Best One-Stop Cultural Center 2022 | Denver Performing Arts Complex | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

The Denver Performing Arts Complex isn't so much a venue as it is an epicenter for the kind of arts activities that defines cities as cultural institutions. After staying closed through much of the pandemic, it's the place where you can once again spot a secondary-school field trip, or a music student analyzing an orchestral piece. It's where you can take a date to see Broadway plays such as Hamilton, or where a grandparent might take a grandchild to hear the Colorado Symphony score Harry Potter. The Colorado Ballet, Opera Colorado, the Colorado Symphony and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, which pushed for the creation of the facility fifty years ago, all call the sprawling twelve-acre complex home. Welcome back.

James Florio Photography

Just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Denver Art Museum in October 1971, the renovation of the Gio Ponti-designed, tile-clad tower — now called the Martin Building — was revealed last fall. The makeover is a masterpiece both inside and out, with the new Sie Welcome Center not only creating a new entrance, but providing a visual and physical link between the original museum building and the Hamilton. The galleries were also refreshed, with the Western American Art collection finally given its due on the seventh floor — right by the rooftop decks that are once again accessible to the public. We can't wait to see what the DAM does to top this anniversary celebration fifty years from now.

City of Greeley Museums

Neyla Pekarek, a cellist, singer and former member of the Lumineers, has long been fascinated by Kate Slaughterback, who gained fame in the 1920s for killing 140 rattlesnakes that were attempting to slither toward her, her son and her horse on their homestead in northern Colorado; she made a flapper dress of the snakes' skins that is now a Greeley museum artifact. This year, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts presented a much larger memorial to this colorful pioneer: a full production of the musical Rattlesnake Kate, based on Pekarek's concept, scored by Pekarek, and written by playwright Karen Hartman.

Courtesy Museo de las Americas

This year, Denver has seen three exhibits devoted to La Malinche, a Nahua woman enslaved by Hernán Cortés and used as his interpreter during his conquest, who bore his son and is known as the mother of the European/Indigenous mixed race. The Denver Art Museum's Traitor, Survivor, Icon: The Legacy of La Malinche came first, with works ranging from the sixteenth century to modern day; plans for that exhibit inspired Maruca Salazar, former director of the Museo de las Americas, to curate Malinalli on the Rocks, which uses the woman's Indigenous name and showcases works by contemporary local Chicano and Latinx artists. The result is stunning, with pieces in myriad mediums that look at Malinche through a more sympathetic lens, after being seen as a traitor to her people for centuries. Rounding out the trio: Malintzin: Unraveled and Rewoven at the CU Denver Experience Gallery.

Best Fiftieth Anniversary for a Theater Company

Su Teatro

Denver was the epicenter of the Chicano civil rights movement, so it's only fitting that as part of its fiftieth-anniversary celebration, Su Teatro reprised its original production War of the Flowers, the story of the Kitayama Carnation Strike in Weld County, which culminated with five women being tear-gassed when they chained themselves to the gates of the factory. For the past five decades, since it got its start in a University of Colorado Denver class, Su Teatro has been fighting the restrictions of traditional stories to push political truths and tell the real stories of the community. Now at home in the former Denver Civic Theatre, Su Teatro just keeps adding programs for that community, everything from the Chicano Music Festival to the XicanIndie FilmFest. But ultimately, the play's still the thing.

Best Fiftieth Original Show for a Theater Company

Buntport Theater

Courtesy Buntport Theater Facebook page

Every now and then, something pops up that feels purely Denver, and in the theater scene, that's Buntport, a company of six talented artists who create their productions — often hilarious, sometimes deeply moving — through a brainstorming process that miraculously always produces a coherent script. It's experimental work, but not the arrogant, "you're-too-stupid-to-get-this" kind or the trendy, expensive immersive stuff turning up everywhere these days. Based on whatever intriguing morsel of news, myth or fantasy has caught a company member's attention at some point, Buntport's work is homegrown, original, and entirely itself. Catch it if you can, and/or take any visitor who asks what's special about Denver. After a pandemic-induced delay, Buntport's fiftieth original show debuts this month.

Rick Villareal

The mission of Motus Theater is to "create original theater to facilitate dialogue on critical issues of our time," and it's definitely delivered during the pandemic. The company grew out of Rocks Karma Arrows, a multimedia work exploring Boulder history through the lens of class and race; over the past fifteen years, the focus has expanded to take in the entire country. Most recently, the JustUs and UndocuAmerica projects brought in speakers from all walks of life to share the words and experiences of immigrants and people who were formerly incarcerated, which were then shared online.

Talented actor, playwright, director, filmmaker and activist donnie l. betts delves into Black history regularly for his Destination Freedom radio-play series on the Broadway Podcast Network. But betts is also an award-winning documentarian who's struck gold with positive stories about Black life and Black heroes, including Colorado-centric films about the historic enclave of Dearfield and Denver physician Dr. Justina Ford. His latest is 2022: The Year of Lincoln Hills, the story of a Black-owned mountain resort community that opened in 1922, some of which still survives today. It's just one more link in betts's campaign to preserve the past and share it with today's audiences.

The Colorado Dragon Boat Festival has grown from a summertime tradition to a year-round institution that includes a film festival. Academy Awards-anointed flicks such as Parasite and Drive My Car are evidence that filmmakers in Asia, as well as peers aligned with the region's diaspora, are among the most innovative on the planet today — and the annual Colorado Dragon Boat Film Festival demonstrates that there's plenty of fascinating material beyond the highest-profile productions. The 2022 edition, which ran in early March at the Sie FilmCenter, gave viewers the chance to see many of these films on the big screen, where they belong; programming ranged from Listen Before You Sing, inspired by the true story of the Vox Nativa Taiwanese Foundation Choir, to Free Chol Soo Lee, a documentary focused on a man wrongfully convicted of a gang murder in San Francisco in the early 1970s.

The look of most art-house theaters tends toward blandness and conformity. But the Mayan, which opened in 1930, during the golden age of motion-picture palaces, is a reminder that going to the movies used to be an event. The Art Deco stylings, originally created by architect Montana Fallis and displayed to particularly spectacular effect on the building's towering facade and inside the main auditorium, make every screening feel a little more special. And the libations provided at the Mayan bar are capable of making even the most challenging cinematic fare go down a little more smoothly.

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