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Arts & Entertainment: Critics' Picks

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BEST ART GALLERY

Jerald Melberg Gallery

So many galleries, so few choices. This choice almost always boils down to a handful -- Hodges Taylor, Joie Lassiter, Larry Elder, Melberg. Melberg's stable of artists delivers an array of moderate-to-monumental fame, glamour and only the best which has served Charlotte well for decades. Motherwell, Bearden, Chihuly, Kohlmeyer -- forgive me, I drop names. A viewing of any large painting by Brian Rutenberg -- his best painter -- will purge any case of Tuesday afternoon blues.

625 S. Sharon Amity Road
704-365-3000

BEST ART EXHIBIT

Cristina Cordova at Hodges Taylor Gallery

Cordova's work is earthy, honest and intimate. Mix well novelist Cormac McCarthy, painter Alice Neel and director Ingmar Bergman until lumps disappear. Add one fearsome dream. You get a Cristina Cordova sculpture. Cordova's show last year at Hodges Taylor Gallery was a mix of small heads on large bodies, large humans on little beasts, and men and women looking lost in festive or distorted garb. All her humans wander and search hypnotized, and each bears mute witness to their own lives. I was mesmerized.

BEST LOCO-GALLERIES

(tie) Center of the Earth, The ArtHouse and Lark & Key

Charlotte artists, hinterland artists, artists who will no longer be artists in two years artists, labored long and unsung artists, lame artists, little diamonds in the rough artists, blowhard artists, quiet surprise artists, keep your day job artists, Friday night wandering around in NoDa look what I found artists. They're all here. NoDa is Jack Kerouac on a good day. And on a very, very bad day, too.

Center of the Earth
3204 N. Davidson St.
704-375-5756

The ArtHouse
3103 Cullman Ave.
704-962-9700
Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique
453-B E. 36th St.
704-379-1826

BEST LOCAL ARTIST

Marek Ranis

The term "global warming" can cause narcolepsy. "Resource depletion" and "overpopulation" are coma-inducing mantras. Marek Ranis is a Charlotte artist who makes us think about big issues because he presents those issues with force and authority and beauty. See four paintings from his Albedo series at the NASCAR Hall of Fame once the center opens next May. They are stunning and thoughtful and will sting your head with fractured pieces of our disappearing world. All artists think they're important. This guy actually is.

BEST THEATER COMPANY

Actor's Theatre of Charlotte

A repeat winner. Without the hearty support of the Arts & Science Council, Actor's Theatre of Charlotte made its 20th season a true milestone. Along with the usual surpassing excellence of Lieutenant of Inishmore, Rabbit Hole, and Blue and successful remounts of Santaland Diaries and Bat Boy, Actor's Theatre surpassed itself with the world premiere of Eric Coble's Southern Rapture. Powered by a private grant of $50,000 -- more than the ASC has granted Actor's Theatre for any of its 20 excellent seasons (or the 2009-10 season ahead) -- Rapture comically and perceptively revisited the Angels in America fiasco of 1996, spattering satire on liberals, conservatives and religious wackos with equal glee. The effort served as a winning application for admission into the National New Play Network, an elite group of 26 regional theaters that has more of my respect than our ASC, which is doling out a whopping 2.2 percent of its 2009 fund drive to adult and community theater in the Char-Meck area.

650 E. Stonewall St.
704-342-2251.

BEST ACTOR

Robert Simmons

Count on Robert Lee Simmons to deliver the menace or the madness with charismatic force. He's been spreading his special electricity among different companies over the past couple of years, with key roles at Actor's Theatre (Pillowman and Lieutenant of Inishmore), Collaborative Arts (Romeo & Juliet), and CP Summer Theatre (Rainmaker and Dial M for Murder). But Simmons probably hit peak voltage this spring at his home company, CAST, in the title role of Killer Joe, where his predatory menace was all the stronger in restraint.

BEST ACTRESS

Nicia Carla

Pickin's have been relatively slim for Nicia Carla over the past year or so -- Snail in A Year With Frog & Toad, hookah-puffing Caterpillar and a Tweedle in Alice in Concert, the pirate Starkey in Peter Pan, and the insouciant Grace Bradley in Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Yet the diva of ImaginOn has brought her own special sparkle to even the smallest of these roles -- and glimmers of distinction to that turkey Alice. We don't see enough Nicia onstage at Children's Theatre, probably because she's proven so adept at directing, treating us all to fine productions of A Thousand Cranes and Secret Life of Girls over the past two seasons.

BEST PERFORMING ARTS GROUP

North Carolina Dance Theatre

A repeat winner. The closer North Carolina Dance Theatre brings us to the action, the more exciting they get. Keeping their fall Innovative Works showcase of new and contemporary pieces parked at Booth Playhouse, NCDT invited us back in the spring for second helpings at the Booth with a themed program, A Night at the Movies. Big ballets at the Belk, the perennial Nutcracker and a bouquet of Balanchine continued to impress. But the big, brash bombshell of the season was Dwight Rhoden's modernized music-biz Othello, a landmark choreography that promises to reverberate across the dance world.

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