When I bowed out of weekly arts reviewing after 25 years at the trough, I feared withdrawal might be difficult. How wrong I was! What bliss, night after night, to look at my calendar and see nothing more arduous penciled in for the evening than dinner with a friend or combing the cat. How soul-satisfying to be asked on an almost weekly basis, "Did you see that [concert/gallery opening/stage show]?" and to respond, "Nope!"
But there can be too little as well as too much of a good thing, and by the end of 1998, I was ready to return to the fray; but this time as a member of the audience, not a taste-tester.
And what do you know, it's more fun that way. Lots more fun—and more memorable, too. With the field cleared of compulsory consumption, both the high- and lowlights stand out more clearly. Herewith one arts maven's '99, more or less month by month, and hoping yours was at least as lively.
January: Anne Bogart brought her affectionate but clear-eyed stage portrait of legendary avant-garde director Robert Wilson, Bob, to On the Boards.
February: I'm cheating on this one a little, since I wrote a preview essay on the artist, but nothing in my research prepared me for the sheer eye- and mind-popping delight of experiencing the painting of Chuck Close literally face to face. Multiple visits to SAM only enriched his work's impact.
March: Already a little jaded by a series of fine concerts in Benaroya Hall, we were reminded of how much we have to be grateful for when Maris Janssons brought the Pittsburgh Symphony to town and peeled the barely dry paint off its walls with a crude, rackety, grandstanding rendition of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
April: A busy month. Cincinnati's Jesus Lopez-Cobos blew in to lead the home band in a glorious, idiomatic, luscious rendering of Manuel de Falla's ballet Three-Cornered Hat. The SSO players rose to the occasion, giving fresh life to the term world-class. The Paramount offered up Monsters of Grace, proving that Robert Wilson's own work is a lot more interesting to read about than to watch. And director Mark Lutwak and playwright Y York celebrated their departure for greener pastures with It Comes Around, a wickedly encoded satire on life and art in the Emerald City.
May: On the Boards' leadership succumbs to Mad Board Disease, firing artistic director Mark Murphy and, with 33 Fainting Spells' Dayna Hanson in the role of Mother Jones, mobilizing Seattle artists as never before to insist on his immediate reinstatement. After a few rounds of stonewalling, tale-bearing, and face-saving, the Board blinks.
June: With much fanfare and hoop-dee-doo, Mayor Schell's long-awaited plan for the arts is announced. With New Year's just ahead, we're still waiting for any concrete results.
July: Taking advantage of the dog days of summer, Seattle Center management and the Children's Museum make a stealth play to take over the Group Theater's old space. Thanks to newly feisty artists round town and City Council member Sue Donaldson, they don't get away with it.
August: Along with dozens of others, the Cascade/South Lake Union neighborhood issues a plan for the future balancing of development and livability issues. Mayor Schell takes credit.
September: With local public arts agencies as devoid of fresh ideas as the TV networks, Linda Farris' proposal of an art-buying co-op for budding collector/patrons stands out like the Space Needle.
October: The City Council passes an antikid, antinightlife, and probably illegal ordinance against "noise": Mayor Schell, friend of the young, says he's going to veto the bill but can't find his pen in time or something.
November: The new season at On the Boards opens with artistic director Mark Murphy back and smiling broadly, as well he might, with Anna Teresa de Keersmaker's astonishing Drumming (as performed by the Belgian company Rosas) kicking off the series he'd started to build before getting canned six months before.
December: The WTO, Seattle's big bid to be identified as a World Class City, makes headlines all right, but the wrong kind. Meanwhile, almost unnoticed, the German government closes both its local cultural office (the Goethe Institut) and its consulate. San Francisco will take over both functions. Mayor Schell accepts full responsibility. (Like hell he does.)
Happy new millennium.