Best Of 2012

"I'm a better musician for all the dance I've seen" —Greg Ruffer (left), w. Peter Stark.
Photo by Todd Bates
"I'm a better musician for all the dance I've seen" —Greg Ruffer (left), w. Peter Stark.

Orlando's loss was Tampa Bay's gain. Peter Stark, 45, was the acclaimed head of the Orlando Ballet School when he was hired two years ago to be chair of the dance department at the Straz Center's Patel Conservatory. His partner, Greg Ruffer, 47, was director of choral activities and applied voice at the College of Central Florida and music director/founder of the Orlando Chorale when he followed Peter to the Straz to become head of the Patel's Music Department. Fortunately for HR, the two do not supervise one another, but they do bring insight to each other's respective disciplines.

Greg's background in education — he has a Masters and is studying for a Ph.D. — has helped Peter reach out to students "in new and innovative ways," Peter says. He's learned to ask questions like, "'Stop right where you are. Does that feel right?'"

Greg in turn says that Peter's strong visual orientation has helped him to "see" music: "I'm a much better musician for all the dance that I've seen."

Like other creative couples, they understand the demands placed on the life of a partner in the arts. And "we don't shut if off when we get home," says Peter. No wonder. They're not only department chairs; Peter also heads the highly competitive Next Generation Ballet, which he founded, and both work for Opera Tampa as choreographer and chorus master, respectively.

Next Generation is a phenomenon. The Straz-based youth company selects 40 students from 600 applicants nationwide, attracting dancers who have turned down scholarships from the likes of American Ballet Theatre to study at the Straz. Alums have gone on to win international competitions and spots in prestigious dance companies (not to mention gigs with So You Think You Can Dance and Billy Elliott).

According to Greg, Straz CEO Judy Lisi says "dance had never been successful at the Straz till Peter." Greg sees similar potential in music. "I have a vision that the Straz Center is where America goes to sing."

Though they complement one another in their work, their tastes are so different in other areas — like how to furnish a home — that if they're shopping and they both like something, "we buy it immediately," says Peter, because such an agreement is so rare.

But they're in agreement about the bright future of arts training at the Patel Conservatory and the Straz. "I don't see a ceiling in it," says Peter.

Together 17 years, the pair met, aptly enough, in an elevator. They've been going up ever since.

Arts & Entertainment

CAUGHT OFFSTAGE: The dancers in Moving Current.
CAUGHT OFFSTAGE: The dancers in Moving Current.

The University of South Florida’s dance company in residence, led by Artistic Directors Shelley Bourgeois, Erin Cardinal and Cynthia Hennessy, is that stellar example of why Tampa is a little more culturally sophisticated than many think. When your friends from the big city pooh-pooh our metro, pop on a vid from and show them MC’s vivid dance narratives told through poetically inspired movement. No doubt they’ll see how masterfully the moods range from light and mischievous to intense and heart-wrenching. After getting that taste, take ‘em to see Moving Current live during their 15th anniversary season. The collective’s “current” is inspired by the idea of electricity, and Moving Current’s performances continue to electrify. 813-237-0216, [email protected].

Best Actor

Sorensen was all over Bay area stages last season, playing multiple lovers in Stageworks’ The Blue Room, a naïve young American threatened by omnisexual ghouls in The Rocky Horror Show, a smug would-be rescuer of females in Becky Shaw, and an earnest American come to Weimar Germany to find something to write about in Cabaret. And in every role, he was just about perfect.

Watch: Recently married Natalie Symons and Jim Sorensen — Most Promising Playwright and Best Actor — talk w. CL's David Warner during the Best of the Bay awards reception Sept. 19 at Creative Loafing, and Natalie almost spills the beans about a part she just might be writing for her husband.

Best Actress

Sargent had a near-impossible mission in Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Streetcar Named Desire: to make the audience forget Vivien Leigh’s iconic performance in the film. But Sargent did it: her Blanche DuBois was skittish, vain, manipulative, self-deluding, fragile and tragic. She dominated the play and brought down the house. Amazing work.

Best Album

An album 10 years in the making, Tin Year is an impeccably crafted LP by veteran local musicians and New Granada Records leaders Keith and Susie Ulrey, plus Brian Roberts, Melissa Grady and Michael Waksman. Longtime collaborators Susie and Michael whittled down years of songwriting to the 13 tracks that were recorded, mixed and mastered by this year’s Best of the Bay-winning sound engineer and studio, Mark Nikolich at Atomic Audio. Tin Year is a thoughtful and stunning collection easing between buoyant folk roots, warm indie pop and gently-driving alt rock. Susie's pure piping vocals soar bright and vibrant, or glide delicate and serene over shimmering cello-fused instrumentals, complementing the delicate masculine vocal harmonies and occasional turns on lead by Keith and Michael. Overall, salve to the soul.

Runners-up: Morean Art Center, Florida Craftsman Gallery

Best Artistic Director

With remarkable rapidity, Davis has made freeFall Theatre into a jewel of a venue, a place where incisive straight plays and potently re-imagined musicals (this season’s Cabaret) are consistently offered on the highest levels of theatrical art. In Davis’ capable hands, first-rate Shakespeare has again become an annual event (The Comedy of Errors) and he’s shown an openness to local playwrights (Rip.Tied.) and a fine instinct for contemporary triumphs (Becky Shaw). He deserves our thanks.

Best Arts Festival

Runners-up: Gasparilla Arts Festival, Florida Craftsman

Best Badass Debut
Phil Bardi

I'm not sure exactly what San Francisco composer/multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge and his "Venice Dawn" band played during their set at Antiwarpt 2012; aside from some cuts off latest release Something About April, it was all a blur of unadulterated badassness. A natural showman in hip aviator-style eyewear, Younge traded off instruments with his bandmates, from bass to organ and synths to flute and sax, then back to bass again. He expressed his excitement about being in Florida, struck a bargain at the beginning of the set — "Give us your all, and we’ll give you our all. Do we have a deal?" — and left both sides feeling like champions as the near full-house at State Theatre got the fuck down. Now that’s what I call a Sunshine State debut.

Best Band Resurrection

Weezer’s Pinkerton and Belle and Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister both dropped in 1996. It was also a good year for Tampa area music, as evidenced by the formation of Spiller and the release of their debut recording that year, Gold Leader EP, which features a catchy, sunshine-drenched mix of alt-rock and power pop. The reunion on April 7 at New World Brewery featured original members John McNicholas and Marcus McCord with new drummer Vinnie Cosentino. The Semis and Jensen Serf Co. opened, demonstrating the delightful progression of Tampa Bay indie rock through the years. Gigs at Heatwave and Antiwarpt have since followed; new music and more shows in the works.