2018 Seattle Arts Highlights

Our arts writers reminisce about their favorite moments from the past year.


Porgy and Bess at McCaw Hall

Gershwin’s 1935 tale has never not been timely, still suggesting contemporary parallels with the way African Americans are treated by a white-run justice system and the way women are treated in a male-run society. But this summer’s Seattle Opera production went beyond the headlines to offer a production so emotionally personal, so full of lived reality, that it felt almost intrusive to watch it. GAVIN BORCHERT

Erin Jorgensen’s Bach and Pancakes

The year’s most charming chamber-music concerts were this Sunday-morning series, which Jorgensen repeated in a number of venues throughout the year, and which were exactly as advertised: Bach’s six cello suites played on the mellow marimba, followed by breakfast. (“Bach + percussion” and “classical music + brunch” are two combinations that warrant much more attention.) GB

Become Desert at Benaroya Hall

The follow-up to John Luther Adams’ Grammy- and Pulitzer-winning Become Ocean exceeded expectations when the Seattle Symphony premiered it in March, evoking light by placing instrumentalists and singers in various Benaroya Hall balconies and surrounding the listener with color, refracting, blending, and reblending as if the very air was shimmering and singing around you. GB

Reimagined Operas

It turns out that 2018 was a year for thoughtful and beautifully effective reimaginings of operas. The secret in Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s one-act comedy The Secret of Suzanne was originally smoking, but Operamuse replaced it with a hobby far more acceptable in this day and age—kinky sex—and staged it in Pioneer Square art-book emporium Mount Analogue. Seattle Opera enhanced Berlioz’s cruelly neglected comedy Beatrice and Benedict by adding a plot line from the Shakespeare play it was based on (Much Ado About Nothing) and choice bits of music from other Berlioz scores—and possibly thus restoring it to the repertory. The company also poetically rethought Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice as a same-sex romance during wartime. And the Core Ensemble pared down Don Giovanni’s score (ensembles retained, most every aria cut), but intriguingly double-cast every role with a singer and an actor in a modern-day workplace setting. GB

‘West Side Story Suite’ was part of PNB’s Jerome Robbins Festival. Photo by Angela Sterling

‘West Side Story Suite’ was part of PNB’s Jerome Robbins Festival. Photo by Angela Sterling


A Dance for Dark Horses at Velocity Dance Center

Kim Lusk is at the beginning of her dance-making career, and she is starting auspiciously. In A Dance For Dark Horses, her kinetic style continued to evolve in a work showcasing her remarkable performers. In turns mordant, lighthearted, and manic, the dancers literally galloped along on a wild ride. SANDRA KURTZ

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Jerome Robbins at McCaw Hall

PNB’s combination of performance, lecture, and open studio showings were all fantastic views into the work of this seminal choreographer, but their presentation of his Dances at a Gathering was especially fine. Robbins worked with the music of Chopin throughout his life, but this was a breakthrough work—one of many in his career. SK

Black Bois at On the Boards

“Fierce” is an overused term lately, but Dani Tirrell’s program at On the Boards last April earns the accolade. A beautiful and implacable exploration of black joy, Tirrell challenges the audience to just look at all it’s been missing. SK

The Missing Generation at Velocity Dance Center

Talk about a tear jerker. Sean Dorsey and his dance company spent dozens of hours interviewing queer elders who had survived the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. What materialized was a deeply moving modern dance piece honoring both those lost and those who survived. “We look back at you now,” the dancers said, a line that reverberated throughout the show. How are we commemorating and remembering our queer elders, or for some, our lost loved ones? BECS RICHARDS

‘Hamilton’ took the Seattle stage for the first time. Photo by Joan Marcus

‘Hamilton’ took the Seattle stage for the first time. Photo by Joan Marcus


Hamilton at The Paramount

There may be nothing in modern culture that garners as much seemingly hyperbolic hype as Hamilton, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s historical hip-hop musical somehow delivers. Led by a strong lead performance from Joseph Morales, the show’s Seattle premiere was a blast if you managed to get tickets allowing you entry into the room where it happened. SETH SOMMERFELD

Dragon Mama at 18th & Union

After seeing Dragon Mama, I personally told Sara Porkalob that I was honored to get to know her through her family’s story. I meant it. The most recent installment of the Dragon Cycle series (a trilogy of plays that follows three generations of Porkalob women) follows the story of Sara’s mom as she navigates queerness, debt, intergenerational trauma, and becoming a mother. The play was so smooth, it could easily become an acclaimed HBO series. BR

The Picture of Dorian Gray at Book-It Rep

Oscar Wilde’s decadent Victorian thriller worked its subtle poison into your bloodstream thanks to its three splendid principals: Chip Sherman, Jon Lutyens, and especially Brandon J. Simmons, effortlessly magnetic as Lord Henry Wotton, the devil on Dorian’s shoulder. GB

Intiman Emerging Artist Showcase at Cornish Playhouse Theatre

Born out of a need to highlight historically underrepresented artists, this years Emerging Artist Showcase did not disappoint. Standout performances from Neve Mazique-Bianco and Adrian Fragola Kljucec solidified this recurring series as an annual mandatory event to prioritize attending. BR

’Aisha’s Story 2’ from Maïmouna Guerresi’s ‘Aisha in Wonderland.’ Photo via Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

’Aisha’s Story 2’ from Maïmouna Guerresi’s ‘Aisha in Wonderland.’ Photo via Mariane Ibrahim Gallery


Maimouna Guerresi: Aisha in Wonderland at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired many visual artists to indulge in fancy. Maimouna Guerresi was not literal in her homage to the text in her series Aisha in Wonderland, but she captured its disorientation and uncertainty. Trompe l’oeils turned the mundane subtly surreal in photographs, and reverse time in a grainy video. Despite Guerresi’s characteristic austerity, there was always hope in the works, too. T.S. FLOCK

Martha Friedman: Castoffs at The Henry

Artist Martha Friedman’s body of work is quite literally that: an intimate, unsettling deconstruction and reconstruction of the body of Silas Riener, a dancer/choreographer and close associate of Friedman. For Castoffs, cement casts of his body were skewered with spikes, bleeding rubber, and yet never morbid. Rather, the body was reimagined in unforgettable ways. TSF

The 2018 Neddy Artists Showcase at Cornish Playhouse

No one should envy the judges of the Neddy Awards for having to select among the fantastic finalists this year, especially after seeing the fantastic showcase of works from all the finalists at the Cornish Playhouse. In addition to the great art, the artist interviews that played on a loop were illuminating, thoughtful, and articulate. Usually, artists should let the works speak for themselves, but this was a wonderful exception. TSF

Japanese Breakfast at the 2018 Sasquatch! Music Festival. Photo by Brady Harvey

Japanese Breakfast at the 2018 Sasquatch! Music Festival. Photo by Brady Harvey


Japanese Breakfast at Sasquatch! Festival

While we didn’t know at the time this year would be the last installment of Sasquatch! Music Festival at The Gorge, the scene for Japanese Breakfast’s Sunday set provided a beautiful final memory. In a moment of divine timing, Michelle Zauner’s indie pop band happened to be the only act playing for a brief window of time, drawing a jawdroppingly huge crowd to the tiny Yeti stage. Watching the throng of wanderers getting hooked by Japanese Breakfast’s catchy tunes and infectious buoyant energy was exactly the kind of magical communal moment you hope for when attending a music festival. SS

Boygenius at The Moore

If there’s such thing as overdosing on emotional songwriting, then everyone who attended November’s Boygenius show at The Moore is dead (zombies!). The trio of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus all played extended sets of their own acclaimed material: Dacus providing a soulful touch, Bridgers serving as the rocking heartbreaker, and Baker delivering solitary cries of crushing hurt to the heavens. The encore brought all three women to the stage to perform all the excellent tunes by their supergroup Boygenius (plus a Dixie Chicks cover), a fitting cap to a serene night. The show was a marathon of feelings that could’ve gone on for days without anyone moving from their seats. SS

SPF 30 at Alki Beach

Sub Pop has been the bedrock of Seattle’s musical sound for three decades now, and to celebrate they threw a free party at Alki Beach. Sure, things got overcrowded and a bit unwieldy by the time that Beach House and Father John Misty took the stage for the day’s final sets, but the avalanche of noise from the labels artists—from Mudhoney and Fastbacks to Bully and Clipping.—proved that Sub Pop is still as revelant as ever. SS

Lorde at KeyArena

As someone who was early on the Lorde bandwagon, it’s been a joy to follow her ascent to superstardom. Her headlining gig at KeyArena (following a banging opening set from Run the Jewels) was the most transcendent moment of pop bliss all year. While the rotating glass box was an impressive showpiece, it’s the unparalleled personableness that she’s able to convey even on an arena stage that sets her apart from the pack. Even when thousands of people are singing along, part of it still feels like a personal living room show courtesy of your pal, Ella. SS

Warren Dunes and BEARAXE at The Crocodile

In November, these two bands graced the stage on a single bill. Shaina Shepherd from BEARAXE tore the roof off with screeching vocals and electric fills. Then the melodic Warren Dunes, featuring front woman Julia Massey (who plays two keyboards at the same time), put it all back together with thoughtful storytelling lyrics and warm musical tones. JACOB UITTI

Dave Matthews at Columbia City Theater

The prolific and wildly successful songwriter appeared in a secret show at the Columbia City Theater in September to an eager crowd of about 300. Playing solo for a Spotify event, Matthews told jokes and stories between performing older hits and new jams. Grandiosity is good — and Matthews is known for his giant shows — but so is intimacy. For one night, he offered that to a few hundred of his most adoring. JU

Young-Chhaylee and Craig Furnivall at Columbia City Theater

I didn’t expect it, but when local singer-songwriters Young-Chhaylee and Furnivall joined each other for a hushed acoustic performance — two, maybe three songs — blew me away. Hearing their harmonies blend as I stood in the back of the room made me feel like I was in one of those often talked about nights a decade ago when the founding members of The Head and the Heart sang together for the first time. JU

Raise a trophy for your WNBA champs. Photo via Seattle Storm Facebook

Raise a trophy for your WNBA champs. Photo via Seattle Storm Facebook


The Seattle Storm’s Championship Season

The Seattle Storm basically ran roughshod over the WNBA this season on the road to the franchise’s third title. Breanna Stewart’s breakout MVP year was a thing of unrelenting and unassuming dominance (a la Tim Duncan), but it was the ageless wonder Sue Bird who came though with the squad’s signature moment—dropping a blistering 14 points in the 4th quarter of the decisive Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. Stop bemoaning the Supersonics and appreciate the unbelievable team you have, Seattle sports fans. SS

Progress Wrestling at Washington Hall

Seattle has become a hotbed for indie wrestling, and the August visit by British promotion Progress Wrestling served as one of the high points. Seeing WWE stars like Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate packed in a small venue with top indie sensations like Walter and Bandido was a blast, but the match pitting Chris Brookes and Jonathan Gresham against David Starr and Jack Sexsmith stole the show and was one of the best tag matches of the year across any promotion. SS

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) stays glued to her screens in ‘Eighth Grade.’ Photo by Linda Kallerus/A24

Kayla (Elsie Fisher) stays glued to her screens in ‘Eighth Grade.’ Photo by Linda Kallerus/A24


Eighth Grade at SIFF

It’s always a magical realization when you’re at a film festival and realize you’re getting to see something that’s a lock to become a thing. That was the case when Eighth Grade screened at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival. The way the writer/director Bo Burnham captured the awkwardness of modern adolescence through Elsie Fisher’s mesmerizing performance as the socially struggling middle schooler Kayla was so undeniably authentic. The parade of awards nominations the two have since received was only a (well-deserved) formality for the creators of the year’s best film. SS