As the age of Covid-19 more or less wanes, Arts Fuse critics supply a guide to film, dance, visual art, theater, author readings, and music. More offerings will be added as they come in.
Children of Las Brisas (Los Niños de las Brisas)
December 5 at 7 p.m.
Coolidge Corner Theater, Brookline
Children of Las Brisas is a story of resistance, resilience, and perseverance that explores the power of discipline and classical music as tools for survival. The documentary follows three Venezuelan children from the impoverished Las Brisas neighborhood in their quest to become professional musicians within the ranks of “El Sistema” music program.
There is post-screening Q&A with filmmaker Marianela Maldonado, producer Luisa de la Ville, Angel Subero from Berklee College of Music, and Maria Esther Alvarez from Boston String Academy. Moderated by GBH and El Planeta’s Tibisay Zea.
Sundance Film Festival Shorts
Dec 8 at 7 p.m.
Dec 10 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Dec 11, 1 p.m. and at 3 p.m.
Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston
The program features short films curated from the 2022 Sundance Festival, including three titles that won awards. The collection is a mix of fiction, documentary, and animated shorts that are funny, sad, and inspirational.
Rescheduled from last year. The cinematic selections, accompanied by members of the New England Film Orchestra playing an original score by composer Alan Kryszak, offer a nostalgic peek into the Yuletide pleasures of the early 1900s. Most of the works were produced at Thomas Edison’s studios: the 1910 version of Charles Dickens’s immortal A Christmas Carol; a heartwarming melodrama by D. W. Griffith (A Trap for Santa); the first screen version of Clement Moore’s 1822 poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Limited seating available. All audience members free to tour the mansion starting one hour prior to start of performance.
Pick of the Week
Good Night Oppy
On Amazon Prime
This beautifully assembled film is the true story of Opportunity, one of two rovers that were sent to Mars for a 90-day mission. “Oppy” ended up surviving for 15 years. The story focuses on the mission’s significance for science, technology and the bond forged between the ‘robot’ and the diverse and committed crew back on earth who led and enabled the mission. With stunning recreations of the mission itself, the documentary is an inspirational story of individual dedication that humanizes the science. You may find yourself tearing up by the film’s end. Arts Fuse review
— Tim Jackson
Helmchen plays Bach
Presented by Celebrity Series
December 6, 8 p.m.
Pickman Hall, Cambridge
Pianist Martin Helmchen makes his local recital debut in a program featuring four of J. S. Bach’s six keyboard Partitas.
Presented by White Snake Projects
December 10, 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
GBH Calderwood Studio, Boston
White Snake Projects returns to action, premiering four twenty-minute-long operas that offer modern takes on holiday rites from around the world.
American Originals: A Moravian Christmas
Presented by Musicians of Old Post Road
December 10 at 4 p.m. and 11 at 3 p.m.
Emmanuel Church, Boston (Friday) and Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester (Sunday)
For their annual Christmas concert, the period group this year focuses on music written by Moravian immigrants to America as well as works by Quantz, Graun, and J. C. F. Bach.
Presented by Celebrity Series
December 10, 8 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston
Violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Jay Campbell, and pianist Conrad Tao have all made celebrated solo appearances in town over the last few seasons. Here they team up as a trio to present music by Amy Williams, Ravel, Carlo Gesualdo, and Robert Schumann.
Presented by Celebrity Series
December 11, 3 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston
The Korean pianist makes his Boston recital debut with a smartly balanced set of selections by Handel, Johannes Brahms, and Robert Schumann.
Presented by Handel & Haydn Society
December 15 at 7:30 p.m. and 18 at 3 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston
H&H artistic director-designate Jonathan Cohen returns to Boston for the first time since his appointment was announced to lead the ensemble’s annual Christmas concerts. The program includes favorites by Handel and Bach alongside pieces by Jan Zelenka and Johann Vierdanck.
— Jonathan Blumhofer
Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker
Citizens Bank Opera House
Those seeking a more traditional, yet riveting, rendition of The Nutcracker should look no further than Boston Ballet’s classic production. Enjoy splendorous sets, costumes, and exceptional technique as the timeless notes of Tchaikovsky fill the Citizens Bank Opera House.
Saturday, December 10 at 7 p.m.
The Dance Complex
Established in 2018, Nomads is a Boston-based choreography team that strives to “foster family, acceptance, diversity, and passion for dance” within the Boston community. As a group, they “wander” from one location to the next in search of new expressive and creative outlets. The Dance Complex invites the community to experience Showmads, Nomads’ first evening-length production.
Go back in time to Ellis Island in the 1920s with this year’s Midwinter Revels. Enjoy a coming together of cultures from around the world in this winter celebration featuring a myriad of traditional songs, dances, and stories from across the globe.
Boch Center Shubert Theatre
Those in search of a Nutcracker production that stands out among the rest should head to Anthony Williams’ Urban Nutcracker, the modern Boston-centric holiday classic presented by City Ballet of Boston. Experience what The Boston Globe has aptly described as “a holiday arts tradition reflecting the rich multicultural diversity of Boston.”
— Merli V. Guerra
COVID PROTOCOLS: Check with specific theaters; requirements often include proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 rapid test. Also, companies are requiring masks at indoor performances.
Chicken & Biscuits by Douglas Lyons. Directed by Lyndsay Allyn Cox. Staged by Front Porch Arts Collective at Suffolk University’s Modern Theater, 525 Washington St., Boston, December 9 through January 8.
The plot of this comedy: set in the Church, the Jenkins family is coming together to celebrate the life of their father — hopefully without killing each other. But any hopes for a peaceful reunion unravel when a family secret shows up at the funeral. Can Reginald deliver a sermon that would make his father-in-law proud? Can sisters Baneatta and Beverly mourn their father without laying hands? Can Kenny and Logan be their authentic selves in the wake of a traditional matriarch and who is that woman in the back? Actress/director/ playwright Jacqui Parker makes her Front Porch debut in this production.
The Play That Goes Wrong, by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, & Henry Shields. Directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr. Staged by the Lyric Stage at 140 Clarendon Street, 2nd Floor, Boston, through December 18.
This backstage comedy is billed as “Part Monty Python, part Sherlock Holmes, all mayhem.” “‘Break a leg!’ takes on a whole new meaning for a woefully misguided troupe of players at the Cornley University Society’s opening night performance of The Murder at Haversham Manor. An unconscious leading lady, a corpse who can’t play dead, a ruffled detective, and a word-mangling butler (among others) must battle against technical gaffes, forgotten lines, and sabotaging scenery in a quest to arrive all in one piece at the final curtain call.”
OTP by Elise Wien. Directed by Enzo Gonzales. A BU New Play Initiative production, produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre, at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, through December 18.
“Set in 2015, the comedy centers on 15-year-old best friends Ceci and Michelle. By day, they’re students in Oak Park, Illinois. By night, they take the internet by storm, crafting an alternate universe where a teenage President Obama courts the teenage President of Oak Park High School — and takes her political advice.” Described as a “lyrical and engaging love letter to fanfiction and teenage friendship,” the script “also asks how the stories we tell ourselves and others shape our political discourse and our sense of civic responsibility.”
The Railway Children, adapted from the novel by Edith Nesbit. Music and lyrics by Jane Shaw & Mark Hartman. Adapted and directed by Carol Dunne & Eric Love. Staged by Northern Stage at the Byrne Theater, 74 Gates Street White River Junction, VT, through January 1.
“Faced with a family crisis during the Great Depression, three siblings are uprooted from their city lives to a small Vermont railway town. Bobbie, Peter, and Phyllis are transformed by their life in the country as they make thrilling discoveries exploring the railroad and befriending the people in their new town. Adapted from the beloved children’s novel of the same name, this new musical holiday classic celebrates resilience, kindness, and the power of community.”
The Brightest Thing in the World by Leah Nanako Winkler. Directed by Margot Bordelon. Staged at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven, through December 17.
A world premiere commissioned by the Yale Repertory Theatre. “It is a classic rom-com. Beguiling Lane works in a bakery and in short order wins over cool customer Steph with her warmth, wit, and homemade desserts. Their blossoming relationship also opens the door to romance for Lane’s older sister Della, who hasn’t been on a date in years. But the skies dramatically darken as each woman must come to terms with her own limitations.”
Life of Pi, based on the 2001 novel by Yann Martel. Adapted for the stage by Lolita Chakrabarti. Directed by Max Webster. Puppetry and movement direction by Finn Caldwell. Scenic and costume design by Tim Hatley. Presented by the American Repertory Theater at the Loeb drama Center, Cambridge, through January 29.
A North American premiere: “Sixteen-year-old Pi and his family set off to emigrate from India, but after their ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat with just four other survivors—a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a Royal Bengal tiger. Time is against them, nature is harsh, who will survive?” Winner of five 2022 Olivier Awards including Best New Play, the production, which promises to be spectacular, plays here before it makes its way to Broadway in March.
— Bill Marx
Jazz pianist Jason Moran has never been one to limit his range. Known as a composer and educator, Moran’s musical sources and influences include avant-garde jazz, blues, classical music, stride piano, post-bop, and his childhood enthusiasm, hip hop. He also works, over several genres, in the visual arts.
Jason Moran, Black Stars: Writing in the Dark opens at MassMOCA on December 17. The exhibition unites works on paper and two installations— Savoy Ballroom 1 and Studio Rivbea— from Moran’s STAGED series, which draws on archives and photographs of historic music venues that presented jazz as a revolutionary music and helped shape the genre through the 20th century. The nearly abstract works on paper record Moran’s hands and fingers moving across piano keys, each work holding a gesture that records the memory of a performance. Says Moran “these pieces emerge from my performance practice. My body in relationship to the piano and to bodies in the audience.” The title “Black Stars” comes from Moran’s third jazz album.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (1860) vividly romanticizes a period in the mid-19th century when Rome was the center of the art world and the Eternal City’s dilapidated palaces housed the studios of painters and sculptors from around Europe and the United States. At the same time, artists working in the brand-new medium of photography were enthusiastically recording the baroque squares, churches, and Roman ruins frequented by Hawthorne’s characters. It was an effort that not only advanced the fledgling medium in skill and sophistication, it changed the way Rome was seen by the rest of the world. With more than 112 works, many never publicly exhibited before, and nearly fifty photographers, the exhibition In Light of Rome: Early Photography in the Capital of the Art World, 1842-1871 opens at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art on December 8. The artists include early pioneers like France’s Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey, who worked with daguerreotype, and the Welch calotypist Calvert Richard Jones, along with photographers from Britain, France, and Italy.
Opening at Bowdoin a week later on December 15 is Turn of Phrase: Language and Translation in Global Contemporary Art. The show, say its organizers, “examines the critical and creative functions of language in global contemporary art from the 1980s to the present.”
Elsewhere in the state of Maine, on December 17, the Colby Museum of Art will inaugurate its new satellite site, the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the Paul J. Schupf Art Center in downtown Waterville with Light on Main Street. The exhibition consists of a selection of videos and sculptures by Erin Johnson, Paul Kos, Barbara Gallucci, and Jennifer Steinkamp. “At the darkest time of the year,” the museum says, “these luminous artworks will fill the gallery on Castonguay Square with wonder and light.”
The collections of the Bibliotheque nationale or French National Library are so famously vast than many of its nooks and crannies have never been fully explored. Remarkably, the library’s first ever exhibition of its eighteenth-century French drawings opens at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown on December 17. The period in question was one of expansion, building, spectacle, and the cultivation of new knowledge and revolutionary ideas. The eighty-four studies, architectural plans, albums, sketchbooks, prints, and optical gadgets on view cover natural history, current events, theater design, landscape, and portraiture. Artists range from the celebrated, like Francois Boucher, to royal children, female printmakers, and visionary architects.
— Peter Walsh
Bert Seager’s Heart of Hearing
December 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Lilypad, Cambridge, Mass.
Pianist and composer Bert Seager continues his rewarding explorations of various global cultural strains in jazz (especially Latin American) with his longstanding group of reedman Rick DiMuzio, bassist Max Ridley, and drummer Dor Herskovits. They take swings at jazz standards (always a Monk in there) and group originals. You can also expect them to throw some curveballs at their capable guest vocalist, Lily Shires.
“Crossing the Boundaries”
December 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Jordan Hall, Boston
Clarinet master and composer Don Byron returns to his alma mater, New England Conservatory, to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the department he entered as a freshman in 1980, now known as Creative Musical Arts. Back thenit was called Third Stream, created by the man who coined the term, Gunther Schuller, and his wingman, Ran Blake. The first half of the program will feature Blake in an arrangement of his “The Short Life of Barbara Monk,” as well as pieces by Duke Ellington, Sam Rivers, and Randy Weston and Melba Liston, and the late NEC prof George Russell’s path-breaking jazz/Afro-Cuban fusion “Cubana Be/Cubana Bop” (1947). In the concert’s second half, Byron will play Russell’s “A Bird in Igor’s Yard” (1949) Morton Gould’s “Derivations for Clarinet and Band”(1955), and an original improvisation. The NEC Jazz Orchetra will be under the direction of Jazz Studies chair Ken Schaphorst.
Aardvark Jazz Orchestra
December 10 at 7:30 p.m.
Church of the Covenant, Boston
The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra gave a typically magnificent performance, featuring old and new music, when it inaugurated its 50th anniversary season, in October. Now the band celebrates their very first concert, December 23, 1973, at the Church of the Covenant, with this return to the church. This holiday show will range from “jazz-infused carols,” spirituals, and Aardvark music director Mark Harvey originals, “including his ‘Afro-Jazz Benedictus’ and his high energy arrangement of ‘Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,’ a staple of the Christmas concerts since the very first performance in 1973.” As always, proceeds for this annual event go to charity, in this case the Poor People’s United Fund, a Greater Boston nonprofit that serves those living in poverty or suffering homelessness.
Miguel Zenón Quartet
December 10 at 8 p.m.
Groton Hill Music Center, Groton, Mass.
Touring behind his Grammy-nominated Música de Las Américas, saxophonist, composer, educator, and MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Miguel Zenón comes to the brand-spanking-new Groton Hill Music Center with his longtime bandmates — pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig, and drummer Henry Cole. They’ve never sounded better than on this 2022 release, “inspired by the history of the American continent.” The Puerto Rican-born Zenón’s depth of understanding of a variety of American traditions, filtered through a masterful post-bop vocabulary, makes for varied and profound music, often rooted in dance rhythms, and always bubbling over with invention.
December 11 at 3:30 p.m.
Lilypad, Cambridge, Mass.
The commanding saxophonist and composer Tony Malaby continues his Sunday matinee series at the Lilypad. He fronts his own formidable quartet at 4:15: pianist Kris Davis, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Francisco Mela. The afternoon begins at 3:30 with Malaby playing with his Graduate Amber Ensemble from Berklee’s Global Jazz Institute: alto saxophonist Katie Webster, baritone saxophonist Charlotte Lang, pianist Liza Micelli, bassist Louie Stringer, and drummer Ilya Blahz.
December 15 at 8 p.m.
Harvard-Epworth Church, Cambridge
Keyboardist and composer Dave Bryant continues his “Third Thursdays” series at the Harvard Epworth Church — an ongoing exploration of the musical language of harmolodics developed by his mentor and employer (in the band Prime Time) Ornette Coleman. For this edition, Bryant reunites Shock Exchange, originally formed in the late ’80s with bassist John Turner and drummer Chris Bowman, who were later joined by saxophonist George Garzone (The Fringe). The band — cited by at the time by both the Phoenix and the Globe for its exciting originality — has continued to perform since then, but not often. Here’s a rare chance to catch them again.
Mark Morganelli & The Jazz Forum All-Stars
December 16 at 7 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston
This truly all-star ensemble is headed by trumpeter and flugehornist Mark Morganelli, perhaps best known as a producer (Candid Records) and nonprofit presenter, most famously at New York’s Jazz Forum loft and, more recently at Jazz at Lincoln Center and the Jazz Forum club in Tarrytown, N.J. His band here includes NEA Jazz Master Billy Hart on drums, pianist Helen Sung, and bassist Harvie S.
December 16 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Mad Monkfish, Cambridge, Mass.
Jazz legend (and NEA Jazz Master) Sheila Jordan, 94, returns to the Mad Monkfish for what has become an annual event (aside from the requisite COVID interruptions). She’s joined, as usual, by the excellent Yoko Miwa Trio, with bassist Brad Barrett and drummer Scott Goulding. For those who want to catch more Jordan wisdom, she’s offering a master class Saturday, Dec. 17, 1-4 p.m. Tickets for the master class are available here.
“Nat King Cole Christmas”
December 17 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, Boston
Nat “King” Cole gives this particular holiday special an appealing focal point. The fine cast — “performing some of the greatest songs ever written” — includes pianist Christian Sands (musical director), singers Lauren Kinhan (New York Voices) and Michael Mayo, trumpeter Marquis Hill, saxophonist Veronica Leahy, trombonist Steve Davis, guitarist Dan Wilson, bassist Russell Hall, and drummer Ryan Sands.
— Jon Garelick
Anthony Coleman and Gabby Fluke-Mogul
December 17 at 7: 45 p.m.
New School of Music, 25 Lowell Street, Cambridge.
One of the area’s most adventurous pianists joins a highly-regarded NYC-based violinist for an evening of duets. Expect a good deal of intuitively-focused free improv. Sponsored by the Creative Music Series.
— Steve Elman
Tom Anderson EP Release Party with Guest FauxMenco
December 15 at 7 p.m.
The Burren, Somerville
Tom Anderson’s second EP of 2022, Girl from Osaka,” will be released on December 15th. The Boston-born punk folk musician and fiction writer released General Ledger of Lunatics earlier this year. His tunes are inspired by folk stories about Scottish witches, lost rock bands in Brittany, teenage rejection, Jane Austen, and the MBTA Red Line. Anderson will share the stage with Guest FauxMenco (Catherine Capozzi and Rafi Sofer), which adapts a loud, adventurous, and experimental electric guitar language to a nylon-string, guitar-duo setting.
— Bob Katz
Virtual Event: Heather Radke – Harvard Book Store
Butts: A Backstory
December 5 at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $5
“Spanning nearly two centuries, this “whip-smart” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) cultural history takes us from the performance halls of 19th-century London to the aerobics studios of the ’80s, the music video set of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and the mountains of Arizona, where every year humans and horses race in a feat of gluteal endurance.
Along the way, she meets evolutionary biologists who study how butts first developed; models whose measurements have defined jean sizing for millions of women; and the fitness gurus who created fads like “Buns of Steel.” She also examines the central importance of race through figures like Sarah Bartmann, once known as the “Venus Hottentot,” Josephine Baker, Jennifer Lopez, and other women of color whose butts have been idolized, envied, and despised.
Part deep dive reportage, part personal journey, part cabinet of curiosities, Butts is an entertaining, illuminating, and thoughtful examination of why certain silhouettes come in and out of fashion—and how larger ideas about race, control, liberation, and power affect our most private feelings about ourselves and others.”
Peter Guralnick at the Cambridge Public Library – Harvard Book Store
The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Illustrated Story of Sun Records and the 70 Recordings That Changed the World
December 6 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are free with RSVP required
The Birth of Rock ’n’ Roll: 70 Years of Sun Records is the official history of this legendary label, and looks at its story in a unique way: through the lens of 70 of its most iconic recordings. From the early days with primal blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King to long nights in the studio with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, you will see how the label was shaped and how it redefined American music. Accompanying the recordings is the label’s origin story and a look at the mission of the label today, as well as “Sun Spot” sidebars—a fascinating dive into subjects such as how the iconic logo was created, the legendary Million Dollar Quartet sessions, and how the song “Harper Valley, PTA” funded the purchase of the label.
Written by two of the most acclaimed music writers of our time, Peter Guralnick and Colin Escott, and featuring hundreds of rare images from the Sun archives as well as a foreword by music legend Jerry Lee Lewis, this is a one-of-a-kind book for anyone who wants to know where it all started.”
Ellen Cassedy at the Harvard Book Store
Working 9 to 5: A Women’s Movement, a Labor Union, and the Iconic Movie
December 8 at 7 p.m.
“In her latest work, feminist trailblazer Ellen Cassedy takes us through her journey as a founder of the 9 to 5 movement, where ten brave women came together to take a stand against sexism in the workplace. Their battles fought at the intersection of the women’s movement and the labor movement are even more relevant today, making Working 9 to 5 a must-read for any activist or reader in search for a piece of inspiration.” —Liz Shuler, president, AFL-CIO
WBUR CitySpace: Jessica Grose — brookline booksmith
Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood
December 12 at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are $25 with book, $5 without
Women have always shouldered most of the parenting duties, from playdates to teacher conferences to family dinners. Jessica Grose, author of the New York Times parenting newsletter, is here to say enough is enough. In her new book, Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood, she explains how we got to this moment, why the current state of expectations on mothers is wholly unsustainable and how we can move towards something better.
An Evening of Poetry and Song
December 14 at 6 p.m.
Tickets are $15 for members, $20 for visitors
“Join us for a special evening of song and spoken word featuring six acclaimed Boston-area poets. Performances by poets Regie Gibson, Jeffrey Harrison, Megan Marshall, Anna V.Q. Ross, and Lloyd Schwartz with Sarah Chalfey, Jonathan Woody, and composer Scott WheelerHear soprano Sarah Chalfy and baritone Jonathan Woody sing each poets’ works set to composer Scott Wheeler’s original music. Wheeler’s settings include references to Bach, Satie, Mozart, and Caccini in a style that straddles the art song of Virgil Thomson and the theatrical music of Stephen Sondheim. The program, including a poignant work from the late Scott Harney, is sure to inspire.”
— Matt Hanson