Best of Culture This Month in Pittsburgh
Check out some of the finest plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place in January in Pittsburgh.
by Lauren Davidson
The most important exhibit in Pittsburgh right now is forged in glass, at once fragile and strong, beautiful and horrifying. In “Cuando el Rio Suena” (the name is taken from a South American proverb that begins “When the river sounds it is because it carries water”) at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, artist Jaime Guerrero has sculpted glass children separated from their families at the border. The sculptures are accompanied by other real-life migrant stories and artifacts.
“Even before … more horrific current happenings, I would hear really awful stories of abuse and inhumane practices, so I started to think in terms of creating sculptures that reflect the children … because I feel like the children are the most vulnerable,” says Guerrero.
“When things started getting really bad with children dying and children getting sick and all the current abuses that are being reported, sexual and physical abuses … I just thought it was really important and relevant to highlight these current events.”
One of the first installations a visitor encounters in the exhibition, curated by Guerrero’s wife Jennie Guerrero, is a distraught glass toddler, standing in front of a blown-up photograph, crying as her mother is detained; the 2-year-old Honduran asylum seeker was famously made into a Time Magazine cover facing President Donald Trump. Around the corner is a cage with three glass children inside. One little boy stands near the gate, one stands in the back near two metal benches and a baby sits in the middle; he appears to be mid-clap. Floating above the three children is a glass angel, one of four in the exhibition, representing four of the seven children who have died while in custody of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Another striking installation is a wall of items U.S. Customs and Border Protection confiscated from migrants at a processing facility in Arizona. Photographer Tom Kiefer was working as a janitor there and began collecting and photographing the items; when he met Guerrero at a group exhibition, he agreed to let some of the actual articles of clothing, for the first time, go on display.
The clothing ranges in size, but articles depicting Spider-Man, Superman and soccer balls are especially poignant.
Guerrero, a Los Angeles native who moved to Pittsburgh in part to work with the Glass Center, hand-crafted the glass children during a nine-month residency. “I looked through a lot of images that I found online and … I was able to sculpt the likeness of the person I was trying to represent. In glass, that’s a very, very difficult thing to do,” Guerrero says. “None of them are cast or blown into molds. Each are unique to the child I was trying to replicate.”
Guerrero says he wanted to use a medium he loves to make a social commentary. “It’s become this huge political thing, but for me it’s not a political thing,” he says. “It’s something that’s either humane or inhumane. For me, it’s a human issue and I tried … to personalize it and give the immigrant community and children that have gone through this process a voice, to share this story and share their struggles.”
Through Jan. 26: Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave., Friendship; pittsburghglasscenter.org
by Karen Dacko
Missed opportunities and temporary support are interpreted through movement as choreographer Shana Simmons of Shana Simmons Dance and choreographer/collaborating artist Jamie Erin Murphy explore dance and its relationship to our world in Dance & Discussion. The informal presentation of new and retooled contemporary movement material, presented at SPACE Gallery, is also structured to encourage the audience to develop and express opinions about the choreography.
Downtown: 812 Liberty Ave.; shanasimmonsdance.com
Dancer and choreographer Sarah Reich (of Postmodern Jukebox fame) aspires to be the first tap dancer to win a Grammy Award. The California native, who has performed with Syncopated Ladies and Jason Samuels Smith’s troupe, founded her own dance and music ensemble, Tap Music Productions, in 2011. In 2018, she released her first Tap Jazz album, New Change, based on her belief that tapping feet are inherently musical instruments. Reich composed the original selections for the album, which investigates the function of tap within a jazz ensemble while making the art form accessible to broad audiences. Reich appears as part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council’s 50th anniversary season at the Greer Cabaret Theater; she’ll be accompanied by a live band and a guest dancer.
Downtown: 655 Penn Ave., 412/456-6666, trustarts.org
The artists of Shen Yun Performing Arts present a two-hour showcase of original, live music — employing both Eastern and Western instruments, operatic vocals and classical Chinese and folk dance — sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Falun Dafa Association. Drawing on Chinese history, lore and more recent politically inspired allegories, the program of vignettes unfolds against digitally projected backdrops and features large, synchronized dance ensembles attired in elaborate costumes. Bilingual emcees provide narration in English and Mandarin.
Downtown: Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St.; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org
Ready for a Rumba? The professional dancers from Season 28 of ABC-TV’s hit dance competition series “Dancing with the Stars” Cha Cha into Pittsburgh with a showcase of new and fan-favorite numbers embracing a variety of styles. The cast includes Brandon Armstrong, Lindsay Arnold, Alan Bersten, Witney Carson, Val Chmerkovskiy, Sasha Farber, Jenna Johnson, Gleb Savchenko, Emma Slater and guest stars from the most recent competition, which ended in November (Kate Flannery of “The Office” fame will take the stage in Pittsburgh).
Downtown: Benedum Center, 237 Seventh St.; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org
by Sean Collier
Jan. 8-Feb. 16
Magician Derek Hughes brought the “America’s Got Talent” audience to its feet with a trick that … well, we don’t want to spoil it here, and even if we did, some of the specifics would be inappropriate for publication. (“AGT” judge Howard Stern seemed particularly tickled, let’s just say that.) The seasoned performer, who has also appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Comedy Central, will bring his ʻBag of Tricksʼ to Liberty Magic.
Downtown: 811 Liberty Ave.; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org
ʻThe Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar Systemʼ — Introduce children to two great things — live theater and “The Magic School Bus” books — via this live production from children’s-theater experts TheaterWorksUSA, recommended for kids ages 3 and up. After a pair of shows at the Byham Theater, the titular bus is headed for public engagements at regional schools and select suburban locations.
Downtown: 101 Sixth St.; 412/456-6666, trustarts.org
Jan. 11-Feb. 2
It’s hard to assign a genre to “Downstairs,” Theresa Rebeck’s twisty tale of cohabitation. At its outset, it feels like a comedy; by the end, the drama is genuine. In between, “It’s got a little bit of intrigue about it,” says Marc Masterson, City Theatre’s artistic director, who will direct. “It does have this ominous mystery around it that I think the audience gets involved in.” Teddy, shiftless after losing his job, temporarily moves into the unfinished basement of his sister, Irene; her husband, Gerry, wants Teddy gone. But why is Gerry so protective of a disused basement? Head to the South Side to find out.
South Side: 1300 Bingham St.; 412/431-2489, citytheatrecompany.org
Jan. 30-Feb. 1
Developed in New York’s the cell theatre, “The Women Who Rode Away” is a personal, multidisciplinary work by artist Natalia Zukerman. As a musician, she has penned songs for “The L Word” and appeared with the likes of Shawn Colvin and Richard Thompson; as an artist, she has illustrated children’s books and theater sets. Those skills combine in “The Women Who Rode Away,” which Zukerman brings to off the WALL for a weekend engagement.
Carnegie: Carnegie Stage, 25 W. Main St.; 724/873-3576, insideoffthewall.com