10 things to do in Seattle

Dancers performing on a stage

Pacific Northwest Ballet company dancers in Price Suddarth’s Signature. (Photo © Angela Sterling)

Pacific Northwest Ballet: Themes and Variations

What makes an individual unique? How does passion turn into treachery? And if Mikhail Baryshnikov said it was the most difficult ballet he’d ever danced, how well can anyone else expect to fare? Such are the questions, themes and variations addressed in this mixed bill, the final of PNB’s 2018-2019 season. The first meditation underlies Signature, the fast-paced ballet choreographed by PNB soloist Price Suddarth in 2015. The second comes into play in The Moor’s Pavane (1949), José Limón’s beloved take on Othello, in which the weight of gravity is as tangible as the weight of human tragedy. The last refers to Balanchine’s highly complicated Theme and Variation (1947), which, while daunting for dancers, is thoroughly thrilling for audiences. Also on the bill is Balanchine’s Tarantella (1964), based on an Italian folk dance, which in turn is based on the lore that doing this dance would expel a spider’s venom (or at least squash the bug via the multitude of quick little steps). No big questions raised in this one, other than how do those tambourines aid in the healing process? –B.D.

If you go: Pacific Northwest Ballet, May 31- June 9. ($37-$189)

Ballard Jazz Festival

This four-day long musical summit should be bigger than ever, with a local jazz walk, a bevy of Seattle-based and nationally known artists, and two additional performance sites: the beautiful new Nordic Museum and the Conor Byrne Pub. Singers Gail Pettis, Johnaye Kendrick and Jacqueline Tabor are featured, as are sax man Ernie Watts, guitarist Lage Lund and trumpeter Nathan Breedlove, among many more. Pray for sunshine for the evening of Saturday, June 1: a jazz walk pass gets you in at more than 10 bars and other music venues on the route. –M.B.

If you go: Ballard Jazz Festival, May 30 - June 1, times prices and venues vary.

Peter Gronquist's work in his Portland studio
New work by Peter Gronquist in his Oregon studio. (Photo courtesy of Winston Wachter)

Peter Gronquist: Searcher

Portland-based visual artist Peter Gronquist is perhaps best known for his perfectly square pieces made of layered glass that work as optical illusions — the rows of objects (flowers, toy airplanes) encased within appear to repeat ad infinitim. But Gronquist is an explorer of many media, and his new show, Searcher, reflects the expanse of his interests. The play of light and color is a consistent theme, as in an intriguing new series of large-scale plexiglass planes in acrylic sunset hues interrupted by a slash of custom-programmed LEDs. The artificial line of light jolts the field of color — as if one of Dan Flavin’s light tubes were laid atop a Mark Rothko painting. It appears as if one could put their fingers into the crack, peel open the canvas and crawl through. Paired with similarly glowing paintings that are LED-free, the work reminds the viewer of how a skilled artist has the almighty power to manipulate light and vision. Also on view are works from his Visual History of the Invisible series, in which he captures fabric installations in flight, like sheets billowing on a laundry line, and recreates them in resin and silver oxide. –B.D. 

If you go: Winston Wachter, May 31 (artist in attendance at opening reception, 5-8 p.m.) - Aug. 3. (Free)

HONK! Fest West

Filthy FemCorps
Seattle’s Filthy FemCorps will do their bold and brassy thing throughout this year’s HONK! Fest West. (Photo by Charles Daniels, Malixe Photo)

The Fremont Solstice Parade (June 22 this year) gets all the hype for being Seattle’s best summer-starting bacchanalia. But HONK! Fest West gets the job done earlier — and with a lot more brass. Now in its 12th year, the three-day roving music festival features New Orleans-style brass bands, samba lines, marching bands and drum corps, most of which sport coordinated kooky costumes. The vibe is definitely “seize the day,” the implied message being that life is short, so why not dance madly in the streets to squawking trombones? The free festivities start in South Park on Friday night, move to White Center all day Saturday, and finish out in Columbia City on Sunday. The sound and energy is completely irresistible, so if you have other business in the area this weekend, pack in plenty of time for delighted distraction. –B.D.

If you go: HONK! Fest West, May 31 - June 2, times and venues vary. (Free)

West Side Story

The Jets are in gear, but are all their cylinders clicking? We’ll soon find out, as The 5th Avenue Theatre presents the incomparable gangsters-meet-Romeo-and-Juliet musical created by the Broadway dream team of director Jerome Robbins, composer Leonard Bernstein, lyricist Stephen Sondheim and writer Arthur Laurents. The 5th is reviving the star-crossed story of love and street war with the original Robbins choreography, an impressive cast of 44 (including movers from Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theater Company) and a great big orchestra in the pit. Bill Berry, who did a bang-up job with a staging of this classic a decade ago, directs. –M.B.

If you go: The 5th Avenue Theatre, May 31 - June 23. ($29-$129)

Naomi Wachira
Seattle singer Naomi Wachira is one of several paying tribute to iconic country music. (Photo by Bryan Tucker)

Great Women of Country Tribute Series: The Music of Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss

Seattle isn’t known for country-and-western music, but our alt-country and Americana music game is strong — take, for example, triple-Grammy winner Brandi Carlile, singer songwriter Star Anna, or beloved bands the Moondoggies, Maldives, Cave Singers or Country Lips. And respect for the masters of the genre is rampant, which is why The Royal Room’s new live music series makes a lot of sense. Once a month, all summer long, local singers will step into the dusty boots of country music icons for the Great Women of Country Tribute Series. It kicks off this month with the music of Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss, sung by an exciting lineup that includes Kenya-born, Seattle-based folk singer Naomi Wachira, soulful roots rocker Joy Mills and powerhouse vocalist Jen Ayers. Watch for upcoming shows that celebrate Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch — and bring a bit of yeehaw to Columbia City.–B.D.

If you go: The Royal Room, May 30, 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. ($12)

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Author Sharma Shields
Spokane-based writer Sharma Shields. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Sharma Shields: The Cassandra

Remember snowpocalypse? The February snowstorm canceled quite a few cool arts events, including a reading by Spokane-based novelist Sharma Shields (The Sasquatch Hunter). She gets a do-over this weekend, when she reads from her new book of historical fiction, The Cassandra, based on the early days of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. It's told from the viewpoint of Mildred Groves, who leaves her mother's home in Omak, Washington, for a plum secretarial job at Hanford in the 1940s — and becomes one of the women “pitching in” for the war. But as the title implies, Groves is blessed and cursed with second sight. Shields uses her extensive research on the facility (which made plutonium for the bomb detonated over Nagasaki during World War II), and threads it with her character's hideous, prophetic visions of the destruction to come. Wildly imagined, it’s also a potent reminder of the human pull toward self-destruction. Also on the bill: Spokane writer (and Shields' husband) Simeon Mills, with his new book The Obsoletes, and Seattle writer Megan Kruse (Call Me Home). –B.D.

If you go: Elliott Bay Books, June 2 at 6 p.m. (Free)

Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival     

Every year a group of female dramatists is chosen to toil away at their scripts in the quietude of Hedgebrook, the pastoral literary retreat on Whidbey Island. Whatever state their new plays are in, they offer theater fans a taste of what they’ve been concocting in two informal showcases: one at the Whidbey Center of the Arts in Langley, which repeats the next evening at Seattle Repertory Theatre. Represented this year is a cluster of artistically and otherwise diverse scribes: Ruby Rae Spiegel; Lily Padilla; playwright and screenwriter Alexa Junge (Grace and FrankieWest Wing); Jessica Huang; former Seattle resident Karen Hartman, whose docudrama Good Faith: Four Chats about Race and the New Haven Fire Department debuted earlier this year; and Neyla Pekarek, formerly a member of the Denver folk-rock band, The Lumineers. –M.B.

If you go: Hedgebrook Women Playwrights Festival: Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, June 2 at 4 p.m., and Seattle Repertory Theatre, June 3 at 7 p.m. (Free

A still from the film As the Earth Turns
Barbara Berger (aunt of Knute "Mossback" Berger) stars in the newly discovered 1937 film, As the Earth Turns. (Image courtesy of SIFF)

SIFF: As the Earth Turns

The coolest sci-fi thriller screening at SIFF this weekend involves man-made climate change, futuristic technology and a world on the brink of war — and it was filmed in Seattle in 1937. Seattle playwright and filmmaker Richard Lyfer was only 20 when he wrote, starred in and directed As the Earth Turns, and though he went on to direct an Academy Award-winning documentary in 1950, this early work was never released. Some 80 years after its creation, the silent was discovered in Lyfer’s old house. Now it’s screening at SIFF with a new soundtrack by local composer Ed Hartman. Note the special effects — remarkably sophisticated for the era — and the location shoots, including Boeing Field and (then functioning) Gas Works Park. Plus: the plucky news reporter who stumbles upon the dangerous plot? That's Barbara Berger, aunt of Crosscut’s own Knute “Mossback” Berger. Now that’s Seattle cinema! –B.D.

If you go: SIFF Cinema Egyptian, June 1 at 2:30 p.m. ($12-$15)

Anthony White's Hot as Hell
Hot as Hell by Seattle artist Anthony White

Look How Far We’ve Come: A Queer Art Show 902 Feet in the Air

June is LGBTQ Pride month, with this year’s events commemorating 50 years since the Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village sparked the gay rights movement. A new show of work by queer Seattle artists is taking a bird's-eye view of the celebration — from the top of the Columbia Tower. Curated by Timothy Rysdyke (of The Factory), Look How Far We’ve Come: A Queer Art Show 902 Feet in the Air brings paintings, photographs and installations to the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor. Artists include Anthony White (plastic paintings of millennial excess), Markel Uriu (a murmuration of paper starlings), Clyde Petersen (a touring band replicated in cardboard), Coco Spadoni (cloudlike ceramic paintings) and Casey Curran (clever mechanical thingamajigs). Also starring: spectacular views of the city and the Puget Sound. –B.D.

If you go: Sky View Observatory, June 1- 30, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. ($20-$22) Free on first Thursday art walk, June 6, 6-9 p.m.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Misha Berson

Misha Berson

Misha Berson was the chief theatre critic for The Seattle Times for 25 years, now working as a freelance writer and teacher.