It’s always been a fine line in Central Florida, the line between fine arts and arts that are just fine; inevitably, established arts groups are caught in a vicious financial cycle of producing work that may be more commercial than they’d like in hopes the public will pay to see it – and then, with the profits, maybe next year they can stretch boundaries more. With everything now unfolding beneath the towering cranes of the new performing arts center, the dramatic push-and-pull of that ever-vanishing “maybe next year” is all the more evident.
At the seventh annual Red Chair Affair Aug. 27 at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, a yearly gala meant to launch the arts and cultural season with performances by area arts groups large and small, there were excuses for both grimaces and grins above the plastic cocktail cups. A veritable pu-pu platter of crowd-pleasing vignettes was paraded with haste (and a few hiccups) in front of a capacity audience that seemed more than willing to accommodate with polite applause. If it was the same perfunctory applause one might expect from community theater – more than one act included precocious children, whose feelings are not to be hurt – that’s entirely excusable; this was a rouse-the-crowd preview. But the sense that we Central Floridians are not equipped to handle challenging performances and would rather stay neatly grounded in our pop-cultural comfort zones remains troubling.
It wasn’t all an exercise in middlebrow: Florida Opera Theatre’s wry omnibus on the art form was refreshing (and exciting, given the recent demise of the Orlando Opera Company); Orlando Shakespeare Theater and Voci Dance lived up to their reputations for excellence. The chaff did outweigh the wheat, however. The continued “sexing up” of the Orlando Ballet, this time with a trio of dancers walking to the Moody Blues’ pomp-bombast classic “Nights in White Satin,” failed to engage. Orlando Aerial Arts might have been hilarious in their sheet-dangling Cirque-isms set to the cheese-rock of Styx’s “Come Sail Away,” if only the humor were intentional. (I, admittedly, stood up and danced alone to that one, to everyone’s disapproval.)
The evening’s closers, the Orlando Rep’s Power Chords, put a fine point on it, though. As talented as all of the kids involved were, the cynical read of this all being a Glee knockoff for the sake of popular consumption was inescapable. As an arts community, we may need to be “more than a museum,” as one talking head asserted. We also need to be more than a television. – Billy Manes
Local lit mag Annalemma (annalemma .net), on the other hand, is the kind of affair that gives us hope for our community. The content is of high quality – exciting experimental writing (both fiction and nonfiction), killer illustrations and photography – and the issues are beautifully laid out and printed (in Iceland – who knew?). There’s no dumbing-down or hand-holding.
About that layout: For the last couple of years it’s been the work of local artist Jen O’Malley, who convinced Annalemma editor-publisher Chris Heavener to go back to themed issues. The latest issue, No. 8, is all about creation: “making something out of nothing.” This struck me as an apt theme for print publishing indeed – it’s something we do here at Orlando Weekly every week – but as Heavener relates in his editor’s note, it began as a collaboration between Annalemma (2009 OW Best of Orlando editor’s pick) and Makr Carry Goods (2010 OW Best of Orlando editor’s pick): “It would be a celebration of craft, of people who devote their lives to a trade and do what they do with grace, precision and beauty.” The collab didn’t work out timing-wise, but the issue is a celebration of making something out of nothing all the same, with essays about a Belgian craft brewer, the history of the American bridal gown (the multi-talented O’Malley again), the people who create comic books (mostly men, it turns out: surprise!) and Gina Ishibashi, a woman who can fix things. There’s also incisive and hilarious fiction from Peg Alford Pursell, Ryan Rivas, Eliza Tudor and many more contributors.
Maybe the key is that Annalemma is local but not locally exclusive – its creators are based here but they travel frequently; its contributors are from all over the country (and hey, it’s printed in Iceland!). Those open borders don’t dilute the journal; they make for a stronger point of view, one that’s unique not just to Orlando but purely to Heavener and his crew.
– Jessica Bryce Young