The Top 25 Shows to See in Seattle This Spring

Zandra Rhodes’ 'Magic Flute' costumes, first seen by Seattle audiences in 2011, return in an encore performance by the Seattle Opera. The designer calls them “wearable dreams"

It’s time to spring forward (literally this Sunday, you guys) and plan your arts calendar for the sunny (well, sunnier) season. We’ve sifted through everything that’s coming up and selected the spring shows you’ve got to see. We also tapped four new leaders at top arts venues—Seattle Children’s Theatre, the Frye Art Museum, Northwest Film Forum and Seattle University’s galleries—to hear the events they’re most eagerly looking forward to. Remember: You gotta have art. Miles and miles of art. With this list, you won’t go wrong.

No. 1
The Magic Flute

(5/6–5/21) Mozart’s wickedly fun opera about a prince, a birdwatcher, a princess who needs rescuing and a flute with supernatural powers resplendently returns with the gorgeous costumes designed by Zandra Rhodes. She’s the wildly imaginative fashion designer who dressed Diana, Princess of Wales and Freddie Mercury, and whose costumes delighted local audiences when Seattle Opera performed The Pearl Fishers in 2015. Let’s just say that if you give a fashion designer an opportunity to design oh, for example, an emu, don’t expect it to be an ordinary brown in color. Times and prices vary. McCaw Hall, Seattle Center, 321 Mercer St.; 206.733.9725;

No. 2
Summer Wheat: 
Full Circle
(3/4–9/17) In a 2015 essay, the artist Summer Wheat writes about a moment of happenstance, finding excess green paint on her studio floor and then sculpting it into something resembling broccoli. “I needed to bring the paint out, into three dimensions, before I could bring visual depth to a flat surface,” she says about finding that moment of creative freedom. Wheat’s work is explosive, colorful, arresting; sometimes looking like a marriage between graffiti and stained glass. This show features large-scale, figurative paintings about celestial bodies that have been created by pushing paint through window screens. Times and prices vary. Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, 4100 15th Ave. NE; 206.543.2280;

Image by Etienne Frossard
"Strawberry Sun” [detail] by Summer Wheat comes to the Henry Art Gallery

No. 3
Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors
(6/30–9/10) Millions of awestruck museumgoers have spent as long as four hours in line to visit Yayoi Kusama’s immersive, intimate artwork Infinity Mirror Rooms, based on the hallucinations of the 87-year-old artist, and lit up by LED lights and her colorful imagination. At the Seattle Art Museum’s blockbuster summer show, there will be six such rooms, five of which a few people at a time can enter, with one to be viewed from outside it. Kusama exhibited with Andy Warhol in the ’60s (“Andy copied my ideas, such as repetition,” she says), and then voluntarily moved into a mental institution in Japan in the ’70s, set up a studio across the street to process her mad visions into art, and became one of the world’s most popular, and highest paid, living female artists. All over the world, her show breaks selfie records. If you miss it, it could break your heart. Times and prices vary. Seattle Art Museum, 1300 First Ave., downtown; 206.654.3100;

Image by Eikoh Hosoe

No. 4
Hala Alyan
(5/16) Hala Alyan’s poetry about war, cities, ancestors, immigration and women of color has been described as haunting, lush, musical and devastating. The Palestinian-American poet and clinical psychologist, now living in Manhattan, will be in Seattle to discuss her debut novel, Salt Houses, about a Palestinian family caught between displacement and home. 7 p.m. Free. Elliott Bay Book Company, Capitol Hill, 1521 10th Ave.; 206.624.6600;

No. 5
Ravel’s Magical Opera
(6/1 & 6/3) Ravel’s one-act opera, about an unhappy, rather mean boy and the animals who teach him a serious lesson about how to treat others, is rarely staged. Enter Benaroya’s favorite conductor, Ludovic Morlot, the Seattle Symphony, 20-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier, the Northwest Boychoir and the Seattle Symphony Chorale for what promises to be a highlight of the season and a first-of-its-kind performance at Benaroya. Times and prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.215.4800;

No. 6
Chris Maynard: Featherfolio
(3/11–6/4) With the precision of a surgeon, Olympia artist Chris Maynard, who regards feathers as little gifts given to us by birds, transforms them into astonishing cutout marvels: a flicker, a heron, a duck. He’ll pin some of these cutouts to form one-of-a-kind shadow boxes that will forever change the way you look at plumage. The museum itself is a gem worth a visit. Times vary. Free. Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, Bainbridge Island, 550 Winslow Way E; 206.842.4451;

No. 7
Upstream Music Fest + Summit 
(5/11–5/13) Upstream, a Paul Allen-backed SXSW-style music festival, boasts more than 200 artists and 25 stages May 11–13. Expect “some very cool potential bands/reunions,” hints Marco Collins, who will curate showcase stages along with KEXP and Barsuk Records. The ultimate Seattle music event will focus on up-and-coming talents. “We’ll feature the local artist who should be known regionally and the regional artist who should be known nationally,” says executive director Jeff Vetting. The May 11–12 Summit is intended to turn green musicians into businesslike survivors, with advice from keynote speakers Macklemore, Quincy Jones and Portia Sabin. Times and prices vary; Pioneer Square and CenturyLink Field;

No. 8

Here Lies Love
(4/7–5/28) The story of Imelda Marcos, the bigger-than-life first lady of the Philippines, is told through a “disco musical” conceived by former Talking Head David Byrne and electro dance DJ Fatboy Slim. The title is taken from the phrase Marcos reportedly wants as her epitaph. Since she’s a former beauty queen who once owned 3,000 pairs of shoes and loves disco and glitz—the Philippines auctioned her jewels last summer for $21 million—Byrne and Slim set the story inside a club. Seattle Rep’s Bagley Wright Theatre will be transformed into a nightspot, and audience members will have a choice as to how close they’d like to be to witness the singing and dancing that has scored critical raves during two previous off-Broadway runs. Times and prices vary. Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St.; 206.443.2222;

Image by Joan Marcus
Move over, Evita! A scene from David Byrne’s and Fatboy Slim’s musical about another tyrant with style, Imedla Marcos

No. 9
Approaching Ecstasy
(6/2–6/10) Among the works that solidified Whim W’Him’s reputation as a must-see local dance company was its critically acclaimed 2012 world-premiere dance event Approaching Ecstasy. Now it’s back: 40 singers, five string musicians and seven dancers all on stage in a production about a closeted gay man in Egypt at the end of the 19th century. The work is choreographed by Whim W’Him’s Olivier Wevers and based on the poetry of Constantine Cavafy, with original music (sung in English and in Greek) by The Esoterics and Eric Banks. 8 p.m. Prices vary. Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Center, 201 Mercer St.; 206.726.5113;

Image by Bamberg Fine Art
Whim W’Him revives its 2012 hit in a big way

No. 10
Helen Oyeyemi
(4/25) Born in Nigeria, raised in London and now living in Prague, the much acclaimed 30-something novelist Oyeyemi published a collection titled What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours in 2016. All the stories involve either a key or a lock as a central plot point. The New York Times called her “transcendent.” And then she became even better. 7:30 p.m. Prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 1200 University St.; 206.215.4800;

No. 11
[untitled] 3
(4/28) Did you know there was a “popera” based on Andy Warhol’s life? The cabaret/opera hybrid debuted in 2015 in Philadelphia, and now you can hear some of the music at Seattle Symphony’s popular [untitled] late-night series. Warhol and the groundbreaking jazz pianist Thelonious Monk are the subjects of the evening’s aural homage, with compositions by Paul Moravec, Yannis Kyriakides, and Heath Allen and Dan Visconti (the last two being the creatives behind the Warhol work). Performances in this series are literally the only times you’re invited to lie down inside Benaroya Hall, because pillows (chairs, too) are provided for attendees. 10 p.m. Prices vary. Benaroya Hall, downtown, 200 University St.; 206.215.4800;

No. 12
Emily Nussbaum
(5/4) The New Yorker’s TV critic, Nussbaum won a National Magazine Award in 2014 and a Pulitzer for criticism in 2016. She’ll share her insight and wit on all matters television. (Back in 2014, she was a fan of Scandal. Is she still?) Her appearance is part of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ wonderfully labeled “Women You Need to Know” series. 7:30 p.m. Prices vary. Town Hall Seattle, downtown, 1119 Eighth Ave.; 206.652.4255;

Marimekko, With Love
(3/10–7/9) That bold, colorful throw pillow in your living room? You’ve likely got Marimekko to thank for emboldening the accoutrements of everyday life. The Finnish company shaped a new fashion and design aesthetic with its iconic repeating red poppies, a floral pattern that has punctuated everything from bags to sheets to an actual airliner. This retrospective, organized by the Textile Museum of Canada, acknowledges Marimekko’s rich legacy since 1951 with a show that includes photographs, posters, bolts of fabric and the black-and-white, vertical-striped Jokapoika shirt. Times and prices vary. Nordic Heritage Museum, Ballard, 3014 NW 67th St.; 206.789.5707;

No. 14
(5/18–5/21) Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener are two former Merce Cunningham dancers who have been collaborating since 2010. Now, with the help of filmmaker Charles Atlas, they present a spectacle involving a 3-D film, a translucent scrim, live capture footage and six dancers that aims to upend our notion of what a dance performance is supposed to look like. Times and prices vary. On the Boards, Uptown, 100 W Roy St.; 206.217.9886;

Image by Silas Riener
Tesseract at On the Boards: Expect the unexpected

No. 15
Coming Together

(4/8) This evening of music for anyone who’s woke (in African-American vernacular), or needs to be, features Workers Union, Louis Andriessen’s exacting and aggressive orchestral work about blue-collar workers; James Tenney’s meditative Swell Piece No. 2; and Coming Together, Frederic Rzewski’s seminal composition based on letters written by Sam Melville, an inmate at New York’s Attica state prison in 1971 at the time of that prison’s riots. Those whose musical preferences lean toward ho-hum safe should stay away. David Alexander Rahbee, senior artist-in-residence at the University of Washington, conducts an ensemble of local musicians. 8 p.m. $20. On the Boards, Uptown, 100 W Roy St.; 206.217.9886;

No. 16
(4/25–5/7) After multiple recent productions at ACT and the Seattle Repertory Theatre, New York MacArthur “Genius” grant winner Sarah Ruhl is practically an honorary Seattleite. The University of Washington School of Drama’s terrifically talented L. Zane Jones rallies Ruhl fans by directing her adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s gender-shifting, time-bending 1928 novel about a man who suddenly finds himself an immortal woman. The show has an entirely female-identifying cast. Times and prices vary. Glenn Hughes Penthouse Theatre, University of Washington, NE 45th Street and 17th Avenue NE; 206.543.4880;

No. 17

La Compagnie Hervé Koubi
(4/13–4/15) An all-male company of dancers from Algeria and Burkina Faso makes its Seattle debut in a work that marries the Brazilian martial art capoeira with hip-hop and contemporary dance. What the Day Owes to the Night is set to Sufi music, work by Bach and a score by the Kronos Quartet. If you’re the sort who craves dance that is both physical and beautiful, this one’s for you. 8 p.m. Prices vary. Meany Center for the Performing Arts, University of Washington, 313 NE 41st St.; 206.543.4880;

Image by Nathalie-Sternalski
The Washington Post called What the Day Owes to the Night a “stunning fusion of acrobatics, gymnastics, b-boying, modern dance and ballet.”

No. 18 
The Combat 

(4/1–4/9) Determined to find ways to eschew the conventional, Seattle Opera performed its As One opera last year (which told the story of a transgender woman) in the Central Area’s Washington Hall. Now, Seattle Opera heads to the Georgetown Steam Plant to explore Muslim and Christian relations in Monteverdi’s love story of Christian knight Tancredi and Muslim warrior Clorinda. It doesn’t end well. Because part of the plot involves a siege tower set on fire, the bewitching steam plant should make for excellent ambiance for both performance and any post-show discussion. Times and prices vary. Georgetown Steam Plant, Georgetown, 6605 13th Ave. S; 206.389.7676; 

No. 19
Seattle International Film Festival
(5/18–6/11) The 43rd Seattle International Film Festival promises to screen more than 450 movies from 90 countries for 150,000 people—three times as many as the Sundance fest attracts—plus, there’s the Golden Space Needle Award. Times, prices and venues vary. 206.464.5830;

No. 20
The Secret Garden

(4/14–5/6) Ten-year-old Mary Lennox is an orphan stuck with a reclusive uncle in a sad-looking mansion when she discovers a magical garden that resurrects everyone’s spirit. A musical with book and lyrics by Pulitzer Prize winner Marsha Norman and music by Carly Simon’s opera-singing big sister Lucy Simon, it’s coproduced with Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company and directed by The 5th Avenue Theatre’s hit maker David Armstrong. Times and prices vary. 5th Avenue Theatre, downtown, 1308 Fifth Ave.; 206.625.1900;

No. 21
The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited
(5/20–1/1/18) This world-premiere show pays tribute to the beloved and enormously creative puppeteer who gave us the Muppets and The Dark Crystal. It includes sketches, storyboards, scripts, film clips and more than 20 puppets. Oh please, let the list include Oscar the Grouch. Please. Times and prices vary. MoPop, Seattle Center, 325 Fifth Ave. N; 206.770.2700;

Image by Murray Close
Jim Henson and Kathryn Mullen with puppets Jen and Kira on the set of The Dark Crystal in 1981

No. 22

Before We Flew Like Birds, We Flew Like Clouds

(3/9–4/1) Creative powerhouse and multifaceted artist KT Niehoff takes a deep dive into our emotional and physical connections to our bodies by bringing together a unique group of collaborators: an astronaut, a professional athlete, a transgender young adult, a senior professional dancer, a cancer survivor and a differently­-abled person. Niehoff is a meticulous storyteller who immerses an audience into her chosen narrative by never overlooking the minutest of details. This world premiere, commissioned for Velocity Dance Center’s 20th anniversary season, is apropos because Niehoff helped found Velocity and led it for a decade. 8 p.m. Prices vary. Velocity Dance Center, Capitol Hill, 1621 12th Ave.; 206.325.8773;

No. 23
(4/15–5/7) Amazingly, little Sound Theatre Company competes with Seattle’s big houses, winning Theatre of the Year at the Gregory Awards two years in a row (and doubling its actors’ pay in 2017). Even more amazing, the company’s entire new season, Amplify! Raising Women’s Voices, celebrates female artistic prowess by showcasing productions written by women and hiring women to direct them. To kick it off: Nadeshiko, a world premiere by Seattle theater artist Keiko Green, about two generations of Asian women and their perceptions of beauty. Directed by Kaytlin McIntyre and presented in collaboration with Seattle’s Umbrella Project. 7:30 p.m. Prices vary. Center Theatre/Armory, Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St.; 206.856.5520;

No. 24
(4/7–4/22) MadArt welcomes the collective Let’s (Andy Arkley, Courtney Barnebey and Peter Lynch) for its latest immersive and interactive installation, billed as its biggest visual/aural experience yet. Visitors get to press buttons to create music synchronized to video. More than just an opportunity to bedazzle, the work amplifies the power—and joy—of collaboration. Watch the artists at work through March 31, then see the resulting show. Times and prices vary. MadArt Studio, South Lake Union, 325 Westlake Ave. N; 206.623.1180;

Image by MadArt
Art for the WE show: interactive sculpture with music and video

No. 25
The Sugar Project
(4/5–4/29) Women as sweet, consumable and expendable commodities is at the heart of this art installation, which uses sugar as both metaphor and artistic medium. Two Georgetown galleries, Bridge Productions and Oxbow Installation Gallery, join forces to present a host of multidisciplinary works by Michelle de la Vega, including video, spoken word, stilettos fashioned from spun sugar and words written out in sugary icing answering the question: “What would the world feel like if women didn’t experience violence?” Imagine. Times and prices vary. Bridge Productions, Georgetown, 6007 12th Ave. S; 

On the Radar
What New Arts Leaders Want to See

Joseph Rosa
Frye Art Museum director and CEO 
Joined the Frye: October 2016
After penning 17 books on art and architecture, and with stints at the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Carnegie Museum and the University of Michigan Museum of Art, where he launched a $40 million capital campaign, National Endowment for the Arts grant winner (and NEA juror) Rosa is discovering Seattle’s galleries (and ski slopes). His spring arts pick: “I’m very much looking forward to Pacific Northwest Ballet’s premiere of Pictures at an Exhibition [06/02–06/11]. The sets are drawn from Kandinsky paintings, and it’s a wonderful synthesis of dance, music and visual art.” 

Courtney Sheehan
Northwest Film Forum Executive Director
Executive director since: May 2016
In 2011, Grinnell College alum Sheehan was awarded the most fun of prestigious postgraduate fellowships, the Watson. That fellowship funded her 16-month investigation of 20 film festivals in eight nations, including India and Spain, where she ran the migration-themed film festival Cine Migratorio. Migrating here in 2014, she rose through the ranks at NWFF, and took over when former executive director Lyall Bush left to found Cornish College of the Arts’ film department. Her spring arts pick: “The Palestinian-American poet Hala Alyan’s work is searingly beautiful, and I’m excited to see how she translates her deft ruminations on migration, diaspora and history to her debut novel, Salt Houses.” (Alyan reads at Elliott Bay Book Company on May 16.)

Courtney Sale
Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) Artistic Director
Joined SCT: August 2016
A Cornish College of the Arts grad, Sale has developed new work with big-deal directors at prestigious places coast to coast (Provincetown Playhouse, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre). When Peter Brook, called “our greatest living theatre director” by The Independent, selected 14 directors for his touring Hamlet workshop, he chose her to be among them. Her spring arts pick: “I am a huge David Byrne fan, so Here Lies Love at Seattle Rep has me dreaming about spring.”

Amanda Donnan
Seattle University art galleries curator
Joined SU: March 2016  
A veteran of the Carnegie Museum, the Whitney Museum and the PBS show Art21, Donnan has a tricky job, running three Seattle University art galleries, the most popular being the Hedreen. Last year she exhibited the work of Michelle Grabner, curator of the immensely important Whitney Biennial, at that gallery. Her pick for spring: “Many of the smaller galleries and artist-run spaces that I frequent, such as Glassbox, The Alice and INCA, don’t announce their shows this far in advance, so I’ll have to stick to upcoming institutional exhibitions. If I have to pick just one: Fun. No Fun. (3/04–09/10) at the Henry in March. Dawn Cerny has been in residence at SU for the last several months, so I’ve watched the wildly distorted, furniture-esque sculptures for the Henry show take shape in her studio.”

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