Charlotteans tend to dance around impressive piles of bricks and mortar like Druids worshipping at Stonehenge. But amid the spate of culturally related construction, we sometimes forget that great buildings need to have great art inside them. That involves risk.
Arts organizations could fill eyes and ears with nothing but Beethoven, "The Nutcracker" and "South Pacific." They can be tempted to do that in hard times to hang onto a core audience, but this makes for a dull world. (Pleasant, but dull.)
Blessedly, this winter-spring season brings events to challenge us. I'd define that verb two ways: doing something Charlotte might not ordinarily see and mounting a production that's a gamble artistically and financially. Small, avant-garde groups perform on the edge all the time, but they have almost no budgets and small audiences to disappoint or frighten off.
Here are 10 events (among many) I look forward to seeing:
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Lois Mailou Jones - Black male artists filled museums and marketplaces in the second half of the 20th century, but few women followed them. The Mint Museum of Art is balancing the scales a bit with works from Jones' 75-year career, which stretched from the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s to the end of the century. (Through Feb. 27, Mint Museum of Art, www.mintmuseum.org.)
"Spring Awakening" - Yes, it won eight 2007 Tony Awards, which makes it a bit mainstream. But this dark musical (with tunes by rocker Duncan Sheik) adapts an 1891 play by Frank Wedekind dealing with sexual abuse, suicide, masturbation, abortion and other perils of adolescence. (Feb. 2-7, Belk Theater, www.blumenthalcenter.org.)
"The Piano Lesson" - August Wilson wrote 10 plays about the African-American experience, one for each decade of the 20th century, and we rarely see any. So I hail Central Piedmont Community College Theatre for tackling this 1930s story about a brother and sister who argue about selling their ancestral piano. (April 9-18, Pease Auditorium, http://tix.cpcc.edu/featured-performances/piano_lesson. )
"Apollo" - The last time George Balanchine's masterpiece was done here, the Paris Opera Ballet brought it on a 1997 tour. (The time before that, Rudolf Nureyev starred in a 1988 concert at Ovens Auditorium) Now N.C. Dance Theatre will exploit its Balanchine connections, pairing this austerely lovely work with a premiere by Dwight Rhoden and Mark Godden's "Constructing Juliet." (May 13-15, Knight Theater, www.ncdance.org.)
"As You Like It" - Children's Theatre of Charlotte hasn't done Shakespeare on its main stage in years - maybe ever, though records are incomplete - and will mount a unique version of his most joyous comedy and the one best suited to young people, taking the show out into ImaginOn's public spaces. (Feb. 19-27, http://ctcharlotte.org/asyoulikeit.html.)
Orchestral Variations on a Theme by Paganini - The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra is in the middle of an unusually conservative season, yet an all-German/Austrian program offers seldom-heard 1947 variations on Paganini's 24th caprice. Christof Perick conducts it, along with Mozart, Brahms and Richard Strauss. (March 5-6, Belk Theater, charlottesymphony.org .)
Parsons Dance - The most compelling modern dance event of the season. Parsons used to dance for Paul Taylor and has been choreographing since the 1980s, working with Julie Taymor, Annie Leibovitz, Donna Karan and Rock Hill-born costumer William Ivey Long. (March 25-28, Knight Theater, www.blumenthalcenter.org.)
"End Days" - Actor's Theatre of Charlotte says this about Deborah Zoe Laufer's comedy: "Would you be able to laugh at the Apocalypse? When it involves a father who's been in his pajamas since 9-11, a mother on a Jesus kick and an Elvis-impersonating neighbor, you sure can - especially when the fate of the world lies on the shoulders of Stephen Hawking!" 'Nuff said. (April 14-May1, www.actorstheatrecharlotte.org .)
"Otello" - The last time Opera Carolina did Giuseppe Verdi's late masterpiece, President Jimmy Carter was explaining gas rationing. This is Shakespeare's play about jealousy and mad love with the guts intact, the drama stripped to essentials and riveting, often lovely melodies. (A disclosure: I'm in the chorus.) (May 6 and 8, Belk Theater, www.operacarolina.org. )
"Real Women Have Curves" - We're no longer in spring at this point, but keep an eye out for Carolina Actors Studio Theatre's take on Josefina Lopez's play. It's set in a tiny sewing factory in east L.A., where a teenager rebels against her lower-class destiny and fights being stereotyped because of her weight. (July 1-24, www.nccast.com.)