Holiday Guide: Arts Picks



Feeling less than delighted about your New Year’s plans? Chances are they aren’t as grim as Charlie Chaplin’s. In its 1925 review, the New York Times described Chaplin’s The Gold Rush as “a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness.” From December 23 to 29, Film Forum will run a restored 35mm print with a newly recorded orchestral score, featuring a New Year’s Eve scene in which the Little Tramp spends the holiday alone in his snowbound hut and listens to the sounds of merriment from the nearby dance hall. Even the Times Square ball drop seems a treat in comparison. For a jollier holiday vision, Film Forum will also offer matinee showings of Miracle on 34th Street, about a department-store Santa who believes he’s the real St. Nick. k

The Museum of Modern Art is spiking its holiday cheer with a dyspeptic dose of dark French cinema. From December 28 through January 2, MOMA is screening Le père Noël est une ordure, a 1982 flick whose title translates politely to Santa Claus is a Piece of Filth. The script concerns a hapless couple manning a help line on Christmas Eve who find themselves forced to assist a transvestite, a corpse, and a squabbling St. Nick and his missus. MOMA will also offer a film series honoring the spiteful sensibilities of Henri-Georges Clouzot, who positively celebrates man’s inhumanity to man. This retrospective includes the deliciously malicious Diabolique, The Wages of Fear, and The Murderer Lives at Number 21. But will the refreshment stand serve bûche de noël? k


Be careful what you wish for when making your Christmas list. This holiday season at the Metropolitan Opera features tales of characters doomed by their own desires. There’s Charles Gounod’s Faust, directed by Des McAnuff and designed by Robert Brillin, in which a scholar sells his soul to the devil for knowledge and power. (And tenure?) Also, poor Madama Butterfly, in Anthony Minghella’s production, who longs for the return of her faithless husband. And then there’s Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel and Gretel, with lighting by the marvelous Jennifer Tipton, which should teach all of us to decline that extra piece of gingerbread. But to ring in the New Year, there’s an even sweeter confection, the world premiere of the baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island, directed and designed by Improbable Theatre and featuring Joyce DiDonato and Plácido Domingo. This mash-up of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream features music from Antonio Vivaldi, Jean-Philippe Rameau, and others. k

Do you think they take requests for “The Dreidel Song”? Celebrated Hoboken natives Yo La Tengo will take the stage for eight nights at Maxwell’s in Hoboken for their annual Hanukkah stint, with proceeds going to numerous band-approved charities. This is the trio’s eighth such series, and though latkes and gelt aren’t typically featured in the lineup, covers are, ranging from Van Halen to Lou Reed to Kander and Ebb and way, way beyond. Expect plenty of songs from the back catalog, too. Yo La Tengo doesn’t announce opening bands or surprise special guests in advance, but they are legion and storied, so why not leave a light on for them—a menorah, even. k

If you’re a fan of early music, come all ye faithful to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where the Early Music Foundation will offer five performances of “Cathedral Christmas: Medieval and Baroque Treasury.” They won’t perform any of the familiar carols—the Early Music Foundation concerns itself with songs from the 11th to 18th centuries—but the all-male chorus and various instrumentalists will present everything from “medieval procession conducti and estampies to early baroque caroles and noels,” drawing on albums including “A Baroque Christmas,” “A Medieval Christmas,” and “A Bohemian Christmas.” So why not listen to them ding dong merrily on high? k

Here’s a truth nearly every New Yorker must eventually face: New Year’s Eve? Not that fun. From the prix fixe dinners to the overcrowded parties, to the warm ersatz champagne, to the particular hell that is the ball drop, the holiday almost invariably disappoints. And really, is “Auld Lang Syne” even a good song? Well, it will be when screamed by Eugene Hütz, the frontman of Gogol Bordello, Manhattan’s very own gypsy punk band, playing a New Year’s stand at Terminal 5. Combining traditional Roma and Yiddish music with metal, rap, ska, and dub, Gogol Bordello might be the most infectious octet currently touring. The band’s aim, says Hütz, is to “make the contradictions of life sound harmonious.” We’ll drink a cup to that. k


The holiday season is a time for celebration, for reflection, for family. And, apparently, for puppets and pesto, too. For the 40th straight year, Vermont’s lefty collective Bread and Puppet Theater, led by Peter Schumann, returns to Theater for the New City for its December stint with two new works, both featuring giant puppets, an antic brass band, and free snacks at intermission. The first piece, “Man of Flesh and Cardboard: A Cardboard Opera,” concerns a soldier who releases documents to WikiLeaks. The second, designed for a more juvenile crowd, is “Man = Carrot Circus,” an upbeat morality play about human animals and root vegetables. k

Off-Off-Broadway has trimmed the tree, stuffed the stockings, and boiled the plum pudding in anticipation of Christmas. Let’s just hope it hasn’t cooked too many turkeys. Little Lord’s theater company brings Babes in Toyland to the stage at the Brick Theater, with grande dame Tina Shepard as Mother Goose. At the Theater at st. Clement’s, Peccadillo Theater Company offers a revival of the Christmas-set Kaufman and Hart joy The Man Who Came to Dinner, which features a drama critic in the role of Scrooge. Over at the Canal Park Playhouse, meanwhile, Scrooge himself appears in Greg Oliver Bodine’s A Christmas Carol, As Told by Charles Dickens (Himself). k,,

It’s good that the Public Theater‘s production of Titus Andronicus opens just after Thanksgiving, because otherwise William Shakespeare’s delirious tragedy of ancient intrigue, cookery, and cannibalism might be enough to put you off your cranberry sauce and stuffing. Certainly it will have you refusing pie. As part of a new initiative by the Public Lab to present energetic and accessible productions of the bard’s plays, Michael Sexton will direct this tale of Titus Andronicus, a great Roman general (Jay O. Sanders) undone by rivals. Betrayed on all sides, he plans a distinctly culinary revenge. Should audiences cry “Bravo!” or instead just ask for seconds? k


Whether we New Yorkers are celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, the staying power of lamp oil, the continued existence of Kwanzaa, various pagan earth rituals, or simply a day off work, let’s not neglect to herald our city itself. To aid our festive rites, the Museum of the City of New York will host “The Greatest Grid: The Master Plan of Manhattan, 1811–2011,” beginning December 6. This show celebrates the 200th anniversary of the design of Manhattan’s grid system with an original map as well as photographs, manuscripts, prints, and other historic documents. And maybe—just maybe—it will finally explain the logic behind the layout of the West Village. k

Let it never be said that New York Jews lack for Yuletide tradition. We practice the holy rite of Christmas Day Chinese food and a movie so fervently you might think it appeared in Leviticus. But the Metropolitan Museum of Art wants to offer a somewhat more high-toned spin on Judeo-Christian cultural exchange. In a new part of the installation series “Medieval Jewish Art in Context,” for the next eight weeks, the Met will display the lavishly illuminated Cervera Bible, a designated National Treasure from the National Library of Portugal in Lisbon. The medieval manuscript will appear alongside examples of contemporary Christian art. k


Come December, New York teems with mouse kings, sugar plum fairies, and many Nutcrackers. New York City Ballet offers George Balanchine’s version of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet, featuring the Land of Sweets and a seven-headed mouse king. Meanwhile at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the American Ballet Theatre tours Alexei Ratmansky’s version, including magical toy soldiers and sparkling snowflakes. Back across the East River, the Yorkville Nutcracker resets the action amid New York attractions Central Park and Gracie Mansion. Finally, while drag diva Jackie Beat rarely deigns to dance, her Nutcracker presents such songs as “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Syphilis” and “I Saw Daddy Doin’ Santa Claus.” k,,,

Did you ever expect that a nativity scene would be quite so leggy? The Radio City Christmas Spectacular returns for its 79th incarnation featuring 36 Rockettes—that’s 72 vigorous ankles, 72 charming knees, 72 shapely ankles, and 360 twinkling toes. This year’s extravaganza will use new 3-D technology (funny, we thought the shows were always in 3-D) and fresh special effects to help the Rockettes travel “to the castle of the evil Humbug King who has stolen toys from Santa’s workshop.” If that seems too innovative, the revue also offers some of the old-fangled favorites: the Parade of the Wooden Soldiers and the Living Nativity, which includes sheep, donkeys, and camels. (For those in it for the animals, but not the ticket price: If you venture near Radio City in the early hours of the morning, you can see them out for a stroll.) k

“A sad tale’s best for winter,” Shakespeare said. So here’s an especially poignant one for the dance world. Following Merce Cunningham’s death in 2009, the choreographer’s legacy plan decreed that the Merce Cunningham Dance Company would offer two further years of performances before disbanding. Those two years have now nearly reached their end. The company will enjoy a penultimate stint at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from December 7 to 10, drawing on 50 years of creations with collaborators such as John Cage, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol. Then, from December 29 to 31, it will offer its six final performances at the Park Avenue Armory, performing a series of “Events” on three stages in the drill hall. k,


Yes, it’s touristy, yes, it’s tacky, and there’s no denying that it’s full of hot air, but it’s no good pretending that the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade isn’t splendid. Dangerous, too. Errant balloons have broken lampposts, interfered with airplanes, and sent parade watchers to the hospital. But don’t let that stop you from crowding the avenue come November 24. This year’s lineup includes the studio-sponsored likes of Kung Fu Panda, Pikachu, and Clumsy Smurf. Yet it also features a creepy kiddie gothic inflatable designed by director Tim Burton. And if you can bear to stand shoulder to shoulder with the vacationing masses, don’t neglect the delights of the annual Christmas window displays or the slightly more suspect entertainment of the annual Rockefeller Center tree-lighting ceremony. k

Come winter, a lot of animals like to hibernate. But the ones at the Bronx Zoo apparently like to party. From December 26 to 31, you can rejoice alongside them. Activities include horse-drawn carriage rides, ice-carving contests, and an ice play area, which includes a throne shaped like a polar bear, a marine-themed slide, walkways, caves, and a maze. Best of all, you can watch as the animals open their presents in a series of “holiday-themed animal-enrichment activities.” Meanwhile, the Central Park Zoo celebrates Winterfest weekends in December, which involve holiday lighting, special performances, and stocking stuffers for the polar bears and penguins, including “fish-sicles” and fruits. k,

Trains in the Bronx aren’t typically a cause for jubilation. (Although a clean car and an absence of route malfunction is certainly a delight.) But there’s joy in the borough during the Holiday Train Showat the New York Botanical Garden. Inside a conservatory, model trains race past intricate replicas of New York City landmarks created from garden materials. This year, the garden allows admittance to artist studios to show how nuts, bark, and branches create the miniature Brooklyn Bridge and Yankee Stadium. Associated events include a film festival, a classical music concert, a Little Engine That Could puppet show, cocktail nights, and a life-size gingerbread playhouse with cookies and frosting to nibble afterward. k