Tag Archives: Art and nature

Sinews, saguaro and starlight

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The sun was just beginning to set as I arrived for Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal of “Topia,” a world-premiere by Ib Andersen being performed by Ballet Arizona through May 26 at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. After strolling a path lined with luminaria and topiaries, I arrived at the site of the 80 foot stage, set in front of the lush desert landscape that’s an intregral part of the production.

I plopped down at one of the bistro tables closest to the stage and watched final preparations like meticulously mopping a thin layer of desert dust from the stage. The rehearsal got underway just as strips of pink laced through a blue horizon transformed into a smoky gray sky layered with billowing clouds — creating a beautiful backdrop for the women’s creamy costumes and the men’s toned torsos, which mirrored the strong lines of two saguaro cactus towering over the stage.

As male dancers opened the performance, clad only in dance shorts matching the tones of their flesh, I felt a new appreciation for man as machine. These dancers have muscles that’ll give a swift kick to naysayers who think ballet is for sissies. Their athleticism is astounding, and they have the artistry to match. A machine without a muse is merely a lonely vessel, but Ballet Arizona marries them well.

The symphony of sinew feels transformed as female dancers enter the stage with poise and precision. “Topia” features every dancer in the company, in various couplings and combinations. Often Andersen’s choreography seems intended to frame or play off various elements of the desert surroundings. During one dance solo, a dainty white moth flit about for a spell before alighting near the front of the stage, perhaps relenting to its more graceful counterpart.

The work has five movements, and runs an hour or so in length. It features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 — also called “The Pastoral.” Costume design is by Ib Andersen and Tenor Texidor, and scenery design is by Ib Andersen and Wrara Pleslow. Lighting design is by Michael Korsch.

Doors open at 5:30pm for folks who want to enjoy a bit of al fresco dining before tasting “Topia” for the first time. Choose a table seat closer to the stage if marveling at the majesty of individual dancers is your thing. Sit in rows of general seating if you’re more into appreciating the overall artistry of the thing.

“Topia” is a sort of master class in coupling visual and performance art. The lone prop is a large strip of white fabric a tad taller than the eight dancers who seem to manipulate it from behind by grasping a cord that runs through the center of the frame formed by 15 triangles. It’s a stand alone work of art, but also serves as backdrop for dances by three male/female duos — and the canvas for creations painted with movement and light.

Saguaro in bloom, and surrounding desert plants growing behind the stage, make for a stunning natural set piece. They soak up the lights that illuminate them like water, reflecting the colors beamed from five towers on each side of the stage — looking like plump mangos shaded with green, yellow and orange. Watching the landscape awash in color called to mind lava lamps, scoops of rainbow sherbet, Moses’ burning bush and all those cactus suckers sold to Arizona tourists.

When the rehearsal ended, dancers took a ten minute break before gathering for notes from Andersen and several run-throughs of various sections of the dance. With each correction, Andersen seemed to be finely pruning a topiary already beautifully crafted but needing just that extra little bit of attention to round out a stray leaf or two. They quit work for the evening at around 10:30pm.

“Topia” opens this evening, May 2, with the first of 17 performances. There’s a special Mother’s Day performance on Sun, May 13 featuring a sweet treat and flower for each mom who attends. They’ll even have chocolates and truffles available for purchase. Click here to learn more about the show, seating/tickets and dining options. Then sit back and let someone else work in the garden for a change.

— Lynn

Note: Ticket holders who arrive early can watch Ballet Arizona dancers take a company class on stage from 6:15-7pm. Doors open at 5:30pm and folks who show their “Topia” ticket can tour the garden before the performance begins at 7:30pm.

Coming up: Art awakenings, Once upon a diary, More Mother’s Day offerings


Art meets Audubon

It's the perfect day to try a bit of bird-related art in honor of John James Audubon

John James Audubon, a naturalist and artist known best for his work with birds, was born April 26, 1785.

Hence today’s Google doodle with the beautiful bird theme.

If you’re feeling inspired to honor Audubon’s contributions to the worlds of art and science, consider making a bit of bird art with your children this week.

A few ideas…

  • Build a birdhouse — from scratch or using a kit.
  • Paint a bird at your local pottery painting joint.
  • Write poems about some of your favorite birds.
  • Take a walk to look for birds in your neighborhood.
  • Cut bird pictures out of old magazines, then use them to create a collage on canvas or poster board.
  • Use stencils to create whimsical bird designs along a wall in your child’s bedroom.
  • Plant a bird friendly plant in your garden.
  • Draw birds you see on exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo.
  • Look for birds in art exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum or Heard Museum.
  • Take a sketchpad and pens/pencils along to draw birds you see at the Desert Botanical Garden or Rio Solado Audubon Society.
  • Make bird designs by tracing your child’s spread out palm (a favorite with kids at Thanksgiving time).
  • Sew simple birds using felt and embroidery floss, then use them to create a hanging mobile.
  • Fold paper to make origami birds.
  • Use bird puppets or plush (like those from the Audubon Society or Folkmanis Puppets) to create puppet shows full of birds.
  • Read books about birds, then write your own bird stories.
  • Draw birds that start with thumbprints made using colorful ink pads.
  • Take photos of birds in your neighborhood or natural settings.
  • Observe different birds, then make up dances that mirror their movements.

If you’ve got an idea for a bird-related craft or activity, please comment below to let our readers know. Or send photos of some of your family’s bird-related artwork so I can add them to this post for others to enjoy.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Rio Salado Audubon Center in Phoenix — which offers summer camps for children, as well as other programs for children and adults. Learn more about John James Audubon from PBS and the National Gallery of Art — and the National Audubon Society.

Coming up: Memphis meets movie theater

Update: The Arboretum at Flagstaff will hold “Saturday Morning Birdwalks” led by bird experts from local chapters of the Audubon Society during May, June and July. Admission is free and all ages are welcome. Learn more at www.thearb.org.

Student art shows

I did a fair amount of painting as a child, mostly acrylic on canvas, though I suspect the work was appreciated more by my mother than anyone else I might have shared it with. As a teen, my hands turned from brush to pen (and pick) as I dabbled in poetry and songwriting.
As my children grew, I made sure art supplies were ever at hand — and that there were always spaces where making a mess was elevated from taboo to triumphant. They had easels, giant rolls of paper, canvas, sketch books, watercolors, charcoals, pastels and more.
For a time, the star attraction in Jennifer’s room was a large interior door painted like pink and white clouds. It sat atop two build-it-yourself bookshelves that served as storage space for arts and crafts supplies — and was lined along the back with an eclectic mix of boxes and cups holding more art materials.
She’d spend much of her free time there (when she wasn’t curled up reading or out exploring with her dear childhood friend Brenna) — making detailed ink drawings, gluing all sorts of things together, and more. It’s always been more about process than product for us.

Scottsdale Community College presents oil and acrylic works through April 21

Still, I relish opportunities to see the polished work of art students here in the Valley. Like those on exhibit this month at Scottsdale Community College and South Mountain Community College — which members of the public are free to enjoy at no cost during exhibit hours.  

The South Mountain Community College art department, and SMCC art students, present a “Student Art Show” April 18-21 (Mon-Thurs) in the Student Union at their Phoenix campus. Hours and additional details are available by calling 602-243-8382.
Scottsdale Community College presents its “12th Annual Spring Painting Exhibition” through April 21. It features “oil and acrylic paintings created by SCC artists under the direction of art professor Robert You.”
The SCC exhibition includes “the work of advanced artists of all ages who have come to SCC to exchange ideas and engage in critical discussion in a warm and friendly atmosphere.”
“Their colorful paintings,” reports the college, “portray a variety of subjects, featuring representational and non-representational styles.” SCC adds that “many of the artists are accomplished painters whose works hang in galleries and private collections around the world.”
The SCC exhibition, housed in the school’s art building (AB), is open Mon-Thurs 8am-9pm, Fri 8am-4pm and Sat 9am-3pm.
Why not get to know the art offerings of your own neighboring schools and colleges, as well as those noted above?
A morning of visiting art exhibits, coupled with a healthy picnic lunch and some apres-lunch hands-on time with art materials makes for a fun, affordable and creative way to spend warm Arizona days.
— Lynn
Note: Consider keeping a tote full of portable (and heat-resistant) art supplies on hand for times you want to head out the door to explore sites like the Desert Botanical Garden or the Rio Salado Audubon Center, where there are plenty of spaces to sit and enjoy drawing flowers, desert critters and more.
Coming up: SMOCA meets Metropolitan Arts Institute, Valley theater meets autism, Cinderella tales

It takes a village

Sometimes it take a village of 19 youth actors from around the Valley

Sometimes it takes a village — which is just what you’ll enjoy this weekend if you attend a performance by Curtain Call Youtheatre, the educational division of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company.

They’ll present “A Village of Idiots” — Sat, Dec 11 at 7pm, and Sun, Dec 12 at 2pm — at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College. The cast includes 19 young actors from around the Valley in a comedy based on “the tales of Chelm.”

But you needn’t wait until the weekend to enjoy Arizona arts and culture. The Arizona Humanities Council holds an “Authors’ Night/Fundraiser” Wed, Dec 8, at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center in Phoenix.

The event features nationally renowned authors Matthew Whitaker and Cynthia Hogue, as well as photographer Rebecca Ross, exploring “the journey of Hurrican Katrina evacuee’s grief and hope through stories, poems and photographs.”

See Joel Sartore at the MAC

“America’s Great Wildlife Migrations” featuring Joel Santore, “National Geographic” photographer, also takes place Wed, Dec 8 — at the Mesa Arts Center.

For the “12 to 21” set, the Phoenix Art Museum presents “Speak & Slam 2.0” Wed, Dec 8, at 6:30pm. It’s their second installation of “original poetry and recitation” — held in partnership with the national “Poetry Out Loud” recitation contest. Young poets can practice performing for a live audience or come to support the readings of other youth.

Take time this season to support aspiring performers

Chandler-Gilbert Community College invites community members to attend a free “Student Actors’ Showcase” Fri, Dec 10 at 7pm in room Agave 155. 

They’re also offering a free event Mon, Dec 13 at their Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center — a “Winter Sampler” featuring various vocal and musical ensembles. (Reservations at 480-732-7343 are required.)

The Phoenix Art Museum presents “PhxArtKid Day” Sun, Dec 12, for children ages 5-12 and their adult companions — which is free with museum admission. This “Gifts of the Season” event features exploration of art and the opportunity to create original art with a holday theme.

Adults and kids can attend the Phoenix Art Museum’s “Holiday Festival” Sun, Dec 12, from noon to 8pm — which features the 12:12pm unveiling of a new work of art. Other activities taking place at various times include a scavenger hunt, balloon dancing and more. Think strolling musicians. Adorable critters. And an ice igloo.

Make holiday cards at the Children's Museum of Phoenix

The Children’s Museum of Phoenix presents “Holiday Cards” Dec 7-12 in their art studio. It’s for children and adults who’d like to spend some time making artwork together — and it’s just one of many family-friendly activities and events they offer on a regular basis.

Exciting art projects can also be found at the Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa, which routinely offers times for children to create art while they’re at the museum to enjoy its many kid-friendly exhibits.

Young Arts of Arizona opened a new exhibit last Friday at their “Purple Space Gallery” in Phoenix. It features artwork by students at Phoenix Country Day School, who were inspired by an “Interpretations of Nature” theme.

If architecture is your thing, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art invites you to attend a free event on Sat, Dec 11. It’s the 11am-2pm “official public dedication” of the Soleri Bridge and Plaza. Related events (some with limited seating and/or an admission charge) are also scheduled — including a “VIP Tour of Cosanti,” a lecture/panel discussion and more.

"HAIR" has a tribe rather than village vibe

Broadway lovers can enjoy the touring production of  “HAIR” this week at ASU Gammage. If you like a bit of brunch with your Broadway, you can enjoy brunch on campus at the University Club before the Sun, Dec 12, matinee performance.

Dance aficionados have several options this week, including the “Breaking Ground 2010” dance and film festival presented by CONDER/dance Fri, Dec 10, at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Enjoy dance at Chandler-Gilbert Community College

Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents a “Student Dance Showcase” at 8pm Fri, Dec 10, and Sat, Dec 11, at their Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center in Chandler.

And those who donate cans of non-perishable food items to United Food Bank through a food drive at Kriti Dance in Chandler this weekend can enjoy a free trial class in Bollywood style dance Sun, Jan 9, 2011.

Finally, there’s the fine art of civic engagement — which you can practice this week at the State Capitol. Thurs, Dec 9, at 9am, the Arizona Capitol Museum will “celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Arizona Constitution with the opening of a new exhibit.”

It’s titled “We the People of Arizona….” At 2pm Governor Brewer and Secretary of State Ken Bennett will join others in commemorating the centennial of Arizona’s Constitutional Convention.

It really does take a village…

— Lynn

Note: Comprehensive daily listings of family-friendly events in the Valley of the Sun are always available online from Raising Arizona Kids magazine. Always call ahead to confirm event details — day/time, location, cost, age-appropriateness and such.

Coming up: A true Broadway baby

Photo credit: “HAIR” photo by Joan Marcus

The fine art of nature

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature,” admonished architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “It will never fail you.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest architects, lived from 1867 to 1959—spending his last two decades at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, which now houses the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.

Artists and philosophers (sometimes one and the same) have long recognized the link between nature and art. “Art,” noted Aristotle, “takes nature as its model.”

I’ll share a few more quotes on the subject of art and nature at the end of this post, but first I’d like to tell you about several opportunities to traverse that bridge between art and nature for yourself.

The Phoenix Zoo offers “Wild Art Classes” for “child/caregiver pairs” (recommended for children ages 2 to 5). Classes take place on specified Saturday mornings from 9:30-10:30am, with Zoo members enjoying discounted class fees.

The first “Wild Art” class for 2010 takes place Jan. 23rd, and features a “mask making theme.” The Feb. 20th class features “heart felt cards” (never fear that this follows Valentine’s Day—just save those cards for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or a grandparent’s birthday).

Additional dates are listed with “family programs” on the Phoenix Zoo website. Class sizes are limited so call early for reservations (602-914-4333). Classes are taught by Emily Holgate, a longtime Phoenix Zoo employee and art teacher for the Higley Unified Schools.

The Desert Botanical Garden, in partnership with Arizona Highways, will soon debut “an exciting new lecture series bringing the wonders of Arizona to life.” The “Arizona Explorers” series kicks off Monday, Jan. 25th, from 6:30-8:30pm with “Storm Chasing with Photographer Warren Faidley.” For information and/or tickets, visit the garden’s website (members enjoy reduced ticket prices).

Our son, Christopher, would have loved hearing this professional storm chaser recount tales of monsoons, hurricanes, and twisters when he was younger, and might still be excited to attend now that he’s in college. I suspect the storm safety and severe weather photography tips might be his favorite part of the lecture.

I love these types of things—which present such wonderful opportunities to build bridges between school and home learning. If your child’s curriculum this year has (or will) include weather phenomena, consider enlarging the experience by attending this event together. (I can imagine my kids coming home after this lecture to write their own creative weather stories.)

Mesa Arts Center has partnered with National Geographic Live to present the “National Geographic Live Arizona” speaker series. Paleontologist Paul Sereno, who has discovered more than two dozen new species of dinosaurs on five continents, will share “the thrilling everyday life of a dinosaur hunter” on Wednesday, Jan. 27th at 7:30pm.

Having done my time with ant farms at home and frog habitats in the classroom, I’m particularly excited about another National Geographic Live event coming to Mesa Arts Center. Ecologist and photographer Mark Moffett (described as “intrepid and eccentric”) presents “Army Ants and Flying Frogs” on Wed., March 17th at 7:30pm. Visit the Mesa Arts Center website for information and/or tickets to National Geographic Live performances.

The Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, Arizona presents a “Tom Boggan Photography Walk-A-Bout” on Sunday, Feb. 21st from 2-4pm—an opportunity to walk the garden, camera in hand, while enjoying tips from a professional photographer who’s happy to answer questions about all things camera and nature photography. Visit the arboretum’s website or call 520-689-2723 for information and/or tickets (members receive a discount).

If you’re eager to try doing nature crafts at home, check out a book titled “Nature Crafts for Kids” by Gwen Diehn and Terry Krautwurst. Just promise me you won’t rub it in when friends in Chicago or family in North Dakota call to ask what you’ve been up to this winter.

“Nature Crafts for Kids” features 50 projects using natural objects (and various craft supplies) and is most suitable for kids ages 9 to 12 (although I adapted the projects for use when my kids were just toddlers and preschoolers). We used to enjoy taking nature walks through the neighborhood to collect twigs, pine cones, leaves and more that we’d later transform into hanging mobiles, greeting cards, photo frames and more.

Need more inspiration to get out there and dirty your hands and open your mind?

Consider the following pearls about art and nature…

“Art,” said Pierre Bonnard, “will never be able to exist without nature.”

“Great art,” said Marc Chagall, “picks up where nature ends.”

“Art,” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “is the child of nature.”

Most importantly, perhaps, the marriage of art and nature (sometimes one in the same) matters precisely for the reason cited by Vincent van Gogh…

“If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere.”


Coming soon: Professional development opportunities for artists, Diverse storytellers take to Valley stages