opened its eyes yet—Bennett sang Cat Power's song about a dead rock star, "I Don't Blame You," while manipulating the absurd, beautiful, silly, and strange orchid puppet. The words and the "mouth" never lined up, as if to say, isn't that so often the way? JEN GRAVES
Whiting Tennis is always—always—making. He's created a universe of low-wattage instruments of delight that throb with a gentle sadness: a life-size, covered-wagon-like sculpture made of wood and found objects called Bovine (it resembled a cow and was purchased by Seattle Art Museum); a trompe l'oeil blue tarp painting with painstakingly mimicked crinkles and creases; a case of miniatures of his human-animal-architecture forms fashioned in cardboard and coated in a slick of mud-colored oil paint. Now he's started forging his figures by pouring concrete into cardboard molds he assembles. One cast, a semiabstract, flattened baby carriage hanging on the wall, might be a gravestone designed by Edward Gorey. Meanwhile, his plywood replicas of a washer, dryer, and '70s TV/stereo console sit out in the weeds at the Olympic Sculpture Park, where, in the shadow of the modernist monuments, they've altered the whole place by having been momentarily, successfully mistaken for trash. JG
Michael Van Horn
In each of his own photographs—and they are not seen all that often, because he stays behind the scenes—Michael Van Horn reveals his critical mind, his paper-dry wit, and his on-the-spot intelligence. Out with his camera, he seems to notice the places where the world opens up and reveals something it didn't mean to. His photographs of things as simple as an odd street sign are like a very smart and perceptive friend sidling up to you with a nudge and saying, "Look."
Meanwhile, he's the most underappreciated influence on young artists in Seattle. Ask an ambitious artist who led her to her biggest ideas: Michael Van Horn. Who introduced her to the mind-blowingest thinkers in the city, to the most inspiring shows all over: Michael Van Horn. His name just keeps coming up. And Van Horn is not even a professor where he works, at the University of Washington's art department. He's only a tech, without a lectern of his own. Well, you don't need a lectern, or tenure, to be a force for brilliance. JG
When asked once what it was about, all those handblown glass distillers and nights spent in a half-shelter by the railroad tracks and photographs of basements and backyards that have seen better days, Eli Hansen said that he guessed he was chasing his own sadness. Not catching it—just chasing it.
It's easy to ground his art in its references: the hippie communes on the banks of the Skagit River in the 1960s, the explosion of the studio-glass movement around Seattle in the 1970s and '80s, the older history of violent displacement on this tribal land, the clash of serial killers and enviro-yuppies, of meth labs and latte addicts, of strip-mining and hiking. And Hansen seeks darkly: His sculptures, installations, and photographs are aftermathy, forensic, pseudoscientific, and a little creepy sometimes. But then there are his titles, which are little fragments of stories about simple domestic transactions (someone making someone else a toast, say) or wretched longings like "We used to get so high." Hansen's art is, sweetly, about the myths we tell ourselves when we don't want to feel better. JG
Seat of Empire, Shaun Scott's documentary exploration of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition, stretches and sprawls beyond its borders, becoming a vast chronicle of Seattle itself—beginning at the beginning, with the first interactions between white settlers and Native Americans. In a profile earlier this year, The Stranger called Scott's film "long, strange, funny, informative, disconnected, intelligent, fuzzy, romantic, and incomplete." We'd like to see more. LINDY WEST
Director Jennifer Maas's first feature, Wheedle's Groove (which premiered at SIFF this year), is an impressive, streamlined, lively, and—dare I say—funky documentary about Seattle's long-lost '70s funk and soul scene. It features big-name interviews with the likes of Quincy Jones and Ben Gibbard, heartfelt reminiscences from local treasures like Patrinell Wright, and narration by Sir Mix-A-Lot; you can feel the Seattle love in every frame. LW
Filmmaking can be a real boys' club, you know? I mean, everything in the world is a boys' club to some extent (except menstruatin'!), but did you know that only 3 percent of Hollywood cinematographers are women? That's fucked. That's why Reel Grrls is so great—its mission is to "empower young women from diverse communities to realize their power, talent, and influence through media production" and "cultivate voice and leadership in girls at a vulnerable age in their development." It hosts workshops, classes, and day camps in animation, music-video production, video blogging, and anything that plunges powerful young ladies into media literacy and THE FUTURE! Because fuck yeah. LW
White Lines and the Fever, Travis Senger's promising documentary short (it won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary short at this year's SIFF), unites cinema and hiphop in a heartfelt, affecting package. The film documents the brief, shining life and senseless, ignominious death of DJ Junebug, a legend in the earliest days of hiphop in the Bronx. Senger coaxes a great little story out of archival footage and teary interviews. LW
Clinton McClung landed in Seattle in 2009 and started sharing his cinema-impresario skills with the local masses. His primary playground: Central Cinema, the Central District cinema pub where McClung has overseen an avalanche of delights over the past 11 months. His stock-in-trade: mass celebrations of beloved entertainments, gussied up to maximize the shared thrills. Case in point: the recent Golden Girls TV Dinner, in which four episodes of the eternally rebroadcast sitcom were surrounded by mind-bending classics of '80s advertising and screened for a crowd of people howling like they were about to see Led Zeppelin. In this age of Blu-ray discs, streaming Netflix, and Redbox rentals on every corner, "going to the movies" can seem like an inconvenient anachronism, but with his deep love and knowledge of pop culture and killer eye for entertainments that flourish when viewed en masse, McClung is creating singular events. D. SCHMADER
Decibel Festival/ Sean Horton
When Sean Horton founded the Decibel Festival in 2003, Seattle's global reputation was still that of a blue-collar rock town, the birthplace of grunge. Now, seven years later, Decibel ranks among MUTEK, DEMF, and Sonar as one of the world's highest profile festivals of electronic music, and Seattle is internationally recognized for its own small but fertile electronic scene, including artists such as Lusine, Caro, the Sight Below, and others.
It's hard to overstate the role that the annual gathering has played in putting the town on the map. Not only has Decibel raised the ranking of Seattle's scene abroad, it's also fostered connections within that scene by bringing diverse artists, crews, and event production companies together under one banner. Decibel and Horton have pulled off this feat working with an all-volunteer crew and charging expenses to Horton's personal credit card, strategies that speak volumes to the dedication and faith of those involved. And the investment has paid off: Now in its seventh year, Decibel Festival 2010 (Sept 22–26) once again brings an awesome lineup, further establishing our city as a destination for forward-thinking music and an essential stop on the global festival circuit, all while connecting local artists to the wider world and to each other. ERIC GRANDY
Genius doesn't always have to look and act "smart." It can be willfully lowbrow, beer-swilling, and party-rocking. That's certainly the case with Truckasauras, the four-piece analog audio/visual crew of brothers Adam and Tyler Swan, Ryan Trudell, and Dan Bordon. Their live performances are spectacles of working-class/white-trash American—muscle Ts, stars and stripes, pro-wrestling, and bad '80s television—deployed with genuine affection and less irony than you might suspect.
Their music sounds like the stuff of old eight-bit video games, until you notice the melodic thoughtfulness, the echo of Afrika Bambaataa's early hiphop electro excursions, the strains of acid and techno laced throughout; and then maybe you remember that many of those old (lowbrow) video games were scored by some seriously small-g genius composers, such as Nintendo's prolific Koji Kondo. Truckasauras's recently released, self-recorded sophomore album, Quarters (named for the video arcade near where they grew up on the Eastside), finds them honing their sound with more upbeat and poppy tunes and incorporating new gear into their arsenal, including the reel-to-reel tape machine on which the album was recorded.
If this crew's endeavors ended with Truckasauras, that alone might secure them a spot on this shortlist, but the Swans and Trudell, along with horn-player Tony Moore, also form Foscil, a more serious-faced electro-acoustic ensemble. Where Truckasauras's songs are mapped out and locked to their grids, Foscil give themselves much room for improvisation, rocking back and forth from a kind of instrumental hiphop funk to synth-inflected jazz riffing. And the core of Truck/Foscil is also a node for other boundary-pushing musical projects, as Tyler plays drums with sampler maestro eR DoN and dub-punk trio Flexions, and Adam helps them and other groups record at their home studio. EG
Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet—prime movers of Seattle-based label Sublime Frequencies—are geniuses at locating geniuses in places whose names you likely can't pronounce or find on a map. They travel great lengths to find geniuses making music you didn't know existed and document them on wax, CD, and DVD. Sublime Frequencies takes a raw, verité approach to "world music" curating, lifting it out of the sterile museum realm. The liner notes offer a bit of context and history, but ultimately, Sublime Frequencies prefers that you let its output hit you like a bolt out of the azure. "What the fuck is this? And why am I just now hearing/seeing it?" is a common response to SF's globe-spanning excavations.
Sublime Frequencies' releases take three forms: single-artist releases that spotlight the best work by amazing, far-flung musicians (Egypt's Omar Khorshid, Syria's Omar Souleyman, Niger's Group Inerane, Indonesia's Dara Puspita, etc.); compilations of obscure scenes/genres (1970s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground, Princess Nicotine: Folk and Pop Music of Myanmar [Burma], etc.); and musique-concrète-like collages of countries' sonic ecology (Harmika Yab Yum: Folk Sounds from Nepal, Radio India: The Eternal Dream of Sound, Bush Taxi Mali: Field Recordings from Mali, etc.). And let's not forget Brokenhearted Dragonflies: Insect Electronica from Southeast Asia. No collection is complete without it. DAVE SEGAL