A member of Dallas Theater Center's Brierley Resident Acting Company, Vahle has been acting professionally for 25 years. Known for her versatility and strength in a variety of roles (she once played the title role in Macbeth), Vahle's had a great run of star turns recently. She was lovely as royalty in DTC's pop-art A Midsummer Night's Dream, then turned in what was arguably the best performance of the 2010 season as Linda Loman in that theater's intense staging of Death of a Salesman. Opposite New York actor Jeffrey DeMunn as Willy, Vahle gave a breathtaking performance as a woman determined to hold her family together as her husband slowly lost his grip on reality. Those who saw that Salesman and heard Vahle reinvent the "attention must be paid" speech will never forget her in that role. The SMU grad (from the MFA program) is also an assistant professor of acting and voice at University of North Texas. (Pay attention, kids.)

Costume designer Aaron Patrick Turner makes the metaphorical silk purse out of sows' ears for many a local theatrical production. Working on lavish budgets or on the "Can you get it free?" plan, Turner has earned a reputation as a meticulous creator of beautiful period costumes. Among his best are the clothes he made for Trinity Shakespeare Festival's Twelfth Night, Amphibian Stage's Icarus, Contemporary Theatre of Dallas' Oldest Living Graduate, Rabbit Hole and The Cemetery Club, and this summer's elegant 1930s wardrobe for the comedy The 39 Steps at Stage West. As local stage costumers go, Turner's got the title of "best" all sewn up.

Regular readers of the Observer music section won't find this nod as much of a surprise. The best local release of 2010? That's easy: It's Sarah Jaffe's Suburban Nature, a collection of heartbreaking, vulnerable tunes penned by the prodigious 24-year-old Dallas native, who for the past year has toured the country supporting the likes of fellow DFW products Midlake and Norah Jones while making quite a name for herself along the way. The praise she's earned has been plentiful, coming even from national outlets like Paste magazine and USA Today. Jaffe's blend of indie rock, folk and pop is intoxicating, relatable and, most of all, pleasant. And it's tough to find just one reason why. Her wavering vocals, her close-to-the-vest lyrics, her tasteful guitar picking and strumming, and her impeccable backing players' performances all add up to a powerhouse record.

Angela Hunt, District 14
Traveling Man, Deep Ellum
The Conduit Gallery

The Conduit isn't just a "walk in, stand and stare" sort of art gallery. Oh, sure, you can do that all day long, but the spacious gallery nestled in the Design District doesn't require you to keep still or whisper your thoughts. You will feel the creative energy in the air, and if you're fortunate to make it to an opening or art happening, you'll definitely see it in full force. Art devotees come out in droves to celebrate what owner/director Nancy Whitenack and assistant director/Project Room curator Danette Dufilho have to showcase. The gallery has featured interactive sculpture, video art installations, large scale paintings, site-specific installations and murals, text and diary adaptations and collage. Conduit shows three full exhibitions concurrently, most of them of solo artists—many of whom are no strangers to our state. Whitenack says there is a strong representation of artists working in Texas, and an equal amount of other artists scattered across the country.

The School of Contemporary Ballet Dallas

We always heard if you didn't graduate high school and go on to become a professional dancer you'd be relegated to watching So You Think You Can Dance? from your couch for eternity. Wait, what? No. Contemporary Ballet Dallas knows that isn't the case when it opens its East Dallas doors almost daily and welcomes adults to revisit dance classes typically reserved for kids and teens. Naturally, children's classes do abound, but so do ones for adults, and for all experience levels. It's possible to start from the beginning—or just recover what time has erased—with an encouraging, professional dance instructor and a beginner ballet or tap workshop. The school also offers hip-hop dance and Nia movement as well as jazz and samba. The old saying isn't true. You can go back...and gain some muscle tone doing it.

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Brandon+Thibodeaux
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In three years as artistic director at Dallas Theater Center, Kevin Moriarty has experienced the high of moving his company into the shiny new Wyly Theatre downtown, and the low of a box office bomb like the Bible-themed In the Beginning (which he directed). But nobody faults the guy for taking big chances. Moriarty, an Indiana native who came to Dallas after working at major theaters on the East Coast, is a bold director of classics and new work and a major champion of local talent. All of the actors in his stagings of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and of Neil LaBute's Fat Pig (part of DTC's three-month long trilogy of The Beauty Plays) were hometowners, a blend of veterans of DFW stages, SMU drama students and kids from Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where Moriarty also teaches. In Moriarty's biggest production to date as a director, this summer's $800,000 "revisal" of the 1966 Strouse-Adams musical It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!, he provided plum roles for lots of thesps who'd paid their dues at Kitchen Dog Theater, WaterTower, Contemporary Theatre of Dallas and other houses. Being in a Moriarty show has become the new benchmark for what it means to be a Dallas actor. We can't wait to see what he does next and who gets to be in it.

Everybody's got to start somewhere and many a Dallas actor, director and playwright have been launched from this annual summer festival of fringe theater companies overseen by Bath House regulars Marty van Kleeck and David Meglino. Only troupes that don't have their own home stages can qualify for this three-week event, which features mostly new scripts (none more than an hour long) and fresh, new faces. Such up-and-coming talents as The Drama Club started at FIT, as did Matt Lyle's Bootstraps Comedy group, which has since transferred to Chicago. A dozen different one-act plays rotate in repertory throughout the festival, with marathon viewings on weekends. For diehard theater lovers, FIT is a feast.

Ain't no party like a Cool Out party 'cause a Cool Out party don't quit. Quite literally, actually: For the past few years, Dallas has flocked to Tony Schwa and Big J's weekly residency upstairs at the Cavern, which remains the best DJ-helmed party in the Dallas area. Even as more DJs have become hip to the fact that Monday nights are the new Fridays, and that Greenville Avenue's the place to bring those weeknight crowds, Schwa and J have never skipped a beat. They spin their disco and hip-hop tunes for their loving, regular, strong crowds and let the music do the talking. Even in the face of new weeklies at Kush, Sugar Shack and Billiard Bar, all of which aim to take a bite out of Cool Out's reign as the best weekly in town, the duo just seems to be getting stronger and stronger. Perhaps it's their infectious energy and welcoming spirit. More likely, though, it's that they know what music to play to get people dancing without inhibition. It's time the competition came to grips with a certain fact: Cool Out's not in danger of cooling out any time soon.

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