Whether you prefer to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit or rebel against the trappings of the season, you’ll find your fun downtown with a few of Phoenix’s quirkier activities. Adults-only theater pushes the envelope with A Bloody Mary Christmas while unique Christmas light tours appeal to all ages, and puppetry and dance shows keep kids jolly.
Ballet Arizona offers the usual fairies and sugarplums at Symphony Hall with its spectacular, highly acclaimed production of The Nutcracker (through December 28), reinvented a few years ago by artistic director Ib Andersen. Tchaikovsky’s familiar music performed by The Phoenix Symphony can’t be beat, and a family four-pack includes parking, premium seats, a photo with the Sugarplum Fairy and hot cocoa.
If you prefer the music of a different Russian, try Snow Queen at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West (through Dec. 21), choreographed by Frances Smith Cohen and presented by Center Dance Ensemble. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale comes to life with melodies by Sergei Prokofiev. Take a midday work break, buy or bring your lunch, and sample the Lunch Time Dance Theater option for only $6.
In addition to the occasional wickedly subversive 18+ puppet slam, Great Arizona Puppet Theater provides a steady stream of funny shows for children young and old. The Night Before Christmas (through December 28) features joyful music and stories.
For those who love cinema, FilmBar offers a glorious month full of movies in an intimate 70-seat venue with the added bonus of a beer and wine bar (alcohol with popcorn — what could be better?). December’s options include The Captive, The Babadook, Bad Santa and Free the Nipple (both on the Naughty & Nice Film Series), Awake: The Life of Yogananda, and the incomparable Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Foreign films include Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador) and Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le metro as a double feature. And don’t miss Opera at FilmBar — December 19 brings Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella) from the Gran Teatre del Liceu, starring a sparkling Joyce DiDonato and the yummy Juan Diego Flórez.
The calendar’s packed at Crescent Ballroom, where Cocina 10’s food and drink are complemented by the stories of Chow Bella’s Eating Christmas (December 16). For a canned food donation you’ll hear food-themed tales of holiday adventure (for ages 21 and older). Otherwise, try “Life’s a Drag. Party Like a Queen” (December 18) with interactive games, “Truth, Drag or Dare,” and drink specials all hosted by Olivia Gardens.
Phoenix Theatre serves a full plate of seasonal cheer with Holiday Classics From Screen to Stage (December 18-21), when Arizona Opera singers croon holiday favorites from films like Elf, Miracle on 34th Street, Love Actually, A Charlie Brown Christmas and more. Vocalist Dennis Rowland takes the stage with the Greg Warner Project and special guest Diana Lee for the Holiday Jazz Cabaret (December 22-24) and a range of Christmas classics. And you’re sure to have a jolly holiday with Mary Poppins (through December 28), an eye-popping fast-paced feast of color, song, dance, and special effects including Valley favorite Toby Yatso as a tap-dancing, levitating chimney sweep.
Back in the realm of adults-only entertainment, Space 55 pulls out all the stops for the fifth year of A Bloody Mary Christmas (through December 21), in which Sun City retirees sing, dance, and battle a heartless homeowners’ association. Set to original music by Dangerville and Samson Says, Bloody Mary showcases Toni Jourdan, Lee Quarrie, Paula McKenny and Bob Peters. 7 Minutes Under the Mistletoe (December 20) gives local performers their seven minutes in the sun with an opportunity to do whatever they want — interpretive dance, dinosaur burlesque, competitive doughnut eating, action figure battles…even naked stage magic. Who knows what you’ll see?
Other Space 55 shows include Storyline: A Winter’s Tale (December 19), part of a monthly storytelling showcase, and Resolutions! A new show for an old year (December 31), a good warm-up for your New Year’s Eve party or downtown’s Flannel Ball.
“Hip Historian” Marshall Shore brings a big yellow school bus to The Clarendon Hotel as the launch point for his Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23). “We cruise through Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa,” says Shore. “I curate for the most jaw-dropping displays that I can locate.” Join in the caroling and live music with your very own kazoo (provided), or sit back and enjoy Shore’s talents as a storyteller while you see commercial, private home and religious displays.
If you go:
- Ballet Arizona: The Nutcracker (through December 28)
- Center Dance Ensemble: Snow Queen (through December 21)
- at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West, 222 E. Monroe
- visit centerdance.com or call 602-252-8497
- Great Arizona Puppet Theater: The Night Before Christmas (through December 28)
- in the GAPT’s lovely renovated historic 1929 LDS 2nd Ward Church, 302 W. Latham
- visit azpuppets.org or call 602-262-2050
- 815 N. 2nd St.
- visit thefilmbarphx.com or call 602-595-9187
- Crescent Ballroom and Cocina 10
- 308 N. 2nd Ave.
- visit crescentphx.com or call 602-716-2222
- Phoenix Theatre
- 100 E. McDowell Rd.
- visit phoenixtheatre.com or call 602-254-2151
- Space 55
- 636 E. Pierce St.
- visit space55.org
- “Hip Historian” Marshall Shore: Christmas Lights Tours (December 16, 18 & 23)
Schedules are subject to change. For more holiday diversions visit DowntownPhoenix.com:
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APS ELECTRIC LIGHT PARADE RETURNS TO CENTRAL PHOENIX DEC. 6
Dozens of entries with hundreds of thousands of lights will brighten the streets of central Phoenix on Saturday, Dec. 6 when the APS Electric Light Parade returns for the 28th straight year. Entries for the 2014 parade will interpret the theme “Holidays in Toyland.” Mickey Mouse will serve as grand marshal.
The parade starts at 7 p.m. on Central Avenue at Montebello (just south of Bethany Home Road), heads south to Camelback Road, where it turns east to 7th Street where it turns south to the end point at Indian School Road. Comprehensive event information is available at phoenix.gov/parks or by phone at 602-534-FEST.
“Tradition is what the holidays are all about, and this is the 28th straight year for this festive event that brings our community together to celebrate the season,” Mayor Greg Stanton said.
Parade lovers also can come out during judging on Friday, Dec. 5 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the event staging area at North Phoenix Baptist Church to see all motorized entries lit up for official review. Students from Arizona State University’s College of Public Programs will be on hand that night to present free kids’ activities, and children also can visit with Santa Claus. Visitors to the judging can enter the staging area at the church parking lot entrance on Montebello Road just east of Central Avenue.
The APS Electric Light Parade is produced by the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. In addition to entry fees and the title sponsorship of APS, the following partners and sponsors also help to make the event possible: Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Suns, Safeway, IBEW #387, Michael A. Pollack Real Estate Investments, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, 99.9 KEZ, ABC15, Arizona State University’s College of Public Programs, Holiday Lights Decorating, Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, Keep Phoenix Beautiful, North Phoenix Baptist Church, Phoenix VA Health Care System, Arizona 811, Classic Party Rentals, Republic Services and United Rentals.
- Consider taking Light Rail to the event and avoiding traffic congestion. The parade route runs right next to the Light Rail stop on Central Avenue, just south of Camelback.
- The parade is a rain or shine event. Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly.
- Spectators are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs for seating.
- Crowds for this event have grown very large in recent years. If spectators arrive at the parade route within 45 minutes of the start, please respect the viewing positions of those that arrived earlier and take a position along the rear edge of the crowd.
- Spectators should try to minimize and gather any trash and litter generated during the parade to ease cleanup after the event.
- Coolers are permitted, though alcohol and glass containers are prohibited.
- Viewing spots along the parade route are first-come-first-served. Spectators often start arriving three or more hours before parade time to reserve spots.
- Parking is available on city streets around the parade route and also is on a first-come-first-served basis. Private lots near the parade area often offer parking for a fee.
Images courtesy of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.
Diversity with local relevance is a prime goal for nonprofit arts organizations, and Arizona Opera hopes to pique interest in its forthcoming mariachi opera and expand multicultural outreach with this week’s Hispanic Heritage Festival.
“The whole purpose of the Festival,” says Arizona Opera Education Manager Joshua Borths, “is to bring together the Hispanic audiences who haven’t necessarily been to the opera before, and expose our opera audiences to this incredible world of mariachi music and cultural richness.”
The Festival begins with Monday’s panel discussion on immigration and the arts at Arizona Opera Center, kicking off a week of events leading up to the weekend’s season-opening performances of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna (To Cross the Face of the Moon). Along with moderator Daniel Buckley — a composer, journalist, historian, documentary filmmaker, photographer, and Governor’s Arts Award winner — the roster of illustrious participants includes playwright, journalist, and policy strategist James Garcia and Arizona State University Vice Provost and Professor of History Eduardo Pagán. The third member of the panel is Shoshana Tancer, a highly respected immigration attorney and professor emeritus at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Tancer’s background comprises extensive work in Latin America as well as longtime advocacy for the arts.
“It’s kind of funny because someone said, ‘Yeah, a member of your Opera board should be on that panel,’” says Borths. “I started talking to her [Tancer] and learning more about her life … understanding arts, and understanding all of the complex issues that surround immigration.” He adds, “We’re lucky to have her involved. It’s a really interesting, diverse group of people.”
Tuesday night offers a lecture-demonstration on mariachi history and conventions by retired ASU musicology professor Richard Haefer and his ensemble Mariachi Corazon de Phoenix. The Opera Center transforms itself into a mercado for the Cultural Exchange on October 8, becoming a marketplace. “We’re going to have food trucks, throw open the garage doors,” says Borths. “Mariachi is booked from 6-9, local arts and crafts, and even a guest appearance by Alan Ponce, the runner-up on La Voz, The Voice in Mexico.”
Hundreds of schoolchildren will converge on Symphony Hall Thursday evening to attend the mariachi opera’s final dress rehearsal on Student Night, and Saturday afternoon the Festival concludes its Phoenix events with a showcase of Hispanic art at the Opera Center — “We’ll have some fine art projects and we’ll be showing some Hispanic films,” explains Borths. Opera-goers will also find local mariachi groups playing outside Symphony Hall before each performance, along with the option of informal pre- and post-show lectures.
The Festival’s centerpiece, Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 2010 and continued on to the venerable Théâtre du Châtelet of Paris. The opera was created by director and writer Leonard Foglia and José “Pepe” Martínez, who served as music director for Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán from 1975 until his retirement earlier this year. The music reflects Martínez’s signature of rapid violin ricochets and the mariachi styles of ranchera and boleros. Martínez was also influenced by his appreciation for Beethoven and for the 20th-century classical Mexican composer José Pablo Moncayo, who wrote the famously rhythmic Huapango and the opera La mulata de Córdoba.
Martínez and Foglia wove 15 songs into a brisk, emotionally potent 80-minute opera without intermission, using flashbacks to tell a multi-generational story of immigration between Mexico and America. They also use the metaphor of monarch butterfly migration, says Mariachi Vargas violinist José “Pepe” Martínez Perez, Jr., the composer’s son. Speaking through interpreter and assistant manager Ivan Leony, he continues, “They travel for a better situation, a better place, like the butterflies … a lot of them die. That’s like the immigrants … some of them make it; some of them don’t.” Leony adds, “Of course our group has never been — and probably will never be — political. We do it because of the music.”
Arizona Opera’s production of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna features the original cast including Mariachi Vargas, which was founded in 1898 and gained even wider recognition by releasing a popular album with Linda Ronstadt — it’s one of more than 200 recordings from the venerable Mexico City-based ensemble.
“The piece is scored for mariachi and vocalists,” says Arizona Opera General Director Ryan Taylor, “so the band appears onstage and serves as orchestra and chorus, and then the vocalists and dance troupe tell the story in operatic fashion in front of them, so they’re all onstage all the time.”
“There are opera singers who have spent time studying the technique of mariachi vocalists because they have such stamina and such power in their delivery,” Taylor continues, “and there are also mariachi vocalists who have looked to the way that the original musical theater and opera singers performed … without amplification.” He adds, “They’ve really sort of fed off of one another in their development in a cool kind of way.”
Pepe Jr. will lead the upcoming performances somewhat like a concertmaster leading a chamber orchestra, with the trumpets, violins, and rhythm section of Mariachi Vargas arrayed across the back of the stage. Dancers perform downstage with the soloists, including classically trained baritones Octavio Moreno and Brian Shircliffe, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Duarte, soprano Brittany Wheeler, and tenor David Guzman. Spare, minimal sets and lighting suggest vast desert landscapes interspersed with a few indoor scenes.
“Since of course it talks about the undocumented immigrants crossing over,” says Pepe Jr., “it’s very touching and you see a lot of people teary and sad as they leave the performance hall with an open heart, but also fascinated with how the story of an immigrant family could be such a good opera.”
If you go:
Hispanic Heritage Festival (all listed events take place in downtown Phoenix):
- The Borders of Understanding
- Mon., Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. at Arizona Opera Center, 1636 N. Central Ave.
- Three-person panel participates in guided conversation about immigration and the arts
- Mariachi: The Passion and Pulse of a People
- The Cultural Exchange
- Student Night at the Opera
- Connecting the Dots: A Demonstration of Hispanic Art
- Sat., Oct. 11, 12 p.m.-2 p.m. at Arizona Opera Center
- Watch old movies from Mexico and participate in Hispanic art projects and demonstrations
by José “Pepe” Martínez and Leonard Foglia
(sung in Spanish and English with English supertitles)
- Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St., downtown Phoenix:
- Fri., Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sat., Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sun., Oct. 12 at 2 p.m.
- Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave., Tucson
- Sat., Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m.
- Sun., Oct. 19 at 2 p.m.
- All performances feature:
- Local mariachi performances outside the venue
- Informal lectures before and after each performance
Every year Ballet Arizona gives audiences a family-friendly treat with Ballet Under the Stars, a series of free outdoor performances in Valley parks ending at Steele Indian School Park on Saturday, September 27 at 7PM.
“It’s an extraordinary gift to give Arizona,” says Ballet Arizona Artistic Director Ib Andersen, “that we’re doing this program for free. Nobody does what we do.”
The repertoire includes two classics by American ballet iconoclast George Balanchine, beginning with last season’s Walpurgisnacht from Charles Gounod’s opera Faust. Creating an otherworldly atmosphere, Walpurgisnacht refers to revelry celebrating the souls of the dead and a gathering of witches, although the ballet itself isn’t meant to depict a specific event, “except I would say the last movement,” adds Andersen, “when the women let their hair down and they go sort of bananas.”
Brazilian dancer Nayon Iovino, who’s been with Ballet Arizona since 2012, choreographed the evening’s second work for its performances this past May. “I do think that Nayon has talent,” says Andersen, “and this ballet that he did … is a good one.”
Iovino’s creation uses several pieces of music, ranging from an excerpt from Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons to more modern tunes. The dancers wear simple costumes of jeans and shirts, without pointe shoes.
Ballet Under the Stars concludes with the 1954 work Western Symphony, featuring well-loved music by American composer Hershy Kay on traditional folk-song themes including “Red River Valley,” “Good Night, Ladies,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” Says Andersen, “It’s cowboys and cowgirls, you know?”
Enthusiastically received by audiences last spring at the Orpheum Theatre, Western Symphony uses the natural landscape as its entirely appropriate backdrop this weekend, showcasing nearly 40 performers. “It’s the biggest ballet we’ve ever done in terms of numbers,” explains Andersen. “We’ve had ballets where we had more people on stage, but not all of them dancing at the same time.”
Bring blankets or lawn chairs, friends, and family to enjoy Ballet Arizona’s invaluable gift to the Valley.
If you go:
- All remaining Ballet Under the Stars performances begin at 7PM
- Fri., Sep. 26 at Estrella Lakeside Amphitheater in Goodyear
- Sat., Sep. 27 at Steele Indian School Park in Phoenix — UPDATE: this performance has been cancelled due to a forecast of inclement weather.
- Ballet Arizona’s Open House is Sat., Oct. 5 from 12PM-4PM
- at 2835 E. Washington St., Phoenix
- tour the Ballet AZ studios, meet faculty, enter drawings for ticket giveaways, or try free classes in ballet, jazz and modern dance, yoga and Zumba
- Find all the details on Ballet AZ’s upcoming season, including:
- Swan Lake (Oct. 30-Nov. 2, 2014 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall)
- Dancers’ Choice (Nov. 15, 2015 at Ballet AZ’s Dorrance Theatre)
- The Nutcracker Festival (Nov. 16, 2015 at Ballet AZ’s Dorrance Theatre)
- The Nutcracker (Dec. 12-28, 2014 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall)
- Napoli (Feb. 12-15, 2015 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall)
- Today’s Masters (Mar. 26-29, 2015 at the Orpheum Theatre)
- All Balanchine (Apr. 30-May 3, 2015 at Symphony Hall)
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ARIZONA SUPER BOWL HOST COMMITTEE SIGNS LEASE AT RENAISSANCE SQUARE
Hines, the international real estate firm, announced today that the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee has signed a 7,535-square-foot lease in Renaissance Square, a two-building, 965,000-square-foot Class A office complex located in the hub of downtown Phoenix.
Super Bowl XLIX is scheduled to be played at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015, marking Arizona’s second Super Bowl in seven years.
Hines Managing Director Chris Anderson said, “We are honored that One Renaissance Square is the official headquarters building of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee. They are an outstanding addition to an already world-class tenant roster.”
“Renaissance Square is one of the premier office buildings in Phoenix, and we are thrilled to call it our new home for the next year. We look forward to hosting the world’s biggest single-day sporting event in 2015, all the surrounding activities, and the 2015 Pro Bowl,” said Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee Chairman David Rousseau.
One and Two Renaissance Square were designed by the architecture firm Emery, Roth & Sons, Inc., and were completed in 1987 and 1989 respectively. One Renaissance Square is 25-stories tall, and Two Renaissance Square contains 27 stories. The buildings are clad in red granite, connected by a pedestrian sky bridge, and boast numerous on-site amenities.
Renaissance Square is leased to large corporate tenants, such as Bryan Cave LLP, Ernst & Young and Quarles & Brady LLP, as well as many GSA tenants and prominentlocal businesses.
The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee was represented in lease negotiations by Brad Anderson of CBRE. Jerry Noble of Cushman & Wakefield represented Hines, the building’s owner and property manager.
Photo courtesy of Hines.