January: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

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

photo courtesy brian quijada

Jan. 19-Feb. 24
Where Did We Sit On the Bus?

When Brian Quijada learned about the Civil Rights Era in the third grade, he asked his teacher: Where did we sit on the bus? Where were Latinos during this part of American history? It’s a question that shaped Quijada, and his resulting one-man autobiographical play, “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?,” explores what it’s like to grow up Latino in America in a presentation with hip-hop, spoken word and music. “I would describe it as a mixtape, simply a mixtape of my life,” Quijada says. “It’s kind of like a concert — it’s in the style of a one-man band … I would best describe it as a narrative concert.” Quijada premiered the work in his native Chicago under the direction of Chay Yew, who will direct in Pittsburgh as well.
SOUTH SIDE: City Theatre Hamburg Studio, 1300 Bingham St.
412/431-2489, citytheatrecompany.org

Jan. 26-Feb. 3

This miniature version of Mozart’s “Idomeneo,” meant to make the original four-hour opera more accessible, will take the stage this month courtesy of Pittsburgh Opera’s prestigious Resident Artists program. The tale of star-crossed lovers and mistaken identities is set immediately after the Trojan War on the island of Crete. The title character, Idomeneo, is the King of Crete; his son, Idamante, has rescued the Princess of Troy, Crete’s sworn enemy. Idomeneo vows to execute the rescuer, not realizing it’s his son, as a romance blossoms between the prince and princess. Pittsburgh Opera’s production will update the timeline to draw parallels to the current refugee crisis in Syria. 
DOWNTOWN: Pittsburgh CAPA Theater, 111 Ninth St.
412/456-6666, pittsburghopera.org/afterwards

Jan. 31-Feb. 16
Run the Rabbit Path

PICT Classic Theatre doesn’t often present world premieres. But this month, the homegrown tale by Pittsburgh playwright Ray Werner, “Run the Rabbit Path,” should prove itself worthy to fit into a classic canon. The work follows two brothers and a sister, loosely based on Werner’s family, the day after their father has died in a former mill town. The sister, Patty, has been their father’s caregiver while one brother has stayed somewhat close by. The older brother has been an infrequent visitor who’s returning for the funeral. At its heart, it’s a play about family, but it’s also a mystery, says PICT Producing Artistic Director Alan Stanford, who will direct the show. “There is a reason why the youngest son feels, shall we say, an aggrievement against the oldest son and the father,” he says. “There’s a secret, and in the course of the play the secret is revealed.” Werner says he’s long wanted to write a play based on his family, and local playwright Tammy Ryan strongly encouraged him. “She said, ‘This is what you reach for when you write: This is a true story that never happened. These are real people who never existed.’”
OAKLAND: WQED’s Fred Rogers Studio, 4802 Fifth Ave.
412/561-6000, picttheatre.org


PHOTO by TOM LITTLE | “ADA” by Karina Smigla-Bobinski


Artists in Residence 

Have a ball to kick off the new year at the Mattress Factory, where you’ll find an amazing sphere more interactive and immediate than the one that drops in Times Square. A big helium-filled spiked globe not only goes down but also up and sideways within the confines of its space in “ADA,” an installation by Munich-based intermedia artist Karina Smigla-Bobinski. During its erratic travels, Smigla-Bobinski’s “post-digital drawing machine” creates abstract murals in charcoal on the white walls and ceiling. (Think more creative and grungier than “Silver Clouds” at The Warhol.)

Smigla-Bobinski is one of six participants creating site-specific and thought-provoking work in the latest “Artists in Residence” show. In contrast to “ADA,” vivid and seductive pink and green walls lure us into “Screen,” where mirrors and TV monitors make us (sometimes unwilling) participants in an installation by Christina A. West from Atlanta. Iranian-American Laleh Mehran from Denver leads us on a “search for meaning into the infinite” through “The Interstitium,” a dark, meditative, all-enveloping experience. Pittsburgh-based William Earl Kofmehl III provides us with “Lessons” focused on language and includes metal alloys from local industrial history in his work. The Factory’s fourth floor has been commandeered by OSGEMEOS, a duo comprising twin brothers Gustavo and Otavio Pandolfo from São Paulo. Their well-named “Lyrical” offers a fun, colorful Brazilian visual carnival, including a sideshow with a large-scale zoetrope (note: the performance is 2 minutes long and only runs twice a day Friday-Sunday, so plan accordingly).
NORTH SIDE: Mattress Factory, 500 Sampsonia Way
412/231-3169, mattress.org

All of the Suddens

The last male northern white rhino died in 2018, but his memory lives on — in a glass sculpture — to remind us that imperiled species today might well follow the dodo bird into oblivion. Find him at All of the Suddens, a wake-up call by Seattle glass artist Kelly O’Dell warning of these eventualities (and what better medium than glass to express such fragility). The focal point of the show is “Critical Masse,” which comprises representations of endangered species presented as hunting trophies. Pittsburgh Glass Center presents this show in partnership with Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. 
FRIENDSHIP: Pittsburgh Glass Center, 5472 Penn Ave.
412/365-2145, pittsburghglasscenter.org

Three shows this month at Silver Eye Center for Photography offer diverse perspectives and techniques.
• “Full Moon Fever” (through Jan. 12): This first members show for The Lab @ Silver Eye explores “thoughts on darkness, shadows and the unbearable lightness of seeing.”
• “Door Into the Dark” (through Jan. 19) features photography by Lauren Semivan using a large-format camera. Among her interests are exploring the ability of photography to blur “boundaries between the real and fictitious worlds” and making use of the camera to provide “a door into the dark.”
• “The In-Between” (through Jan. 19) features photography by Trisha Holt, who makes images and then reshoots the subjects with their photographic counterpart. For Holt, the print and its reproduction serve as methods for addressing “the power of images in contemporary culture.”
BLOOMFIELD: 4808 Penn Ave.
412/431-1810, silvereye.org

Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission
Maybe the Apollo 11 Mission might have been more appropriately named Selene I for the Greek moon goddess rather than for her more heliocentric fellow deity, but that’s neither here nor there. Whatever they called this marvelous mission, the landing of man on the moon was an epochal endeavor in our history and civilization. 
Relive this momentous occasion, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer, at Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, at Heinz History Center. It’s one of only four museums in the country to host this exhibition launched by the National Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
Time-travel back to the 1960s when astronaut Neil Armstrong planted his feet on our closest celestial neighbor and — before a worldwide TV audience — took “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Learn how Apollo II was conceived and destined for success with displays, artifacts (such as astronaut Buzz Aldrin’s helmet and gloves) and many interactive features, including a lunar-lander video game and a virtual tour of Command Module Columbia.
Speaking of Columbia: What’s really cool — important! — about this show is that the command module is not only here virtually but also — yes! — really, really here. The module is the sole section of the spacecraft that made the trip to the moon and returned to earth, and this marks the first time Columbia has been out of the Smithsonian since 1971.
Also learn about local connections to Apollo 11 and discover how companies and innovators here contributed to landing us there.
STRIP DISTRICT: 1212 Smallman St.
412/454-6000, heinzhistorycenter.org


photo by sharen bradford

Jan. 3
Dancing with the Stars: Live! A Night to Remember

The lights and cameras are turned off in the ballroom, as the 27th season of “Dancing with the Stars,” ABC’s  popular dance competition show, is a wrap. But a contingent of professional coaches who jive, salsa and tango across the boards with celebrity competitors each week are revved and ready to showcase their talents on the road in Dancing with the Stars: Live! A Night to Remember. Among the cast for the 50-city tour (locally at Heinz Hall with second-place finisher Milo Manheim on the schedule) are fan-favorite professional dancers Val Chmerkovskiy, Witney Carson, Alan Bersten, Artem Chigvintsev, Jenna Johnson, Gleb Savchenko, Brandon Armstrong and newlyweds Emma Slater and Sasha Farber, plus members of the show’s dance troupe and surprise guests. The new production features choreography and creative direction by DWTS co-executive producer Ashley Edens-Shaffer and Emmy Award-winning choreographer Mandy Moore, of “La La Land” fame, who frequently creates ensemble numbers that open the weekly broadcast.
DOWNTOWN: 600 Penn Ave.
412/392-4900, dwtstour.com

Jan. 26
Jessica Lang Dance

The Pittsburgh Dance Council presents New York City-based Jessica Lang Dance, an internationally traveled troupe founded in 2011 by Bessie Award-winning choreographer Jessica Lang. The company of 10, trained in ballet and modern techniques, performs six of the Bucks County native’s mixed genre works, including her signature piece, “The Calling” (2006). This short excerpt from “Splendid Isolation II” focuses on a solo dancer enveloped in a voluminous white skirt whose expressive upper body and arms respond to music by Trio Mediaeval. Also featured are “This Thing Called Love” (2018), a 22-minute celebration of tunes popularized by singer Tony Bennett, whose recordings provide the soundtrack for a blend of jazz and modern dance, and “Lyric Pieces” (2012), which uses an expandable paper set design and the music of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. The neon-lit “glow” (2017), an excerpt from “Aria” (2013) and the joyous “Solo Bach” (2008) complete the program at the Byham Theater.
DOWNTOWN: 101 Sixth St.
412/456-6666, trustarts.org

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