Culture: Year in Review 2010

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

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WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? ‘Before Night Falls,’ above, was one of two acclaimed operas (both by gay composers) to get their world premieres in North Texas in 2010.

While 2009 got a lot of the arts ink with the opening of the new performance spaces Downtown — which have turned out to be problematic behemoths with too many issues to name here — 2010 had its own highlights culturally (both high and low culture at that), especially those of relevance to the gay community.

While the Winspear Opera House itself continues to underwhelm with its limited restrooms, awkward configuration and confusing ergonomics, the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s opera Moby Dick turned out to be an artistic highlight of the year. Combining a massive set with video graphics, it may usher in a new technological advance to the venerable art form.

Over in Tarrant County, Fort Worth Opera general director Darren Woods helped cultivate his own world premiere, Jorge Martin’s Before Night Falls, based on queer poet Reinaldo Arenas’ memoir. It was shocking, frank and a promising addition to the canon.

As the Dallas Theater Center continues to toil in the cramped Chinese box that is the Wyly Theatre, Uptown Players held its first full season at the mostly vacated Kalita Humphreys Theater — making it truly an Uptown troupe now. The experiment proved so successful that not only was the entire season staged there, but 2011’s full season (with a few special events) will be there, too.

College student John Otte tried to put on an excerpted version of Terrence McNally’s controversial play Corpus Christi as part of a school project, but threats by others in the community led Otte to cancel his production. Threats were not able to derail several screenings — local and national — of Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna’s grindhouse revenge fantasy Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives, which caused a hoopla at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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X MARKS THE SPOT | Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life photo exhibit seeks to raise money for AIDS Arms.

Jorge Rivas’ Faces of Life photographic venture took the concept of stylized photos that make a political and artistic statement — from PETA to NOH8 — and gave it a local angle, with dozens of Texans posing with oversized red ribbons to raise money and awareness for AIDS Arms.

Gay sports fans had a lot to cheer about this year, too. First, Uptown Vision’s TKO team took the top trophy at the gay softball World Series in Ohio this summer. Unrelatedly, but still impressively, the second annual NAGAAA Cup — a kind of prelim to the World Series — will be held in Dallas next spring. Major League World Series fans also got to see the Texas Rangers in their first bid ever, though they lost in the fifth game to San Francisco.

In the fall, the Dallas Diablos held the second HellFest rugby tourney and exceeded all expectations when teams from eight cities participated in an event everyone involved declared a success …. even the half-dozen escorted off the field in stretchers. Hey, it is rubgy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Queer clips

‘True Grit,’ ‘Rabbit Hole’

The Coen Brothers have always had a peculiar relationship with Texas, maybe because the sense of Wild West recklessness is still cultivated by urbanites. It’s a complex feeling, though: A lone Ranger (sans mask) named LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) endures a share of mockery in True Grit, but it’s forgiveable — the movie is just so damn entertaining.

I barely noticed a contraction in the dialogue until the waning minutes of the film, which imbues the tale with a poetic majesty without being stilted. Yet the Coens keep everything in the realm of the real; this isn’t some commonplace revenge fantasy but a devil-in-the-details character study of a girl (Hailee Steinfeld, who’s remarkable) and a wizened marshal-for-hire (Jeff Bridges, better even than his Oscar performance in last year’s Crazy Heart). It avoids predictable, touchy-feely sentimentality while still being emotionally stirring.

Less stirring is Rabbit Hole — perhaps because it tries too hard. A couple (Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart) work through their grief over the death of their child in wildly different ways. It’s a prickly story about yuppies in denial where so many of the characters seem to want to be hated — or at least misunderstood. Grief is hard to portray in small doses (everyone deals with loss uniquely), and to try to make a movie of nothing but is too great a task for director John Cameron Mitchell. Kidman’s OK, but the standout is Miles Teller as a regretful teen. He and Steinfeld should make a movie together.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

True Grit: Five stars; Rabbit Hole: Two stars

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens