Synthetic Pleasures: By all means, make plans to catch Iara Lee's droll, kinetic feature documentary, Synthetic Pleasures, before it ends a one-week run on December 13. Resplendent with MTV-inspired samplings from animation, various film stocks, and expressionistic editing techniques, the movie looks at the one significant way in which human beings have transcended the other animals on the planet--we have created environments that suit our needs, rather than allowing evolution to transform our bodies and minds to adapt to the natural environments around us. Iara Lee is a Korean woman born and raised in Brazil who received degrees in film and philosophy from New York University. She integrates a series of interviews with artificial intelligence experts, computer program designers, physicists, and cyber magazine publishers with montage sequences that express--with startling clarity--her thoughts on how technology is controlling humanity. Synthetic Pleasures runs for one more day at the AMC Glen Lakes, 9450 North Central Expressway. Call (214) 855-6286.
Amahl and the Night Visitors: Before Gian-Carlo Menotti became the American composer who excelled in short operas, we learn in a recent copy of the national gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate, he stood in the out-to-his friends, discreet-for-the-press company of other prominent 20th century American composers like Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and a few more outspoken artists like Ned Rorem and Lee Hoiby, whose version of The Tempest was recently staged by the Dallas Opera as part of Sun & Star '96. Amahl and the Night Visitors is Menotti's Pulitzer Prize-winning version of the Bible's birth of Christ written for the radio. The show runs Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through December 29 at Theatre on Elm Street, 3202 Elm. Tickets are $5-$20. Call (214) 871-ARTS.
The Dallas/Fort Worth Woodworking Show: There is no honorary, fraternal name for the men (and women) who will gather for the Dallas/Fort Worth Woodworking Show. But if we could give them one, it would be something like woodchuck or ol' sure blade. This collection of demonstrations, seminars, and workshops from national woodworkers specializes in everything from carving to homebuilding and remodeling. Beginners and veterans are encouraged to attend. Show hours are December 13, noon-7 p.m.; December 14, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; and December 15, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the Fair Park Grand Place, 1300 Robert B. Cullum Blvd. Call 1-800-826-8257.
The Nutcracker: Fort Worth Dallas Ballet continues its holiday tradition of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker and in the process offers the twin cities of North Texas a vision close to Balanchine's. Artistic director Paul Mejia isn't interested in repeating anyone, of course, but he's very much into pleasing audiences with a show that constitutes, for Fort Worth Dallas Ballet as well as for dance companies nationwide, a guaranteed box office hit. Performances of The Nutcracker happen December 13-15 and December 19-22 at the Tarrant County Convention Center, JFK Theatre, Fort Worth. Tickets are $12. Call (214) 369-5200.
Andy Hanson: Under the Rainbow: Many would describe veteran Dallas photographer Andy Hanson as a gentle giant--a quiet man who tops out at over 6'2" and is known for his placid dealings with editors and subject matter alike. When most Dallasites express their yearning for Dallas to become an "international city," they measure it by the number of famous people who come here. Andy Hanson is the most reliable yardstick around, having covered movie stars, rock musicians, and international politicians at the defunct Dallas Times Herald for thirty years. Photographic Archives Gallery presents its third Hanson retrospective in seven years, called Under the Rainbow: Thirty-Five Years in Photography. Opening reception December 14, 10a.m.-5:30p.m. The show runs through January 25 at 5117 West Lovers Lane. Call 352-3167.
Archaeology Day: Here's a kickstart to a cool career for a kid--every child who brings a worn-out toothbrush to the Dallas Museum of Natural History gets admitted free to Archaeology Day, a special afternoon of events and exhibits dedicated to the recovery of the past from the earth. These toothbrushes are needed by the field workers of the museum's various projects to clean what they find. Archaeology Day features short films, crafts, Texas-found artifacts, interactive exercises, and best of all, the presence of experienced museum staffers who can tell you everything you want to know about archaeology. The event happens 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at 3535 Grand Avenue, Fair Park. Tickets are $2.50-$4. Call (214) 421-DINO.
La Virgen de Tepeyac '96: For anyone who doubted that the centuries-old Madonna is more popular than the one who's about to play Evita in movie theaters, Ballantine Books comes along with a fascinating compendium of Blessed Virgin sightings entitled Meetings With Mary: Visions of the Blessed Mother. This fascination with the Virgin, of course, is nothing new in Dallas. The Toltec Gallery and Studio presents its fifth annual La Virgen de Guadalupe art show, under the direction of Dallas artist Jose Vargas. Artists from Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio have contributed original art dedicated to Mary in the form of photography, illustration, sculpture, painting, and more. The artists' reception happens December 15, 1-5 p.m. The show runs through December 29 at Toltec Gallery and Studio, 112 South Beckley Avenue, Oak Cliff. (214) 943-1631.
Bastard Out of Carolina: If you've been giving too much attention to the Democratic Party's campaign finance scandal or the continuing civil tragedy in Zaire, you'd have missed the really hot entertainment controversy of 1996--mainly, Ted Turner's financing, then rejection, of the Anjelica Huston-directed feature Bastard Out of Carolina. Understandably exploiting an orgy of press, Showtime, which regained the rights to a project it had started before Turner's involvement, has promoted Bastard Out of Carolina as "the movie no other network would show you." Certainly, its depiction of an 11-year-old illegitimate Southerner (Jena Malone) whose love-hungry mother (Jennifer Jason Leigh) can't leave the twisted pervert (Ron Eldard from Sleepers) who enjoys beating and molesting the little girl regularly is rough stuff compared to most TV movie fare. Still, you wish Dorothy Allison's brilliant 1992 novel had received treatment from a more experienced source--maybe Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging, Grace of My Heart), who was originally slated to helm. Bastard Out of Carolina will disappoint anyone who dreamed of a less strident vision of Allison's white-trash world. The film screens at 8 p.m. on Showtime. Call (214) 328-5000.
Madame Butterfly: There's a simple explanation for why the majority of Americans aren't fans of opera--many of us never find our way to a music hall, but are sometimes adventurous enough to turn on those PBS tapings of classic operas at the Met and other celebrated stages. Opera on a TV screen is about as exciting as pro tennis on the radio--that is, not very. As part of its Independent Showcase, The USA Film Festival screens Frederuc Mitterand's new version of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Martin "I'd Rather Watch Movies Than Make Them" Scorcese loved Mitterand's pulsing, youthful version so much, he personally supervised its distribution. The screening is at 7:30 p.m. at the AMC Glen Lakes, 9450 North Central Expressway. Tickets are $6.50. Call (214) 821-NEWS.
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Black Nativity: For those of us who've always believed the great African-American musical forms--gospel, blues, jazz--were more similar than different, New Arts Six weaves their hypnotic history lessons to prove us right. This is not to suggest they suffer from repetition, but from a tiresomely intellectualized game of hairsplitting among the mostly white critics who've written about all three genres. The sextet of musician-storyteller-vocalists known as New Arts Six break down walls with their performance of Black Nativity, a rigorously theatrical little performance piece about the Christ child's birth written by Langston Hughes. Performances happen Monday-Friday at 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. through December 22 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St. Call 871-2933.
Symphony of Toys: For ten years now, the New Conservatory of Dallas has offered its orchestras and winds to the city, with the newest of the new musicians--some kids not yet in high school--taking the lead on revered classical compositions. For this year's Symphony of Toys, 12-year-old violinist Celeste Golden solos in Vivaldi's "Winter" segment of his Four Seasons; Hockaday junior Charlsie Griffiths performs a piano concerto by Mozart; and junior-high-schoolers Gene Lee and Elizabeth Sloan present a Bach concerto. The close of the show features a hodgepodge of adults and kids, professionals and amateurs, performing Leopold Mozart's Symphony of Toys. The event happens at 7:30 p.m. at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora. To get a free ticket, you'll need to bring a new, unwrapped toy for WFAA-TV Channel 8's "Santa's Helper's Toy Drive." Call (972) 840-4949.
Victorian Romance: Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones' The Pilgrim at the Gate of Idleness: The Dallas Museum of Art is so gung-ho about its latest painting acquisition that it has decided to build a mini-exhibition around the thing. Victorian Romance is the name of the show, centered around the breathtakingly beautiful mural known as "The Pilgrim at the Gates of Idleness" by Victorian painter Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones first imagined the erotic yet childlike images in a composition for an embroidered wall hanging with his colleague William Morris. Inspired by Chaucer, "The Pilgrim at the Gates of Idleness" manages a subtly kinky appreciation of medieval iconography through the lens of Victorian sexual desire. The exhibition runs through February 16 at 1717 North Harwood. Call (214) 954-0174.
Tosca: The Dallas Opera continues its '96-'97 season with a series of performances of Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. In terms of community outreach, they've struck up an unprecedented association with a popular Knox-Henderson area cafe. The Dallas Opera and Cafe Society want to provide folks with the chance to learn a bit about arias, librettos, and tenors so they won't enter the Music Hall at Fair Park feeling like rubes. Cafe Society maintains a "Community Resource Library" that permits anyone who's interested to gain more information on DO shows. They've also scheduled lectures, performances in progress, and other events, all in a very informal setting. Performances are December 13, 15, 18 and 21 at the Music Hall, Fair Park. For ticket info call (214) 443-1000.