Out of the Comfort Zone
To every thing there is a season. When you see dancing mice, Sugar Plum fairies, a flying sleigh bed and international dolls springing to life, you know it's Nutcracker time. A venue change is afoot for Cincinnati Ballet's THE NUTCRACKER: Rather than taking place in the traditional Music Hall as it has for decades, the holiday classic moves to the ballet's usual venue, the Aronoff Center. Why the change?
Scheduling was the first factor, according to Artistic Director Victoria Morgan -- particularly competing with Cincinnati Pops Orchestra for weekend dates during the weeks before Christmas. On the plus side, she says, "It encouraged us to really get out there and find touring opportunities because The Nutcracker is pretty universal ... this production is a strong one."
This year the company took the lavish production -- complete with costumes and sets designed by Alain Vaës (who has created stage designs for New York City Ballet among other companies) and manufactured in St. Petersburg -- to Indianapolis to perform with a combined cast with Indy dancers. (Indy's own resident ballet company folded in late 2005, the result of ongoing financial strain.)
Now Cincinnati Ballet returns to the Aronoff's more intimate space for their own run of shows aimed to please all ages. Expect technically challenging choreography to astound grown-ups and imaginative sets designed by Vaës -- who's also a celebrated children's book illustrator -- to delight the young and young at heart. Plus, kids love to see kids onstage. There are 97 children in the cast, 37 of whom appear in any single performance. Caleb Schirmer, 13, and Daniel Durrett, 10, are both seasoned Nutcracker performers in their fourth year. This time they share the role of Fritz, a mischievous boy who breaks the Nutcracker doll. Durrett says of the role, "You don't like your sister. You get in trouble a lot, and nobody really likes you."
Asked if he's a troublemaker in real life, Schirmer says, "No, I'm not really, so I usually take this opportunity to be a troublemaker."
Neither seemed too fazed by the venue change, but they each cited the Aronoff's smaller dressing/holding rooms as a downside.
Ultimately, Morgan is pleased. "I think sometimes it's hard -- you get so used to our tradition and our habits and our comfort zones," she says. "We're used to Music Hall, but quite honestly I'm excited about it. I think it's gonna be a really fun place to have The Nutcracker." $21-$66. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) -- JULIE MULLINS
WEDNESDAY 12/19 - MONDAY 12/24
The man in red takes a dive to the delight of children, adults and whimsy-seekers everywhere. SCUBA SANTA is back for the fifth year, making his mark as one of the city's -- and country's -- most interesting holiday traditions. Mr. Claus' wonderful winter homestead has been replaced with an aptly named "Water Wonderland," full of flying seahorses, sharks, giant turtles, scuba masks and little pink noses pressed tightly up against the aquarium glass. Scuba Santa will be floating around the Newport Aquarium 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily until Jan. 1 with extended winter hours, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., from Dec. 26-29. He'll even be making special out-of-water appearances to visit with kids and take their Christmas lists from noon-3 p.m.
WEDNESDAY 12/19 - MONDAY 12/24
Somehow children still had fun when their toys didn't dress in scandalous outfits, simulate violence with tricked-out graphics or double as a cell phone. Celebrate the holidays circa a 19th- or 20th-century toy store with TOYS THROUGH TIME at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Curator David Conzett points out that toys such as building blocks and dolls are lasting. "There's still this magic with some of these pieces," Conzett says. Highlights of the exhibit include a first-edition Monopoly set, 1840s ice skates and original Star Wars toys made by Cincinnati's Kenner Toy Company. One of the most popular pieces is the miniature train. "The kids come in and they see that and run over to it. I'm not sure where that comes from, because most of them have never experienced or ridden a train," Conzett says. Model train enthusiasts and anyone who has taken a train out of the building's Amtrak terminal will appreciate HOLIDAY JUNCTION, the museum's 2000-square-foot model train layout. Watch several trains run simultaneously throughout a four-level set 48 times smaller than life. Children can take train rides through a winter wonderland and make crafts. Admission to "Toys through Time" is free and "Holiday Junction" is included in museum admission: $7.25 for adults, $5.25 for children and $6.25 for seniors. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Through Jan. 6. (Buy tickets, check out hours and find nearby bars and restaurants here and here.) -- SUSIE SHUTTS
WEDNESDAY 12/19 - THURSDAY 12/20
A sensitive, lovely documentary that uses Paris' famous Pere-Lachais cemetery as a poetic setting for a meditation on life, death and art, Heddy Honigmann's FOREVER is the kind of film, like Rivers and Tides and Russian Ark, to develop a passionate following as people discover its beauty. Honigmann meets people who visit the cemetery's entombed residents -- Proust, Chopin, Ingres and others -- and gently explores why they care enough to visit. She makes sometimes startling and always touching connections between their need to pay respects and their own lives and interests. A soft-spoken Iranian taxi driver who visits the tomb of his nation's writer Sadegh Hedayat sings Persian Classical music. And a devotee of Proust creates a graphic novel of Remembrance of Things Past. Cincinnati World Cinema presents the film at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Cincinnati Art Museum's Fath Auditorium. $9 for adults, $7 for CAM members and students with valid ID. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) -- STEVEN ROSEN
THURSDAY 12/20 - SUNDAY 12/23
Comedian ISAAC WITTY was almost a broadcaster. Shortly before completing his associate's degree, he took the stage at the new comedy club in his hometown of Tulsa. He never looked back. Now living in Minneapolis, he makes audiences laugh across the country with his odd, sometimes silly observations. "Remember back in middle school the gym teacher would say, 'OK, everybody get into groups of two," he asks an audience. "Some people couldn't find a partner, so they had to settle for who was left. I think that's how I'm going to get married. 'Here's your soul-mate. Yeah, she's equally disappointed." Witty also dispenses travel advice. "If you ever go to the Middle East, don't make the mistake I did and use the maps in the back of your Bible to get around. Those are way out of date." Witty performs Thursday-Sunday at Go Bananas in Montgomery. $7-$12. $4 Thursday with College ID, Sunday for Ladies, $3 Sunday for service industry workers. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) -- P.F. WILSON
The holiday season in Greater Cincinnati offers a chance to catch up with expatriates who return to the area to share their stories of the big world to which they moved away. It's even better when they're musical ex-pats, because you might just get a concert out of their return! Former Kentuckian NOAH SUGARMAN -- a member of various local bands since he was a teenager, including Ska/Reggae band The Rudies -- moved to L.A. to pursue his musical dreams and he's off to a bang-up start. Sugarman (who also played bass in Cincy's 500 Miles to Memphis) has signed on with the Unison Music label and this year released the solo album Art of Starting a Fire. At its core, the album is soulful Pop a la Jack Johnson, Rob Thomas or Dave Matthews, but Sugarman shows his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music by dipping his toes in R&B and Bluegrass (among other seamlessly integrated styles) tastefully and skillfully. Sugarman will host a CD release party for the new album at the Southgate House this Thursday, joined by 500 Miles to Memphis and Tupelo Honey. $5. 859-431-2201. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) -- MIKE BREEN
THURSDAY 12/20 - SUNDAY 12/23
Perhaps you've enjoyed the spoof musical Forever Plaid, about a retro group of harmonizers trying to come back for one last concert after a fatal bus accident. There's a very cute holiday version of the show, PLAID TIDINGS, which Cincinnati audiences flocked to see at the Cincinnati Playhouse in 2004. If you're a fan of the vocal stylings of Jinx, Smudge, Frankie and Sparky, you'll be glad to know they're back in town at Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, with a final set of performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and a Sunday matinee. It's lots of fun -- a three-minute-11-second version of the Ed Sullivan Show, a reincarnation of Perry Como (in a Christmas sweater), the Chipmunks, the Rockettes, the Vienna Choir Boys and even a Caribbean Christmas that puts the "Day-O" in Excelsis. $21 adults/$19 seniors and students. (Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) -- RICK PENDER
It's our accelerated culture and ADD media's fault, but it's something of an American trait to "forget" (despite faux-patriots' bumper-sticker declarations otherwise). So this holiday season as many families in the Gulf spend another Christmas away from their homes, let's not forget the horrors of Hurricane Katrina, the second-worst tragedy to hit the U.S. in the 21st century. RICKY NYE and ROBIN LACY & DEZYDECO -- two acts that, at their very core, would not exist if there were no N'awlins -- will jar your memory Friday at Covington's Madison Theater as they host "Christmas in New Orleans," a benefit concert for the New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity. Soundtracked by Nye's masterful take on Boogie Woogie Blues and Lacy and Co.´s energized Zydeco-and-beyond diversity, in true New Orleans style this won't be a funeral march but a full-blown party. When asked what a "Christmas in New Orleans" concert would consist of, CityBeat's resident New Orleans expert (read: he likes to go there and drink at Mardi Gras) John Fox says, "Probably means a drunk Santa and lots of red and green beads." Good enough for us! And a great cause to boot. $8. (Get details and find nearby bars and restaurants here.) -- MIKE BREEN