6 things to do in Seattle

People’s Republic of Desire

In the chilling documentary ‘People’s Republic of Desire,’ live-streaming show hosts on a Chinese website compete to earn an income from wealthy patrons. Playing at Northwest Film Forum this weekend.

Merce Cunningham
Merce Cunningham in ‘Antic Meet’ from 1958. (Photo by Richard Rutledge)

MERCE 100: Seattle Artists Respond to Merce

There’s only one “Merce” — Centralia-born choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009). Next year marks the centennial of his birth, and Velocity Dance Center is getting a jump start with this festival dedicated to his trailblazing work. Things kick off with a free “Merce 100 Movie Night,” featuring excerpts from Cunningham’s 1966 dance film Variations 5 (at LoveCityLove, Dec. 13 at 4 p.m.), with live performances to follow at Velocity. The lineup, which reads like a who’s who of the Seattle dance scene, includes Spectrum Dance Theater director Donald Byrd (a former scholarship student at the Cunningham studio), Kate Wallich, Christiana Axelsen (a graduate of the Merce Cunningham Professional Training Program), Thomas House, Louis Gervais, Molly Sides and former Cunningham Company member Daniel Edward Roberts (who will perform with Dr. Victoria Watts, chair of dance at Cornish College of the Arts). Silas Riener, a star of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in its final phase, will be in town to conduct a workshop “for nondancers and dancers alike,” although he won’t be performing, alas. —M.U.

If you go: Velocity Dance Center, Dec. 14-16 at 7:30 p.m. ($15-$25).

People’s Republic of Desire

It might seem like a fictional story from the dystopian sci-fi Black Mirror television series, but this documentary from Chinese filmmaker Hao Wu is all too real. Equally captivating and troubling, it follows two popular live-streaming hosts on the Chinese website YY — Shen Man, a singer, and Big Li, a comedian — who earn a living by impressing and entertaining wealthy patrons who log on. More views and more hits mean a greater chance at stardom (and, of course, more money), an ecosystem that culminates in an annual contest to see who can earn the most dollars from patrons. The desperation of the hosts’ quest is palpable, as is the sharp divide between classes and the perilous intertwining of celebrity, loneliness, raw capitalism and hope for a better life. It’s not surprising People’s Republic of Desire won Best Documentary at SXSW, nor that the obsession with online celebrity has led humanity to this point. —B.D.

If you go: Northwest Film Forum, Dec. 14-16. ($7-$12)

Pat Wright and the Shades of Praise Gospel Choir

One of Seattle’s musical treasures, Pastor Pat Wright has been blessing the city with gospel sounds since 1973, when she founded the Total Experience Gospel Choir at Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Central District. After 45 years (and touring 22 countries), the choir announced its retirement in October, but Wright can’t seem to keep from singing. This month she graces Frye Art Museum’s Jazz in the City program, which calls attention to and celebrates the longstanding art institution’s proximity to Seattle’s historic jazz district. Wright will pair her sublime voice with the Shades of Praise Gospel Choir to regale listeners with holiday music. Hallelujah indeed. —B.D.

If you go: Frye Art Museum: Jazz in the City, December 16 from 2-4 p.m. (Free)

Acrobatic Conundrum: The Fig Tree Waltzes

Comedy, grace and remarkable derring-do combine in Acrobatic Conundrum’s The Fig Tree Waltzes to produce a “new circus”-style show of real magic. When it comes to acrobatic and aerial stunts, AC has always had the chops. But in Fig Tree Waltzes, the connective dance passages between the physical feats have become delectably polished, and the troupe’s theatrical flair is just as captivating. Terry Crane and Cooper Stanton, both bearded and shaven-headed, have fun with their doppelgänger resemblance, whether they’re mirroring each other’s moves or pitting their wills against each other. Melissa K. Knowles, who can fold herself into the most unlikely shapes and casually balance on a stack of two standing bodies, is a marvel. The sometimes spooky, sometimes carnivalesque musical score (Petteri Rajanti), inventive lighting (Bryce Bartl-Geller) and costuming (Xochitl Sosa, who also performs admirably) enhance the whole evening. This one is as much fun for kids as adults. —M.U.

If you go: Acrobatic Conundrum at 12th Avenue Arts through Dec. 21, times vary. ($15-$24)

Sarah McRae Morton’s “Heroes and Victors and Wild Ones”
‘Heroes and Victors and Wild Ones’ by Sarah McRae Morton (Photo courtesy of Foster/White Gallery)

Sarah McRae Morton: The Wandering Fireside

The oil-on-linen dream world of this American artist based in Germany takes increasingly extravagant turns, while her technical prowess grows ever more astonishing. Morton’s special gift is for giving spectral visions palpable life, even as they seem about to dissolve or twist into a mist or a whirlwind. She’s especially fond of surreal juxtapositions. “Heroes and Victors and Wild Ones” appears to take place in a cloudscape where, on the left, a turquoise grand piano (with a pig perched on its strings and dog peering from between its legs) falls through a void, while on the right, a nonchalant group of human spectators in antique apparel takes in a confetti explosion. The wildcard touches include an earnest young cellist (lower right) who’s ignoring everything happening behind him as he plays and a shepherd (upper left) who keeps his odd flock (two sheep, one lion) on leashes. There’s no way to pinpoint the meaning of this painting or to explain its power, although it does seem apt to note the influence that the later work of J.M.W. Turner has had on Morton’s distinctive style. Best just to enjoy the ride, as compositional verve trumps narrative logic. —M.U.

If you go: Foster/White Gallery through Dec. 23. (Free)

Fred Holcomb’s “Road Work”
Fred Holcomb’s ‘Road Work’ at Linda Hodges Gallery. (Courtesy of Linda Hodges Gallery)

Fred Holcomb: New Work

Seattle painter Fred Holcomb’s high-velocity encounters with the landscapes of the contemporary American West might be described as photorealism with a twist. The backgrounds of his oils on canvas may be impeccably crisp depictions of panoramic roadside vistas. But their closer details — trees, grass verges, guard rails, railroad tracks — are seen at outline-blurring speed, as if he were saying, “Here’s what you get at 80 miles an hour. Don’t blink or you might miss it.” The most striking painting in his new show is “Road Work,” in which two highway traffic barrels become orange-and-white smears in a streaky haze of gravel, weeds and asphalt. The same tension informs all of Holcomb’s work as he both evokes the sprawling landscapes and natural grandeur of the West, and acknowledges that most people’s experience of that splendor is fleeting at best. —M.U.

If you go: Linda Hodges Gallery through Dec. 29. (Free)


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About the Authors & Contributors

Michael Upchurch

Novelist Michael Upchurch (“Passive Intruder”) has written about books and the Seattle arts scene for the past 30 years.