The assignment was deceptively simple: Tell us a story of one experience of the year during which you felt transported by art. Culture has the power to change our lives, to expand our hearts, to help us learn about and understand our increasingly complicated world. Undoubtedly it occurred in your world sometime this year. Here is how some of our local artists, trendsetters, regular contributors and culture professionals found moments of art in their lives in 2012.Steve Paul, The Star IN THE CIRCLE OF LIFE, WAGNER?S RING CYCLE BRINGS COMFORTMy brother, Jack, passed away in April. Although he had a Ph.D. in biology and was steeped in science, he also loved classical music. After he was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in July 2010, we went to as many classical concerts together as possible. Jack was a huge fan of the operas of Richard Wagner, and it just so happened that not long after his fateful diagnosis, the Metropolitan Opera in New York started to broadcast its newest Ring Cycle to movie theaters around the country. Jack and I attended all of them as over a period of months: ?Das Rheingold,? ?Die Walkure? and ?Siegfried.? And in between the operas, we watched the entire eight-hour Wagner biopic starring Richard Burton on DVD. We were wallowing in Wagner.On Feb. 11 of this year, the Met broadcast the final opera in the Ring Cycle, ?G?tterd?mmerung.? By this time, Jack?s condition had worsened considerably, and he was suffering from severe bone pain, especially in his legs. But he was determined to sit through one of the longest and most demanding operas ever written. I made ham sandwiches for intermission, Jack took powerful painkillers, and we both settled in for six plus hours of Wagnerian cataclysm. I could sense that Jack was in intense pain as we watched the doomed gods and goddesses play out their tragedy on the screen. But he insisted on sticking it out, and we made it. Valhalla was destroyed, and Jack accomplished his goal of seeing the complete Ring Cycle before he crossed his own rainbow bridge a month or so later. Watching Wagner?s transcendent masterpiece with my brother as he faced his own epic saga was profoundly moving for both of us. Music, as it has done for untold millions of others, was able to lift my brother out of his pain and take him to a place that is beyond all suffering, a place of eternal and infinite beauty. A MOMENT OF LITERARY TRUTH IN A SAN FRANCISCO CATHEDRALIt was a good year in publishing, as it always is. So many great books to read: new collections by Alice Munro and Junot Diaz. Translations of Peter Nadas and Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Chris Ware?s new project, ?Building Stories?? the list goes on. But if I had to identify the most significant literary ?moment? of the year, a moment when I experienced the transformative power of storytelling, I would have to look back. Way back. All the way to Victor Hugo. A chilly spring morning in San Francisco. My father and I are standing outside a cathedral, somewhat uncomfortably ? partly because we are in dress clothes, which neither one of us favors, and partly because we are early for the baptism of my niece and nephew, my sister?s twins. We are so early, in fact, that the doors of the church haven?t even been unlocked. Neither of us is known for our punctuality or competence in any kind of logistical operation ? getting to places in strange cities, remembering our keys and wallets and phones, etc. ? and to compensate for our notoriety we have overdone it a bit. We have overdone it a lot.My father remarks that he can remember being early for only one other event in his entire life. Oddly enough, my daughter?s baptism 10 years prior. There, too, he waited outside the church, and as he waited something strange happened. About 30 minutes before Mass was to begin, he saw a woman mounting the steps to the church. She was terribly hunched over, struggling as she walked, suffering from some illness or disability. She wore a veil over her face, and as she passed my father on the steps he could see that something terrible had happened to her. Her face was severely deformed, its features out of the usual alignment. She walked past him and into the church. Then, a few minutes later, walked out again. It occurred to my father that it was too difficult for her to attend Mass with, as it were, the masses. That she must do this every week ? arrive early, spend a few minutes in quiet prayer, then slip out before the first parishioners arrived. Or at least the people who thought of themselves as the first. This was her secret. That by the time anyone else arrived, she had already come and gone. My father?s father suffered from polio, and so my father has always been especially attuned to people struggling with their bodies, struggling to maintain their independence and dignity. He often notices the afflicted, their efforts at concealment ? the bulky coats, the elevated shoes ? even when these afflictions and efforts are obvious to no one else. We talked a bit about suffering, why it exists, why it strikes at random and so unevenly.Then something even stranger happened. People started to arrive for the baptism. The doors were unlocked, and we filed in. The twins appeared ? perfect specimens of humanity, fat and pink and happy, beautifully dressed ? and the service began. Not five minutes in I saw someone moving about the perimeter of the church, making his way through the stations of the cross. The man walked on two legs but couldn?t be said to be upright, for his spine was bent at a seemingly impossible angle, his torso absolutely parallel to the ground. Perhaps polio, perhaps a congenital disease. His posture was so tortured, his suffering so obvious, that it hurt to watch him walk. He prayed aloud at each station, shuffled to the next. He was dressed in loose gray clothing, his pants secured with a rope. Members of the audience shifted their gaze back and forth between the twins ? the picture of health ? and the praying man. I don?t know what others were thinking, but for me it was hard not to think that we were experiencing something significant. That we were being reminded of something, taught something. Formal ceremonies were nice, of course, but what did it really mean to come to church? Had any of us ever come to church with the devotion that this man did? My father is an English teacher, and so am I. When we talk to each other, which is all too rarely, we tend to talk in literary references, quotes and allusions. Each of us tends to focus on the moments in life that seem unbelievable, like fiction. It was right out of a novel, we say to each other. Quasimodo, we said, in this instance. Unreal. It had felt, to both of us, that we had been visited by the character from ?The Hunchback of Notre Dame,? that we had witnessed something outside of the boundaries of ordinary life. The baptism, to us, felt not like life but like a scene, something that distilled and encapsulated one of life?s truths. And the juxtaposition! The repetition! We had just been talking about my daughter?s baptism, the veiled woman. We couldn?t get over the timing, the coincidence.After that weekend, I thought many times of the hunchbacked man. I even went back to Hugo, whom I hadn?t read since high school. And it occurred to me that this habit of mine ? of comparing extraordinary moments and people to their literary predecessors ? is all wrong. Is in fact entirely backward. We tend to compare people ? real people ? to characters from Shakespeare, Dickens, Hugo. These people are so exaggerated, we say, in their features, their attitudes, their mannerisms and habits, that they have become a fiction. When in fact we might look at it another way. That Shakespeare, Dickens, Hugo, et.al, were true to life, attuned to not only its subtleties but its extremities.The man in the church wasn?t a character; his condition was real, one he lived and felt every day. To compare him to a character would be to deny, in a way, the lives that are dissimilar to our own ? to embrace the ignorance we live in, if we are fortunate enough to be among the parishioners who arrive on time to Mass, unaware that others have already come and gone. It seems to me now that looking at ?extraordinary? people and things as a fiction is a kind of injustice. That it takes away somewhat from the validity of the actual suffering or mania or grandeur around us. And so this literary ?moment,? this visitation, reminded me that we might look at reading less as an ?escape? from real life and more as a meditation on its actual truths. We might look at life?s players ? our colleagues, our politicians, our neighbors, our families, the strangers we encounter ? less as characters, more as people. HOW I BROKE MY GLASSESI was reading a poem called ?Body and Soul,? by B.H. Fairchild, from his 1998 book, ?The Art of the Lathe,? handy on my bookshelf that Saturday morning, where I worked alone in my office. In my imagination, I was reading aloud to my students, which I planned to do soon, a poem about sandlot baseball among men in Depression Oklahoma, in which a boy, 15, stands in to make the sides even ? who he is, exactly, doesn?t matter here. I then reread the poem?s final 15 lines, which address why those men would pitch five times to a kid who each time sent a homer over their heads. Why not walk him? Because, the poem says, the Depression and a war and the idea of being a man ?had cost them just too ? damned much to lay it/ at the feet of a fifteen-year-old boy.? The poem, here, begins to soar into the harsh light of that Oklahoma Sunday, and my eyes became weak, and I could do nothing but fumble with my glasses and throw them at the wall, and grab hold of the final phrase, which I had by heart and still have, and offer it up. | Robert Stewart, poet, teacher and editor of New Letters A POWERFUL BREAKTHROUGH DURING ?NIXON IN CHINA?There was a section of Act 3 of John Adams? opera ?Nixon in China? that I have never ?understood,? despite a quarter century of history with the score. Richard Nixon is reliving an intense World War II bombing experience ? the orchestra basses are insistently and rhythmically pulsing, Nixon is emoting intensely, and Adams has written this strong viola solo with a disjunct musical line that seems to be in active combat with Nixon?s vocal line. They seem to have nothing to do with each other, and I never understood musically or dramatically what the composer was thinking. It always sounded like a mistake to me.Suddenly, during one of our early performances last March, while I was ?in the moment? and in the thick of things as the conductor, we came to that section, James Maddalena began singing it as he has so many times before, and the viola entered. This time, I became transfixed as the entire musical structure (including the inscrutable viola line) jelled in my ears and heart, and I became entranced in what I can only describe as intense musical/dramatic passion. My head seemed to buzz sympathetically as I was swept along by the power of the music and emotion. Somehow I now ?understood? what Adams might have been trying to convey with his unconventional music writing. Moreover, the power of this section of music seemed to open up my understanding of the remaining minutes of the opera that followed, and I had a similar experience at this place in the remaining performances. This experience was highly subjective and personal. Perhaps it has nothing to do with the composer?s original intentions. Nevertheless, this was a moment in performance when a piece of music I had known for a long time became special for reasons I will never be able to completely understand or explain. As a music lover and performer, I live for such moments. LONDONERS DISCOVER THE MAGIC OF KC NATIVE KRYSTLE WARRENWhen Kansas City native Krystle Warren ambled out of the blue side lighting at London?s Hammersmith Apollo one night last month, the applause was welcoming but reserved. My husband and I had an idea what we were going to hear, but a few thousand Londoners did not. On the candlelit stage, she gave a brief nod before singing Kate McGarrigle?s ?I Don?t Know,? accompanied sparingly by piano. ?You ask me what it?s all about,? she crooned, her voice dusky, deep for such a small frame, her hands gently twisting the air as she spun out the phrases. She has sung all over the world to innumerable crowds, but with the same intimacy that she displayed when she was couch-surfing in Kansas City, performing at such humble places as Prospero?s Books or the RecordBar.Warren was on tour as a backup singer with Rufus Wainwright, in a show that ranged from flamboyant pop-rock to heart-on-sleeve sorrow to a manic finale featuring tinsel, body glitter and a man-sized foam sandwich.Her solo was a respite of introspective singularity, bereft of hyperbole and overzealous flash.Warren wrenched lyrics around, eliding phrases, sustaining, almost gnawing on syllables. Her voice absorbed energy, and we were all twisted up in that energy, pulled forward with every breath. The audience?s response when she finished shook the plaster in its enthusiasm. HEEDING THE SIREN SONG OF A BEAUTIFUL BOOKThe boys were loud, gangly, full of energy as they burst through the library doors. Joshing and cutting up, they filled the quiet space with their exuberance. Shouting ?we?re late,? one darted off, but the other?s attention was arrested by a book. A 17th-century volume on virginity, bound with a single folio from a choir book. The notes of a hymn for the Virgin Mary carefully penned by a medieval hand ran up the front cover. Perched in an open display case, the book demanded attention. The boy, likely no more than 15, stopped short, arrested in wonder. He inched forward, drawn by the beauty of the calligraphy. He slowly extended a brown index finger. Glancing left, then right, he hesitated before gently touching the manuscript page, yellowed by time. He had to touch. He wanted a tangible interaction with this piece of animal flesh that had been tanned, scraped and decorated with Latin words by a medieval scribe ? a page that had been repurposed as a book cover when the need for handwritten songbooks had long passed. His friend called, and the boy was gone, one of many to have stopped to appreciate the artistry of a book. DANCE AND DRUMS CONJURE ANCIENT SPIRITS ON NEW MEXICO PUEBLOThe air was January crisp, and the sky was brilliant blue above the unpaved plaza of the Jemez Pueblo in northern New Mexico. From one end of the road a procession of musicians and dancers rounded the corner into view, as a comparable group ? dozens of men and boys, wearing hides and antlers ? rhythmically marched off the other way. It was Jan. 6, the pueblo?s annual and culturally complex Three Kings feast day and Buffalo Dance. For hours on end the dancers performed this ancient ritual and celebration, at the center of which were two men in buffalo guise and a young buffalo maiden. Framed by two-story row houses along the plaza, the trio stepped high and slowly turned in unison as they dipped this way and that. They faced a haunting pulse of drumbeat and chant from the corps of musicians, staff-bearers and elk dancers, who were channeling spirit forces of which I knew very little. But I was mesmerized, and in the declining chill of the afternoon I was moved by something utterly magical.My friends and I stood on the edges as the processions came and went, the clans aiming to embody the animal power and good fortune that accrue to those who carry on the stories of the ancients. As the drums deeply sounded and the dancers stepped, it did not seem that far-fetched to consider that what we were witnessing was one of the few, last expressions of authentic American art. A JOLT OF JAZZ HITS THE POWER & LIGHT DISTRICTThe seemingly unrelenting series of setbacks endured by partisans of Kansas City?s jazz scene weighed on my mind moments before I entered the Kill Devil Club for the first time in October. I wondered if the new establishment, at the southwestern edge of the Power & Light District, was destined to become yet another entry on an increasingly lengthy list of ill-fated jazz venues. My trepidation was transformed into awe as I entered the handsome room. The decidedly masculine space offers a panoramic vista of the entertainment district?s neon lights and the distinctive H&R Block building. Hermon Mehari, one of the leading figures of Kansas City?s current musical renaissance, led an energetic band in an eclectic set of jazz standards, R&B classics and contemporary hip-hop. A youthful audience of well-heeled revelers swayed appreciatively. None of them were fretting about the future of live jazz in Kansas City or the ongoing efforts to augment the area?s commercial prospects. On that vibrant fall evening inside the Kill Devil Club, Kansas City?s artistic promise and the potential of a redeveloped downtown were neatly aligned. VIBRANT VOICE UNITES ART AND MUSIC AT THE NELSONI acknowledge: I am totally biased toward the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. There are so many magical moments that I witness every day here that it makes it difficult to boil it down to one.So I will not mention the great exhibitions, powerful speakers or great cultural celebrations that we present but will suggest the power of moments that I glimpse casually, unexpectedly. They can be as simple as overhearing a child expertly explaining to her parents an artwork that moved her during a class visit, or finding a group of children sitting on the floor of our ancient galleries, enthralled by the other-worldliness of a non-technological society, or at the moment at dusk when I?m in my office and the Bloch Building suddenly illuminates.But if I were to choose one specific and sublime moment from this year it would have to be listening to the colorful voice of Kansas City?s native son, tenor Vinson Cole, filling the Adelaide Cobb Ward Sculpture Hall. During an intimate recital, Cole shared that when he was younger, he?d visit the museum and it would give him a renewed sense of beauty and hope. Those feelings were clearly in the air as his vibrant voice rejoiced, making the museum the house of all arts and bringing to all an overwhelming sense of peace and promise. A TOAST TO GENERATIONS OF TRADITION IN MADEIRAThe wine business sounds so romantic, and truth be damned, at times it is. I?m in Funchal, Madeira, on an island 200 miles off the coast of Africa; I?m on the third floor of a centuries old factory building with about 35 bottles of Madeira standing open and ready. They range from a few years old to some from other eras: 1968, 1920, 1910. Drinking wines that old, in itself, renders the quotidian silliness of my career less tedious. Madeira, the island and the wine, offers time and more. Its volcanic soils and warm, humid landscape generate wine that is eternal, or close enough. A bottle of 1920 Bordeaux might be good, but it?s a crapshoot. A 1920 Blandy?s Bual (the bottle in front of me as I type this) is money in the bank. Delicious, caramel, honey, citrus, nuttiness: Those are its ancient and lively flavors. The island is a tropical lemonade stand for the wine-obsessed. Jagged, lush mountains above vineyards and banana plantations. Old wines for sale everywhere. The winemakers here are bred to this; they are their family?s third generation, or fifth, or seventh. The wines speak of a heritage that defines our aspirations for all wine. KC BALLET BRINGS DANCE TO ?NIXON IN CHINA?One of the highlights of 2012 for me was an ambitious and distinctive collaboration between the Kansas City Ballet and the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Ward Holmquist, artistic director of the Lyric Opera, asked me to create the choreography for an extensive dance sequence in Act 2 of ?Nixon in China.? I selected two brilliant lead dancers, Nadia Iozzo and Logan Pachciarz, along with six other company dancers, and we began our creative work in the new Bolender Center studios. The existing Vancouver, British Columbia, production of this contemporary opera by John Adams included beautiful scenic elements, with projections and an unusually shaped dance floor. We were able to replicate the stage dimensions in our new, large studios and make a seamless transition into the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. That fact, combined with exhilarating performances from singers, dancers and Symphony players, all in a contemporary opera, exemplified the definition of a successful artistic collaboration. Additionally, Nadia Iozza?s heroic performance, particularly during the rainstorm scene, was compelling and transcendent. ?ANIMALS DO NOT TAKE VOWS? EMBODIED HUMAN FRAILTY AND FRATERNITYKansas City artist Anne Austin Pearce comforted me. Her Charlotte Street Award exhibition work at H&R Block Artspace titled ?Animals Do Not Take Vows? underlined life?s fantastical journey and its fragile impermanence in a way that felt bold, tender, wistful and contemplative, but never overwhelmingly sad. Her painted scrolls presented a beautiful allegory for life?s complexities, for things said and unsaid, done and undone, and opportunities gained, missed or passed over. While deeply poignant, the liquidy blues, silvers, grays and blacks of her scroll paintings seemed to mark a passage through time that reminded me of how tender yet beautiful are the tracings we leave behind. The work spoke to me as if the artist herself had sketched out the last two years of my life?s complexities and reminded me to see it all as extraordinary, even the hardest parts. While the skeptic in me may hesitate to write it, the more important child in me embraces how Pearce?s art reminded me that everything and everyone is connected and deeply intertwined, and that that alone, is a spectacular truth. A DAY AND A NIGHT UNDER THE SPELL OF ?KENTUCKY CYCLE?A November afternoon found me in the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre?s production of ?The Kentucky Cycle.? I set my schedule to take in the first part of Robert Shenkkan?s epic drama on a Saturday expecting to return the following week for the second. Transfixed from the opening command, ?top of the show,? to the end 3?1/2 later, I lost my sense of place, duty, time and resolve.The story?s arc, the actors? presentation, the audience?s reaction drew me the way a good book calls to me. I could not wait a whole week to know the end. Surely the actors would not be as primed a full week hence as they would be three hours later. I took stock of the things I had to do that night. Some were pressing, while others were as inviting as pulling teeth. Outside of rest, I could not see what was so important about a promise made under duress when compared to a magnificently acted story. I called my partner, convinced her to come and share my madness, and spent the evening in the clutches of the second three hours of a well-told story with no obligation but what the best of art dictates ? your presence and attention. ?DRAMA QUEEN? DIDONATO INVITES THE AUDIENCE INNov. 16, Helzberg Hall: Music lovers were treated to a magical concert by Joyce DiDonato and Il Complesso Barocco. The evening highlighted music from DiDonato?s recent recording, ?Drama Queens,? featuring arias from Baroque operas sung by royal characters.The music-making was superb. DiDonato and instrumental ensemble Il Complesso Barocco were on fire, with extremely accomplished, historically informed and stylistic performances. However, what ultimately inspired me most was DiDonato?s insistence on and ability to engage the audience and invite them into the experience. Both through onstage comments during the recital as well as the talk-back at the conclusion, she made the listener a part of the concert, breaking down the invisible wall between performer and listener. As producers and artists, we aspire to create these intimate moments of connection. This performance magnificently achieved one. A STORY OF TRIUMPH TOUCHES TEDXKCOver the last four years, TEDxKC has delivered a number of inspiring presentations and musical performances, none more so than an 18-minute segment at this year?s event, in August at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.Janine Shepherd, former Australian champion cross-country skier, shared the story of her horrific cycling accident and determined recovery. Training for the Winter Olympics, Shepherd was hit by a truck and suffered a dizzying array of life-threatening injuries; she was rendered a partial paraplegic.At TEDxKC, Shepherd slowly and gracefully moved down a line of five chairs, using them along the way for props and balance. At some point during the arduous recovery process she came to realize her real strength never actually came from her body; it came from her heart. ?Although my body may be limited,? Shepherd said, ?it was my spirit that was unstoppable.? Shepherd not only overcame the most improbable odds to walk, she also learned to fly, first earning a private pilot?s license; she now has a commercial license and instructor?s rating. More than 1,400 people listened in rapt attention to the details of her journey, and since then, some 250,000 have viewed her story on TED.com.And while Janine Shepherd?s personal challenge was extraordinary, her message is relevant for everyone who has experienced it: You are not your body. QUIXOTIC REACHES NEW CREATIVE HEIGHTSI am writing about two moments of cultural magic that originated from one source: Kansas City?s own Quixotic. Each time I think that this creative ensemble of musicians, dancers, aerialists, composers, designers and choreographers can?t top their last performance, they blow past it.This happened at the international TED conference in California in February and at the Midland in April. The TED performance gave me chills as I watched dancers commingling with video projections to a captivating beat. The performance earned them a standing ovation from a crowd that regularly witnesses world-class speakers and performers. The Midland show, titled ?One,? layered performances that were quiet and delicate with full-throttle, aggressive pieces. I saw concepts and movements and costumes that were from a different universe. Solos and duos and trios on stage. Then everyone at once. Then the curtain. Sigh, show?s over.Quixotic doesn?t just raise the bar. They leap from the bar, coil and curve, hold the gaze of the audience, and float back to the ground before soaring into another dimension.
| Patrick Neas, a freelance writer and The Star?s Classical Beat columnist, who usually appears weekly in this section ? | Christie Hodgen, assistant professor of English and creative writing at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of the novel ?Elegies for the Brokenhearted? and other works of fiction ? ? | Ward Holmquist, artistic director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City ? | Libby Hanssen, a freelance writer whose music reviews appear frequently in The Star ? | Virginia Blanton, professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City ? | Steve Paul, arts editor and senior writer at The Kansas City Star ? | Bill Brownlee, freelance writer whose music reviews appear frequently in The Star ?ss | Juli?n Zugazagoitia, director and CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art ? | Doug Frost, a wine and spirits consultant whose column appears monthly in The Star ? | William Whitener, artistic director of