Best of Utah Arts 2016 | Artys | Salt Lake City Weekly
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Best Local Theater Production
The Count of Monte Cristo, Pioneer Theatre Co.

A theatrical production of this kind—a sweeping romantic drama with a historical component and big musical numbers—faces mountains of challenges. Can you create a staging that provides the necessary sense of epic consequence, while not overwhelming the performances and the emotion at the heart of the story? Director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge beautifully navigated those challenges in this U.S. premiere of the new Dumas adaptation, incorporating Michael Schweikardt's versatile scenic design into a tale of love, loss and vengeance. And it doesn't hurt when the performances of the songs can be alternately heartbreaking, subtly funny and genuinely stirring.


Best Original Play
Elaine Jarvik, Based on a True Story, Plan-B Theatre

Genre fiction has long been one of the best ways to construct allegories about the human condition, and Elaine Jarvik took a wild leap into time travel for her funky comedy-drama. Following the plight of a "time taxi" driver whose malfunctioning vehicle has left her stranded 30 years in the future from her own life, Based on a True Story explores coping mechanisms we all tend to use when confronted with loss, including telling ourselves (and others) stories that help ease the pain. Throw in a deft sense of humor that finds room for jokes with a local twist, and you've got a play that reaches across the fabric of space and time to help us understand ourselves.


Best Dance Production
The Nijinsky Revolution Ballet West

Each season, Ballet West takes a break from its regular lineup of fairytale ballets with a full two-week run of modern works. This past season, The Nijinsky Revolution focused on the early 20th-century dancer/choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890-1950), whose work, though not contemporary, has retained a sense of modernity that continues to inspire choreographers today. The evening of works presented three interpretations of Nijinsky ballets: Helen Pickett's Games, Jerome Robbins' Afternoon of a Faun and Nicolo Fonte's The Rite of Spring. The production reminded us that the best works of art remain potent, relevant and inspiring, despite the passing of time.

Best Individual Dancer
Lorin Hansen, Samba Fogo
Lorin Hansen discovered Brazilian samba in perhaps the most unlikely of places: her hometown of Salt Lake City. It was samba drumming that first piqued her interest, but being a born dancer, Hansen—who was at the time studying modern dance at the University of Utah—quickly gravitated toward the energetic dance form. Even after forming Samba Fogo, becoming the company's artistic director, and leading regular community dance classes and workshops, Hansen continues to perform. Whether in the classroom or on stage, Hansen's dancing is powerful. Each samba step, no matter how big or small, is an expression of her passion.

Best Dance Choreography
Daniel Charon, Together Alone Ririe-Woodbury Dance Co.
Daniel Charon—artistic director for Ririe-Woodbury Dance Co. and sometime choreographer—has a lot to say about the current state of humanity, and he's able to say it with very few words. None, actually. Together Alone, Charon's two-part work which might someday become a trilogy, contemplates our modern inability to connect emotionally with those around us, and the ironic experience of feeling isolated while being surrounded by people. Dark, even a little frightening, his work clearly points to our technology addiction as one source of this problem, and challenges us to contemplate how we might be complicit in this modern dilemma.


Best Theater Performance
April Fossen, Stage Kiss Wasatch Theatre Co.
April Fossen is one of those names to get excited about when you see her listed in a local play's program. She nails every character she portrays—like another masterful turn this season in Blackberry Winter—but truly took command in Stage Kiss. As a mother and married actress, she tries to make her way back to the spotlight, only to get caught up in life imitating art when she plays opposite an old lover. While the character might not be as wholesome as she appears, Fossen makes her endearing, likeable and entertaining. It's something most actors strive for, and Fossen pulls it off with ease.

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Best Non-Fiction Book
The Three-Year Swim Club, by Julie Checkoway
Underdog sports stories become some of our most beloved cultural tales, so it's somewhat amazing that a story this remarkable remained hidden for so long. But Checkoway—recently relocated from SLC to Sacramento—gave it a terrific showcase as she unfolded the tale of Soichi Sakamoto, who somehow took a group of impoverished Japanese-American kids in 1930s Hawaii and prepared them to be world-class swimmers with a shot at the Olympics—this despite the fact that they had to practice in irrigation ditches, and that Sakamoto had no training as a swimmer himself. Through anti-Japanese xenophobia and canceled Olympic Games of the World War II years, the story becomes an exhilarating study of determination.

Best Fiction Book
Hour of the Bees, by Lindsay Eagar
In the desert of New Mexico, 12-year-old Carol travels with her family to help transition the grandfather she has never known from the family ranch into a care facility as he slips deeper into dementia. What could have been a simple story of family ties becomes something much deeper in Lindsay Eagar's richly emotional novel, incorporating elements of magical realism into Carol's journey toward a better understanding of her roots. The stark, isolated setting becomes a perfect backdrop for the family connections that can be re-established when separated from contemporary distractions, as Eagar combines the lyrical mystery of her flashbacks with a simple but utterly unique coming-of-age tale.

Best Touring Theater Production
Newsies, Broadway Across America-Utah
Newsies features some of the catchiest songs in a modern musical. So it's no surprise that the 1992 Disney movie was such a hit and is still pleasing audiences nearly 25 years later on stage. The Broadway Across America touring production performed all the songs you know and love—"Seize the Day" and "King of New York"—just without Christian Bale or Bill Pullman. It's light-hearted fun with an underlying message of fighting for what you believe is right, even if it's selling newspapers under the guise of child labor laws.


Best classical/opera performance or production
Aida, Utah Opera
Many of the classic works in the operatic canon would draw crowds even if a company put on merely a lackluster production. But Utah Opera put together a murderer's row of talent—including this year's Best of Utah Arts award-winner Daniel Charon for the choreography, and set designer Michael Yeargan—to capture Verdi's beloved romantic triangle involving an enslaved Ethiopian princess in Egypt. Jennifer Check, Katherine Goeldner and Marc Heller brought genuine power to the three central roles, providing the emotional core to match the beauty of the physical production.

Best Improv Comedy Troupe
Quick Wits Comedy
Cranking out improv comedy on a weekly basis for 22 years is no easy task—to which the performers behind Quick Wits can attest, as their ever-changing roster has been killing it since 1994. In that time, they've been continually producing PG-13-appropriate shows revolving completely around what the audience chooses, even if those suggestions seem crazy at the time. The troupe currently calls the Midvale Performing Arts Center their home, where they're still working hard to give fans of the genre a show that leaves audiences wondering how you can generate so much laughter without a script.

Best Poetry Book
Flight, by Katharine Coles
The University of Utah faculty member and one-time Utah state poet laureate has had such a remarkable career that it's easy to overlook the vital work she continues to create. Flight collects poems spanning a wide variety of subjects, from travels around the world to the poet's own pet dogs, finding essential observations in tight, punchy stanzas full of enjambment. Whether celebrating the natural beauty of a butterfly or a flower, or offering insight into the concept of pockets, Coles offers an intensity of focus that makes every word count.

Best Illustrated Book/Graphic Novel
The Princess in Black series, by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham
In 2015, the husband-and-wife team of Shannon and Dean Hale introduced readers to Princess Magnolia, who abandons her "ladylike" dresses when danger arises, and puts on a mask that allows her to be the one who saves the day, not just the one who gets saved. The series continued to charming effect in 2016 with The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party and The Princess in Black and the Hungry Bunny Horde, and the ongoing adventures are perfect tales to let little girls know that when a monster alarm rings, they're just as capable of being the ones to fight for the happily-ever-after ending.

Best Painting Exhibition
On the Border: Thailand and Myanmar Art Access Gallery
The perspectives on a place can vary greatly, depending on whether the observer is intimately familiar with the location, or an outsider. From March-April 2016, Art Access Gallery offered a fascinating mix of those perspectives in a group show featuring works depicting a troubled region of Southeast Asia by local artist Hadley Rampton and Myanmar-born refugee artists Maung Maung Tinn and Nyan Soe. Rampton's watercolors convey his impressions of visiting and working at a refugee camp for Karenni ethnic minorities on the Thai/Myanmar border, while the paintings by Tinn and Soe brought their own personal experience to show Utah audiences a struggle they likely never knew existed.

Best Graffiti Art/Public Art
Shae Petersen/SRIL
A street artist who made a name creating graffiti art in Utah before a recent move to Las Vegas, SRIL has left behind a body of intricate works that rivals some of the best artists currently sitting in galleries. His moniker—pronounced "surreal"—is a fitting tribute to the artist who inspired his works, Salvador Dalí, and it shines in the murals you can find all across Salt Lake City. He might not be tagging up every abandoned building or shipping container; instead, his amazing designs can be found in the most pristine of business locations, giving life to concrete walls that would have been ignored otherwise.

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Best Tattoo Artist
Sarah de Azevedo, Oni Tattoo
de Azevedo is no stranger to this category, having won it six times over the past decade for being one of SLC's most respected tattoo artists. Aside from being a badass in her field who can make any design pop on human skin, the fact that she's made herself a private artist by appointment only to an exclusive list of clients has made her one of the most sought-after tattoo artists in the state. If you happen to snag an appointment with her as she opens her new studio, Locust Tattoo, consider yourself one of the lucky few to be inked by a star.
265 E. 900 South, 801-870-9273,

Best Mixed Media/Sculpture/Interactive Exhibition
David Brothers: Rolithica, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art
In the digital world, stagecraft—actually building the backdrop against which cinematic action is set—seems like a dying art. David Brothers, an artistic polymath who plys multiple media, has worked as an artist and set designer for numerous local productions including Trent Harris' Plan Ten From Outer Space, and also creates his own artistic environments. The result at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art earlier this year was Rolithica, an art installation made up on tunnels and caverns built into the wall of the museum, as though inhabited by some kind of itinerant scavengers; a veritable imaginative excavation that was alternately disturbing and wondrous.


Best Photography Exhibition
Laurel Caryn: History of Photography, Alice Gallery
Photography—though initially thought to be a novel technology that would displace painting's role in depicting the world—in the grand design always seems to be looking back, perhaps because it appears to freeze time. Laurel Caryn, assistant professor at the University of Utah art department, has used archaic photographic techniques like cyanotype, and references to images by great photographers throughout history, along with silhouettes of viewers, to remind us that the history of photography is only rendered complete by us looking at photographs, which echoes the photographer looking at us.

Best Touring/Non-Local Art Exhibition
The British Passion for Landscape, Utah Museum of Fine Arts
There's no one like the British for taking on the grand sweep of history in their art, and the National Museum Wales' traveling exhibit The British Passion for Landscape was one of the most awe-inspiring and breathtaking shows the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah has ever mounted. As if it wasn't enough to be able to view works by Constable, Gainsborough and J.M.W. Turner—and even Monet capturing his travels to Britain—to have them placed in historical context from the 17th century to the postmodern, and be able to see how landscape beckons to us today, was nothing less than sublime.

Best Fashion Design
McQuiston Marié
With a pedigree of training from the Fashion Institute of Technology, and an eye for what women would like to wear that won't cost a pretty penny, Marié has managed to make a good career out of creating flashy designs that are simplistic at their core. Her work had graced dozens of runways, but she still calls Utah home, working to expand and support our local fashion scene into one that could compete with any major city. Keep an eye out for her new collections, which will debut at Utah Fashion Week 2017.

Best Local Instagram feed
Park City's Scott Filipiak is a photographer you might not know by name, but after working as a freelance photog for years and winning multiple awards, he has done more than enough to earn a reputation of being one of the finest photographers in the state. Recently, his work on Instagram has taken his skills to a new audience, as he shows off beautiful landscapes found all across Utah. The shots this man is able to get display stunning views of the best of what our state has to offer, while also showing how gifted he is behind the camera.


Best Stand-up Comedian
Alex Velluto
A staple of the Utah comedy scene for years, Velluto has been delighting audiences both on the local independent circuit and on the main stage of Wiseguys. The man takes self-deprecation to new levels by poking fun at everything from his own relationships (or lack thereof) to history (the Declaration of Independence as a "break-up text"). Once a week you can hear Velluto on the Happy Valley Podcast, where he talks film, comedy, TV and other pop-culture items with his friends, further pushing out comedy everywhere he can to the lonely souls who can laugh along with him about being alone.

Best Jewelry Design
Tif Blue, PeachTreats
It's a rarity these days for any jewelry designer to maintain popularity without the trends passing them by, but Tif Blue has made sure that PeachTreats stays ahead of the curve both in design and in materials. Developing extravagant designs that are works of art on their own, Blue is able to create fantastic pieces that don't require large gauges, while also working with a variety of materials that might work better for people who are allergic to metals. A constantly evolving product line continues to make people wonder if there's anything she can't create.

Best Short Film
B+A, by Connor Rickman
The formulas of romantic comedy are so deeply ingrained in our culture that it's always bracing when a work of art skewers them. Local playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett provided the delightfully caustic script for director Connor Rickman's tale of a married couple (Daniel Beecher and Melanie Nelson) who can't stop treating one another like garbage, but who might still be perfect for one another after eight years (or is it nine?). It might not be a pretty picture of what it takes for people to finally admit that they love one another, but it's certainly a funny one.

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Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw

Scott Renshaw has been a City Weekly staff member since 1999, including assuming the role of primary film critic in 2001 and Arts & Entertainment Editor in 2003. Scott has covered the Sundance Film Festival for 25 years, and provided coverage of local arts including theater, pop-culture conventions, comedy, literature,... more

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