Detroit Art City
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The Real Best of Detroit 2009
Best Comedy Club: Go! Comedy
A comedian needs two things to make it in this world: talent and a gypsy’s stoical acceptance of the wandering life. Theatres and venues always have to be found or rented or broken into until a permanent base of operations can be found — and many a gagster here and elsewhere has thrown in the towel after that “great gig at the lodge hall.” Well, a suitable treehouse for the likes of Jaime Moyer, Scott Myers, Cara Trautman, PJ Jacokes and others has been found in Ferndale and Go Comedy! is being acclaimed (by you and many others) as the best ha-ha hacienda in Metro-Detroit. Imagine a doctor’s office (or a car dealership? what the hell WAS it before anyway?) transformed magically into a casual, friendly, utterly inviting cavern of mirth. Hell, there’s even a bar inside in case the funny bones need to be suitably lubricated before or during a performance. Moyer (no slouch when it comes to professional standards of excellence) has given her own personal stamp of approval. “What I love most about performing at Go! is the energy from the crowd,” she observed. “When we are up there making people laugh, and they are ‘in’ on the joke, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world. If you’ve never experenced an improv show, Go! Comedy is a great place to start.” Indeed, it’s ALL being done here — improv, stand-up, ensemble, taffy pulls and many another antics we’ve hitherto associated only with a full moon. Happily enough no one on stage has mooned the audience — not yet anyway. | RDW
Best Emerging Designer: Femilia
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Design duo Emily Thornhill and Fotoula Lambros launched Femilia in 2007 and design what they call "American Street Couture." These young ladies graduated from the International Academy of Design & Technology in Troy and have garnered acclaim for their shows at Detroit Fashion Week on top of many other events in which they have participated. Their mission is to help put Detroit on the map and deliver class and sophistication out of the Midwest to the rest of the world, and of course, to make beautiful clothes. Real D readers love Femilia’s quality construction, sophisticated color stories and avant garde approach to fashion. Their clothing will always make you feel powerful and it will get you seen. Beyond the threads, these girls are a great time and have noble aims. We wish them all the best. | RDW
Best Performance Artist: Satori Circus
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The first time we saw Russell Taylor in grease paint he was tapping into a dark place where Pagliacci was playing a round of Russian roulette with God. Then it was time for an ironic switch and we heard him singing a sweet ditty about a galaxy of little friends whose shared joys bonded them together like a PBJ in God’s stomach. Return to the dark place — Taylor attached a baby doll to a cord and proceeded to yo-yo the little tyke over his audience. 200 or 2,000 words are an insufficient number to describe or do justice to what this extraordinary one-man Theatre of Cruelty is giving us. | RDW
Best Underrated Gallery: Scarab Club
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Like other overlooked enterprises in the city, the Scarab Club has focused more on purpose than on publicity. As an arts organization, a clubhouse (designed by Detroit architect Lancelot Sukert), a studio complex and a civic treasure, the Scarab is a modest, century-old “guildhall” that has kept Detroit’s creative heart beating since 1907. In any given month, you can enjoy group shows, photography exhibits, chamber music, “celebrations of the crone,” exquisite dancing and open house parties unrivaled for their friendliness and sense of fun. We’ve been fans forever. Call it Beetlemania. | RDW
Best Local Artist: Audrey Pongracz
Do not underestimate Audrey Pongracz. Behind each and every one of her ethereal and seemingly tranquil canvases is a subtext of mystery — an emotional lexicon that touches on your life experiences as often as it echoes (presumably) her resume of past and present influences. She passes through the looking glass like a seasoned traveler and, like that other young woman who desired pictures and conversations, senses a deeper meaning behind the fun and games at the tea party. An eclectic artist, Ms. Pongracz tackles a variety of things, but (as we learned last year to our disappointment) she “doesn’t do politics.” Then it occurred to us — she doesn’t have to. Wonderland is “political” enough.
Best Photographer: Irakly Shanidze
It’s a rare photographer who will candidly credit his skills to (among other things) youthful rebellion against tyranny, a gynecologist uncle, and an ancestral link to “the most notorious fornicators in the world,” but that’s how Georgian-born Irakly Shanidze rolls. And judging from his many rolls of film and what they’ve captured over the years, who are we to quibble? Based in Farmington Hills, Shanidze has lensed everything from hushed nature to lush glamour — and his unabashed celebration of the nude has made him one of the principal figures with the MidWest Society of Erotic Photography and a fixture of Detroit’s annual Dirty Show. We want to Kodak with this guy, yes sir!
Best Gallery: ©POP (1995-2009)
Consider this a fitting final tribute as well as a near-unanimous choice. ©POP, the gallery, called it quits this year and brought to a close one of the best chapters in Detroit art history. Devoted to both the provocative and the imaginative, ©POP welcomed a galaxy of talented artists through its doors and showcased styles that had hitherto been relegated to the outskirts of critical attention. Scores of prominent names could be listed here to give a clear impression of the gallery’s influence, but we’ll simply mention the two most deserving ones — Rick Manore and Tom Thewes. Thanks for everything, guys!
Best New Gallery: 323 East Gallery
It takes courage, focus and a modicum of insanity to start and run an art gallery these days. A year ago, several nut cases — er, idealists — decided that a corner on Fourth Street in Royal Oak would do nicely for a creative hive and showplace. Guess what? It worked and many of you decided that such kamikaze dedication was worthy of an accolade. 323 East has welcomed countless local and national artists, and their January tribute to Obama’s inauguration was nothing less than a glorious salute to our democratic system. One year down — many more ahead. If we're lucky, that is.
Best Museum Exhibition: Star Trek at the Detroit Science Center
Beam us up Scotty! KHHHHHHHAAAAAANNN! Prepare for warp speed Mr. Sulu! Star Trek gave us so many fantastic quotes that we can use everyday in an extremely nerdy way. Yet the famous television show and movie series gave us so much more than that. It gave us an optimistic view of the future, a reaffirming appraisal of the human condition, a plethora of pop culture references and (let us never forget) a wonderful glimpse of Lt. Uhura’s midriff on one occasion. When the Detroit Science Center announced it was setting up a comprehensive exhibit devoted to Gene Roddenberry’s classic series, most of you couldn’t charge up from your parents’ basements fast enough. And that’s OK, because we got to the front of the line before you did! All joking aside, the center’s interactive showcase (still going strong at this time) is a marvelous example of how we can learn from both popular entertainment and the artistic discipline that brings such artistry to life. Just don’t wear a red shirt when you go next time. Trust us.
Best Established Local Clothing Designer: Joe Faris
As Heidi Klum infamously says in the intro to Project Runway, "In fashion, one day your're in and the next you're out." Fortunatley for us, Joe Faris' elimination from the show didn't mean he was out of fashion. It just meant he was coming home to The D. By now, Joe Faris is a household name in Metro-Detroit (well at least for the fashionistas or the reality TV junkies of the community). Thanks to Project Runway, Joe Faris has been thrown into the fashion spotlight. While working very hard and receiving moderate acclaim, previous to the show, he is now nationally recognized as a finalist from Project Runway. Joe has paid his dues in the industry and is now working for himself as a consultant and is the creative brain behind the brands Inkslingers, Tat2it, RedFly and Double D Ranch.
Best Comedy Troupe: Second City Detroit
Windy City proposes, but Motor City disposes — and gets it right! This Detroit collective is a direct offshoot of Chicago’s famed laugh lab and it already boasts a roll call of distinguished alumni — Larry Joe Campbell, Keegan Michael Key, Suzy Nakamura and others. Plus, it has topical shows (Michigan Impossible: All Laid Off and No Place to Go) and an annual Dysfunctional Holiday Revue that make the human condition crystal clear — and a lot less painful. The troupe's latest work, Kwame A River, has been one of its most succesful shows yet and has been extended numerous times. After all, therapy is expensive, pissing your pants is cheap. Well, comparatively cheaper anyway.
Best Movie Theatre: Palladium
The Palladium 12 has class (it’s dripping with class from top to bottom, in fact) and it always makes you feel like you’re at a Hollywood premiere — even if you’ve just dropped in for the weekend matinee of the latest movie starring (insert dubious talent of the month here). A dozen screens means you have alot of celluloid to choose from, and there’s something to match every taste. Speaking of taste, the popcorn is ambrosia. The Dolby Digital sound system is in itself worthy of an award, and ... the seats! Let’s talk about those seats! Temper-Pedic cushions, baby! No, we don’t know what it means either, but those clouds up in heaven probably feel only half as good.
Best Film Series / Theme Night: Mitten Movie Project
“They’re making a movie in Savalio!” Well, we don’t know about that, but an awful lot of celluloid is being made and screened right here in our own backyard — and most (if not all?) of it is being brought to our eyes by the Mitten Movie Project. Once a month the Main Theatre in Royal Oak plays host to these dedicated souls who are determined to showcase cinemateque Michigan in all its varieties — indies, music videos, trailers, student films, documentaries, shorts, etc. Be advised — if we do end up being the Hollywood of the midwest, these are the folks who’ll be leading the way.
Best Local Filmmaker: Jamie Sonderman
Jamie Sonderman is the only film director we know of who unabashedly and unapologetically lists the Boy Scouts, Dungeons & Dragons and the Renaissance Fair on his curriculum vitae. Sure, go ahead and laugh — but after you’re finished with the guffaws, see what Sonderman has done with these and other life experiences. Like InZer0, for instance — a compelling dystopian glimpse of the future that earned rave reviews at the Mitten Movie Project. Sonderman is not resting on his laurels and his future plans are for here and elsewhere. What he does here, of course, will be worth watching and appreciating.
Best Professional Theatre Company: Detroit Repertory
The oldest alternative professional theatre in Michigan, Detroit Repertory draws on a spirited sense of tradition that goes back to the Group and even farther back to the Globe. It stages four productions a year — a carefully chosen quartet that reflects eclecticism and an artistic concern for dramas that “speak clearly“ to a discerning local audience. More so, Detroit Rep has persevered (time and time again) in the face of obstacles made manifold by urban decay and economic downturns in the city it proudly calls home. A critic once wrote succinctly that “this company knows what theatre is about and what it can do.” We’ll respectfully shorten that observation. This company is theatre!
Best “Retro” Local TV Program: Wolfman Mac’s Chiller Drive-In
Sir Graves is RIP and the Ghoul has his pierogi filled with book signings, public appearances and everything else these days — so to whom can we turn when we want a sweet dose of nostalgia and a tasty bite of cinematic horror on the tube? We can turn to Wolfman Mac and his glorious ensemble of gore on WMYD Channel 20! Chiller Drive-In is the ONLY good reason to eschew the bar scene on Saturday nights, and this wacky nocturnal transmission of camp humor reminds all of us that it’s the gift of personality that makes local broadcasting special.
Best Amateur Theatrics: The Player’s Club of Detroit
The Players is yet another overlooked jewel on Detroit’s landscape, and (strictly speaking) its history and exclusive nature as a “men-only” temple of thespians puts it far from the category of public diversions. However, a welcoming spirit prevails here and the doors are frequently opened for exceptional and well-staged productions. Plus, tours of this beautiful 1926 playhouse on East Jefferson can be arranged with a call or an email to management. Never even suspected it was there? You’re not alone.
Best Spoken Word: Jimmy Doom
There are artists in this town who were born too late to enjoy the proper niche for their talents. Had Jimmy Doom shown up 60 or 50 years ago, the Beats would have had another spiritual brother and Lenny Bruce would have gotten welcome competition from a guy whose weltanschauung was in perfect harmony with his. A beguiling cross between Charles Bukowski and St. Thomas Aquinas, the voice of Doom speaks to all of us — words of humor, rage, reflection and incredible insight. Plus, there’s the majesty of that perpetual playoff beard ...
Best Theatrical Ensemble: Who Wants Cake?
The Ringwald in Ferndale rings in more freshness than most other theatres in the area chiefly because its artists-in-residence are ... okay, choose all of these adjectives or an assortment: original, insane, dedicated, masochistic, self-effacing, sardonic, generous, insightful, desperate for any sort of praise or notice from the press, daring, imaginative and talented. If you neglected to include that last adjective, shame on you. Who Wants Cake? has beaten the odds and continues to raise the ante in a town that frequently asks itself if there’s any point to having theatre here. Who Wants Cake? We sure as hell do — and obviously we’re not alone.
Best Dance Company: Detroit Bellydance
The growing popularity of Middle Eastern dance throughout the country is a cause for celebration, and among the prime movers in this phenomena are the swirling seraphim of Detroit Bellydance. Led and inspired by the remarkable Lana, the DB is a student dance group and a professional performance tribe dedicated to sharing the beauty and culture of this timeless expression of movement. They’re also tireless when it comes to helping out the right cause or charity, and on one occasion raised a cool figure to benefit the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. And why not? Cool figures beget cool figures after all.
Best Burlesque Show: SPAG
Slam dunk — with a shimmy! After the first hundred or so votes started to pour in, we just knew that SPAG was going to strut away with this award firmly in its g-string. Founded ten years ago, SPAG set out to revitalize a genuine American art form and also ride the crest of a “neo-burlesque movement” that was (and still is) sweeping the nation. They’ve been everywhere and done everything in these parts — the Dally, the Dirty, and scores of art openings. And they take all of this very seriously, with an aesthetic dedication that the Bolshoi would envy. “Our goal,” as they’ve stated in a website, “is to entertain, amuse and offend, rather than arouse.” Sorry, ladies, but our respecful admiration has been duly aroused and there’s no turning back now.
Best Novelty Performance: Kevin Lepine
When he’s not curing people of coffin nail addiction or other bad habits, Kevin Lepine takes his mesmerizing skills on the road with an uncensored comedy hypnosis show. It’s already earned a cult following — and Lepine didn’t even have to take the watch out to make that happen. He’s headed to Comedy Central and beyond, but he still calls The D home. We’re glad.
Best Road Trip: Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame In Cleveland
Yes, but it’s a melancholy journey when you think about it. If it hadn’t been for the short-sightedness of various officials and the unforgivable lack of enthusiasm displayed by the press back in 1983, this sacred shrine would be in Tigertown instead of that Reservation on the Cuyahoga. Oh well, we can console ourselves with the fact that many Detroit legends have been inducted over the years (even Madonna) and with the even more consoling truth that we rock better that any other town on the face of the earth. And we still have Pontiacs! Wait ... Vernors! We still have that great gnome juice — yeah!
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