East Bay Fall Arts Preview
The most exhilarating time of year for culture vultures, autumn is when the East Bay’s venerable arts institutions and creative coalitions kick off their new seasons. Diablo rounds up the most moving, awe-inspiring, and just plain fun cultural events that will leave you shouting, “Bravo!”
Trocto, a light installation by Oakland-based art duo HyByCoZo, comes to OMCA.
Photo by Ron Blunt
by Deborah Kirk
The Surreal Deal
Sylvia Fein—who’s had a long career as a bold surrealist artist—is honored with a BAMPFA show.
This fall, visitors to the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) will be treated to an exhibition of rarely seen surrealist paintings by local artist Sylvia Fein. There are several reasons why this is the don’t-miss show of the season: One is that an artist of this dazzling originality has managed to escape our attention for so long. Another is that Fein, who lives and works out of her Martinez home, will turn 100 years old in November, the month the show opens.
Born in Wisconsin, Fein was initially associated with a group of artists that came to be known as the Midwest Surrealists. She moved to the East Bay in 1947 and earned her M.F.A. from UC Berkeley in 1951. Over the years, she developed an intensely personal style that is distinguished by her hallucinatory imagery: Time and again, she returns to favorite subjects such as giant cosmic eyeballs, winged creatures, luminous trees, and mountainous dreamscapes.
Curated by BAMPFA director Larry Rinder, Sylvia Fein/Matrix 275 will feature some 35 paintings, spanning Fein’s long career from the 1940s to the present. “I became familiar with her work in 2014,” he says, “and it was a revelation to discover an artist of such talent working in our community.”
Rinder also notes that Fein’s life coincides with the surrealism movement itself, which was “born” about the same time as the artist. “We are taking this opportunity to look at the resonance that surrealism, as an artistic movement, has today,” he says. “It is fascinating to look at a wonderful artist like Sylvia Fein, who was working in the heyday of that major cultural movement—and who is still incredibly productive.” On view November 13 through March 1, 2020, bampfa.org.
5 Events Not to Miss
1. Kal Spelletich: Significance Machines and Purposeful Robots: A leading figure in the Bay Area machine-art scene, Kal Spelletich is known for building one-of-a-kind robots that respond to humans in often surprising ways. This intriguing exhibition features 13 interactive sculptures and three “dialogical” photos, raising provocative questions about the role spirituality and nature play in our tech-driven culture. Spelletich’s creations illuminate just how complex our relationship with machines has truly become. Saint Mary’s College Museum of Art, Moraga, stmarys-ca.edu/arts.
2. In Plain Sight: Reflecting obscure mysteries and invisible phenomena, this show encourages visitors to practice “slow seeing”—a discipline that emphasizes close observation to make a meaningful connection between object and onlooker. Featuring works by four artists—including the Bay Area’s Castaneda/Reiman and Weston Teruya—the exhibition shines a light on the unseen systems that impact our lives. Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, mcam.mills.edu.
3. 33rd Annual Emeryville Art Exhibition: This yearly extravaganza showcases wide-ranging artworks produced by nearly 100 artists and craftspeople who live or create in Emeryville—which the California Arts Council named one of the 14 state Cultural Districts. The exhibition includes everything from painting and photography to textiles, furniture, and jewelry. Pickleworks Building, 1375 55th St., Emeryville, emeryarts.org.
4. Off Menu: Contemporary Art About Food: Food has been a popular subject for art through the ages, from Renaissance still lifes to Pop Art prints. This show—which highlights food-themed works from international artists—is anchored by 12 Salvador Dalí prints that celebrate the legendary dinners hosted by the surrealist and his wife and muse, Gala. Bedford Gallery, Walnut Creek, bedfordgallery.org.
5. No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man: Burning Man, the annual free-spirited arts festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, returns to its Bay Area roots with this exhibition that showcases works—from paintings to “mutant” vehicles—by local artists. (A micro version of the event first caught fire at San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1986.) Like the festival, No Spectators breaks down barriers—in one case, quite literally, with a 40-foot temple—and encourages communal participation. Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, museumca.org.
On the Horizon: Into China
In 2020, keep an eye out for new developments at the Blackhawk Museum in Danville. Plans are in the works to install a new permanent gallery called Into China, which will showcase exquisite, handcrafted statues, shrines, and other artifacts from the Eastern country. This collection, along with the others housed in the museum (best known for its automotive holdings), reflects the deep passions of its founder, Ken Behring, who passed away in June. blackhawkmuseum.org.
Check out a month-to-month guide to additional visual arts fall events in the East Bay here!
BY Marcus Crowder and emilie white
Berkeley Rep’s new artistic director, Johanna Pfaelzer, steps into the spotlight.
You might not know Johanna Pfaelzer’s name, but you know her work. She was instrumental in developing Hamilton and American Idiot, among many other theatrical hits, as the artistic director of the new-works incubator New York Stage and Film. Pfaelzer has spent 25 years making theater, and her record of achievement has led her back to Berkeley, where she lived as child. She took over as artistic director of Berkeley Repertory Theatre in September.
Pfaelzer’s background includes running a grassroots theater company in Manhattan and five years as an associate artistic director at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater. “The through line … has been assessing the need of an artist or group of artists,” she says. “Thinking about how the interaction between an artist, their imagination, their story, and their audience can be transformative.”
Berkeley Rep patrons have a reputation for intelligence and, of course, political vigor. “It’s a challenging audience. They’re ready to engage with work … that will both entertain them and be demanding of them,” Pfaelzer says. “There will be an opportunity to figure out what we want and need from each other.”
Unlike her predecessor, Tony Taccone, Pfaelzer is not a director, so she will approach the job differently. “As a creative producer, I am in some ways more of a proxy for the audience,” she says.
Susan Medak, Berkeley Rep’s longtime managing director, thinks Pfaelzer will not only be a quick study but will invigorate the company with “exuberant evolution.”
“She is both respectful of what has been built here, and at the same time she is ambitious to build on that foundation and take the company into another place,” Medak says. “She’s going to bring a lot of new voices to the theater. The core of what we do is going to be amplified as she brings new artists and points of view into the fold.”
Pfaelzer is aware that a “moment” is happening nationwide where more women are moving into arts-leadership roles. “These are people who have been acquiring great skills, building artistic relationships, developing an aesthetic, a sensibility, a set of processes, who are now being handed the opportunity to lead these organizations,” she says. “I’m excited to see what will happen.” —M.C.
5 Events Not to Miss
1. Macbeth: Orinda’s California Shakespeare Theater closes its 2019 season with the classic tragedy of Macbeth, who is overcome by his desire for the Scottish throne after a fateful meeting with three witches. According to director Victor Malana Maog, this production of the Bard’s timeless masterpiece explores “the haunted and paranoid spaces between reality and sleep, logic and craze, earth and the afterlife.” Bruns Amphitheater, Orinda, calshakes.org.
2. Long Day's Journey into Night: Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Eugene O’Neill wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night, his semiautobiographical most famous work, in the East Bay in the 1940s. Now, Oakland’s Ubuntu Theater Project connects his story of a family plagued by secrets and addiction with the modern immigrant experience. Flax Art and Design, Oakland, ubuntutheaterproject.com.
3. Native Gardens: In Native Gardens, Pablo and Tania, an attorney and a Ph.D. candidate, move into a new neighborhood only to clash with Frank and Virginia over the fence line between their properties—which threatens the latter couple’s award-worthy garden. Center Repertory Company stages Karen Zacarías’s new play that takes a comedic look at privilege, border conflicts, good intentions, and bad manners. Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, lesherartscenter.org.
4. Cinderella: A Fairytale: Contra Costa County’s longest continuously running theater company, Town Hall Theatre—which is celebrating its 75th anniversary—presents the West Coast premiere of Sally Cookson and Adam Peck’s retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale. In this comical and feisty version, Ella and her father share a love of birds, who become her magical friends and sole companions after he marries into a cruel family. Town Hall Theatre, Lafayette, townhalltheatre.com.
5. A Charlie Brown Christmas Live on Stage: The iconic Peanuts gang, created by Santa Rosa’s Charles Schulz, explores the meaning of Christmas in this theatrical staging of the beloved 50-year-old television event. With three shows over the course of the day, the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center offers a family-friendly opportunity to keep the holiday spirit alive. Bankhead Theater, Livermore, lvpac.org. —E.W.
On the Horizon: Loot
Save a spot on the calendar for Loot at Berkeley’s Aurora Theatre Company—the last show directed by Aurora’s cofounder and former artistic director, Tom Ross, who stepped down earlier this year. Written by the British playwright Joe Orton and set in the 1960s, Loot is a farcical black comedy that follows two young British bank thieves. Ross chose it as his directorial swan song for the company partly because he adapted an Orton screenplay early in his career, making this a full-circle moment for him. Loot runs April 3 through May 3, 2020. auroratheatre.org. —E.W.
Check out a month-to-month guide to additional fall theater events in the East Bay here!
BY Virginia Shannon
5 Events Not to Miss
1. Viva Momix!: The internationally renowned dance company Momix’s thrilling performances blur the lines between contemporary dance, acrobatics, and optical illusion, often incorporating dazzling lighting effects, larger-than-life props, and vibrant, elaborate costumes that seemingly move unto themselves. The result is a visual feast that’s enraptured audiences for 38 years, thanks to the imaginative direction of founder and acclaimed choreographer Moses Pendleton. The Viva Momix! program highlights some of the group’s greatest hits—including Botanica (a journey through the seasons), Lunar Sea (an exploration of the moon’s mysteries), and Opus Cactus (a re-creation of the landscape of the American Southwest)—delivering an immersive, multisensory, family-friendly experience. East Bay residents have three chances to witness this mesmerizing spectacle before Momix’s tour moves on to Europe. October 19, Bankhead Theater, Livermore, lvpac.org; October 26–27, Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, calperformances.org.
2. Luna Mexicana: Oakland Ballet Company’s Día de los Muertos homage traces Mexican cultural history, integrating folkloric, classic, and contemporary music and colorful costumes into the exhilarating show. A tribute to the legendary painter Frida Kahlo and performances from Ballet Folklórico México Danza and an Aztec dance company are also on the agenda. October 17, Bankhead Theater, Livermore, lvpac.org; November 1–2, Paramount Theatre, Oakland, paramounttheatre.com.
3. A Swingin’ Holiday and More: Contra Costa County’s own award-winning professional dance company, Diablo Ballet, kicks off the festive season with a jazzy ballet set to 1930s and ’40s–style holiday music by the likes of Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole, and Wynton Marsalis. The energetic performance is followed by the world premiere of a new ballet that brings to life a beloved Christmas tale. Del Valle Theatre, Walnut Creek, diabloballet.org.
4. The Hip Hop Nutcracker: Dozens of Nutcracker performances light up stages at the end of the year, but none of them brings crowds to their feet the way this one does. An urban dance crew puts a scintillating spin on the classic ballet, anchoring the story in modern-day New York and mixing in a DJ, an electric violin, and jaw-dropping break dancing—all set to Tchaikovsky’s original score. Hip-hop pioneer Kurtis Blow even appears as the show’s MC. Paramount Theatre, Oakland, paramounttheatre.com.
5. Solstice!: Strength and grace unite in a hypnotic performance that sees dancers twisting, twirling, and contorting while suspended above the floor. Join Berkeley’s UpSwing Aerial Dance Company as it welcomes the winter solstice with soaring choreography and moving music performed by a vocalist, flutist, and violist. You’ll emerge feeling uplifted. Studio 12 at the Sawtooth Building, Berkeley, upswingaerialdance.org.
Check out a month-to-month guide to additional fall dance events in the East Bay here!
Classical Music & Opera
BY Sue Gilmore
5 Events Not to Miss
1. Eugene Onegin: Naive Russian ingenue falls hard for a playboy aristocrat, who coldly rejects her. Years later, she reappears, a stunning beauty on the arm of her recently acquired husband, and the cad recants: Oh, wait—I do love her. But she won’t have him.
If this sounds a trifle operatic, you’ve got it exactly right. Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin—widely considered the finest of his 11 operas—continues its run in Livermore Valley Opera’s new season. Directed by Candace Evans and conducted by Alexander Katsman, the show stars American baritone Morgan Smith in the title role and Ukrainian-born soprano Antonina Chehovska as the lovestruck Tatiana. Based on a dramatic poem by Alexander Pushkin, the opera will be sung in Russian with English supertitles.
One highlight to savor: the famed “letter scene” in act one—nearly 15 minutes of lush, soulful music as Tatiana pours out her heart in a doomed missive to Onegin. There is also plenty of swoony ballroom music, as well as a tragic duel, in store. Bankhead Theater, Livermore, lvopera.com.
2. Renée Fleming: Grammy Award–winning songbird Renée Fleming first gained fame as an operatic soprano superstar, and she still maintains that diva persona. But she has since delved into pop, art song, Broadway, and even rock ’n’ roll. Fleming will run the vocal gamut at this showcase recital, accompanied by the pianist Richard Bado. Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, calperformances.org.
3. Air From Other Planets: Sopranos don’t often hang, professionally speaking, with string quartets, but Nikki Einfeld will this fall, singing “I feel air from another planet” in this Schoenberg quartet performed by the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. LCCE’s program also includes a quartet by Mozart, who was a major influence on Arnold Schoenberg. New music by composers John Schott (a Berkeley resident) and Jamie Leigh Sampson complete the lineup. Berkeley Hillside Club, Berkeley, leftcoastensemble.org.
4. Mozart and his Mentor: The Walnut Creek–based California Symphony’s November concert program pairs Mozart’s First Symphony (written at age 8!) with his mentor Franz Joseph Haydn’s last, the Symphony No. 104 (written when he was 63). Annie Wu is the soloist for a flute concerto commissioned from the Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Kevin Puts. Lesher Center for the Arts, Walnut Creek, californiasymphony.org.
5. Jonathan Biss: The Complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas: As he winds up his herculean effort to record all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas, the world-renowned pianist Jonathan Biss is doubling down and playing all of them in the East Bay during the current Cal Performances season. His December recital includes the most famous of them: the No. 14 in C-sharp minor (aka the Moonlight), along with four others. Hertz Hall, Berkeley, calperformances.org.
Check out a month-to-month guide to additional classical music and opera fall events in the East Bay here!
Pop & Jazz
by gabby vanacore
Rooted in Tradition
Singer Lila Downs celebrates her Mexican heritage with a Día de Los Muertos tribute.
Grammy-winning vocalist Lila Downs has performed at the White House for President Barack Obama and sang her Oscar-nominated song “Burn It Blue” (from the film Frida) at the Academy Awards in 2003. This month, she takes the stage at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre, collaborating with Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company and Mariachi Femenil Flores Mexicanas on a show that celebrates Día de los Muertos—Mexico’s Day of the Dead.
A native of Oaxaca, Mexico, Downs gains inspiration from the traditions of her homeland and her Mixtec roots, blending styles of jazz, ranchera, hip-hop, and popular American music. Rolling Stone called her “one of the most recognizable traditional singers in Latin alternative music.”
Since making her recording debut with the independently produced Ofrenda in 1994, Downs has released nine studio albums and won five Latin Grammy Awards, as well as a Grammy for Best Regional Mexican Music Album in 2013. In addition to her artistic excellence, she is an advocate for the preservation of native Mexican culture and indigenous music, recording songs in the Mayan, Nahuatl, Purépecha, and Trique languages.
The singer is also a social activist, with many of her songs focusing on justice, immigration issues, and women’s rights. Most recently, she spotlighted the issue of children at border detention centers with her remake of the Mexican artist Manu Chao’s “Clandestino.”
Downs’s performance at the Paramount will be held in association with SFJazz, the largest nonprofit presenter of jazz and education programs in the West Coast. SFJazz has been supporting the Bay Area jazz music scene since its inception in 1983—putting on more than 100 concerts a year—and is dedicated to continually growing the audience for the genre and related music. While the majority of performances take place in San Francisco at Miner Auditorium and the Joe Henderson Lab inside the SFJazz Center, special shows are occasionally held in the East Bay. October 12, paramounttheatre.com.
5 Events Not to Miss
1. Eliane Elias: Grammy Award–winning pianist, singer, and composer Eliane Elias comes to Oakland to promote her latest record, Love Stories, which was just released in August. Elias describes this LP as one of her most romantic; on it, she reinterprets several classic love songs and introduces three original compositions. The Brazilian jazz artist’s career spans nearly 30 albums, with more than 2.2 million copies sold. Yoshi’s, Oakland, yoshis.com.
2. Peter Frampton: Guitar icon Peter Frampton hits the road one last time for his farewell tour, capping off a memorable 53-year career. The concert is expected to feature highlights from the British-American rocker’s time as a solo artist, including the classic song “Baby, I Love Your Way” and other selections from his seminal 1976 album, Frampton Comes Alive! Concord is the final stop on Frampton’s tour—so this is an experience not to be missed. Concord Pavilion, Concord, livenation.com.
3. SWMRS Presents: Uncool Fest 5: Formed in Oakland by singer Cole Becker and drummer Joey Armstrong (son of Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong), the punk band SWMRS dropped their second studio album, Berkeley’s on Fire, in February. The group’s annual Halloween-themed Uncool festival—which features music from younger indie artists—has grown significantly over the years; this year’s event features performances by up-and-coming acts including Bane’s World, Ultra Q, Girlpool, and more. The UC Theatre, Berkeley, theuctheatre.org.
4. Skeater-Kinney: Beloved ’90s indie group Sleater-Kinney will rock the stage in Oakland following the release of their ninth record, The Center Won’t Hold. Since reuniting in 2014, the trio—fronted by Portlandia and Transparent star Carrie Brownstein—has released two other LPs: No Cities to Love and Live in Paris. Fox Theater, Oakland, thefoxoakland.com.
5. Jonas Brothers: Nearly five-and-a-half years after their unexpected split, the Jonas Brothers are back with a new album, Happiness Begins—and the multiplatinum, Grammy-nominated group is embarking on a tour of 40 cities across the country. Catch them with opening acts Bebe Rexha and “Flexible” singer Jordan McGraw. Oakland Arena, Oakland, theoaklandarena.com.
On the Horizon: Kehlani’s next album
Born and raised in Oakland, 24-year-old singer and songwriter Kehlani started her career as a member of the local cover band Poplyfe. Now, she’s a Grammy-nominated solo artist known for hit contemporary R&B singles such as “Nights Like This” and “Gangsta.” Her first studio album, SweetSexySavage, debuted in 2017, and this year she released her third commercial mixtape, While We Wait, as a placeholder for a full-length LP; it hit number nine on the Billboard 200 chart and earned critical acclaim. After a brief hiatus following the birth of her daughter in March, Kehlani is ready to make music again—and fans are eagerly awaiting her next move.
Check out a month-to-month guide to additional pop and jazz fall events in the East Bay here!
by rachel orvino
East Bay natives Tom Hanks and Marielle Heller join forces for a Fred Rogers biopic.
Mister Rogers would be proud. Concord-born Tom Hanks and Alameda native Marielle Heller have teamed up for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, a film about Fred Rogers that hits theaters November 22. Heller—who most recently helmed Can You Ever Forgive Me? starring Melissa McCarthy—directed her East Bay “neighbor,” who portrays the beloved children’s show host.
Hanks, a two-time Oscar winner, has deep local roots. He attended elementary school in Alameda and Oakland before graduating from Oakland’s Skyline High. Hanks also sold peanuts and soda outside the Coliseum in his youth and attended Chabot College in Hayward before majoring in theater arts at CSU Sacramento.
Similarly, Heller has a variety of connections to the East Bay, although she currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Jorma Taccone, and 4-year-old son, Wylie. (Taccone, whose father is former Berkeley Rep artistic director Tony Taccone, is also a film director, as well as a member of the Lonely Island comedy group.) Heller attended high school at Alameda’s St. Joseph Notre Dame and first discovered her love of acting while performing with Alameda Children’s Musical Theatre. She honed her stage skills with Berkeley Rep and other theater companies in California before moving into directing. Heller made her behind-the-camera cinematic debut with The Diary of a Teenage Girl in 2015 (she admitted to raiding Berkeley Rep’s costume and props departments to help keep the indie film on budget); her critically acclaimed work on Diary later prompted an early meeting with Hanks.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood details the real-life friendship between Rogers and journalist Tom Junod (portrayed here in fictionalized form by The Americans star Matthew Rhys). Although Heller has primarily focused on female-centric stories, she was drawn to the icon she recalls watching on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a child.
“I think it’s important to make movies about good men, and men who are trying to be better, and about the struggle of manhood,” Heller told Refinery29 last year. “I’m raising a young boy, so I find it very interesting. ”
5 Events Not to Miss
1. Anne Patchett: The best-selling author known for such exquisite, internationally acclaimed works as Bel Canto and State of Wonder discusses her latest book, The Dutch House. A richly told story of love, family bonds, and “the power of place,” the novel focuses on two siblings growing up in an opulent Philadelphia-area mansion and the decades—and conflicts—that follow. Rakestraw Books, Danville, rakestrawbooks.com.
2. Rita Rudner: All hail the comedy queen of Las Vegas. Following 12 years performing more than 2,000 shows in Sin City—the longest-running solo comedy act in the history of Las Vegas—Rudner is taking her sharp observational humor and signature high-glam style on the road. In addition to selling out Carnegie Hall, starring in televised comedy specials, and appearing on late-night talk shows, Rudner cowrote Two’s a Crowd with her husband, Martin Bergman; the musical comedy is now playing off Broadway. Bankhead Theater, Livermore, lvpac.org.
3. David Sedaris: Wit meets whimsy when celebrated humorist David Sedaris returns to Berkeley as part of the Cal Performances Speaker Series. The best-selling writer of Me Talk Pretty One Day, Calypso, and more laugh-out-loud books is renowned for his sharp satire, distinctive prose, and engaging live storytelling. Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, calperformances.org.
4. Peking Acrobats: The unbelievable becomes imaginable when this troupe of tumblers, contortionists, jugglers, and gymnasts brings their astonishing feats to the UC Berkeley stage once again. Clad in vivid costumes and backed by traditional Chinese folk instrumentals, these world-class acrobats will thrill and astound. Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, calperformances.org.
5. Sesame Street Live! Make Your Magic: Introduce (or reintroduce) your little ones to the wonder of Sesame Street with this live-action event featuring Elmo, Abby, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Grover, and the rest of the gang. This magical tale of persistence and following your dreams will enchant audiences of all ages. Paramount Theatre, Oakland, paramounttheatre.com.
On the Horizon: No Time to Die
Directed by Oakland native Cary Fukunaga, the 25th James Bond film promises a new 007 (reportedly portrayed by Captain Marvel’s Lashana Lynch, as the series’ first female to get the MI6 designation), the return of über-villain Blofeld (played by Christoph Waltz), and Daniel Craig suiting up as the iconic superspy for the (potentially) last time. Fukunaga—who is best known for his film Beasts of No Nation and for directing the first season of HBO’s True Detective—replaced the movie’s original director, Danny Boyle, last year. Although most of the details are top secret, the film sees a retired Bond coming to the rescue of a kidnapped scientist. It is slated to open in theaters on April 8, 2020.
Check out a month-to-month guide to additional etc. fall arts events in the East Bay here!