Besties arts: curtain up, sound check, arts opening

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Wednesday September 28, 2022
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"Passengers," currently playing at A.C.T.'s Toni Rembe Theater, formerly The Geary.<br>(photo: Kevin Berne)
"Passengers," currently playing at A.C.T.'s Toni Rembe Theater, formerly The Geary.
(photo: Kevin Berne)

It's time to get back out there and enjoy the communal experience of the arts in person. There is plenty in the pipeline from our readers' local favorites in both the visual and performing arts. Check our weekly listings online in the Bay Area Reporter, make your way to the venues our community loves and dive into our impressive local talent pool.

A.C.T. presents Bill Irwin's 'On Beckett' in October  

Best Theatre Company: American Conservatory Theatre (A.C.T.)
Runners up: New Conservatory Theatre Company (NCTC), Left Coast Theatre

As this newspaper's theatre critic, I commend our readers for submitting the names of their longtime favorites, only one of which, New Conservatory Theatre Center, has been able to mount even a single full season of shows in the past two years. Please help our local companies get back on their feet and up to full strength. The current productions at A.C.T. and NCTC ("Passengers" and "Aunt Jack") are both upbeat entertainments that will make you happy to be back in the seats. Left Coast, meanwhile, recently lost its longtime home with the closure of the Exit Theatre and is seeking $5000 in donations to help fund productions in the year ahead (

ODC Dance (photo: Andrew Weeks)  

Best Contemporary Dance Company: ODC Dance
Runners up: Alonzo King Lines Ballet, AXIS Dance Company

A wonderful introduction to dance for youngsters (and youngsters at heart), ODC will bring its 36th annual holiday production of "The Velveteen Rabbit" to the Blue Shield of California Theater at YBCA for three weekends beginning just after Thanksgiving. Lines' fall programs celebrate more than 25 years of collaboration between choreographer King and Grammy-winning table player Zakir Hussain. Berkeley-based AXIS, which works at the intersection of "dance and disability" hosts a master class at ODC's home theater next week.

San Francisco Ballet  

Best Classical Dance Company: San Francisco Ballet
Runners up: Smuin Contemporary Ballet, Oakland Ballet

Following annual performances of "The Nutcracker" in December, the company's 2023 season gets underway in January, celebrating its 90th anniversary with a festival of nine world premiere ballets by nine internationally acclaimed choreographers.

In Oakland, "The Nutcracker" is preceded by an October run of "Luna Mexicana" in celebration of the Day of the Dead. Smuin's holiday offering is a compendium of short, whimsical works currently touring the Bay Area.

The Fillmore  

Best Large Concert Venue: The Fillmore
Runners up: Davies Symphony Hall, Bill Graham Civic Auditorium

Many patrons of live performing arts in the city seem perpetually perplexed about the relative sizes of the venues they attend. Even among big venues, there are big differences. Take this year's winners: The Fillmore has a capacity of 1315, Davies seats 2743, and Bill Graham sells out at 8500. It seems like what folks like most about a large venue is how small it is! You're welcome.

Highlights at the Fillmore in the coming months include lesbian sister duo Tegan & Sara and gay club faves Junior Boys. Davies, of course, is SF Symphony central, where this fall's featured repertory includes Stravinsky's "Firebird" and a live performance of "The Godfather" score accompanying a screening of the film. The Bill Graham's highlight of the season is a sold out show by Lil Nas X.

ABC's Martin Fry at a recent concert at Bimbo's 365  

Best Small Concert Venue: Bimbo's 365
Runners up: The Independent, Roccapulco

Bimbo's (capacity 685), located on Columbus Avenue in North Beach since 1951, has a distinctly San Franciscan old school supper club vibe that's well worth checking out just to experience the venue. So keep an eye on its eclectic upcoming rental bookings, the most exciting of which is singer-songwriter Beth Orton, whose first album in six years is winning rave reviews.

The Independent (500) will host comedian Melissa Villasenor of "Saturday Night Live" fame, gay singer-songwriter Greyson Chance, and drag diva Alaska before year's end. And Mission Street's Roccapulco (approximately 500), which specializes in Latin music, has Colombian cumbia cutie Silvestre Dagond in the wings.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus at Davies Symphony Hall (photo: Stefan Cohen)  

Best Classical Music Venue: Davies Symphony Hall
Runners up: SF Jazz, SF Conservatory of Music

Apparently jazz is the new classical, although classical is still the old classical. But don't forget the Herbst Theater, home of the wonderfully varied SF Performances series. And take special note of our second runner up, where in-the-know afficionadoes can attend several free concerts and recitals by students and faculty every month; its one of the classiest cheap dates in town.

Suzanne 'Kitten on the Keys' Ramsey (photo: Hiromi Yoshida)  

Best Local Music Act: Kitten on the Keys
Runners up: Velvetta, Commando

The stage persona of East Bay native Suzanne Ramsey, Kitten on the Keys is kitchsy-kitchsy-cool, cracking wise and singing along to her own accompaniment on piano and accordion at venues including Bar Fluxus, Madrone Art Bar and touring with burlesque revues from New Orleans to Europe.

Runner-up Velvetta is a verging-on-sincere country band led by front-person Leigh Crow (Captain Kirk in Oasis' "Star Trek" spoofs; erstwhile Elvis Herselvis); catch them at the Riptide on October 23 and November 27. And queer nu metal collective Commando, led by Juba Kalamka and featuring Honey Mahogany and Lynee Breedlove, released its debut CD in March; cuts include somewhat cryptic tributes to Essex Hemphill, George Michael and Prince.

San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus  

Best Chorus: San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus
Runners up: Queer Chorus of San Francisco, Chanticleer

The SF Gay Men's Chorus begins a new chapter with this season's Christmas show, singing under the baton of new conductor/artistic director Jacob Stensberg. Previously on the faculty of Purdue University's vocal music department, Stensberg will oversee a season stacked with surefire crowd-pleasers. The chorus' annual holiday concerts will be followed by a unique program of songs from Disney films and a combined "Yellow Brick Road" salute to both Elton John and "The Wizard of Oz."

The Queer Chorus (formerly the Lesbian/Gay Chorus) has shows planned for November 11-13. In December, Chanticleer will tour the Bay Area and beyond, presenting seven performances of its Christmas concert.

Lyndi Sales' "(Un)Known Realms" at the Minnesota Street Art Project's Nancy Toomey Fine Art  

Best Art Gallery: Minnesota Street Art Project
Runners up: Moth Belly, Palette Gallery

Visiting the fifteen independently-owned contemporary galleries that make up the Minnesota Street complex already makes a wonderful afternoon for art lovers, an experience soon to be made all the richer with the opening, just blocks away, of our city's newest museum, the Institute of Contemporary Art, which has its grand opening this Saturday. Moth Belly, a community gallery and DIY space in the Tenderloin, is dedicated to rebuilding the "weird artsy San Francisco...the eccentric, grassroots side of the city."

Diego Rivera's 'Still Life and Blossoming Almond Trees' at SFMOMA  

Best Art Museum: SF MOMA
Runners up: The de Young Museum, The Legion of Honor

If you've been lax on your museum going, make a priority of visiting SF MOMA before the December 11 end of its Instagram darling "Contemporary Optics" exhibit and the closing of its expansive Diego Rivera retrospective on January 3. You've got even less time to catch the fabulous couture dresses of Chinese designer Guo Pei at the Legion and African American painter and quilter Faith Ringgold's "American People" at the de Young. (both exhibits close November 27). "Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs" is at the de Young through February.

'Bugs' at the California Academy of Sciences  

Best Nature/Science Museum: California Academy of Sciences
Runners up: Exploratorium, Chabot Space and Science Center

All three of these first-rate facilities are enormously popular for school field trips. Which is why it's especially great that they also have regularly scheduled adults-only evening programming. At the California Academy, the current vibrant "Bugs" exhibit features giant insect-eye-view plants and creatures. Nightlife events every Thursday feature special programming along with general museum access; separately scheduled lectures on astronomy and the natural world bring leading scientists to town.

The Exploratorium's After Dark programs are also a Thursday night staple. And Alameda's Chabot Center has unique outdoor Space, Paint and Sip programs that combine a planetarium show with beer, wine and a hands-on lesson in painting the night skies.

The classic pipe organ at The Castro Theatre  

Best Movie Theater: Castro Theatre
Runners up: Alamo Drafthouse, AMC Metreon

And... cut? Let's hope not, but the Castro's long run as the queer community's favorite movie house is on the ropes as reconfigured seating and other changes continued to be debated in the ongoing tussle between new lease holder Another Planet Entertainment and organized conservancy advocates. Before an anticipated closure for to-be-determined renovations queer audiences can look forward to live shows by Jonathan Van Ness of "Queer Eye" and "Drag Race" star Shangela in December and January.

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