Saturday, November 22, 2014

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Tito Time

PHM1214Flash-1-TitoWith a flourish of his baton, maestro Tito Muñoz transports Phoenix Symphony into the 21st Century.

Classical music audiences in Phoenix don’t leap to their feet. They slowly rise, or half-heartedly stand. But at concert’s end on September 19 in Symphony Hall, 2,000-plus people shot instantly from seated to vertical, erupting in shouts of “Bravo!” The object of this unanticipated enthusiasm: the 2014-2015 season-opening concert of the Phoenix Symphony, led for the first time by Tito Muñoz in his newly appointed role as the orchestra’s Virginia G. Piper Music Director.

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The Cake Whisperer

PHMPF01Baker Tracy Dempsey extends a helping hand to ailing fans while whipping up her legendary cakes, pastries and confections.

“It’s my way or the highway. If you have a good idea, let’s hear it. But bottom line: When you’re here on the clock, you’re mine.”

Formidable words for an otherwise soft-spoken soul like Valley pastry chef Tracy Dempsey. But that’s her introductory line for employees at Tracy Dempsey Originals, the Tempe-based bake shop where she whips up sweet and savory desserts, baked goods and confections. Following stints at Cowboy Ciao and Lon’s at the Hermosa Inn, Dempsey started the business in 2009 – and it has expanded steadily ever since, along with the chef’s culinary cachet. She currently makes desserts for 10 notable Valley restaurants, including Citizen Public House, The Gladly and Crudo. Her bacon brittle is available at Bashas’ grocery stores. Her marshmallows got the attention of Oprah Winfrey’s people, and she’s baked wedding cakes for such Phoenix food stars as Chris Bianco and Aaron Chamberlin.

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Stand Up Guy

PHM1014PF01Author, obesity expert and inventor James Levine wants you to stand up for your life.

There sure are a lot of interesting James Levines out there, you think as you Google the name. One of them invented the treadmill desk. Another wrote a pair of harrowing Third World crime novels, one from the perspective of a sex-trafficked teen in India, the other about a young Kenyan drug runner. Another pioneered the field of “inactivity studies” before co-directing Arizona State University and Mayo Clinic’s Obesity Solutions collaboration. Another was kidnapped in India. And then you realize it’s all the same man, and you wonder what on earth you’ve been doing with your time.

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Raising the Barre

Ib Andersen, ballet arizonaArtistic Director Ib Andersen took Ballet Arizona from the brink of bankruptcy to iconic institution.

“I wish more people in Phoenix knew about us,” Ib Andersen says with a wry smile.

A lot of people outside Phoenix know about Ballet Arizona, the company Andersen directs. Critics fly in from New York to see it in action. Dancers from around the world audition to be in its ranks. Yet Ballet Arizona may be the city’s – and the state’s – best-kept performing arts secret.

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Middle Man

PHM0814Flash-1-2Scott Smith brings a centrist platform to a packed Republican primary for governor.

Scott Smith, the former mayor of Mesa, wants you to think about his city – both your impression of it years ago, and its recent spate of positive press. The five private, nonprofit legacy colleges and universities that set up shop. The much-applauded Apple Inc. manufacturing plant. The new spring training facility for the Chicago Cubs. The rapid growth of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The falling crime rates that have made Mesa one of the safest big cities in America.

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Wheels of Fortune

PHM0714Flash-1-2Ms. Wheelchair Arizona advocates for the mobility-impaired.

Juliet Martinez has yet to encounter an obstacle she can’t overcome – and she isn’t about to let this gymnasium rock wall in Scottsdale be the first. She locks the wheels of her chair, secures herself into a harness and – with a little helpful butt-boost from a climbing guide – begins the vertical ascent. Her powerful biceps tighten as she crawls her way up the craggy surface. Sweat beads on her face, exposing a dark birthmark normally covered by makeup.

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Bard of the Border

PHM0614Flash-1-1Arizona’s first poet laureate balances cultures and finds connections among dividing lines.

Alberto Álvaro Rios stood before a small gathering of South Phoenicians at South Mountain Community Library, preparing to read a poem they wrote together. To honor its one-year anniversary in 2012, the library had asked locals to submit phrases, images and memories about South Phoenix – to contribute a verse, Walt Whitman might say, to the powerful play. As Rios had sewed the snatches together, the emerging ode surprised him. It wasn’t patched with the area’s history of segregation and violence. “‘Baseline Blooms,’” he says, “turned out to be a pastoral, gentle, quiet poem. And this was the community writing itself.”

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