Best Example of Art-World Perseverance 2002 | Phil Bender | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword
In 1980, a group of friends opened an alternative art space in a then-rough part of town and gave it the difficult and unconventional name of Pirate: a contemporary art oasis. But the co-op's name perfectly reflected the difficult and unconventional work that has so often found a home in the space at 3659 Navajo Street. Now, more than twenty years later, the original members have mostly scattered to the four winds. The exception is Phil Bender, who has not only remained as an active Pirate member, but has also run the place and kept it going during many dry spells. In addition, Bender has presented a solo exhibit of his own work at least once a year since Pirate's founding. For last summer's Bender bender, Paris, Paris Architecture, Etc., Etc., he covered the walls with hubcaps, postcards, coasters and other found items -- playing off his longtime penchant for using objects collected in multiples and putting them together in unlikely combinations to create pieces that are greater than the sum of their parts. Truly, Bender's unwavering dedication through the years has set a fine example for other artists.
You have to hand it to the folks who strive to try something different, and the Other Side is just such an effort. Rather than being just another artist cooperative, it's more of a true collective, where artists not only share studio and gallery space (and daycare), but attempt to give back to the community by offering classes and workshops, as well as art for sale at reasonable prices. Located in the former Platte Anchor Bolt warehouse space and created out of the visionary dreamworks of grassroots art entrepreneurs Chris Minter and Jeff Ball, the Other Side is a place where artful things and concepts can grow unfettered. Check it out.
Hair today, gone...well, you know the drill: When local artist/entrepreneur Lonnie Hanzon decided to cash it all in, sell his workshop and auction off nearly everything in it, he also decided to drop his three-foot tresses, what he liked to call his "greatest work of art," and put them on the block, to boot. To his credit, he turned the whole crazy event into a theatrical experience and created a reliquary for the lopped locks. We can only hope that Hanzon and his newly chromed dome are now in a better place.
They used Colorado Yule Marble for the Lincoln Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In fact, anytime someone wants to make something look grand, they call for the sleek stone that's quarried in the town of Marble, near Aspen. At the Marble Institute of Colorado's MARBLE/marble XIV classes this summer, sculptors of various levels of experience and expertise can learn to shape marble. After a group of internationally known instructors offers the basics on carving stone, each student will receive three cubic feet at which they can chip away. That rocks!
Who can argue with a tradition that's been handed down for centuries, has its origins in a mystical fertility ritual, and involves grown people dressed in white holding antlers on their heads? That's the core of the solemn annual rite known as Abbott's Bromley Horn Dance, which leapt across the Atlantic decades ago and embedded itself in Denver's folk-dancing community. The Maroon Bells Morris Dancers perform the rite as part of the annual Winter Solabration at the Temple Events Center, and they're faithful to the ritual. Done in good fun, participants say, the ceremony gives new meaning to the phrase "horny dancers."
This program for young dancers places an elite crew of twinkletoes in the spotlight for the annual Colorado Ballet staging of The Nutcracker. It's a wonderful experience, of course, for any second-grader keen on turning pro, but the fast-track connections that come out of the mingling of so many upper-suburban stage mothers at related social events may be an even more compelling reason that the Sugar Plums have attracted so many applicants. Proceeds benefit the ballet, and various spinoff programs for alumni and older children have made the entire affair accessible to a wide range of youngsters -- whether their parents are Denver bluebloods or not. On your toes, kids!
Hard to say if it was dance, theater, circus or dressage, but whatever it was, Cheval Théâtre provided an astonishing evening of entertainment during its extended Denver run last fall. Sitting in the audience, you sensed some mysterious, Cirque du Soleil-influenced story must be responsible for the goings-on in the sawdust ring under a tent in the parking lot of the Pepsi Center -- there were evocative costumes, golden coins, a fallen horse and rider amid swirls of smoke -- but the plot didn't really matter. What mattered was the magnificence of the horses, beautiful animals that represented some seventeen breeds and had names like Gadjal, Chabo, Dansk and Hercule; the grace and skill of the riders; and the extraordinary, almost mythic relationship between the animals and their humans.
Denver should be grateful for the foresight and dedication that originally gave birth to the Denver Center Theatre Company, which has assembled a talented group of artists and every year offers an eclectic and intelligent mix of plays -- classic and contemporary, angry and light, humorous and tragic. The production values are almost always impeccable. This year's standouts were a newly translated Cyrano de Bergerac, Dinner With Friends and A Skull in Connemara. Though there's the occasional misfire, you always feel in safe hands here.
Coyote on a Fence opened soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and it says much for the production that it retained its strength and seemed both true and important in the face of those terrible events. Bruce Graham's play examines the death penalty in America and concerns two men on death row. One is a psychologist convicted of murdering a drug dealer, the other a skinhead who blocked the door of a black church with his truck and set fire to the building, killing 37 people. The play asks serious questions about the value of lives such as this and, by extrapolation, all human life. Chip Walton directed his first-rate cast at the Acoma Center with a sure hand, and Gene Gillette turned in a riveting performance as the childish and terribly damaged skinhead.
We don't quite know what to make of Thaddeus Phillips, who managed -- all by himself -- to perform two full-length Shakespeare plays, King Lear and the Tempest, during one strange and coldly electrifying evening at Denver's Buntport Theater and who later amazed a sparse crowd at the historic Rossonian Hotel with a loose narrative about how he learned to tap dance. The latter also involved a tribute to his teachers and a trip to Cuba, along with some dazzlingly fast tap displays. Phillips creates a world on stage the way a kid makes a city out of blocks. He uses objects -- a high-heeled shoe, a cigarette, a grinning Javanese puppet -- as stand-ins for other characters. Though we have no way of defining him, we plan to be there for whatever he comes up with next.

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