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December: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest stage plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.




photo by Michael Henninger
 

Through Dec. 9/ The 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning play will find a fitting home in Pittsburgh. Sweat, written by Lynn Nottage, is set in the mid-2000s in Reading, Pa., when the town was one of the poorest in America suffering the effects of the steel industry crash. Nottage spent two years researching the town, and she set the scenes in a fictional bar based off of the local Mike’s Tavern. At the beginning, we meet two men just getting out of jail: a white man with white supremacist tattoos and a black man who used to be his best friend. “The story catapults us back eight years,” says director Justin Emeka, who’s coming off a run of the show in Philadelphia. “They recount what happens to them, and what happens to them is also told by the story of Reading.” Emeka says that Reading could be a model for the larger American experience. “I want people to come in and recognize their aunt, their uncle, their best friend’s uncle, their cousin,” he says, “to see and experience voices that aren’t often put on stage.” The play explores racism and numerous other issues of the day. “There’s a really rich diversity in the play,” Emeka says. “I think that the play does a good job of revealing our similarities as well as our differences and us learning how to see both and not let one erase the other … That’s at the heart of the American challenge: how do we be one?” (Pittsburgh Public Theater, O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Downtown; 412/316-1600, ppt.org)

Nov. 30-Dec. 15/ What will be different about off the Wall’s A Christmas Carol? For one thing, it will only have one actor. For another, expect a spectacle. Executive Artistic Director Virginia Wall Gruenert says the adaptation by off the Wall’s director Heidi Mueller Smith and playwright/actor Mark Coffin will feature Coffin playing both the characters and a narrator, and the lighting and scenery will create “a visual masterpiece.” (Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie; 724/873-3576, insideoffthewall.com)

Through Dec. 16/ Kids are invited to be Gemini Children’s Theater’s guest at Beauty and the Beast Holiday. The story of the classic “The Gift of the Magi” comes to life through the beloved fairy tale characters — it’s Belle’s first holiday season in the castle and she must convince the Beast to join in the celebration. (Father Ryan Arts Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., McKees Rocks; 412/243-6464, geminitheater.org)
 


Brian Bress, “Beadman,” 2012
 

THROUGH FEB. 3/ An “artist” creates an abstract “painting” on a “canvas” with a brush (note: no quotes around brush). The “artist” here, though, is a simple humanoid form made from rebar. After a piece is finished — via cyber-electronic wizardry — it joins others along the cyber wall of a virtual gallery. And for all who dismiss abstraction with: “Hey, my kid could do that,” well, maybe. But in this case only if your kid were a robot. “The Maker and the Made” — the title of the installation by Siebren Versteeg (the unseen artist/auteur masterminding the art) — might be embraced as the leitmotif for Paradox: The Body in the Age of AI, the latest exhibition at Miller ICA.

Curated by Miller ICA director Elizabeth Chodos, “Paradox” brings together 11 artists with some unsettling ideas about our high-tech present and (potentially dystopian) future. The title references Moravec’s Paradox, a concept of sensorimotor skills and computational measurements proposed by a Carnegie Mellon University professor, and the concept-heavy show is powered by a weighty mission. Here’s just a sample: to explore “the primacy of the human body as it’s poised on the precipe of a potential fusion with artificial intelligence.” Daunting, yes, but don’t be dissuaded from seeing “Paradox.” It could stand on its own as art even without a Scientific American back story.

Works range from the minimalist (Sarah Oppenheimer’s “1-134442”) to the cyber sartorial (Nick Cave’s “Soundsuit, NC15.020”) to the intensely immersive (Claudia Hart’s “The Flower Matrix Pod”). For the ne plus ultra experience, head into “Contra-Internet: Jubilee 2033,” a Zach Blas installation featuring a retro-futuristic science-fiction film channeling such characters as Ayn Rand, Alan Greenspan and a cute little AI named Azuma.
(Miller Institute for Contemporary Art at Carnegie Mellon University, 5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland; 412/268-3618, millergallery.cfa.cmu.edu)
 


Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, 2017. Based on the portrait by Peter Paul Rubens at The Frick Pittsburgh. 69 x 59 x 55 inches. By Isabelle de Borchgrave
 

THROUGH JAN. 6/ Looking for a great place to take family or out-of-town guests this holiday season? Head to Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper at The Frick Pittsburgh. What to your wondering eyes will appear are absolutely incredible life-size costumes created entirely from paper. The artist-couturiere takes her inspiration from Old Masters paintings, the Ballets Russes and other sources. A show highlight is a piece commissioned by The Frick based on a Peter Paul Rubens painting in its collection: “Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé.”
(The Frick Pittsburgh, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze; 412/371-0600, thefrickpittsburgh.org)

THROUGH DEC. 31/ Two installations — a U.S. premiere (Daydream V.5) and another (narrow.V3, part of the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts) retailored to the Wood Street Galleries space — showcase the creative vision of France-based Nonotak studio. Read “studio” as a two-person team comprising kinetic artist Noemi Schipfer and architect/musician Takami Nakamoto. The pair specializes in conjuring ethereal, dreamlike environments to envelope viewers.

In a relatively short amount of time, Nonotak has achieved a notable degree of exposure and success since first appearing on the radar in 2013 with an audiovisual installation at the Mapping Festival, a celebration of installation and audiovisual art and performance, in Geneva, Switzerland.
(Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St., Downtown; 412/471-5605, trustarts.org)
 
THROUGH DEC. 28/ BoxHeart features two artists with different takes on reality and how we perceive it:

Main Gallery: Nichole Gronvold Roller: Above Ground presents paintings by the Illinois artist that twist perspective, deconstruct architecture and conjure up illusions of motion while manipulating canvas “gravity” to create an alternative reality. Roller’s interests include map-making and journaling — with actual slices from her writing sometimes appearing in her work. Recently, the artist has moved beyond traditional rectangular and square canvases to create shaped, sculpture-like canvases.

Second-Floor Gallery: Local artist Chris McGinnis grew up during the region’s industrial decline, which informs his perspective. The artwork in Arroyo (Spanish for a geological feature formed by water) is grounded in “site-based research exploring notions of human progress and identity through place.”
(BoxHeart Expressions, 4523 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield; 412/687-8858, boxheartgallery.com)
 


Photo By Timothy Norris
 

Dec. 11-12/ The Hip Hop Nutcracker pops into Pittsburgh and locks in a two-night gig at the Benedum Center. The contemporary take on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 19th century fantasy unfurls its enchantment in 1980s New York City. The two-act production, choreographed by Decadancetheatre’s Jennifer Weber, draws on breaking, aerial moves, voguing and the individual talents of 12 dancers as it recounts Maria-Clara’s backward journey through time via a magic subway ride. While P.I. Tchaikovsky’s beloved score predominates, a DJ adds some scratching and beats. Guest performer MC Kurtis Blow raps the introduction and closes the show with his hit “The Breaks.”
(Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org)

Nov. 30-Dec. 27/ Snowflakes flurry and flowers waltz as Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presents Artistic Director Terrence Orr’s The Nutcracker. This Pittsburgh-themed classical ballet is a descendant of the Imperial Russian Ballet’s 1892 original, known for its lilting P.I. Tchaikovsky score. The local angle sets the Stahlbaum’s Christmas Eve bash in early-20th-century Shadyside where the family celebrates along with A-list guests (notably named Kaufmann, Grandview and Heinz) and nods to local amusement parks in the Land of Enchantment. Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s nightmarish tale, the ballet follows Marie and her prince in a magical coming of age journey orchestrated by the mysterious Drosselmeyer.
(Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St., Downtown; 412/456-6666, pbt.org)

Dec. 14-15/ Pittsburgh: Live & Onstage is a multidisciplinary showcase featuring a roster of local artists. On tap are excerpts from Staycee Pearl dance project & Soy Sos’ “…on being…” (2013), a contemporary dance work examining race, color and the Post-Blackness theory. Movers Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight of slowdanger perform “hybrid memory | reflector,” a duet incorporating light sculpture to explore engrams, hypothetical permanent changes in the brain affecting the storage of memory. Crutch master Bill Shannon, vocalist Anqwenique Wingfield, Afro Yaqui Music Collective and activist/hip hop artist Blak Rapp M.A.D.U.S.A. also contribute to the program, which is presented in partnership with the National Performance Network.
(Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty; 412/363-3000, kelly-strayhorn.org)

Dec. 8/ Last year, the ongoing Second Saturday series at The Space Upstairs went on hiatus. However the popular improvisational presentation reboots for an evening of spontaneous creative collaborations, live music, poetry and postjazz method dance. Jazz drummer Dave Throckmorton and his band Smash Your Wagon are musical guests.  (214 N. Lexington St., Point Breeze; 412/225-9269, thespaceupstairs.org)

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