MUSICAL SOUP: The first of two WorkPlay events I’ll be covering this week is something of a departure from their regular schedule. Starting at 5:30 p.m. this Thursday, they will be putting on The Fifth Annual “Acoustic Soup.” The event is a fundraiser, organized to benefit VSA Alabama, the State Organization on Arts and Disability. The non-profit works to earn money through artistic ends, to fund help for those with chronic disabilities and illnesses. Restaurants from all over the city will be providing soup, while The Big Tasties will provide live music. Participating restaurants include Ashley Mac’s, B&A Warehouse, Bistro Provare, Bistro V ,Century Restaurant & Bar, Chez Lulu, Dram, Jackson’s Bar & Bistro, Little Savannah, Lucy’s Coffee & Tea, MAFIAoZA’s, Olexa’s, and Tavern on the Summit. Tickets cost $35 for a single, and $60 for a pair. The event will go on until 9 p.m. For more information, call (205) 879-4773 or visit www.workplay.com.
JUST IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: One thing that Birmingham could always use more of is dance. Sure, if you look around, you’re likely to find your fair share of weekly classes. There are at least a couple of companies that maintain a consistent schedule. But performances are undeniably tougher to come by. Aficionados are lucky if they get to see one every two weeks—regardless of what organization is putting it on. So they should be happy to get their fixes in this weekend with the 2011 “Alabama Dance Festival.” The annual event is an effort to “bring the dance community together to promote good will and networking, and to provide high quality classes in technique, dance education, and choreography.” This year’s featured guest company is the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, an avant-garde organization that’s been around since 1963. They will be performing three of their most renowned works by Cunningham himself—XOVER, Crises, and BIPED. In addition, the festival will include “showcases of Alabama dance companies, in addition to over 75 workshops and master classes featuring a diversity of dance styles for pre-professional students, professional artists, and the community.” The event will be held for two days at the BJCC. It all starts at 8 p.m. on Friday. Tickets are between $22 and $67. For more information, call (800) 745-3000 or visit www.alabamadancecouncil.org.
THE ART OF STORYTELLING: I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of drivers listen to something while in the car. And I don’t mean just anything—I’m talking about internal sound from the car speakers. I always try and have some music on hand—whether it be a CD, an audio cable connection to an iPod/iPhone/mp3 player/other phone or even (gasp!) a cassette tape. Having some sort of music on while driving makes everything feel more natural to me, and I’m not alone in that. Recently, though, I’ve been without any of my usual listening devices. When I drive in my car, I’ve been forced to resort to the radio. Just a short time ago, no one would have used the word “resort” when referring to the classic AM/FM dial, but times aren’t like they used to be. I don’t think I have to tell you what a travesty our radio options in Birmingham are—it’s been well-documented in this paper more than a few times. Shuffling through the music stations (elevator jazz, top 40 garbage, unintelligible hip-hop, or the same twenty classic rock songs on an endless repeat) you’re bound to find yourself without anywhere to turn. Except National Public Radio. NPR is just about the only worthwhile thing on Birmingham radio—not only that, I’d go so far to say they’re one of the only reliable sources of national news left in the country. Through their informed, no-frills stance on journalism, you can learn more from a ten-minute segment than you would in two hours on CNN. One of NPR’s better shows, This American Life, does something that’s become rarer and rarer: storytelling in journalism. Few others get to the heart of an issue like Ira Glass, the host of the program. By offering stories in first-person from the viewpoint of individuals directly involved, the show always feels more personal. So you would do well to go see “An Evening with Ira Glass” at the Alys Stephens Center this Saturday. If the radio show feels that immediate, imagine what seeing it in person will be like. Glass, in addition to some stories, will provide illuminating insight into the world of radio production. The event starts at 8 p.m., and tickets will be somewhere between $37 and $57 ($20 for students), depending on your seats. For more information, call(205) 975-ARTS or visit www.alysstephens.uab.edu.
SINGING WITH THE DEVIL: Another thing Birmingham could use more of is opera. I’m not saying this as an opera fan, but as someone who thinks our city could always stand to be a little more culturally rounded. It’s telling that one of the most popular operas in the world, Faust, hasn’t been performed in Birmingham in over 30 years. French composer Charles Gounod’s masterpiece is a story about an old scholar, Faust, who sells his soul to the devil for youth, at the expense of a young girl. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra, along with the Opera Birmingham Chorus, will be adapting his production for mass audiences starting this weekend. There will be two performances in the Wright Center at Samford University—one on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and one on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets for the performances will be between $25 and $90. For more information about times and prices, call (205) 322-6737 or visit www.operabirmingham.org.
CULT POP: WorkPlay continues its stretch of cult music acts this week with Yo La Tengo. The New Jersey Natives have been around for 25 (!) years now, and continue to be critical (if not commercial) successes. Their music is often described as “noise pop” or “dream pop,” which usually means there’s a lot of layers to the production, and a sort of unpredictability in structure. The concert starts at 8 p.m., with opening act William Tyler. Tickets for the event are $15. For more information, call (205) 879-4773 or visit www.workplay.com.
UPWARD SPIRAL: We have been running a listing for “Spiral: Perspectives on an African-American Art Collective,” one of the more recent exhibits at the Birmingham Museum of Art, for a few months now. The show is a collection of pieces by artists in the Spiral collective, a group formed by artist Romare Bearden in 1960s New York and inspired by the Archimedean Spiral “ which moves outward embracing all directions, yet constantly upward.” The exhibit displays works from Charles Alston, Emma Amos, Norman Lewis, Hale Woodruff, Reginald Gammon, Richard Mayhew, and Romare Bearden himself. While the show will run through March 6, the Museum has scheduled a special lecture for this month, entitled “Spiral: Perspectives on an African- American Art Collection.” It will be led by Emily G. Hanna, a curator for the Arts of Africa and the Americas. She will discuss how many of the pieces had a direct and indirect effect on the Civil Rights Movement. The lecture will be held in the Arrington Auditorium at the Birmingham Public Library from noon to 1 p.m. Admission is free, and you can find out more about the event by visiting www.bplonline.org.
FUNNY FOLKS: Towards the end of this week, the Comedy Club Stardome in Hoover will be wrapping up its three-day performances with Sommore, one of the stars of Showtime’s “Queens of Comedy” tour, and readying the stage for their next comedian—Jesse Joyce. Joyce is a comic based out of New York, and has been a rising name in the comedy scene since 2001. His television apearances include Comedy Central’s Live at Gotham, AMC’s Date Night, BBC’s How Clean is Your House, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Entertainment Tonight, and Last Comic Standing, in which he finished in the top 20 finalists. He has also long been known as a behindthe-scenes contributor to the Comedy Central Roast routines of Greg Giraldo, who died late last year of a drug overdose, and frequently travels with The Comedy Addiction tour, a humurous show centered around addiction and recovery. Joyce will be at the Stardome starting Tuesday, February 1, until Thursday, February 3. Tickets for each night are $9.75. For more information, call (205) 444-0008 or visit www.stardome.com.
PLEASURE AND PAINT: There isn’t exactly a surplus of events that allow you to drink wine and make art at the same time. Pleasure Is All Wine is trying its best to rectify that with their perennial event “Art Buzz.” The occasions are treated like art classes—students each pay a fee upfront, and Pleasure Is All Wine provides all the art supplies, as well as refreshment selections of gourmet food, and yes, wine. The store encourages you to sip at your glass while drawing or painting your own masterwork that you’ll get to take home and show off afterwards. Maybe, if you’re proud enough of it, you can even say that the alcohol was all part of your inspiration. Overseeing the class will be local artist Caroline Chamberlain. The event starts at 6:30 p.m., and $35 will cover all the food, wine, and supplies. For more information, call (205) 985-4760 or visit www.pleasureisallwine.com.