- The Magazine
The Slutcracker: The Movie
Once upon a time, in a town far away — 2008 in Somerville, Massachusetts, to be exact — a collective of quirky progressive artists decided to stage a feminist take on The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s famed 19th century ballet. Calling their adaptation The Slutcracker, they tinkered with the classic storyline by making the focus on Clara’s sexual awakening and empowerment, a development aided and abetted by her favorite Christmas toy, the Dildo Prince.
Over the years the show has developed a dedicated fan base. Its popularity is likely to grow exponentially this year as the show morphs into a film available for streaming worldwide. Slutcracker: The Movie consists of archival footage from last year’s 12th season, edited together and set to a live recording made for the production by the Brno Philharmonic from the Czech Republic.
The loving parody remains faithful to the original, except in one key respect: The Slutcracker is not a ballet in the classical or even contemporary sense, but rather a showcase of movement diversity. Directed and choreographed by Vanessa White of Ballets Ruses, The Slutcracker features drag artists, burlesque performers, hula hoopers, belly and pole dancers performing alongside professional dancers. “We cast performers of different shapes, sizes, colors, genders, abilities, ages (over 18), and talents,” White says. “I give a lot of wiggle room for performers to shape their characters — their diverse experiences bring a richness to both the storytelling and the choreography that a director can’t deliver on their own.” The movie is available through Christmas. Cost is $15 for a 48-hour stream. Visit www.slutcracker.com.
JxJ Virtual Festival
Queer music, particularly of the kitschy kind, and stories about same-sex secrets and coming out while coming of age are predominant themes among the four “Rated LGBTQ” feature films streaming over the next week as part of the 2020 virtual edition of JxJ. Combining the 30th Washington Jewish Film Festival and the 21st Washington Jewish Music Festival, this year’s multidisciplinary arts festival, organized by the Edlavitch DCJCC in partnership with Rockville’s Bender JCC and Falls Church’s Pozez JCC, presents over 50 events, including virtual conversations with the directors, stars, or subjects from many of the full-length features and documentaries streaming through the Eventive platform. The lineup also includes virtual concerts by Niki Jacobs of the contemporary Dutch klezmer ensemble Nikitov and several local Jewish musical acts, foremost among them SONiA disappear fear, the queer indie-folk/pop sensation who will perform selections from her recently released 20th set Love out Loud.
Specific LGBTQ highlights include Army of Lovers in the Holy Land, a 2019 documentary about the high-camp and kitschy dance-pop trio who had a string of European hits in the ’90s and remain popular in Israel on Monday, Dec. 7, at 1 p.m.; Douze Points, Daniel Syrkin’s 2019 colorful satire of Eurovision focused on a gay Muslim singer from France competing in a year Israel hosts the song contest on Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 1 p.m.; Shiva Baby, Emma Seligman’s comedy starring Rachel Sennot as a young woman whose lies and secret loves threaten to catch up with her while attending a shiva with her parents; and Flawless, a youthful drama starring transgender model Strashko who makes a secret pact with two fellow high school outcasts as they seek validation from their popular classmates.
JxJ runs to Dec. 10. Tickets are $11 per film rental or an All Access Pass at $90 per household. Concerts are pay-what-you-can. Visit www.jxjdc.org.
Gay Men’s Chorus: Virtual Holiday Show
“You might think, ‘Oh the pandemic, we’re shut down.’ Nope. We actually are busier than ever. We’re busy little elves putting together the show,” says Thea Kano, artistic director of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. The chorus has retooled its signature The Holiday Show as a virtual program. While it will include recordings of favorite numbers from past shows, as well as additional archival footage to pay tribute to the cultural organization’s 40th anniversary, the bulk of the program is comprised of new songs. To make that work, Kano has had to shift from her usual role as conductor to serving in a new capacity as video editor. “Each new song requires each singer to submit their audio as well as a video of them singing, and then that all gets put together,” Kano says. It’s no easy feat, especially for those songs featuring the full chorus, or upwards of 150 members, as each song consists of as many individual recordings.
The approximately 75-minute-long program includes new socially distanced numbers performed by members of the organization’s 17th Street Dance troupe. “This has been an all new experience [and] a huge learning curve for myself and for the members,” Kano says. “But you know what’s really great? We have 180 members participating, and that’s just about what we have at the in-person Holiday Show.”
The more, the merrier. “As the song goes, ‘We All Need a Little Christmas’ — we all need a little joy right now,” Kano says. “I’m really very proud of this show and excited about it, because it really is very joyful. As I’ve been going through the editing process to put together the new material, it makes me smile every time I hit play to watch it and listen to it. So we’re hoping our audience has the same experience.”
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s The Holiday Show launches with a premiere, including a live chat, on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. It’s available as a 48-hour stream until December 20. Tickets are $25. Visit www.gmcw.org.
December at The Birchmere
The last month of the year normally ushers in a packed schedule of holiday-themed concerts at the Birchmere, an excessive bounty of seasonal cheer offered every other night. But there’s nothing normal about December 2020, a time when the legendary Alexandria music hall is practically the only venue in the area offering live music — in modified, scaled-back, and socially distanced-enforced style, plus enhanced cleaning procedures.
This year, the season doesn’t officially start at the Birchmere until Gary Hoey drops by for a stop on his “Ho Ho Hoey’s Rockin’ Holiday Tour” (Dec. 10). Baltimore-based R&B/jazz artist Maysa Leak follows with two nights of “A Very MAYSA Christmas” (Dec. 19 and 20). Veteran progressive band The Seldom Scene returns to close out the holiday season and another year with an “Early” New Year’s Eve Celebration starting at 7:30 p.m. and presumably ending before the ball drops (Dec. 31).
Non-holiday-themed shows include KT Tunstall, the underappreciated upbeat pop/rock Scottish singer who drops by for a two-night run (Dec. 15 and 16), the Richmond, Va.-based bluegrass/rock band Carbon Leaf, who also offers a two-night run, although tickets remain only for the first night (Dec. 17), D.C.-based “blusion” artist Deanna Bogart (Dec. 28), and popular neo-soul married duo Kindred the Family Soul (Dec. 30). The Birchmere is at 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. Ticket prices vary. Call 703-549-7500 or visit www.birchmere.com.
Gorillaz: Song Machine Live
Two decades ago Damon Albarn teamed up with cartoonist Jamie Hewlett for what was initially conceived of as a critique of the artificiality of mainstream pop music. And then the parody act became something of a parody of itself, as Gorillaz became a stadium-filling, major label act known for a repertoire of catchy, genre-blurring, original-sounding synth-pop tunes — always accompanied by videos featuring singer 2D, guitarist Noodle, bassist Murdoc Niccals, and drummer Russel Hobbs (the cartoon characters who are the nominal Gorillaz).
Recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Most Successful Virtual Act,” it was inevitable Gorillaz would resurface in a year when every band has become a virtual band. Albarn and company did so early in the pandemic, with the release of one “episode” at a time, all part of a new “Song Machine” series, with each featuring different guest artists.
In late October, the series morphed into Song Machine: Season One — Strange Timez, a new studio album from the group featuring 11 tracks (or 17 in the deluxe edition) with guests Elton John, Beck, St. Vincent, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Peter Hook, 6LACK, ScHoolboy Q, Slaves, Goldlink, and Joan As Police Woman. Next summer, the Gorillaz plan to head out on the Song Machine Tour, starting with a few European stadiums. But the virtual band will effectively kick off the tour with virtual concerts the second full weekend of December, offering three performances across three time zones through the LIVENow platform. The North American livestream is set for Saturday, Dec. 12, at 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 per livestream, or $30 for all three. Visit www.GorillazLiveNow.com.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
A gay cultural giant, lost too soon as a result of AIDS-related complications, choreographer Alvin Ailey created what became his signature masterpiece based on childhood memories of growing up Black in the South during the Great Depression. Revelations pays homage “to the rich cultural heritage of the African-American on a journey from struggle to surrender to salvation that ultimately speaks to our common humanity and the power of faith and hope,” according to a press release announcing the details of the first-ever virtual season of Ailey’s namesake company.
“Ailey Forward” packs into one month nine distinct virtual programs, along with supplemental discussions, available online for a one-week period after release date and free to all. The season launched Wednesday, Dec. 2, with “Revelations Reimagined,” a 60th anniversary celebration of the soul-stirring work, with excerpts performed by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers and special guests. On Thursday, Dec. 17, at 7:30 p.m., comes the World Premiere of Testament, a contemporary response to Revelations, illuminating its enduring impact as told by artists who have danced it — led by Matthew Rushing, the company’s new associate artistic director, along with current company member Clifton Brown and former company member Yusha-Marie Sorzano, plus cinematography by former Ailey student Preston Miller and an original score by composer Damien Sneed. Revelations will be further celebrated through a workshop on Saturday, Dec. 19, at 2 p.m., in which participants of all ages and experience levels will be taught some of the steps from the work’s “Wade in the Water” and “Rocka My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham.” It all culminates with “Decades of Revelations,” a retrospective featuring performance highlights from the last 60 years, “some of which haven’t been seen publicly in decades,” bowing Wednesday, Dec. 23, at 7:30 p.m.
Other notable programs include “Ailey & Ellington,” a showcase of the American art forms of modern dance and jazz with a focus on the three ballets that Ailey set to music by Duke Ellington on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 2 p.m.; “Dancing Spirit,” featuring Hope Boykin performing “This Little Light of Mine” from Matthew Rushing’s Odetta on Monday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m.; and “Dancing for Social Justice,” a program featuring performance excerpts from Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s Shelter, a passionate ballet about the deprivation of being homeless, and from Kyle Abraham’s Untitled America, focused on the prison system’s impact on Black families, set for release on Friday, Dec. 11, at 7:30 p.m. Visit www.alvinailey.org.
The Folger’s Emily Dickinson Birthday Tribute
One of the most famous American poets in history, Emily Dickinson is as popular now as ever, in part thanks to pop culture portrayals ranging from Apple TV+’s Peabody Award-winning historical dramedy Dickinson to Madeleine Olnek’s biopic Wild Nights With Emily. As a result, more people are now aware of what an increasing number of scholars consider to be Dickinson’s truth: That Susan Huntington Gilbert was not just her best friend who later became her sister-in-law, but also her passionate, lifelong romantic lover.
Every year, the Folger Shakespeare Library celebrates the 19th century poet’s birthday with a special reading on December 10 at 7:30 p.m. For 2020, the event, part of the Folger’s O.B. Hardison Poetry Series, becomes a virtual affair headlined by acclaimed poet Dorianne Laux. A finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for her fifth poetry collection Only as the Day is Long, Laux will read from her work as well as Dickinson’s. The program will kick off with a virtual tour of the bedroom at the Homestead in Amherst, where the reclusive Dickinson spent much of her time and is now part of the Emily Dickinson Museum. Jane Wald, the museum’s director, will lead the tour.
On Wednesday, Dec. 9, at 6:30 p.m., Laux will lead a one-hour virtual workshop examining Dickinson’s ideas and style and her influence on model poems by contemporary women poets. The workshop is titled “Perception of an Object Costs,” after a Dickinson poem.
The suggested price for the Dec. 10 reading is $15, while the workshop is $75. Registration required for Zoom link. Call 202-544-7077 or visit folger.edu.
Downtown Holiday Market
The popular annual holiday street fair, organized by Diverse Markets Management and presented by the DowntownDC BID and Events DC, returns despite the pandemic. More than 70 artisans and vendors are featured through an enhanced open-air set-up. Foremost among this year’s changes is an expanded layout encompassing the entirety of two blocked-off sections of F Street — not merely the sidewalks — allowing for a safer and more socially distant shopping experience.
Additionally, this year’s 16th Annual market features a single entryway check-in spot, on the sidewalk in front of the National Portrait Gallery, from which point shoppers are guided down a streamlined one-way and properly distanced route, where hand-sanitizing dispensers abound and masks must be worn by everyone at all times. This year’s retail lineup showcases the Black- and minority-owned businesses part of “Made In DC,” as well as other local designers.
The market also features several interactive digital experiences in lieu of staged, in-person performances — including installation of a central 8 by 16 foot Jumbotron broadcasting a curated mix of holiday films and musical recordings, as well as Saturday Morning Theater Shorts from the National Theatre. Also on tap: Chroma, Zak Forrest’s lumina projection on the National Portrait Gallery building, and the debut of a first-of-its-kind mixed-reality adventure from ArTecHouse, in which guests use the museum’s XR app “to unveil Instagrammable surprises at various checkpoints hidden among vendors.”
A handful of vendors are peppered throughout the market selling food and beverages, including Taste of Germany, Alexa’s Empanadas, Old Blue BBQ, the Capital Candy Jar, Bindaas, and Migue’s Magnificent Mini Donuts. The Holiday Market runs daily from noon to 8 p.m. through Dec. 23, except Monday, Dec. 7 and 14. Located on F Street between 7th and 9th Streets NW. Visit www.downtownholidaymarket.com.
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