One of my art professors had a spiel about how to push a work to its farthest edge by reminding us that a great work of art almost doesn’t work—but it does. It was his way of getting his students to take risks, to push out beyond what feels safe. There’s really no other way to know just how long that plank extends over the cliff edge until you walk it, blindfolded, and fall off. And then you do that again. Many, many times.

I’ve come up against that edge several times lately, leaving me to ask why something that shouldn’t work, does. Here’s my list. Maybe you have a few of your own.

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Styrofoam cup ceiling and mylar “lumps”

Tara Donovan, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
Donovan has transformed my ongoing relationship with scotch tape, Styrofoam cups, paper plates, mylar sheets and plastic buttons. Simple materials in the hands of someone who clearly can stay focused on the tedious tasks of creating the extraordinary out of the ordinary.

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aurelia

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Aurélia Thierrée threading her way across the stage; music making with alarm clocks

Aurelia’s Overture, American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge
Charlie Chaplin’s gift at the beguiling art form of silent performance seems to have been passed down, first to his daughter Victoria Thierrée Chaplin who wrote this piece and second, to his granddaughter Aurélia Thierrée who performs it. Small in scale and seductively intimate, this performance takes life and the theatrical experience and stands everything on its head. The stage curtains dance erotically with each other, and later in the show we meet their small curtain “child”; flowers are placed in vases upside down; empty coats behave as if they are wrapped around a body; a concerto is performed using the various sounds of alarm clocks. So simple, with no plot and almost no words, it is part circus, Grand Guignol, pantomime, minimalist theatre, Dadaist contrarian, Arte Povera, modern dance, improvisational. And yet these 75 minutes are a jewel box of the captivating and the whimsical. Only the hardest of hearts would not be softened and seduced by this.

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Director Danny Boyle on the set for the final scene

Slumdog Millionaire
A fairytale about modern India—Mumbai to be exact—told with gritty realism, this is a movie that shouldn’t work but does. While the cast doesn’t periodically break into the dance and song we have come to expect from most Indian films (that is until the last scene, while the credits are rolling), the energy and pace is as explosive as any of those high action Bollywood extravaganzas. And because I am a newly minted and highly zealous Indianophile who fell head over heels for sprawling, massive Mumbai, I was riveted from start to finish.

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Bonnie Horne overseeing the plethora of pizza making ingredients

Holiday Cuisine Highs
There were some stellar high points this year: The tempura-fried fresh oysters with tangerine sauce at our Christmas Day feast, Bryce’s clam chowder, Clate’s mushroom, potato and cheese medley, Barrie’s espresso chocolate flourless cake, Bonnie’s baklava, Tony Maws’ (of Craigie on Main) Macomber turnip soup, and the Barlow/Wilcox/Horne “make your own” pizza extravaganza which featured over 40 different ingredients. All these culinary exploits could have overshot that teetery edge and crashed over the cliff. But they didn’t.

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