Hi. Yes, the year is half over, and no, the first six months weren't just a terrible dream. Donald Trump really is running for president, guns really are closer to being mandatory than to being regulated, and you'll really never get a ticket in time to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton. There have been some positive developments in 2016, however, and we wanted to write them down before we forget what they were.
Time is moving faster than ever before, and the job of keeping up with pop culture often feels like trying to run between raindrops. But we love running between raindrops, so here, as a kind of critical pinned tweet, is our list of the best of the first half of the year.
By Sean Nelson, Dave Segal, Kim Selling, Angela Garbes, and Rich Smith
David Bowie, Blackstar
Though the reality of a world without David Bowie is still a source of deep sorrow, the grief has been ameliorated by the pleasure of the album he left behind. The continual process of unpeeling the many deep, dark layers of Blackstar is enriched by the knowledge that Bowie was not merely making his best record in decades, one destined to rank among the finest of his 50-year career—he was writing and recording his own eulogy. SN
Corridor Fest (January 23)
Many events strive to be multimedia extravaganzas, but few deliver the shock of the new. Corridor Fest achieved that at its debut at Georgetown's Equinox Studios. The organizers combined an ambitious, electronic-oriented music bill (Sarah Davachi, Raica, Rene Hell, etc.) with avant-garde dance performances, psychedelic video imagery, art installations, and even a chill-out room dedicated to ASMR. The amalgamation of "sound, light, and movement" cohered into a multitude of synaesthetic epiphanies. It's hard to imagine a more transcendent escape from winter's doldrums than Corridor. DS
King at Barboza (February 13)
This trio of harmonizing neo-soul goddesses from Los Angeles is already lushly expressive within even the simplest of gestures. But encased in the darkness of Barboza and sardine-rolled into a mass of bodies eager for each ensuing note, I felt a new kind of mountain high from them. Beauty in such a setting can be transcendent. King lifted the ceiling and opened the heavens to a roomful of sweaty strangers. KS
Joanna Newsom, Divers; at the Paramount (March 29)
On a new album that marries the willful pastoral abstrusions of her early work and the gleeful, oh-by-the-way-I-can-also-write-magically-perfect-pop-songs-ness of Have One on Me, the perversely talented wizard of Nevada City continues to hone her thing to a point so sharp that even it can sing. And the show. Oh, sweet merciful jeezus, the show! The last time such harmonic complexity, instrumental virtuosity, and verbal ingenuity were melted together to create something so stirring, baffling, and beguiling was in that dream you had where you wrote and sang the perfect song while being funny, beautiful, brilliant, and humble. Then you woke up. SN
Bernie Worrell at Nectar (April 19)
Looking frail for the tribute show on his 72nd birthday, cancer-stricken P-Funk keyboardist Bernie Worrell nonetheless displayed the skills that made him one of the most innovative forces for funk and soul. Surrounded by his band Khu.éex' and hundreds of adoring fans, Worrell coaxed the mellifluous, robust motifs that made him a legend and a first-call sideman for artists like Talking Heads and Ginger Baker. For the funk anthem "Flash Light" alone, Bernie deserves Hall of Fame status, but his catalog abounds with many other gems that stimulate bodies and souls with technical wizardry and emotional profundity. DS
Kevin Cole, "Nothing Compares 2U: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Prince" on KEXP (May 6)
A year that began with the inconceivable death of David Bowie in early January and continued with the slightly-less-inconceivable death of Phife Dawg achieved maximum inconceivability when Prince died on April 21. Prince, dead. Prince. Months later, the loss is still stupefying. Amid the many public outpourings and eulogies, the greatest source of healing was this four-hour stretch of rare numbers, live recordings, and incredible stories from a career DJ with a deep personal connection to the late, great artist. In addition to a concentrated, curated power-wallow in the incalculable wonder of Prince's music, the show provided a ritual so rare and familiar you almost forget how important it is: the chance to share an essential experience—as a city, as a community, and as individuals—by listening to the radio. SN
Crater, Talk to Me So I Can Fall Asleep
This album, released in February, is a swirling cyber-aesthetic that coats your senses in tremulous synths. The blank percussive pressure seems to build a new pulse around which your body snakes. This music is an alien planet atmosphere with heavy toxins, rife with the blunt poison of honesty and direct feeling. It's the direction in which I hope much of this city's music scene will begin to move. (Full disclosure, I used to do some social-media work for the label, Help Yourself Records.) KS
Beyoncé at CenturyLink Field (May 18)
Beyoncé gave us everything at this show. She performed songs mostly from her two most recent albums, Lemonade and Beyoncé, but also plenty from 4 (her best, most complete album), B'Day, Dangerously in Love, and the Destiny's Child catalog, plus a gut-wrenching rendition of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones." Our society's understanding of what it means to be a woman—what our bodies should look like, what parts should or should not define us—is changing for the better. Beyoncé, flawless and with blonde hair, isn't necessarily at the forefront of that. But she is, undoubtedly, the most powerful cultural force celebrating women. The Formation tour gave us a safe space to lose our minds. AG
Heron Oblivion, Heron Oblivion
One of the best albums to bear the Sub Pop logo this century, Heron Oblivion is one of those rare modern-day psychedelic-folk records that holds its own with landmarks of the late 1960s and early '70s. The supergroup—featuring members of Comets on Fire, Espers, Six Organs of Admittance, and Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound—harnessed their towering guitar conflagrations, dulcet Pentangular vocals, and grandly pastoral melodies into a work that rewards repeat listens. Rock of beautiful gravity like Heron Oblivion rarely infiltrates the consciousness of big indieland, so cherish it. DS
Diminished Men, Vision in Crime
When/if the history of Seattle music is written, Diminished Men should get their own chapter. For more than a decade, the under-acclaimed trio has been purveying a brand of instrumental music that oozes intrigue, menace, and otherworldliness; no wonder Alan Bishop champions them via his Abduction label. The band's artistry peaks on Vision in Crime, a sanguinary confluence of surf rock, spy jazz, gamelan, and Morricone-esque giallo atmospheres. They're in their own enigmatic lane. DS
Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book
Chance's wit and vivid storytelling ability, and Donnie Trumpet's beguiling brass, got critics (and my next-door neighbor) doing front flips. Many songs announce an earnest wish for the world to be a more welcoming place for his daughter—and for all those affected by gun violence, especially those in the rapper's hometown of Chicago. The mixtape's dominant mode of pure joy and hopefulness do some work to that end. RSCheck out some of the great music of 2016 that we failed to review here.
By Charles Mudede and Sean Nelson
Two years after Anthony Weiner lost his seat in Congress because of a scandal (the public learned that he had a taste for sexting), it is revealed by the press that he has not learned his lesson. He is still sending dick pics to a curvy porn actress in Nevada. This news wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't running for mayor of New York City. He is in the middle of his political comeback, and his campaign team is at its wit's end. But Weiner just keeps going like it ain't no thing. He still thinks he has a chance. He believes he is the best man for the job. He enters a deli to get lunch and is confronted by a beefy Orthodox Jew who calls him names. Weiner confronts the insults head-on. A shouting match ensues. At the end of it, the Orthodox Jew says under his breath: "You are married to an Arab." At that crucial moment, you realize Weiner, despite his text thing, is not a bad person. At least he's not a racist. And he really does love his wife, who is not Arab but an American of Indian/Pakistani descent named Huma Abedin. She turns out to be the star of this film. I will be surprised if I see a more engaging documentary this year. CM
Son of Saul
One of the really impressive achievements of the Hungarian film Son of Saul, which is set in the final years of Auschwitz, is that it gets to the soul of its main character, a Hungarian Jew named Saul, by blurring the horrible world around his face/head and making the details of his face/head very clear. What you can't see well—the corpses, the gas chambers, the blood on the floor—is what Saul has mentally blocked out. He is trying to stay alive in a death camp. He is in the world but not in it. CM
The first film since Spike Jonze's Her to articulate a truly contemporary vision of loneliness. But unlike that overpoweringly sad story, this one proceeds from a template of Ionesco-style surrealism. Single people are taken to a hotel where they are allowed to stay a short time until they find a suitable mate (preferably someone with a "defining characteristic" that corresponds directly to theirs, like a limp or nearsightedness). If they fail to find a mate, the single person is turned into an animal—not metaphorically, but surgically. The filmmakers and their brilliant cast (Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, never better) follow this absurd premise through violent, hilarious convolutions of the imagination that are constantly surprising and yet never stoop to whimsy. It's not a simple allegory about modern love or consumerism; it's something much darker and harder to identify about humanity at a species level. For all the ugly ridiculousness humans put each other through, movies teach us that the capacity to love redeems us. The Lobster wonders whether that "defining characteristic" might be the deformation that damns us. SN
The Big Short
In 2008, the housing market in the United States collapsed. Stock prices plummeted, and Wall Street bankers and investors ran straight to the government and demanded a bunch of money. The government gave them cash, the public debt swelled, and social spending was cut. This rotten business turned out to be great material for one of the best comedies of our times, The Big Short. Starring a bevy of big names (Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt), The Big Short offers a very lucid, and even sexy, explanation for why the crash of 2008 happened and how many made money from this crash. Bale is in top form in this work. CM
Noma: My Perfect Storm
The more I think about this documentary, the more I love it. It concerns René Redzepi, the co-owner and head chef of Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant that, in the previous decade, revitalized the Scandinavian kitchen and won awards all over the world. But here is the thing: Redzepi is darkish and the son of a Muslim immigrant. His story grows in my mind because right now Europe believes it is in a crisis. It fears being swamped by Muslim refugees. But look at who has revived Scandinavian foods? Just look at his face. Look at his background. You have nothing to fear. CM
Ralph Fiennes Dancing to "Emotional Rescue" in A Bigger Splash
Luca Guadagnino's lusty, languorous remake of La Piscine is long on seductive promise, but the tension he builds throughout breaks in a strange, slightly unsatisfying way. Not that you mind exactly, given that for most of the film you're in the company of Tilda Swinton as a rock star (PJ Harvey x Patti Smith ÷ '73-era Bowie) and Ralph Fiennes as her debauched former lover/producer. Fiennes has never before played anyone so aggressively impossible to be around, or as frustratingly charismatic. His desperate energy bursts beyond his control. While telling stories about working with the Rolling Stones (on Voodoo Lounge, so you sense he's a bit past it), he finds the vinyl of Emotional Rescue, plays the title track, and begins dancing in this headlong, spastic effort to keep the party going—any party will do. And when his cohort won't oblige, he takes his solo dance party out onto the terrace of this gorgeous European villa, drenched in late morning sun, dripping with sexual possibility. It's a thrilling, totally unexpected moment from an actor whose entire vocabulary you only thought you knew. SN
SIFFX was the best thing to come out of this year's Seattle International Film Festival. It was bold, ambitious, and, surprisingly, very local, with work by Tracy Rector, Steven Schardt, and Zoe Scofield. The films shown in virtual reality and at the Laser Dome at the Pacific Science Center were without exception wonderful. I have become addicted to this new direction in filmmaking. CM
Much was written and even more was felt about this triumphant long-form video album, which constituted the only legitimate music event of the year. Because of the era we live in, it makes perfect sense that the music itself would prove secondary to the iconographic, historiographic, and straight-up graphic nature of the images it accompanied. That's no disrespect to the songs, but the astonishing film, which enshrines Beyoncé's physical presence into a transcendent phenomenon, constitutes probably the most avant-garde move ever made by a major pop musician. SNCheck out some of the great films of 2016 that we failed to review here.
By Sean Nelson and Christopher Frizzelle
O.J.: Made in America and The People v. O.J. Simpson
In 1994, exactly zero people would have predicted that the Great American Novel would actually be a pair of TV miniseries about O.J. Simpson. But here we are in 2016, when Ezra Edelman's riveting 10-hour ESPN documentary unearthed the open secrets of race and class in America (specifically Los Angeles, America's contemporary epicenter, sorry) that make Simpson an actual tragic hero and his farce of a trial a referendum on the blatant, intentional hate crime that is the LAPD. Meanwhile, through the veil of camp, Ryan Murphy told the other side of the story—the spectacle that transformed American pop culture and eventually enabled the Trump candidacy—allowing unlikely brilliance to emerge from actors Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, John Travolta (sorry), and, the pièce de résistance, David Schwimmer. "Juice," indeed. SN
Making a Murderer
David Foster Wallace worried about what entertainment was doing to us, and it's impossible not to wonder what he would have made of Making a Murderer had he lived long enough to see this nonfiction art form come into its own. The saga of Steven Avery wasn't entertainment, it wasn't "entertaining," although it isn't not entertainment, either. It certainly made you want to keep watching, and it made you feel more alive to the world, and it even made some people want to write blog posts badgering other people they don't even know into watching it already. CF
The mainstreaming of nerd culture has yielded mostly garbage in the way of art, because, as with all subcultures, being marginal (voluntarily or un-) was the whole point of nerds 1.0. But Mike Judge's sitcom about tech developers/coders/entrepreneurs who stumble into and out of outrageous fortunes is spectacularly funny, deliriously vulgar, and absolutely pure in its commitment to pulling the rug out from under its neurotic, arrogant, brilliant, and hopeless characters, and then letting them get back on their feet. Repeat. Brilliant comedic writing, acting, and direction at all times. SN
Horace and Pete
Louis CK combined the visual style of Norman Lear, the tragic texture of Eugene O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh, and the dramatic method of Mike Leigh to make this truly dark, depressing, curiously beautiful family tragedy set in the last originally dingy Irish bar in New York. The actors (CK, Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange, and Laurie Metcalf) play the slow-burning tragedy of these shabby, broken people with a humble power that demands your empathy—even when you don't like them. The man-hands-on-misery-to-man element utterly breaks your heart. But the awkwardness of the show—setting, dialogue, characters, lighting, everything—slowly makes you aware that Horace and Pete is a funeral for an old, nearly forgotten America and the premodern, unsophisticated weirdos who populated it. It could only be done properly in the language of old, nearly forgotten TV by a master of the medium. SN
Jon Snow Beating the Living Shit Out of Ramsay Bolton on Game of Thrones
Finally, something (A) happened, and (B) happened to the evilest bad guy on a show full of them. One thing I'll say about Game of Thrones: They take their sweet time before making a move in any direction, but they know how to make their villains (see also: King Joffrey) die in appropriately gruesome ways. SN
Watching a reenactment of the repugnant travesty of the Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings grants no pleasure whatsoever. But director Rick Famuyiwa and screenwriter Susannah Grant aren't looking for ways to flatter us into feeling good for sympathizing with Anita Hill. There's never a moment where it's even a credible option not to believe her. The HBO original film is jarring and powerful not because it makes you remember Long Dong Silver and "Who put a pubic hair on my Coke?" but because THESE HOUNDS ARE STILL IN CHARGE OF THE COUNTRY! One is the vice president. And one, shamefully, is on the Supreme Court. SN
Beyoncé's Super Bowl Recovery
The gesture of transforming the halftime show of the Super Bowl into a pageant that celebrated the look of the Black Panther Party was as subversive a gesture as we're ever likely to see at America's most mainstream entertainment event. But the real sign that Beyoncé could actually do anything came during the song "Formation," when she bent down into a squat and very nearly tumbled over backward, and then, in an instant, righted herself and kept on dancing. Had she fallen, would the triumph of her most triumphant phase have been diminished? Probably not by much. But why even ask the question when she made the recovery look like the whole thing was just part of the show? (All while an old white man stared up at her ass, clutching a rail at the left side of the stage for dear life.) SN
By Jen Graves
Young Blood: Noah Davis, Kahlil Joseph, the Underground Museum at the Frye Art Museum
Any work in Young Blood, a series of paintings, videos, and installations by two brothers who grew up in Seattle, curated by Seattle artist Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, could equally sustain the glare of a scholar and the no-bullshit detector of a child. Every work was energetic, original, fresh, and ancient, reiterating the strong current of their imaginative powers, from Kahlil Joseph's mesmerizing (and materially ingenious) triple-sided cinema of an all-Black rodeo town to Noah Davis's painting of a formidable group of women at a casting call (which one art historian told me is the best take he's seen on Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon).
It just so happened that Beyoncé's wildly popular and critically acclaimed video album Lemonade was released during the run of Young Blood—with Joseph's name listed as the surprise leading codirector. I hope that helped direct people to the Frye.
Davis died of cancer while this exhibition was under way, making the show a special kind of homecoming. It included, for instance, a memorial garden that was a version of a real garden that Davis created in Los Angeles. He called it the Purple Garden, because it contains many of the plants he grew up with in Seattle, where purple flora are so common.
On a handheld tablet mounted on a shelf in a hallway, 28 of Davis's last works were presented digitally across from others mounted physically on the opposite wall. In a film installation playing in another room, we see Davis working on these late in his life, when he needed to sit and to work small. They're collages that display a breathtaking mix of gravitas and joy, mixing cut-out photographs of cultivated gardens, architecture, and film with drawings by a child, text written by hand, and storms of rich, painted color. It was an honor to get to see all of it.
Martha Rosler at the New Foundation
Martha Rosler's show shouldn't be remembered only for what took place around it: The New Foundation shutting down its gallery and cutting off half of Rosler's year of planned exhibitions (through no fault of Rosler's). No—Rosler's exhibition in Seattle, revisiting a three-part exhibition she created in 1989 in New York, was a heavy-lifting archive concerning real estate in gentrifying cities, which couldn't be more relevant to Seattle now. Its info graphics and news clippings inched toward despair, but there were also examples of activism, resistance, and shit-kicking (as Rosler likes to call it). The show led, too, to events like an important program at the public library broadcasting the voices of people living outdoors in a houseless encampment that the mayor has threatened to dismantle any day now.
Conversation Threads About Maggie Carson Romano's Well at Glass Box Gallery and James Coupe's General Intellect at Aktionsart Amazon Art Gallery
Maggie Carson Romano and James Coupe are very different: Her work is poetic and physical; his is systematic and digital. Well is her photographic, written, and sculptural response to a personal traumatic injury. General Intellect is his video database made by hired workers for Amazon's Mechanical Turk micro-labor market. Both inspired great (separate) debates online, about representations of visible pain versus hidden trauma, about the food chain of global corporate exploitation and art's place in it, and about living inside gendered and racialized bodies.
Black Art Mattering in Seattle
LA artist Brenna Youngblood's enigmatic, Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize–winning paintings appeared at Seattle Art Museum, as did a big old show of Kehinde Wiley's copies of Old Master paintings with Black figures swapped in (which inspired debate in events about race, power, imagery, and whether there's actually anything radical about Wiley's act). Also at SAM: Seattle musical artist Tendai Maraire's Zimbabwean video, fashion, and graphic design. Steffani Jemison brought quiet, forceful text, abstraction, video, and performance to the Jake at the University of Washington, and Tariqa Waters brought this Northern city to her Southern family table at the Northwest African American Museum.
And then there was Young Blood (see above).
Mound of Butter by Antoine Vollon in Intimate Impressionism at Seattle Art Museum
A 130-year-old French oil painting of a greasy slab of butter stabbed with a knife and set next to two scrotal eggs will always stand out for its basic, perfect, generous, disgusting, hilarious humanity.
Genius / 21 Century / Seattle at the Frye
See my other list in this week's art section.
By Angela Garbes
Spicy Pork Sausages at Vientiane Asian Grocery
Vientiane is a small Laotian supermarket/restaurant in Rainier Valley. Its front windows are lined with delectable photos of Laotian food, a visual menu of dishes such as duck larb and papaya salad, which you eat on orange chairs beneath the store's bright fluorescent lights. The sausages, served with sticky rice, are brawny and thick—moist and succulent pork, gritty and redolent of lemongrass, with lots of cilantro and red chili. Eat them with bare fingers, dunked into a pungent dipping sauce made with fish sauce and fresh chilies.
Mackerel and Herring at Sushi Kashiba
During an unforgettable, hours-long omakase meal in February, master sushi chef Shiro Kashiba prepared a quartet of oily, flavorful fishes. Spanish mackerel was soft and mild, and the Norwegian mackerel was sturdy and pungent. King mackerel was lightly smoked, imbuing it with a dark, smoldering flavor. And a thin filet of Alaskan herring was pickled, giving it a beautiful vinegary tang. It was just one course of many, served by Shiro-san himself, along with a generous helping of his benevolent expertise and humor.
Bateau Burger at Bateau
The Bateau burger, which tastes dark and intensely beefy, is made from grass-fed beef that's dry-aged in house. The patty, cooked on a scorchingly hot plancha, has a crackly crust on each side—a stark contrast to the buttery, rare beef in its center. The airy semolina bun, baked in-house by pastry chef Clare Gordon and slathered with onion jam and garlicky aioli (oh, and toasted with hot beef fat), is a crucial component, lending every bite a gritty crunch that enhances the eating experience.
Salads at Peloton Bicycle Shop and Cafe
Peloton chef and co-owner Mckenzie Hart isn't afraid of spices and seasoning, but she cooks with an understanding and restraint that amplifies the natural flavors of her ingredients. She's at her best building robust salads such as marinated wild tuna over spicy baby greens with a ginger-soy dressing and six-minute egg, or one made with spinach, English peas, raw asparagus, goat cheese, and mustard-seed vinaigrette. Hart's food is rooted in the Pacific Northwest and its seasons, but also the uninhibited, creative energy that defines Seattle at its best.
Fish Tacos at El Sirenito
Everything on the short menu at El Sirenito, the bar located next door to its beloved sibling Fonda La Catrina, is tasty. But the fish tacos—crackly battered rockfish nestled into soft house-made corn tortillas and piled high with pickled onions, fresh pico de gallo, buttery avocado, and spicy crema—are exceptional. They taste even better eaten on Sirenito's lovely back patio, alongside a tequila- or mescal-infused cocktail and a generous helping of the Seattle's fleeting sunshine.Check out some of the great food of 2016 that we failed to review here.
By Rich Smith and Sean Nelson
While the City Slept by Eli Sanders
In powerful and absorbing prose, Stranger staffer Eli Sanders tells the story of how Jennifer Hopper and Teresa Butz found each other and became partners while a man named Isaiah Kalebu repeatedly slipped through the cracks in the criminal-justice and mental-health-care systems. In expanding his Pulitzer Prize–winning story, he shows how our failure as voters to patch those cracks contributed to Kalebu's crimes against Hopper and Butz, and how Hopper found the strength to forgive Kalebu. Narrative journalism doesn't get much better than this. RS
Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann
This comic book expands the story of Megahex, Hanselmann's New York Times best-selling comic about a clinically depressed witch named Megg, her cat-boyfriend named Mogg, and their pointy-headed normie roomie named Owl. It's hilarious, goopy, shocking, and really fuckin' weird. Lots of comics get off on the goopy, hairy, druggy aesthetic, but Hanselmann uses it to explore the real desolation at the back of his characters' depravity. RS
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
A novel about inherited mental illness that centers on one of the most compelling literary characters I've come across in a long time. Michael: a Klonopin-popping white guy who is dedicated to African American studies and who exclusively loves black women but is desperate to keep the tools, as it were, of white supremacy and patriarchy out of the bedroom. You'll want to steal 44 sentences from this book, and 30 of them come from him. RS
Hardly War by Don Mee Choi
Like Theresa Cha's influential novel Dictee, Hardly War is a category-defying, auto-ethnographic, strongly anticolonial literary collage. Choi patches together her father's Korean and Vietnam War photography, her own prose poems and poem poems, postcards, untranslated Korean, theory from writers like Deleuze and Barthes, musical scores, and opera to create a challenging but powerful book. If you get a chance to see her read/sing from it. I recommend you take that chance. RS
Shrill by Lindy West
Lindy West's first book is an order of magnitude shift from the hilarious critical and political essays that have brought her to the main stage, because it coheres into a narrative about the development of her consciousness, voice, and talent. Essay memoirs are the form of the age, and MANY writers have discovered the caps-lock key, but Shrill is a singular achievement, equal parts analysis, confession, polemic, and performance. P.S. It's intensely funny. SNCheck out some of the great books of 2016 that we failed to review here.
By Rich Smith and Sean Nelson
In one of the greatest case-in-point moments in recent memory, drama publishers Samuel French tried to silence this play about women being silenced in theater by sending a cease-and-desist order on the night the play opened in Gay City's Calamus Auditorium. C&Ds from publisher DPS followed, as did a national conversation about copyright law and representation of women in theater. Now the show's creators, Courtney Meaker, Hatlo, and Erin Pike, are planning a national tour. So. RS
Riding on a Cloud
Back in January, I said you'd be talking about Rabih Mroué's play for hours after you see it. Months later, I'm still talking about it. At 17 years old, Yasser Mroué gets sniped while walking across the street in Beirut. The resulting brain damage turns him into a living embodiment of all the postmodern questions about the nature of performance and the limits of representation. This play refreshes those questions with absolutely zero prevention and 100 percent warmth. RS
Dana Michel's one-person show recalls a time when, according to press materials, Michel would "drape a yellow towel on her head to emulate the blond girls at school." The performance draws on a lot of comedic gestures—chiefly improv, clowning, durational jokes—and also cringe-inducing and sad tableaux full of racist imagery in order to present the struggle of a black woman trying to assert an individual self in a cultural swamp of black stereotypes. RS
Roméo et Juliette
Pacific Northwest Ballet produced Jean-Christophe Maillot's Frenchy version of Shakespeare's tale of woe, and it ruled for several reasons. (1) 2016 Stranger Genius Award nominee Noelani Pantastico's rambunctious performance of Juliette. (2) The ultra-cinematic slow-motion ballet street brawl. (3) The intricate articulation of the hands and faces of the dancers preserved the importance of tiny details that make Shakespeare's version of the story a masterpiece and not the simple "cautionary tale of romantic love" that everybody thinks it is. RS
Seattle Public Theater did a solid job of presenting this number from the young and talented San Francisco playwright Christopher Chen. A Mike Daisy–like scenario goes full-blown meta-theatrical, but in a meaningful way. Chen's ability to excavate cultural appropriation—a topic that elicits rage and dismissive eye-rolls from both ends of the political-correctness spectrum—for belly laughs and earnest inquiry is particularly laudable. RS
Bayanihan: A Collection of Physical Tales
This piece by Au Collective won my personal best in show trophy at this year's Northwest New Works. The show's five parts featured mythic stories scored to music you sing along with/dance to in your bedroom (e.g., Beyoncé, James Blake, Kanye.) At one point, the ensemble became a human stream and somehow also the fish in that stream while Radiohead's "Motion Picture Soundtrack" played. It felt fresh. RS
Roger Guenveur Smith's solo performance about the most famous victim of police brutality in American history (which is saying something) was breathtaking, balletic, and belligerent. It's the kind of theater that leaves you shattered and invigorated all at once. Every arts organization in town is trying to figure out how to meaningfully address #blacklivesmatter. They should have gone to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and found out. SNCheck out some of the great performances of 2016 that we failed to review here.