Best Of 2017

Dana Hargrove shoots some of her work hanging at OMA

danahargrove.com

Dana Hargrove's Scottish roots transplanted quickly to Central Florida, but she still says "Orlgh-lannndo" with a delightful Edinburgh burr. Exhibiting around the country and recently back from an artist's residency in Iceland, Hargrove's crisply colored cairns were selected for this year's Florida Prize in Contemporary Art show at the Orlando Museum of Art. Ancient Scottish rockpiles inspire Hargrove's contemporary notions of urbanity, social ties and globalism, and that's not just clarty blether, laddie. (Read our interview with the artist here.)

Best performance art 
as group catharsis

wandaraimundi-ortiz.com

Back in March, UCF professor Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz stopped time and carved out a space to collectively mourn the ongoing loss of young people of color to bias crimes with her 90-minute endurance performance Pietà. Reflecting the maternal gesture of the work's sculptural namesake, Raimundi-Ortiz cradled 33 volunteer participants with infectious tenderness and vulnerability as DJ Stereo 77 queued quintessential R&B, Afrobeat, jazz and soul truncated by the sounds of sirens. Pews in the Knowles Memorial Chapel were filled with witnesses to the raw pain of grief and to the artist's resilience. Our hearts are full knowing that she went on to perform Pietà at the National Portrait Gallery just two months later. (See our article on Pietà here.)

Best New Theater Company

Theater on the Edge

5542 Hansel Ave.

407-334-1843

theaterontheedge.org

Central Florida has a surfeit of stages where you can see singing princesses, but if you want drama with a bit more bite, Theater on the Edge is quickly becoming Orlando's best bet. With visceral, edgy productions of American Buffalo, Tape and Superior Donuts under their belt, this outgrowth of artistic director Marco DiGeorge's Meisner-focused Truthful Acting Studios proves that there's Method to their madness.

Best Art Hair

Flora Maria Garcia

CEO, United Arts of Central Florida

unitedarts.cc

Just looking at her accomplishments, you might expect the head of United Arts, who's been in the job for five years now, to be a buttoned-down bore. After all, she's head of an organization that helps raise and divvies up $4.4 million to more than 70 local arts organizations each – that's some serious math. But you'd be dead wrong. Born in Havana, Garcia favors dresses in bright colors and patterns, statement jewelry, and sports a nifty blonde streak in her curly mane. Subverting the maxim, she's all party in the front, but it's all business behind that forehead.

Best New Public Art

WestArt District

1011 W. Central Blvd., westartdistrict.com

Layered with paint ranging from graffiti tags to huge, intensely colored murals, West Central Boulevard's collection of warehouses a block from Orlando City Stadium is where you'll find the WestArt District – just look for local artist Lemus' iconic portrait of Damian Marley. Hosting tailgate parties, a kids' sports camp, a garden and painting lessons, the space is already integral to its Parramore community, and it's still evolving thanks to promoter Harrison Rai. Miami's warehouse district, Wynwood, became that town's art zone a few years ago, and we think the WestArt District might be the seed of a similar hotspot here. (See our cover story on the WestArt District here.)

Best Upstaging of a Celebrity in 
His Own Theme Park Attraction

Ragtime Gals at Universal's Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ride

6000 Universal Blvd.

407-363-8000

universalorlando.com

As much fun as Universal Orlando can be, their parks' overreliance on 3-D screens can be fatiguing, which makes the a cappella pre-show entertainment before Jimmy Fallon's new ride especially refreshing. The Ragtime Gals perform barbershop-style renditions of pop and R&B hits that are so tunefully witty, you'll want to skip the so-so simulator entirely and stick around instead for another set of this quintet's clever covers.

Best "May I Swoop"

Dracula

Orlando Ballet

October 28-30, 2016

For a few days around Halloween, the Walt Disney Theater at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts was all about the season, hosting Orlando Ballet's over-the-top production of Dracula, as reimagined by choreographer Michael Pink with a gonzoid assist from Ken Russell. Anyone who assumed that the ballet medium would be too ethereal for the gory pulp noir of Bram Stoker got a stake driven through the heart of their preconceptions. The sets were spectacularly dank and gothic, the costumes were amazing, and the body movement was lithe and fluid, suited to the twilit dreamscape of the Dracula legend. The physicality of Daniel Benavides as Dracula was unbelievable – tossing around adversaries like puppets, creeping feral along the stage, seemingly dissolving into mist or shadow, seducing his victims. No tricks, all treat.

Renee Falconetti as Joan of Arc

Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc

Nov. 18-19, 2016

Knowles Memorial Chapel

bachfestivalflorida.org

Last November brought a once-in-a-lifetime live communal experience when composer Richard Einhorn supervised a live choral/orchestra rendition of his heart-rending score to Carl Dreyer's silent film classic. In the Knowles chapel's grandiosely gothic environs, massed voices and orchestral instrumentation accompanied impressionistic visuals. Lighting was minimal, but the atmosphere was breathtaking – and despite Einhorn's sweeping hymnal melancholy, it was the soul-grinding pain in the eyes of Renee Falconetti as Joan that hit the hardest. Sweetest hurt. (See our feature on Voices of Light here.)

Best Crying in a Theater, Part 2

One More Time With Feeling

Sept. 19, 2016

Enzian Theater

enzian.org

Music Mondays, which Enzian Theater produces in partnership with Park Ave CDs and WPRK, are an encouragement to resist the urge to simply watch music docs on (insert media platform of choice). In September, a near-capacity crowd packed into the Enzian on a Monday night to catch the second Nick Cave doc (a sequel of sorts to 20,000 Days on Earth), full well knowing that they were going to get raked over the coals emotionally. And did it ever come down heavy. Ostensibly a doc about the making of the Bad Seeds' latest album, Skeleton Tree, the film quickly became something very raw as Cave was a man emotionally gutted, trying to process the recent, shocking death of his young son. Seeing the normally debonair Cave with the wind knocked out of him was shocking; seeing his family and bandmates rally around him was heart-rending; paired with Skeleton Tree's haunting ballads, it was all almost too much. At the end of the film, everyone filed out quietly, shellshocked.

photo of Pat Evans by Anthony Barboza, from 'Posing Beauty'

AfroFantastic and The Black Figure in the European Imaginary

Cornell Museum of Fine Art, cfam.rollins.edu

Posing Beauty

Snap! Space and Snap! Downtown, snaporlando.com

Museum life in Orlando began 2017 with an unparalleled triple whammy against the status quo, inspiring a reappraisal of the white gaze and a centering of blackness. The historic documentation of Cornell Fine Arts Museum's The Black Figure in the European Imaginary, installed side-by-side with the modern and futuristic AfroFantastic: Black Imagination and Agency in the American Experience, as well as Snap! Orlando's trove of portraits Posing Beauty in African American Culture, drew a representational beeline from the lens of white perception to empowerment through self-portrayal, then fantastically on to magical ideals entirely independent of whiteness.