Getting into a true holiday spirit can be tough in South Florida, where palm trees, expansive beaches and balmy skies signal perpetual summer. Ever-earlier store décor and the incessant push to buy presents – more about commercialism than celebration – can make many of us feel more anxious than festive.
Not to worry. Just squeeze in a trip to Miami’s Arsht Center, where City Theatre has a mood-restoring holiday package called Winter Shorts awaiting anyone in need of belly laughs, tender moments or a reminder of the reasons for the season.
Assembled by artistic director Margaret M. Ledford, the program is just the third edition of Winter Shorts (the last was in 2001). Since 1996, the company has built its reputation and a loyal following through its popular Summer Shorts festivals, but the experience is just as delightful at this time of year. In fact, this Winter Shorts is one of the company’s strongest and most satisfying programs to date.
A half-dozen actors at the top of their game provide one of the great pleasures of watching a collection of short plays, as each creates a host of sometimes wildly different characters.
Margot Moreland, for example, plays a pair of Jewish mothers, a harried shopper who can’t believe the lone salesclerk doesn’t speak much English, and a lisping devil who is decidedly not the best little girl in the world. Dave Corey plays three different dads, but he’s also the tallest elf you’ve ever seen. Diana Garle is a Spanish-speaking clerk, a woman with a bad case of the blues on New Year’s Eve, a sardonic aunt, an eccentric and incessantly talkative moviegoer and a new mom to a little guy named Jesus.
Rita Joe is a tough New Yorker, a heartbroken guy’s surprising soulmate, a mom with secrets, a wise “man” and a woman who really does believe in miracles. Jovon Jacobs is a depressed Santa, a stopped-in-time grown man who still believes in St. Nick, a guy reevaluating everything about his life and a percussionist sent away by a controlling first-time grandma. Alex Alvarez is a nervous boyfriend, a Valentine’s Day hater, another wise man and a Tooth Fairy with one divine sense of style.
Winter Shorts kicks off with Staci Swedeen’s “Feliz Navidad,” directed by Vanessa Elise, in which Moreland’s beyond-weary shopper has a last straw moment courtesy of Lourdes (Garle), the clerk with merely un poquito of English.Next is Patrick Gabridge’s “Santa Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” staged by Deborah Kondelik, which features a 30-year-old, living-at-home, Santa-believing guy named Jeffrey (Jacobs). Mom (Rita Joe) and Dad (Corey) have kept the truth about the Jolly Old Soul from Jeffrey his entire life, but when Dad decides to ‘fess up, shocking secrets come spilling out.
In the Kondelik-directed “The Miracle of Chanukah” by Sheri Wilner, a bickering family’s ritual of expressing thanks for “miracles” – generally, just examples of good luck during the past year – takes a turn when son Ryan (Alvarez) brings his girlfriend Leila (Rita Joe) along. Her story of a true miracle, sorrowful but full of beautiful imagery, has an effect on the family, but not the one she anticipates.
Amanda Keating’s “this movie,” staged by Ledford, features two lonely strangers spending Thanksgiving at a movie theater in their Massachusetts hometown. Stuart (Jacobs) is escaping, avoiding his parents at a time when everything in his life seems to be up in the air. Chatty Joanie (Garle) shows up with bags full of food and a determination to engage with the only other person in the theater – which turns out to be a good thing for both of them.
Ledford turns Gina Femia’s “Fly, Baby,” set on New Year’s Eve 2016 as the country is about to enter the Trump era, into a celebration of hope over despair. Ariel (Garle) reaches a breaking point as she sits on the roof of her apartment building, and her pal Miranda (Rita Joe) can’t seem to stop her downward spiral. Then the action freezes, and Santa (Jacobs) and the Tooth Fairy (Alvarez) supply some magic, just in the nick of time.
Ashley Lauren Rogers’ “Becky’s Christmas Wish,” also staged by Ledford, is a perfectly savage little comedy. When an Elf (Corey) appears to tell a delighted kid named Becky (Moreland) that she’ll be granted any wish her heart desires, her giddy choice is a shocker. And no matter how the Elf tries to distract or dissuade her, laser-focused Becky sticks to her guns.
Cassie M. Seinuk’s “Occupy Hallmark,” staged by Ivan Lopez, features Alvarez as Moose, a drunken romantic with a shattered heart. As he rants about Valentine’s Day outside a closed Hallmark store, his childhood friend Salty (Rita Joe) appears.They talk, commiserate and discover there’s someone right for just about anybody.
The program’s pièce de résistance, also staged by Ledford, is Mark Harvey Levine’s “Oy Vey Maria.” Irreverent and hilarious, the play imagines the birth of the baby Jesus as the occasion for a barrage of complaints from Mary’s Jewish mother Ann (Moreland). Featuring the entire cast plus interns, “Oy Vey” is a wildly funny take on the nativity story, anachronistic and crazy and completely delightful.
City Theatre’s designers make Winter Shorts lovely to look at and listen to. Jodi Dellaventura’s adaptable set features oversized snowflakes, packages and candy canes, so the audience feels festive before one word is uttered, and lighting designer Eric Nelson underscores the tone of each play with his beautifully colorful work. Ellis Tillman’s costumes are stylish, smart and witty, and until you’ve seen the tall Alvarez in heels and a tooth-crowned tiara, you haven’t lived. Matt Corey’s sound design, with its varied holiday mood music to link the plays, is a vital part of the Winter Shorts experience.
It’s true that money and time can be in short supply around the holidays. But giving yourself the gift of Winter Shorts is a joyous investment.
City Theatre’s Winter Shorts Festival, Carnival Studio Theater in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday (additional performance 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20), through Dec. 23. Cost:$39 to $54. Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.
Back for an 8th season in Miami, the legendary Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater packs the house every year. With Liberty City hometown hero Robert Battle in his fifth year, we have many rea..
Awash in sunlight, around 50 women stand in a circle on the rooftop performance space of Casa Gaia in Old Havana, Cuba, as part of a belly-dance festival. Biodanza facilitator Karen Rodríguez..
Choreographer Jeanguy Saintus works primarily from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, but his creative work has global appeal. He is a pioneering artist who blends Haiti’s traditional music and dance alo..
New life for a legacy ballet—a veritable choreographer-magnet—created a great buzz about Miami City Ballet’s third program this season. But at the Arsht Center for the Performing ..
Who doesn’t delight in fairies? Miami City Ballet, for the success of its third program of the season, is certainly banking on one. And, instead of wielding a magic wand, she comes eager to p..
Transgendered performance artist Scott Turner Schofield is a collector of stories. Growing up in the South, the tales that were told about the gay and trans community were the ugliest kind of..
The Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores is giving experimental dancer-choreographer Lazaro Godoy the opportunity to interweave his visual arts and performance passions in ArMOUR, a multimedi..
The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet artistic director Tom Mossbrucker and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty have thrilled audiences world wide with stimulating and exciting performances, and Miam..
The future came a long time ago. That impression arose in two forward-pointing yet decades-old company premieres on Miami City Ballet’s second program of the season. In the opening performanc..
Tigertail’s ScreenDance Miami festival is now in its fourth year. One of the few festivals in the country dedicated solely to movement for film and video, ScreenDance aims high. The goal: a f..
The white walls and well-trod floor of a light-pierced studio at Miami City Ballet enclose a charmed space—a field of incalculable energy—as sets of coupled dancers rehearse, in q..
Myth has it that a Cuban who doesn’t dance is a rare creature. Like the endangered Florida panther, you could live an entire lifetime without ever sighting one. “We come from a dancing island..
Chorographer and educator Daniel Lewis has only taken two weeks’ vacation since he retired as the Dean of the Dance Department at New World School of the Arts five years ago. “Even then, I wo..
Never at a loss for words, artistic director Peter Londondescribes what has compelled him to undertake two powerhouse pieces of music for his newest performance venture of the Peter London Gl..
What happens to old dances? Do they slowly disappear as choreographers and dancers move on to other projects? This may well be the case unless an effort is made to revive the piece-- reconstr..
Miami-based choreographer Ana Mendez has been producing original and accomplished work in Miami for years. This December, she is closing out 2016 with a Grass Stains commissioned work set at ..
Blessed by good parentage and nurturing support, a hale and hearty ballet company has just been born in South Florida. Under the direction of Jennifer Carlynn Kronenberg and Carlos Miguel Gue..
Tango, one of the most democratic forms of music and dance, grew out of the diverse working class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires in the late 1800s. The rich blending of different cultures mixe..
Seattle-based choreographer Pat Graney started working on her newest project Girl Gods in 2012. It is the second installment of a triptych that began with her 2008 project House of Mind. Yet ..
Jose Limon’s (1908- 1972) vision still endures and the company he founded is now in its 70th year -- a tribute to the man and the artist, and those who believe in his gifts. He did not set ou..
Choreographer Michael Clark's soundscapes aren't the usual -- he uses the music of the punk poets David Bowie and Patti Smith and early 20th century avant-garde French composer Erik Satie. He..
Flamenco performer Francisco Hidalgo, whose surname means “nobleman,” brought a bygone era of dignity and grace to life on the stage of the Miami-Dade County Auditorium in early November, in ..
I first saw the flamenco dancer Celia Fonta perform with her husband, Spanish guitarist and singer, Paco, some 20 years ago at Café Miro, a small Spanish tapas bar on Espanola Way in South B..
For many people it’s hard to imagine Miami without a vibrant art scene, but in 1987 Miami was just beginning its journey towards becoming a major hub for the arts, and New World School of the..
Silencio. Silence. In the words of choreographer and flamenco artist Francisco Hidalgo “dance rests on the beats of silence.” Los Silencios del Baile is making its U.S. and world preview this..
Reflecting on the brutal treatment she receives at the hands of Juliana Triviño, who plays her torturer in the October 28 Alma Dance Theater (ADT) production of “Cask,” fellow principal danc..
Many of us can recall the iconic image from the recently completed Rio Paralympics and the match between two world-class fencers, anchored in wheelchairs, torsos thrusting backward and forwar..
People often imagine new artwork is the product of the solitary artist genius slaving away in lonely studios. The South Florida Symphony’s 20th anniversary program foregrounds a different vis..
At an age when many are winding down their working lives, Ignacio Berroa eagerly anticipates a new stage in his career. It would be understandable if the 64-year-old drummer, recognized a..
We know it’s the holiday season when trees light up, menorah candles start to burn, ubiquitous Christmas carols pipe through drugstores, “The Nutcracker” plays on every stage – and in recent ..
Late last year, on Dec. 20, 2016, Romero Britto and Mark Bryn hosted the Great Artists Series Cocktail Reception at the Britto Fine Art Gallery to celebrate the legendary impresaria, Judy Dru..
Everyone remembers a lost weekend, binge reading a novel whose ending had to wait because the body just gave out. No matter how compelling the story somewhere around the 30th hour the brain s..
Globalization has produced many stories —not all inspiring. But having a Pakistani ensemble become a worldwide sensation by playing Paul Desmond’s immortal “Take Five,” which pianist Da..
When the management of New York’s iconic Apollo Theater approached drummer Gregg Field last year about organizing a concert there in honor of the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth..
They’ve opened a Chanel fashion show in Havana and been featured in Beyoncé’s visual album for “Lemonade.” The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has danced to their music. Their Florida debu..
There are few artists who have had the impact in their disciplines that guitarist Paco De Lucía had in flamenco. There is a before-and-after De Lucía in flamenco. He expanded the harmonic voc..
2017 fue un buen año para la danza en Miami. El Flamenco Festival nos permitió volver a ver a Jesús Carmona, el Internacional Ballet Festival of Miami (IBFM) sobrevivió al huracán Irma, Dance..
El Miami City Ballet (MCB) presentó por fin en el Arsht Center la nueva producción de su gran espectáculo navideño, el “Cascanueces” de Tchaikovsky y Balanchine, ahora con diseños origin..
La tradicional temporada de Cascanueces del Miami City Ballet (MCB) tendrá algo nuevo este año. La compañía que dirige Lourdes López ha decidido renovar los diseños de la superproducción que..
El programa que Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) presentó el sábado pasado en su exitoso debut como compañía en residencia del South Miami Dade Cultural Arts Center (SMDCAC) y a solo ..
Hay pocos artistas que han tenido el impacto en sus disciplinas como el guitarrista Paco De Lucía tuvo en flamenco. En este género, hay un antes y después de De Lucía. Expandió el vocabul..
Dance NOW! Miami, la Florida Dance Education Organization (FDEO), Miami Dance Futures y la New World School of the Arts (NWSA) colaboraron el fin de semana pasado para presentar la Daniel Lew..
Esta es una gran noticia para el público amante del ballet en Miami. Tras un paréntesis de diez años en los que solo nos visitó de manera esporádica, la Primera Bailarina mexicana Katia Carra..
Solo hay que aplicar el concepto “seis grados de separación” a uno de los artistas que se han presentado en las Galas de Estrellas del Festival Internacional de Ballet de Miami (IBFM por sus ..
El debut de Dimensions Dance Theatre of Miami (DDTM) en noviembre del año pasado fué un acontecimiento artístico y un descubrimiento sumamente agradable. Una sola función en el Miami-Dade Cou..