Fall Arts Preview: 16 Things To Do This Season

September starts Cincinnati’s cultural new year, with every outfit in town kicking off new seasons (some debuting new digs), showing white-hot exhibits, and headlining their biggest acts. Summer’s done, and we’re ready for our close-up.



→ Cindy Sherman at Wexner Center
In finding an artist to close out its year of showing only women artists—37 in total—the Wexner Center for the Arts could hardly do better than Cindy Sherman, who has spent her decades-long career in photography and film presenting a multitude of women. All of whom are her.

Photograph by Cindy Sherman, Untitled #92, 1981 Chromogenic color print 24 x 48 in. The Eli and Edythe l. Broad Collection

Image courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

“Cindy belongs to the first generation of artists to grow up with television,” says curator Philipp Kaiser. “Her work addresses in a unique way the implications of representation and mass media’s portrayal of female stereotypes. In chameleon-like transformations, Cindy places herself in front of the camera and performs her multiple selves.” Cindy Sherman: Imitation of Life showed first at The Broad in L.A. and its only additional appearance is at the Wex. Kaiser pulled together more than 100 works for the survey—which goes from the ’70s through a 2016 series. So what has kept Sherman so compelling all these years? “Conceptually the work seems pretty straightforward,” says Kaiser. “But if you spend time with it you realize her work is a complex hall of mirrors that goes in every direction.” Sept 16–Dec 31, wexarts.org

→ Albrecht Dürer at Cincinnati Art Museum
It was 500 years ago this fall that religious rabble-rouser Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a Wittenberg church door. In anticipation of the anniversary, Cincinnati Art Museum presents Albrecht Dürer: The Age of Reformation and Renaissance. The exhibit will feature prints by Dürer and his contemporaries. Don’t miss Dürer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a seminal woodblock print completed in 1497, proving that harbingers of death, like the urge to file a complaint, still resonate. Nov 17, 2017–Feb 11, 2018, cincinnatiartmuseum.org

Print by Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, (detail) 1497–98, woodcut

Bequest of Herbert Greer French, 1943.212

→ Elegant Geometry at Taft Museum of Art
Ready to accept that quilts are more than just a bedcovering? Move beyond the basic blanket stitch with The Taft Museum of Art’s autumnal exhibit dedicated to mosaic patchwork quilts. Elegant Geometry: British and American Mosaic Patchwork Quilts, will feature 21 vibrantly colored textile masterpieces dating back to the 18th century, including examples fashioned by British women as well as their Ohio and Kentucky quilting counterparts. Thru Jan 21, taftmuseum.org

Rebecca Scattergood Savery, Star, Signature Quilt, probably made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dated 1844.

Photograph courtesy International Quilt Study Center & Museum, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, 1997.007.0118

→ Direct Path to Detour at Contemporary Arts Center
Portland-based choreographer Takahiro Yamamoto’s Direct Path to Detour will have its Midwestern debut at the Contemporary Arts Center on November 9. The cutting edge dance project dives deep into identity politics, following Yamamoto’s own journey as a queer Japanese immigrant to the United States. The post-modern movement of the four dancers is set to sweeping cinematic music that combines both electronic and orchestral styles. Remember: it’s about the journey, not the destination. Nov 9–10, contemporaryartscenter.org

Photograph by Chelsea Petrakis

→ Swoon at Contemporary Arts Center
Born Caledonia Curry in 1977, the artist known as Swoon is getting her first major survey exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center. Like Shepard Fairey and Banksy, Swoon has gained notoriety for her striking and surprising street art. But her work also includes site-specific installations, like the sets she created specifically for the Cincinnati Ballet earlier this year, which will be featured in this exhibit. If you still consider street art “graffiti,” this show will cast doubt on that narrow definition. Sept 22, 2017–Feb 25, 2018, contemporaryartscenter.org

Submerged Motherlands by Swoon Studio, Brooklyn Museum 2014

Photograph by Tod Seelie


→ Shasta Geaux Pop at Contemporary Arts Center
Shasta Geaux Pop is both the name of the show and its main character, an emcee of unbridled enthusiasms (and ego) ready to take center stage at a cabaret-style get-down party. Created by Brooklyn-based actress/performer/playwright Ayesha Jordan and director Charlotte Brathwaite, Shasta takes the beats of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop, soaks them in satire, and sprinkles on the sex. (“Kegel to the Beat” is one of Shasta’s tracks.) The resulting soufflé is ready to pop. Oct 26 & 27, contemporaryartscenter.org

Shasta Geaux Pop

photograph courtesy CAC © Setty McIntosh

→ CWPS at 100 at Lloyd Library
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society—founded in 1917 by botanist E. Lucy Braun—the Lloyd Library is collaborating with the society and the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on a special exhibition. Contemporary photographs of wildflowers and native plants by Brian Jorg, manager of the native plant program at the zoo, will be shown with historic images—photos and prints—of the same plants from the Lloyd’s collection. Sept 5–Nov 18, lloydlibrary.org

Illustration courtesy Lloyd Library Archives


→ Romeo & Juliet by Cincinnati Ballet
The new-and-improved Music Hall may not be “fair Verona,” but it’s the ideal locale for a romantic tragedy like Romeo & Juliet. With sets that evoke the Italian Renaissance, lush costumes, and the very best talent Cincinnati Ballet has to offer, the 2017–2018 season will celebrate its return to the Over-the-Rhine venue with Shakespeare’s classic love story, the first narrative ballet of the season.

Cervilio Miguel Amador and Janessa Touchet

photograph by Peter Mueller

Last presented in the 2012–2013 season, the enduring tale of rival families, star-crossed lovers, and the tragic aftermath of a duel between hotheads Mercutio and Tybalt is back. The ballet chose the performance based on its imposing visual and emotional appeal (to complement the gothic personality of Music Hall) and its ability to tell a timeless story that audiences would recognize. The show gets a new life under the guidance of veteran choreographer—and CB artistic director—Victoria Morgan and is set to Sergei Prokofiev’s brooding score, performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. It’s dark, it’s sexy, and it’s an oddly appropriate lead-in to the Halloween holiday. Oct 26–29, cballet.org


→ Dracula at Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Zombies rule on TV, but they’ll never outshine vampires on stage. So Cincinnati Shakespeare Company will celebrate Halloween with the Emperor of Darkness—Dracula. The script is adapted by contemporary playwright Steven Dietz, but the foreboding Victorian setting is intact, along with the lovely Lucy and Mina, crazy Renfield, fatuous Van Helsing, and the seductive, terrifyingly fanged Count himself. Plus, Cincy Shakes’s new home allows for special effects, including—cue ominous drumroll—flying. Beats the heck out of the walking dead. Oct 13–Nov 4, cincyshakes.com

Photograph by Mikki Schaffner Photography

→ The Humans at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati
It’s Thanksgiving, and the family is coming for dinner. That’s the set-up for The Humans, the 2016 work by Stephen Karam that grabbed last year’s Tony award for Best Play, enraptured audiences, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The premise may give off a whiff of banality. “It seems benign on the surface,” says D. Lynn Meyers, producing artistic director at Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati. “But things are far from ordinary.” The intimate tale recounts a visit by working class parents from Pennsylvania, who’ve come to spend the holiday in their daughter’s seedy, cramped New York apartment. There’s another daughter, a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, and a boyfriend in the mix, along with anxiety about lost jobs, failing health, and other challenges that tax psyches and pocketbooks.

ETC presents The Humans January 23–February 17, 2018, and Meyers is assembling a team to live up to those accolades. Not every role had been filled at press time, but the cast includes the always-astonishing Dale Hodges as well as Christine Dye, seen last season in ETC’s well-regarded When We Were Young and Unafraid. Veteran director Michael Evan Haney takes on the job of making The Humans, well, human. Jan 23– Feb 17, 2018, ensemblecincinnati.org


→ Zadie Smith at Mercantile Library
Zadie Smith burst onto the fiction scene in 1999 with her acclaimed best-seller White Teeth. Since then she’s authored five more books, including her latest, Swing Time. Smith comes to Cincinnati as the keynote speaker at The Mercantile Library’s annual Niehoff Lecture, the city’s most highly anticipated literary event. Recent Niehoff alums include historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author and New York Times columnist David Brooks, novelist Ann Patchett, and Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro. Smith’s presence at the Niehoff’s 30th anniversary lecture is a milestone: She is the first woman of color to take the podium.

The Niehoff Lecture always carries with it a bit of Mad Men glamour. Maybe it’s the black ties and the dressy dresses, the cocktails before dinner, or the local illuminati sprinkled around the tables of the Westin’s Presidential Ballroom. But it is surely the audacity of celebrating writers that seems like a throwback to an era when books, rather than posts, were the most vital part of our cultural consciousness. Then there is the global allure of Smith herself, which zaps some youthful energy into the Niehoff’s traditionally august roster. Nov 4, mercantilelibrary.com

Zadie Smith

Photograph by Don Usner

→ Books by the Banks at Duke Energy Convention Center
Cincinnati’s very own book festival returns to the Duke Energy Convention Center for its 11th year with a full (and free) day of author lectures, writing workshops, and book signings. This year’s author lineup includes Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), middle-grade author Jenn Bishop (14 Hollow Road), journalist Brian Alexander (Glass House: The 1% Economy and The Shattering of the All-American Town), and novelist David Bell (Bring Her Home). Oct 28, booksbythebanks.org


Seu Jorge Presents: The Life Aquatic, a Tribute to David Bowie at Taft Theatre
Brazilian musician and actor Seu Jorge reprises his role as Pelé dos Santos in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in this Bowie tribute show. Jorge’s character sang Bowie songs in Portuguese throughout the film, and after Bowie and Jorge’s father died in the same week in 2016, the pop samba artist built a show around those songs. The sets and costumes hark back to the movie, giving this already trippy production another layer of beautiful strangeness. Sept 15, tafttheatre.org

Photograph by Nicole Schoen, The Agency Group

→ King Records Month, city-wide
After decades of nothing, this year the city took bold steps to honor King Records, the integrated label that did as much as any one address to broker the birth of rock and roll. So it’s fitting that this year’s King Records Month is especially loaded with events that honor the complex brilliance of the label Syd Nathan built from 1943 to 1971. Highlights of September’s celebration include an evening with King house drummer Philip Paul; a listening session for a gospel classic Nathan recorded live in an Evanston church in 1960; a panel discussion covering Ralph Stanley’s first solo bluegrass album; and a party in celebration of purple-wigged R&B shouter H-Bomb Ferguson. Maybe the most ambitious event will be a full-on recreation of Midwestern Hayride, a country variety series first on radio and then TV that featured singer Bonnie Lou and other stars of King’s country stable. There will be R&B and country, garage rock and rare soul, and it will take every day of the month to conjure up the bigness that was “The King of the Independents.”

Photograph courtesy Darren Blase’s (Shake It Records) collection

Photograph by Michael Wilson

→ Symphonic Boom at Music Hall
For more than two years, Music Hall has undergone a massive $135 million renovation. On October 6, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will show off the space’s newly tuned acoustics with a program featuring music that’s both celebratory (Beethoven’s Concerto No. 1) and anticipatory. Jonathan Bailey Holland’s composition will strike a slightly different tone.

Image courtesy Music Hall

Holland, who also composed a piece for the opening of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, was given free rein from the CSO to create a piece befitting the occasion. After more than a year of work, Holland’s piece, which clocks in at about 12 minutes, will make its world premiere as part of Music Hall’s Grand Opening Weekend.

“I wanted to do something that was more regal,” says Holland, who drew inspiration for the work by learning the history of both the area and the CSO. “I wanted it to be something that is meaningful to me, but also something that was meaningful to the orchestra.”

But like seemingly all art, the tone of the piece was inevitably influenced by the country’s political climate.

“Given the general ethos right now, it’s kind of hard to write a piece that’s all woohoo, excitement,” says Holland. “It’s more of a contemplative piece.” Oct 6 & 7, cincinnatisymphony.org

→ Wynton Marsalis at Taft Theatre
Wynton Marsalis is the public face of jazz in America: His trumpet sounds every week on CBS’s Sunday Morning; his New Orleans–inflected lilt is all over Ken Burns’s documentary Jazz. Today he’s the bandleader for Jazz at Lincoln Center’s orchestra. The ensemble tours extensively, and following appearances in the Czech Republic, China, and France, lands onstage at the Taft Theatre. Sept 27, tafttheatre.org

Photograph by Lawrence Sumulong (JALC)

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