Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper

Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, artistic directors of New York City's Nature Theater of Oklahoma, are among the winners of this year's Alpert Awards in the Arts. (Herb Alpert Foundation / May 8, 2013)

The annual Alpert Awards in the Arts give a $75,000 boost to midcareer artists who often aren’t well known but have earned respect in their fields.

Among the higher-profile winners of this year's awards, funded by the Herb Alpert Foundation and administered by California Institute of the Arts, is the married theater directing team of Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper, whose Nature Theater of Oklahoma is in fact based in New York City.

Their latest work, the musical “Life and Times: Episodes 1-4,” recently was featured in the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival. With an eight-hour running time — 10 hours, counting intermissions — it was the first installment in a planned 24-hour opus with 16 episodes.

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The spine is an unedited transcription, "ums" and "uhs" included, of telephone conversations that Liska and Copper conducted with one of their company members about her less-than-epic life and times from childhood to adulthood. The heroine, wrote an admiring New York Times critic, “sounded like just about anybody you might grab from a suburban mall and plant in front of a microphone.”

The film/video award winner, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, won a rave from Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan in 2010 for “Sweetgrass,” a documentary made with co-director Ilisa Barbash that skipped any narration while focusing on Montana sheep and their herders. The latest film from Castaing-Taylor, a professor of visual arts and anthropology at Harvard, is “Leviathan,” documenting the work of a fishing trawler out of New Bedford, Mass. Made with co-director Verena Paravel, it opens Friday at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills; Castaing-Taylor will do a Q&A session at the 7:30 p.m. screening on Friday.

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The winner in visual arts is New York-based Sharon Hayes, who creates installations, video pieces and performance art. She was one of five artists who collaborated on the video installation “9 Scripts from a Nation at War,” which premiered in 2007 and focused on various people’s responses to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo. It was shown at REDCAT in 2009.

New York City composer-saxophonist Alex Mincek won for music, and the dance award went to Julia Rhoads, a former San Francisco Ballet member who founded the Chicago dance company, Lucky Plush Productions, in 1999.

Separate three-member panels picked the winner in each category. This year’s judges included jazz composer Anthony Davis, playwright Kim Euell, choreographer David Rousseve and Berkeley Art Museum director Lawrence Rinder.

The winners will receive their awards Friday at a brunch at the Herb Alpert Foundation in Santa Monica.

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