Although the new millenium failed to bring about flying cars and teleportation, as many of us had hoped, it did introduce the world to some fantastic new artists. Their work helped to define art in the 21st century, and if cars are still earthbound by the end of the next decade, you can be sure that these choreographers, writers and singers will have done something really spectacular to make up for it.
Last year, Adele quietly made her mark on the world of music.Far too young to sound so old, Adele, 21 is one of the most soulful new singers to enter the scene in the past few years. I think we've all grown tired of watching skinny girls with minimal talent, prance around on stage, and Adele offers a nice alternative. She is big, and wise, with a voice that ignites memories of the original R&B divas. She doesn't put on a show, because she doesn't have to.
Lykke Li is a Swedish sensation, whose simultaneous possession of strength and breakability make her one of a kind. Her song "Little Bit" has lyrics like, "Hands down, I'm too proud for love," only to be followed by, "and for you I keep my legs apart." Bizzare, but who among this nation of needy yet independent girls hasn't felt the same way. Most importantly, the girl makes you want to dance.
Ray Lamontagne is arguably one of the saddest songwriters of the past few years, with songs like "Jolene" and "Burn" that make listeners just want to give the guy a hug. His smokey voice reads anything but New England, and he sings the blues like no other Mainer. Still, he can lift spirits, with trumpet infused songs like "The Best Thing."
But great words aren't only found in songs. Although he published some great books in the 90's (you remember, the times of JNCO jeans and good Mariah Carey), David Sedaris made his mark on the literary world in 2000 with Me Talk Pretty One Day, and in subsequent years with Dress Your Family in Courduroy and Denim and When You are Engulfed in Flames. His voice is timid yet blunt and inexplicably hilarious. Sedaris's lack of poignancy is refreshing in a world of tragedy-laden stories. He doesn't harp on his homosexuality and makes cancer funny, and for this he is, in my opinion, one of the most honest voices of our nation.
Uzodinma Iweala is a writer of Nigerian parentage, who found his way to Harvard, and then the Best Seller list with debut novel Beasts of No Nation. His scenes are beautifully crafted and terrifyingly honest. Iweala gives Westerners an all-too-true glimpse into the world of war and child soldiers in West Africa.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is Sloane Crosley. She recently published I Was Told There'd Be Cake, a book of essays whose title was enough to get many excited. She writes with honesty and is unafraid to claim her privilege. Her's is an everygirl experience, which makes all of the increases the insanity of her tales. Crosley's next book will be released in the Spring of 2010, and if it is half as funny as Cake, the next decade will be one to enjoy, no doubt.
Finally for writers, there is Cormac McCarthy, who I almost did not even list, because he has so publicly been hailed as one of the greatest writers in recent history. I cannot think of much to say about him that has not already been said by The Village Voice, and The New York Times, and Oprah. I will say that upon reading The Road I found myself gasping as singular sentences, their beauty astounding me. I cried on the subway, but I don't think anyone could blame me.
As far as bodies go, some great choreographers have emerged in the past 10 years. People don't "get" modern dance, and that is where Nicholas Leichter comes in. He post-modernizes pop, layering hip-hop infused modern choreography over club beats and, more often than not, a story. Someone who has never seen a dance concert can attend one of Leichter's shows, have a fantastic time, and leave without asking "so what did that mean?" He reassures us that it's ok to have fun.
Robert Battle is another black choreographer who has made his way onto the scene in recent years. There is nothing like seeing pure fire on stage, and Battle's choreography delivers just that. I've seen his pieces performed and been afraid. I've performed his work and been even more terrified. His movement is raw, animalistic and amazing to see done right. His company, Battleworks, is composed of some of the strongest dancers of our time, and if pieces like "Rush Hour" were developed in his earlier choreographic years, what he might conjure up next is unthinkable.
Lisa Race has been dancing and choreographing for years, but her most recent solo is her most spectacular work, in my opinion. She begins clad in a halter dress, exposing her phenomenally muscled back, dancing with agile ease and quickness. Throughout the piece, she layers coats upon jackets, completeing the same movement series, but with increasing difficulty, until she is barely moving. Race is a testament to womanhood and aging, and this brave piece is her gift latest gift to the world.
Of course, countless other artists in every discipline have made their mark on the world over the past 10 years, but who can know them all? In any case, let's keep our eyes and ears open for these and other artists to enlighten, challenge and entertain the rest of the world.