ArtSEA: Seattle arts venues are putting on a good face

Plus, ideas for an artful Mother’s Day weekend, from plants to printed matter.

image of a group of dancers on stage wearing sparkly hoods

‘Les Nuits Barbares (The Barbarian Nights),’ by French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi. (Meany Center for the Performing Arts)

If you’ve spent any time checking out the red carpet looks from the Met Gala this past weekend, you know the high-fashion museum fundraiser was aglow with sparkles and aflutter with curious headpieces. (I especially enjoyed the large bouquet hat plopped on Zendaya’s head, and hope to see people following her lead at Pike Place Market flower stalls this summer.)

The avant-garde toppers were a coincidental precursor to the bedazzling headpieces featured in Les Nuits Barbares (The Barbarian Nights), coming up at Meany Center for the Performing Arts (May 10-12). Created by French-Algerian choreographer Hervé Koubi, the performance combines contemporary and street dance with movement found in Mediterranean traditions and the Afro-Brazilian art of capoeira. 

The result is an astonishing display of athleticism, as the all-male company of West African and Algerian dancers faux-fight and take flight. (Catch a captivating sneak peek here.)

With faces at times fully obscured by the spellbinding, glimmering masks, the dancers employ canes, blades, muscle and emotion to embody Koubi’s question surrounding Mediterranean history: Who were the real “barbarians”?

If a dance performance sounds like the perfect way to celebrate Mother’s Day — plus a chance to affix flowers to your head — Seattle company Whim W’Him is right on time with a new show. Spring ’24 (May 10-18 at Cornish Playhouse; May 15 at Vashon Center for the Arts) is a mixed bill featuring three contemporary pieces from a global mix of acclaimed dance minds.

Watch for world premieres by Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano (of Luna Negra Dance Theater); London-born, Switzerland-based choreographer Ihsan Rustem (of Cie. La Ronde); and the revival of “Silent Scream” by Seattle’s own Belgian-born Olivier Wevers — who founded Whim W’Him 15 years ago and has been bringing international dance voices into the local mix ever since.

Left: “I AM,” by Jeremy G. Bell (ArtX Contemporary). Right: “Medicine Man Mask,” by Robin Rorick at Stonington Gallery (Brangien Davis/Cascade PBS).

After being mesmerized by the dancers’ masks in The Barbarian Nights, I realized I’ve been seeing a lot of altered and unusual faces around town.

You’ll find the most faces in one place at Mini Mart City Park in Georgetown, in the show Face Off (through May 19). For this group show, more than 50 emerging and established artists contributed creative takes on the portrait. Lock eyes with work by Preston Wadley, Roger Shimomura, Morgan Peterson, Margie Livingston, Brandon Vosika, Syd Bee and many others.

Stonington Gallery — always a source of captivating masks by contemporary Native artists — has several stunners on view in Pioneer Square. Some transform the wearer’s face into animals of legend (wolves and ravens by various artists, plus a man/beaver hybrid with big buck teeth by Kwagiulth carver Stan Hunt). But I was particularly taken with a “Medicine Man Mask” by Haida artist Robin Rorick. His carved yellow cedar face topped with cedar bark “hair” is not only unbelievably smooth, it also features cheekbones precisely positioned with the round swirls of the tree’s rings. 

Also in Pioneer Square, Seattle painter Jeremy G. Bell presents Cosmic Tapestry at ArtX Contemporary (through June 22), featuring his portraits of Black faces partially obscured by electric splashes of color that come across as thoughts and dreams.

Left: “Up Against It,” by Robert Arneson (Studio e Gallery). Right: “FFS,” by Ben Ashton (Roq La Rue Gallery).

For Seattle’s Got the Blues at the Home Team Gallery in Occidental Square (through May 31), Seattle artist Baso Fibonacci has covered the back wall with 200 small works painted on found fentanyl foils. Crafting a unique skull on every crumpled foil — death masks of sorts, representing each fentanyl death in downtown Seattle last year — he hopes to draw attention to the ongoing drug crisis. 

Another face that demands eye contact is part of Roq La Rue’s new group show Spectacle du Petite (through May 25). These miniature works at the Madison Valley gallery pack a big (and sometimes spooky) punch. That includes “FFS” by London artist Ben Ashton, known for creating hyper-realistic portraits with Regency Era flair — then sliding the subject’s face out of whack and into the uncanny valley.

Lastly, at Studio e in Georgetown, the group show Coastal Funk (through May 18) is an homage to Bay Area sculptor Robert Arneson (1930-1992). A pioneer of the 1960s-’70s era “Funk” movement, Arneson rejected the cold distance of abstract art and instead looked within, creating personal portraits in clay. Among works by several other artists is Arneson’s fantastic self-portrait “Up Against It,” in which his face looks smashed against glass.

“Thelma,” starring June Squibb and Fred Hechinger. (Seattle International Film Festival)

More things to do on Mother’s Day weekend

< The Seattle International Film Festival officially kicks off tonight (May 9) with the comedy Thelma, starring Oscar winner June Squibb as a 93-year-old grandmother hellbent on getting her money back from a phone scammer. The festival is showing 261 films over the next 11 days; read my picks for local flicks in last week’s newsletter.

< Pacific Bonsai Museum is celebrating its annual BonsaiFEST! (May 11-12), featuring a whole lotta artfully pruned trees in spring bloom. If you haven’t been to this outdoor ode to tiny trees set among tall evergreens, this is the perfect reason to go (bonus: great weather predicted!).

< If Mom prefers printed matter to plants, consider the Seattle Art Book Fair (at Washington Hall, May 11-12). This charming festival of more than 80 vendors celebrates handcrafted and small-press books, cards, screen prints and other paper gems.

< Here’s a novel combo: Seattle rock-and-roll band Thunderpussy is playing with the Seattle Symphony (May 10) to commemorate the band’s 10th anniversary and the release of a new album. Special musical guests and local dancers will take the stage amid guitar solos and string sections and plenty of high kicks.

Meanwhile, Black Arts Legacies: Season 3 continues with 10 stellar artists who’ve made a big impact on the Seattle arts scene, past and present. We’re revealing the names of these artists once a week through June. Missed this week’s reveal? It’s painter Moses Sun, whose abstract works dance with music and movement. 

Sign up for the Black Arts Legacies newsletter to be among the first to discover each new artist in this year’s cohort.

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