10 moments that proved Las Vegas’ cultural identity in 2017

Arts & Culture

Whether you’re a tourist or a local, whether you gravitate to Strip showrooms or The Smith Center, you know Las Vegas’ arts and entertainment scene experienced an eventful 2017. Arrivals and departures — of shows and of people — joined multiple milestones to mark the year. The Smith Center, Springs Preserve and Cirque du Soleil all had reasons to celebrate, as did Southern Nevadans who experienced their impact. Any year that encompasses “Magic Mike” and a statewide art exhibit, or swings from trippy “Absinthe” to plans for a major art museum, reveals the breadth, depth — and eclectic nature — of Las Vegas’ cultural identity.

1. Arty party

Downtown’s Smith Center for the Performing Arts celebrated its fifth anniversary as Las Vegas’ “Heart of the Arts” in March with a gala concert and a renaming of Cabaret Jazz to honor Smith Center President Myron Martin. But the real party was a cumulative one, with more than 2 million patrons attending almost 2,000 performances during the center’s first five years.

2. Cirque gets the blues

Consider it the Eighth Wonder of the Cirque World: Face-painted zanies Blue Man Group joined the Cirque-verse in July when Cirque du Soleil purchased Blue Man Productions. That includes the Luxor production, plus those in New York, Boston, Chicago, Orlando, Berlin, Germany and a world tour. Strip-wise, that bumped Cirque’s stockpile up to eight shows, which will revert back to seven after Criss Angel’s “Mindfreak Live!’ shutters in October.

3. Museum dream

The dream of a world-class art museum adjacent to The Smith Center came closer to reality as the proposed Art Museum at Symphony Park received $1 million in state funding (provided they match it with $1 million more) and began merger talks with the Reno-based Nevada Museum of Art.

4 .‘Magic Mike’ weaves spell

They bump, grind — and dazzle. That was the verdict when “Magic Mike Live,” conceived and co-directed by Channing Tatum, star of the “Magic Mike” movie, opened at the Hard Rock in April. More sensitive to women than other beefcake parades — it features dancers cooing to women such valentines as: “Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe you. … Thank you for just being you.” Awww.

5. ‘Absinthe’ still plays the Palace

“Absinthe” is nearly hallucinatory. Court wrangling that had it threatening to bolt Caesars Palace for The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas — over a 2015 ticket-rebates dispute between producing partners Base Entertainment and Spiegelworld — was sobering. Yet a June settlement kept the Strip signature hit free to weird us out at Caesars and cleared Spiegelworld to bring its newest concoction, “Opium,” to Cosmopolitan — doubling the wonderful weirdness.

6. Some old, some new

Three major cultural institutions saw longtime leaders leave in 2017. Philadelphia Ballet’s Roy Kaiser replaced James Canfield as Nevada Ballet Theatre’s artistic director; Tifferney White, chief executive officer at Discovery Children’s Museum, departed after more than a decade; and Norma Saldivar took over at UNLV-based Nevada Conservatory Theatre when Christopher Edwards left to head Boston’s Actors’ Shakespeare Project.

7. Nevada art tilts south

After a 2016 run at Reno’s Nevada Museum of Art in 2016, “Tilting the Basin: Contemporary Art of Nevada” showcased more than 30 Silver State artists during a free, two-month exhibit at an Arts District warehouse turned pop-up museum, marking an official collaboration between Nevada’s museum and backers of the Art Museum at Symphony Park.

8. Downtown gets hip to tix

Free entertainment rules — you’ll never get more value for your dollar than the dollar you don’t have to spend. But downtown, a hotbed of freebie, Fremont Street fun, saw an increase in ticketed, income-generating events, specifically at the Events Center, which hosted the Las Rageous festival, Punk Rock Bowling and others. Such stirrings are the stuff of which entertainment powerhouses are made.

9. Milestones, Cirque-style

Beyond adding Blue Man Group to its bulging Strip stable, three Cirque du Soleil productions hit big numbers this year: Water ballet “O,” which debuted in 1998 at Bellagio, marked its 9,000th performance, while mystical “Ka,” which bowed in 2004 at MGM Grand, hit 6,000, and Mandalay Bay’s King of Pop extravaganza, “Michael Jackson ONE,” a 2013 entry, celebrated 2,000.

10. Back to the present

Marking its 10th anniversary, the Springs Preserve — which drew more than two million visitors during its first decade — added two new themed areas related to Southern Nevada’s past and present: Boomtown 1905, which re-creates Las Vegas’ earliest days as a dusty railroad watering stop; and WaterWorks, which explores the area’s 6,500-mile water system through interactive exhibits.

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