Diverse third season includes acrobatic ballet, repertory-crossing string quartet, and opera

By Barbara Rowley EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Local audiences have learned to be both surprised and pleased by the variety, quality and unique attributes of the acts comprising the winter season lineups at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center. But mostly, they’ve come to trust that whatever WMPAC presents is guaranteed to be, at minimum, memorable.

“We don’t spend a lot of time looking or choosing between acts,” says long-time local Maggie Trimiew, who’s attended a number of performances at WMPAC. “There’s never a question that we are going. We always know it is going to be really good.”

WMPAC Artistic Director John Zirkle says that while he intentionally looks for new and different acts for each season’s lineup, he finds certain commonalities in the performances. “We always feature something that highlights movement, a spoken word artist or two, cutting edge musicians in specialized fields, and something theatrical,” he said.

This year’s season opener, for instance, echoes last year’s sold-out presentation of “Loon.” Chicago’s Manual Cinema will bring their unique combination of puppetry and shadow art to present “Lula del Ray,” a live theatrical performance that integrates, film, shadows and puppetry to tell a story Chicago Theater Beat describes as “charming and fresh.”

Manual Cinema will appear on Jan. 30; an exhibit featuring their puppets and a live, interactive shadow photo booth exhibition in the theater art gallery will occur on Dec. 30.

Two spoken-word events will be season highlights for anyone interested in poetry or fiction. “Selected Shorts,” the popular Public Radio International radio program, will feature well-known actors reading familiar works of fiction.

Seven-time Emmy nominee and former “Malcolm in the Middle” star Jane Kaczmarek headlines the cast for this Jan. 9 performance. Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, a popular guest on “The Colbert Report” and “Prairie Home Companion” as well as TED Talks, will appear on March 5. The New York Times’ best-selling author, Collins has won-over millions of fans with his clever and humorous approach to the form.

Instrumental groups are always a part of the WMPAC season, and this year’s lineup is no exception. Kronos Quartet, one of the world’s most popular string groups, is known for its genre-crossing repertory. The group is as likely to play Jimmy Hendrix and accompany a Paul McCartney-led performance of “Yesterday” as to play an entire classical repertoire. The best selling group with, 2.5 million recordings sold, appears on Feb. 12.

The same genre-hopping, experimental style will be more than a little present when So Percussion takes the stage. These percussionist masters will pay homage to world-famous composer John Cage with their presentation of “Third Construction,” but you can also expect some out-of-the-drum behavior and performances from this famous group. Watch (and hear!) them on Jan. 16.

The movement artists this year range from the well-known and loved James Sewell Ballet on March 19, to Diavolo, a thrilling acrobatic-meets-martial-arts-meets-ballet directed by Jacques Heim, a former choreographer for Cirque du Soleil. Both groups move from a classical tradition into highly athletic, entertaining and often gasp-inducing performances.

James Sewell makes new works each summer in Big Sky, and the troupe’s performances almost always sell out. Diavolo will present their enigmatic show, “Volo,” which explores how humans interact with inanimate, architectural elements in fantastical ways on Jan. 23.

This season also includes two close-to-the-heart performances especially selected by Zirkle, who brought one of the most impressive pianists in the world, Antony Baryshevskyi, to great local acclaim in the debut season.

“The Czech choir Jitro is a group that absolutely changed my life,” Zirkle said. “I studied with their conductor in Czech Republic in 2008, and I was able to witness firsthand how a world-class children’s choir is created. It’s an out-of-this-world experience because the clarity of their tone is absolutely gorgeous and awe-inspiring.” The Jitro (pronounced Yee-Tro) choir will perform March 26.

The other performance is also a labor of love, an opera written by Zirkle’s college professor, acclaimed composer Ofer Ben-Amots. “As for the Dybbuk, well … this is how WMPAC does Opera, and we’ve never done something like this before,” Zirkle said. “The thought of skiing all day and then coming down to WMPAC to enjoy an opera is such an amazing concept; once the idea took hold, there was no going back.” The Dybbuk will be presented on Feb. 27.

The community also produced three shows this season: LPHS students performed “It’s A Wonderful Life, the Live Radio Play,” on Dec. 11; Big Sky Community Theater’s production of Rich Orloff’s “Nothing Serious,” on Dec. 18; and the high school musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” will play May 26 and 27.

The WMPAC season also includes four art gallery openings, which are curated and opened to coordinate and enhance the experience of the mainstage performances they accompany.

Visit warrenmillerpac.org for tickets and more information.