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Framing 2010 in the local arts scene 

If you've been above ground in the last two or three years, you probably know that Charlotte will soon have the only NASCAR museum in the cradle of stock car racing. But sooner than that, with the grand opening of the Bechtler Museum on Jan. 2, we'll also be able to boast the only museum in the Southeast devoted exclusively to 20th century modern art.

Over the past 70 years, Charlotte businessman Andreas Bechtler and his parents, Hans and Bessie, amassed a fabulous collection of 1,400 paintings and sculptures by the marquee names of modern art. At a sneak preview earlier this month, museum CEO John Boyer told reporters that the opening exhibit had been thinned down from 116 to 109 of those treasures.

As we toured the new building -- a terra cotta wonderland by Swiss architect Mario Botta -- works by Georges Rouault and Andy Warhol (a mammoth portrait of the Bechtler family) flashed by. A room for the works of Alberto Giacometti was still under construction. Emphasis in the opening exhibition will also be on the works of Jean Tinguely and his spouse, Niki de Saint Phalle. With her "Firebird on an Arch," the Bechtler's signature artwork out on South Tryon Street, the Parisian sculptress has already made her mark on our cityscape.

There's no timetable in place to tell us how long it will be before all the Bechtler heirlooms will be displayed in Charlotte -- many of them for the first time outside the Bechtlers' home in Zurich. But it's definitely an eclectic collection. Media encompassed include oils, watercolors and drawings. Clay, wood, bronze, plus light and sound sculptures are also in the catalogue. We paused to admire a fabulous delicacy made of watchsprings that must be properly encased before the public can see it, and Bechtler gave his informal press conference in front of an area rug by Fernand Lèger.

Ribbon cutting at the Bechtler Museum of Art is at noon on Jan. 2 with free admission all day. Six days later, Knight Theater formally joins the fold at the Wells Fargo Cultural Campus, with a Light the Knight gala featuring performances by North Carolina Dance Theatre.

Of course, the Knight has been in use since Oct. 10, when Steve Martin brought his banjo and the Steep Canyon Rangers to town, followed by a free open house Dec. 5. Meanwhile, the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture, housing the Hewitt Collection of African-American art, opened the old-fashioned way -- once -- with hoopla, new exhibitions, daylong performances, and a dedication ceremony on Oct. 24.

The last and largest quadrant of Charlotte's new cultural center, the Mint Museum Uptown, will open in fall 2010. So that NASCAR thing won't be the last of our new museums to reach the finish line.

Other exciting events loom large for 2010. After some -- choke, choke -- financial difficulties last summer, Charlotte Symphony has reignited its donor and subscriber bases. Music director designate Christopher Warren-Green will peep in on Feb. 12-13 to see if all is still well with the Char-Meck Arts & Science Council and conduct a Verdi-Borodin-Rachmaninoff program before permanently assuming the position in September.

Opera Carolina, after a -- choke, choke -- false start, belatedly revs up its season on Jan. 23 with the ever-popular La Bohëme, following up with the Valentine's Day-ish Love Notes (Feb. 20), the sizzling Carmen (March 13), and the apoplectic Otello (May 6). Another Valentine's Day fixture, The Vagina Monologues, is moving to Carolina Actors Studio Theatre for a three-day V-Day run beginning on Feb. 12. CAST has other intriguing moves planned for 2010, including Ice Fishing On Europa, an experiential new play festival exploring the evolution of new playwrights into "theatrewrights," opening on June 3.

Polly Adkins gets her long-overdue directorial debut as Donna Scott Productions takes a new tack, offering the Charlotte premiere of The Dixie Swim Club, opening on June 10. Matt Cosper's absurdist musical sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird received a half-baked premiere in 2009 -- just Act 1 -- but it was enough to whet our appetite for a full-fledged Machine Theatre production of ThomThom (if that bird won't sing). With characteristic precision, Machine promises more Boo and Scout sometime in May. A premiere of Mum's the Word is slated for February, and Cornelius and Bartholemew will march in March.

You can bet that the folks at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center are aching to keep the buzz going at the Knight.

Dance will take centerstage repeatedly after the Light the Knight gala, with Alvin Ailey Amercan Dance Theater coming to town for an unprecedented seven-performance engagement, Feb. 9-14, and The Parsons Dance Company doing a four-show run on March 25-28. N.C. Dance Theatre finishes out its 2010 season at the Knight with a couple of runs of its own, Cinderella (March 4-14) and Director's Choice (May 13-15).

Naturally, the Knight won't be all about dance. Hitting the new boards on Jan. 12 and lingering through Jan. 31, The Aluminum Show will be the first Broadway Lights show to play at the Knight. Created in Israel and said to compare with Stomp, Mummenschanz, and Blue Man Group, Aluminum will begin its maiden U.S. tour right here.

Already broken in as a music venue, the Knight will host The 5 Browns (Feb. 16), a portable Monterey Jazz Festival (Feb. 26), the African Children's Choir (March 15-16), Celtic Crossroads (March 20), violinist David Garrett (April 1), and Drum-Tao (April 5).

Credit our meanness for one final addition to the 2010 performing arts calendar. When Almost, Maine premiered up in Davidson back in October, I faulted the rustic suite of comedies in just one or two respects: "The problem is snagging a seat at Armour Theatre. You may need to knock down an elderly person to get a prime view."

Davidson Community Players have judiciously ignored my second objection and solved my first. They're remounting Almost, Maine at Duke Energy Theatre, Jan. 8-17.

Rest up, get a handle on your hangover, and get ready for a busy 2010.

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