Peak picks: Advice from Aspen’s art aficionados |

Peak picks: Advice from Aspen’s art aficionados

Paul Conrad Aspen Times Weekly

ASPEN Lyle Lovett. Clint Eastwood. Jim Hodges. The Wailers. Ajax Tavern. Galactic. John Denver. Stop me if youve heard this before.This winters arts calendar in Aspen seems designed for familiarity and reassurance the cultural equivalent of comfort food. The Belly Ups schedule is packed with a raft of relatively safe, surefire artists and a smattering of intriguing new things. That goes double at the Wheeler Opera House, where the season practically carries the theme of old, familiar faces. Aspen Films Academy Screenings series spotlights this eras most reliable year-in, year-out Oscar contender, Clint Eastwood, with not one, but two films. Carbondales Thunder River Theatre has a season built around the feel-good On Golden Pond, and Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf? an edgy, discomfiting drama at least it was, when it debuted in 1963. Even the news in the Aspen food world, the return of the Ajax Tavern, seems designed to put our minds (and stomachs) at ease in these queasy times.Which doesnt mean theres nothing good or fresh in our future. Lily Tomlins return to the Wheeler comes 23 years after she workshopped her hit show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, there. Belly Up has a promising new Colorado electronica/funk act, the Passage Project; Amanda Palmer, singer of the punk-cabaret band the Dresden Dolls; and the Denver-based, Eastern European-influenced Devotchka. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet brings in the New York company Lar Lubovitch who celebrate their 40th anniversary with their first national tour in 13 years, and their Aspen debut. And for the freshest faces, try the Aspen Writers Foundations Winter Words series, which features virtually all new talent.Weve called on local insiders to put their finger on what theyre looking forward to old or new, soothing or challenging this winter.

Milk (opening Dec. 5 nationally, and showing in Aspen Films Academy Screenings series): Sean Penn professes that acting is a demeaning profession. (Marlon Brando, his hero, did the same.) But Penn is, in my view, the best actor in America even laboring under such duress. Now he plays Harvey Milk, the openly gay San Francisco politician who was assassinated in 1977, by fellow city supervisor Dan White. Gus Van Sant directed and I like his pictures (My Own Private Idaho, To Die For) despite the fact that he makes them. Preview audiences have found the picture inspirational.Cadillac Records (opening Dec. 5 nationally): Most of these dramatized histories are neither good drama nor good history, but how can you deny a condensed biography of the pioneer blues label Chess Records? Mos Def plays Chuck Berry, Jeffrey Wright is Muddy Waters, Cedric the Entertainer is Willie Dixon and Eamonn Walker plays Howlin Wolf. But the queen of the house was Etta James and here Beyonc Knowles tries her hand playing the whacked, disgruntled, overweight star. Another reason to see the movie is that Samuel Jackson is not in it.Slumdog Millionaire (currently in limited release): Globalization redefines itself when an 18-year-old orphan from Mumbai becomes a finalist on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The kid is tortured by the police when accused of cheating: How could a slumdog know so much? But the picture is pervaded with the energy, sounds and smells of one of the most bizarre cities in the world and director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) who is addicted to being self-consciously modern this time produces a work that is hellbent to uplift. Years ago I broke both arms and wrists in a riot in India. So Bollywood is now heaven on earth. For me, Im hoping this to be an original and daring reversal of personal experience.

Aspen Institute Panel on Florence and Leonardo da Vinci (Dec. 13-15): I went to da Vincis burial site at the Chapel of Saint-Hubert at the Amboise castle in France when I was in college. There was a museum there that displayed some of his drawings and art. The breadth of his creativity utterly amazed me. Learning more about him from such an esteemed panel of speakers should be fascinating.The Reverend Peytons Big Damn Band (Jan. 5, Belly Up): Many of my closest friends dont know that I was born on a mountain top in Tennessee. OK, it was a hospital in Knoxville. But I was on an upper floor. The point is: Ive got some Southerner in me, and it occasionally comes out. Ive had a hankering to see Reverend Peyton ever since I first heard about him. Im expecting to connect with the music in some deep, meaningful way. Or at least drink some Makers Mark.Spains submission to the Academy Awards: Living in Barcelona for three years enlightened me to the quality of Spanish film. Having a Catalan wife has kept me interested. Seeing Spains Oscar entry is always a highlight of winter for us. The Orphanage was one of the best films I saw last year. I saw Pans Labyrinth and Volver at Aspen Films Academy Screenings past, and both were my favorite films of their respective festivals. I think this years submission will be The Blind Sunflowers.

As a classical musician and a pianist, I eagerly await the return of Simone Dinnerstein to Harris Hall on March 14. The music festivals website doesnt yet list her program but it really doesnt matter. I would go listen to her play chopsticks. A close runner-up for me for in the Winter Music series is Jeffrey Kahane (Feb. 16), whom I have always thought of as a consummate musician whether he is on the podium or at the keyboard. More and more, I am impressed with the ingenuity and quality of the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and am very much looking forward to their two-night stand at the Aspen District Theater (February 13-14). Their show, Up Close and Personal, features Twyla Tharps Sues Leg. Come on fellas, its Valentines Day. Pony up and take your date to the ballet; shell love it. The recently revitalized Community Concert Series at the Snowmass Chapel, led by Paul Dankers, has some interesting offerings, including a Jan. 16 performance by the Celtic Ensemble FEAST with special guest, local harpist Elise Helmke.It may be off the reservation for this classical musician, but I am looking forward to hearing Los Lobos for an evening of acoustic music (March 22, Belly Up). I just happen to be part of a family that loves, and listens to a lot of Latin music.

Barry Smiths Baby Book (Dec. 11, Wheeler): Barry Smiths inventive one-man shows are epics of self-deprecation and awkwardness. Smith continually plays with the formal elements of narrative comedy, leaving his shows refreshingly free of that stand-up feeling. Reception for Anderson Ranch Holiday Exhibition and Open Studios (Dec. 16, Anderson Ranch Arts Center): My favorite time to go to the open studios at Anderson Ranch is at the end of the residency periods, where you can really see the results of a concentrated, focused period of art making. Mark Licari (Opening Dec. 26 and running through Feb. 6, Baldwin Gallery): Mark Licari is an interesting younger artist whose hallucinatory watercolor and ink drawings are a simultaneously humorous and horrible depiction of decay in the natural (and unnatural) world.Sanford Biggers slide lecture (March 6, Anderson Ranch): I included a sculpture of a melting boombox by Sanford Biggers in the exhibition Unknown Pleasures here at the Aspen Art Museum this past summer, and his player piano sculpture for Prospect 1, the new biennial in New Orleans, was one of the highlights of the exhibition. He is an incredibly thoughtful artist, and this lecture promises to be one not to miss.

Brett Dennen (April 1, Belly Up): Hes one of the best new, young artists out there. Im listening to his new CD right now. Awesome.George Clinton & Parliament/Funkadelic (Jan. 9, Belly Up): With his history, you never know whats going to happen.Milk: Thats going to be a movie that moves a lot of people. Itll be an eye-opener for people who dont know the history of what San Francisco was like back then. Its always good to go back in time, and see how things got from then to where they are now. And I like Sean Penn.Devotchka (Jan. 27, Belly Up): Theyre one of my new favorites, a high-energy band with a mix of Eastern European, rock n roll and a lot of fun.

As for me … Let me first congratulate myself, for selecting such an insightful group to make their picks. Brett Dennen, Milk, Barry Smith, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Los Lobos, Slumdog Millionaire brilliant choices all, as if they had looked right into my own brain.And Ive got a few more.Maria Semple grew up in Aspen, and went on to write for Arrested Development and Mad About You. Now she has an exceptional debut novel, This One Is Mine, which she unveils with a talk and reading, Dec. 22 at Explore Booksellers. Expect her to be charming, offbeat and entertaining.Three of the best musical performances of 2007 were given by Robben Ford and Ruthie Foster, who appeared in the Snowmass Free Concert series, and Jorma Kaukonen, who appeared as part of Hot Tuna at the bands Belly Up date. The three are featured in Guitar Blues, Feb. 25 at the Wheeler an unusual combination of talents, but all definitely talented.The North Mississippi Allstars appearance in Snowmass last winter, an outdoor show, was cut short after the third power outage. Still, when they were playing, it ripped; guitarist Luther Dickinson continues taking it to a new level. They return, Jan. 28, to Belly Up. This one should be fully energized.The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, a 40-year New York institution, celebrates its anniversary with its first national tour since the mid-90s and its Aspen debut, Jan. 18, at the Aspen District Theatre.Wendy & Lucy (showing in the Academy Screenings series) stars Michelle Williams as a woman whose dire finances force her to make a sharp turn in her life. Sounds like a film for its

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