Berkshire Fine Arts Holiday 2008 Preview and Events Guide

Being in the Berkshires for the Holidays is a Joy

By: - Nov 18, 2008

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A Holiday Primer

When America thinks of the Holidays, often they think of - and envy - those of us in New England. Maybe it is our snow, our snuggle-down homes, or simply the depth of our traditional spirit that moves them to visions of snow and steeples, hearths and family. While the rest of the world is not quite like the Berkshires at Christmas, they are closer to us than they may realize.  Their traditions and accoutrements may differ, but our roots are the same.

In Russia, their Santa is called Grandfather Frost and wears a blue suit, not at all like Santa's bright red. In snowy Sweden, the children don't look up for a sleigh and reindeer, they watch for a gnome who comes out from under the floor of the house or barn carrying his sack of gifts for them. In India, houses are decorated with strings of mango leaves, while here we have lights that are sometimes left up the year round. In France, Pere Noel delivers small gifts on December 6, and returns to deliver even more on Christmas day. Here all the excitement is on December 25.

Holidays in the Berkshires means the welcome arrival of friends, relatives and the first snow. Some traditions offer an extra place at the holiday table for the Christ Child, while nearer to us are folks who make sure that the lonely widow down the street shares a little holiday kindness. The Danes leave cookies and milk out for the elves, julenisser,  who they believe live in the attic of their houses, while our children do the same for Santa when he comes down the chimney. From now on, promise the Danes that you won't forget the elves, after all that's who they make all those cookies for.

In the performing arts, there are many widespread traditions, including performances of The Nutcracker by ballet companies, and the singing of Carols by professionals and amateurs alike.

Stages come alive with classic tales from Dickens, and in the U.K. the Holiday  Panto (Pantomime) is still performed. Indeed, with its gender bending hilarity and roots in Commedia dell'arte, it seems a perfect future project for Tina Packer and Shakespeare & Company.  This year our Christmas wish list includes an Anglophile benefactor with a little seed money to make it happen.

Herewith, our pick of the Best of the Berkshires for Holiday 2008:

My Wonderful Life at Barrington Stage Company
December 3 - 20

Tom Beckett stars in this one man stage adaptation of It's a Wonderful Life, written by Steve Murray, conceived by Mark Stlock and directed by Andrew Volkoff.

Enjoy a reunion with George Bailey, Clarence the Angel, Old Man Potter, Mary and Zuzu Bailey and 20 more of Bedford Falls' finest citizens in this unique one-man theatrical twist on Frank Capra's timeless film. Bursting with hope and humor, wry observation and heartfelt homage, This Wonderful Life reminds us of the power of friendship and family, and puts a new but familiar twist on the holidays in the Berkshires.

Tom Beckett is a very gifted actor, having appeared as Dr. Ostermark in the recent Broadway production of The Father at the Roundabout Theatre Company as well as Travels With My Aunt as Wolf, for which he received the Outer Critics Circle Award and a Drama Desk Award. Tom also won a Robby Award for best supporting actor in a comedy for his role as Harlequin in Triumph of Love at South Coast Repertory Theatre. He was the quiet "sound effects man", Mr. Foley, on the acclaimed AMC network show "Remember WENN." Additional television credits include the role of Elbridge Gerry in the Emmy-Award winning mini-series, "John Adams."

If you are a fan of the film starring James Stewart and Donna Reed (and who isn't!) you can compare this intimate one-man show with the original on the  big silver screen.  It will be shown at Pittsfield's  Colonial Theatre on Wednesday, December 17th to benefit the Berkshire Community Action Council, and at the Mahaiwe Theatre in Great Barrington on Monday, December 22, co-presented with the Southern Berkshire Film Festival.

Barrington Stage - My Wonderful Life

A Christmas Carol at Berkshire Theatre Festival
December 11 - 30

Perhaps no theatre company is better situated to perform the perfect A Christmas Carol, than one that is located in the home town of Norman Rockwell. The third annual production of this timeless holiday tradition at the Berkshire Theatre Festival celebrates the yuletide season with this classic Charles Dickens' tale. From flying ghosts to a quiet little boy and his crutch, A Christmas Carol is filled with enough tradition and enchantment to rejuvenate even the most disheartened of spirits. At their intimate Unicorn Theatre.

Berkshire Theatre Festival

Twelfth Night at Shakespeare & Company
December 12 and 13 at 7:00 PM

If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

The opening worlds of Shakespeare's Twelfth  Night are a stirring reminder of the timeless nature of the holidays. Indeed the Twelfth Night refers to the last of the 12 Days of Christmas, marking the arrival of the Magi. The story Shakespeare wrote is a romance, with a comic subplot however, about siblings Viola and Sebastian, shipwrecked, separated, and the complications that ensue. It is one of the Bard's more delightful works.

As much a teaching company as a performing one, Shakespeare & Company relights its new Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre for two nights with this  Shakespeare classic, performed by the actors of their Conservatory.  Artistic Director Tina Packer promises that given its history and the season, this will be an especially festive version, and is offered as the program's final project.

Shakespeare & Company

Many Happy, Merry and Serious Happenings at the Mahaiwe

Christmas with Aaron Neville and his Quintet
Friday, November 28 at 8pm

Join Aaron Neville and brother Charles for some holiday cheer. After five decades of consistent hit-making, Aaron Neville has, in the words of one Rolling Stone writer, "reached a highpoint in a career marked by artistic superlatives." "Jazz," says Aaron, "was as much a part of my musical education as blues or funk. Brother Charles, who plays great tenor on this record, hipped me to modern jazz when I was a kid. He's always been an inspiration. I call him the Horn Man. He's my favorite sax player. He makes the thing talk. Charles is not only a founding member of the Neville Brothers, but he's the musical director of the Aaron Neville Quintet. When I sing, I love having him beside me. He's a gentle, beautiful man."

The Nutcracker - Albany Berkshire Ballet
Thursday, December 11, 4:30 & 7:30 pm

Set in the late 1800's, the Albany Berkshire Ballet's Nutcracker tells the story of a young girl named Clara and the magical dream she has one Christmas Eve. A magical tour through time and space takes Clara from winter to spring in a single night. Under the direction of Madeline Cantarella Culpo, the Nutcracker, with its beautiful sets and scenery, is sure to please audiences of all ages. A true holiday classic.

Live from The Met in HD  at the Mahaiwe
Berlioz - La Damnation de Faust
Saturday November 22  at 1 PM

Robert Lepage, one of theater's most imaginative directors, applies his artistry to Berlioz's contemplation of good and evil. Using projections, Lepage has created a vision for La Damnation de Faust that seamlessly marries art and technology. Marcello Giordani stars in the title role opposite Susan Graham as Marguerite and John Relyea as Mephistopheles. James Levine conducts this rarely staged masterwork with Susan Graham, Marcello Giordani, and John Relyea.

The Met Operas are screened at more than a dozen theatres in Massachusetts. You can also view them at home.  For more details and the complete schedule of Met HD Telecasts, and tickets to their live performances, visit their incredible website.

Live from The Met in HD at the Mahaiwe
Massenet's Thais
Saturday December 20 at 12 PM

One of the most anticipated openings of the season, Thais receives an all new production. Renee Fleming stars as the Egyptian courtesan in search of spiritual sustenance. The equally wonderful Thomas Hampson is the monk who falls from grace. And the seductive tenor Michael Schade rounds out the leads. Massenet's sensual opera is presented in a new production by John Cox.  Conductor: Jesus Lopez-Cobos.

Watch for an upcoming review of this production at the Met in Berkshire Fine Arts.

Albany Symphony Orchestra
Winter Warmth  with Jaime Laredo, Guest Conductor
Saturday December 13 at 7:30 PM

The Albany Symphony appears in the Berkshires at the Mahaiwe with guest conductor and violin soloist Jaime Laredo for what promises to be an exceptional evening of classical music for the holidays.

The centerpiece of the evening's performance is perhaps one of Bach's most famous works, his Concerto for Two Violins in D minor. This piece is considered among the best examples of the work of the late Baroque period. The concerto is characterized by the subtle yet expressive relationship between the violins throughout the work, and features Albany Symphony's Concert Master Jill Levy as the second violin soloist.

Berkshire Bach Society - Bach at New Year's:
The Brandenburg Concerti
Wednesday, December 31  at 6 PM

Ah, the Brandenburgs. Back by popular request, the virtuosi of the Berkshire Bach Ensemble, directed by harpsichordist Kenneth Cooper, return with their "irrepressible" versions of The Brandenburg Concerti of Johann Sebastian Bach. Known for a zesty and captivating style, the Berkshire Bach Ensemble always delivers these great works with its inimitable passion and vitality.
What a great way to usher in the New Year.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center

Jolly, Joyous Events at the Colonial

The Klezmatics
Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah Tour with Special Guests Susan McKeown and Boo Reiners
Sunday December 7 at 7:30

The Klezmatics have forever transcended genres, blending klezmer with aching shtetl melodies, raucous Latin stomps, wild jazz riffs and provocative Arabic, African, American and Balkan rhythms.

The Klezmatics present a contagious celebration of Hanukkah—a marriage of the group's soulful and ebullient Jewish roots to Woody Guthrie's poignantly mesmerizing and newly discovered lyrics. This program highlights the band's two most recent CD releases: the multicultural folk sounds of Wonder Wheel and the ecstatically danceable, hoedown-worthy Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah. Special guests include acclaimed Celtic singer Susan McKeown and multi-instrumentalist Boo Reiners.

A Tuna Christmas
December 10 - 11 at 7:30 PM

They're back. For fans of Greater Tuna, here's a chance to spend the holidays with all your old favorite citizens of tiny Tuna, Texas and make some new friends while you're there. Two actors along with some split-second costume changes, portray all 24 citizens of Texas' third smallest town, where the Lion's Club is too liberal and Patsy Cline never dies.

It's 24 hours before Christmas and all comic hell is about to break loose as the delightfully eccentric characters attempt to cope with seasonal traumas such as a disaster prone little theatre production of A Christmas Carol, and a yard decorating contest that is being sabotaged by a mysterious Christmas phantom. Suitable for the whole family. Presented by Lost Planet Productions.

The Nutcracker - Albany Berkshire Ballet
Saturday, December 13 at 3 and 7:30 PM
Sunday, December 14 at 1:30 and 4:30 PM

 Nutcracker brings joy once again to the Colonial as the ABB dances to the glorious music of Tchaikovsky. It is more than ballet, it is a magical Christmas story that never fails to entrance young and old alike.

Audiences of course love the story by E.T.A. Hoffman, which follows the enchanting journey of young Clara, who receives a nutcracker as a gift at a Christmas Eve party. Her nutcracker is ultimately transformed into a handsome young prince, who leads her through an enchanted forest and on to the Palace of Sweets, where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy. Among the ballet's most famous and memorable moments are a battle between toy soldiers and overgrown mice, a Christmas tree that grows to huge heights, the pas de deux for the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, and a shimmering snow scene.

Hänsel und Gretel from the Glyndebourne Festival, England
Sunday, December 21 at 2 PM

The Colonial has started its own series of Operatic presentations, from some of the greatest Opera Houses in Europe. Hänsel und Gretel is, of course, the classic children's story as opera, by composer Englebert Humperdinck. It will be sung in German with subtitles in English.

This magical world of fairy-tale actually began life as a commission from the composer's sister, Adelheid Wette, who had adapted the original Grimm tale into a play for her own children. Humperdinck originally produced four songs for her, but the operatic potential of the fable was clear. The work has been a constant and extraordinary success since its premiere in 1893.

Hänsel und Gretel, described by Richard Strauss as "a masterpiece of the highest quality," combines romanticism, lyricism and exuberant playfulness in a vibrantly rich orchestration that is clearly influenced by the music of Brahms and Wagner. Like all great fairy tales, the story has darker underpinnings, evident in Humperdinck's brilliant orchestral writing which accompanies the lost siblings' journey through a shadowy world of unknown and limitless menace.

The international creative team behind this production includes conductor Kazushi Ono, Music Director at La Monnaie, and Laurent Pelly, one of France's most talented opera directors. Both are making their Glyndebourne debuts.

The Colonial Theatre

Mass MoCA and Sol LeWitt

There's been a lot of buzz regarding the new Sol LeWitt Galleries which opened recently and which celebrate his life and work. They also serve as a memorial of sorts. His approach to art was brainy, creative and mathematical, though if given a chance, it can be both rewarding and revealing to the novice. The stunning new gallery, housed in its own building, is well worth seeing, and "more than once" according to Charles Giuliano who reviews the artist and his massive new installation/tribute at Mass MoCA.

Mass MoCA Performing Arts
Steve Cuiffo is Lenny Bruce
Saturday, December 6 at 8 PM

What if Lenny Bruce were alive today? The groundbreaking comedian and social satirist might well be saying the same things he did in 1965—his insights have proven frighteningly prescient, and have lost none of their bite. Steve Cuiffo has spent years perfecting his ability to channel Bruce, performing pitch-perfect selections of his most brilliant satires verbatim. It is otherwordly.

The show, set for Mass MoCA's intimate Club B-10,  is both a beautiful piece of acting and a touching homage to Bruce, whose influence on modern stand-up remains unparalleled. Of course, as with Bruce himself, this show contains strong language.

Mass MoCA Performing Arts
LAVA: we become
Saturday, December 13 at 8 PM

Toshi Reagon provides an original score for a new work at the Hunter Center of Mass MoCA from this Brooklyn-based dance company. Known for pushing the limits of dance and the female form by incorporating theater, music, acrobatics, wrestling, trapeze, and contact improv. we become is about neighborhoods and the delicate balance of harmony, revolution, separatism, and integration.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle says, "Satisfying, magical, human, this ocean of women will pull you in."

This way to all your Mass MoCA information

Festival of Trees and Holiday Happenings
at the Berkshire Museum
Through January 4

It's the 24th year for the Berkshire Museum's earth friendly and  eco-savvy enchanted forest of more than 200 trees, creatively decorated with natural and reused materials. 

A wonderful example is the tree pictured in our slide show above. Created by the Eleanor Sonsini, Animal Shelter in Pittsfield, it alternates layers of dog and cat food cans, lit with green lights. Tree topper is a large dog bone-shaped tin. The skirt is made of bird seed bags, dog and cat food bags, and other pet product bags, stitched together with purple yarn.

You can see this and hundreds of other examples at the museum show which runs through January 4.

Also worth checking out if you have children is the family performance of the Berkshire Children's Theater's Madeline's Christmas at the museum on Saturday December 13 at 11 AM and 2 PM and Sunday December 14 at 2 PM.

There are a variety of daytime events for children thorughout December. Check the full schedule at their website.

By the way, don't forget the Downtown Pittsfield tree lighting in Park Square on Friday, December 5 from 5-7 pm with free hot apple cider and donuts.

The Berkshire Museum

Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas
Memories of Norman Rockwell
Sunday,  December 7, 2008 12 - 2 PM

For a few fleeting hours, you can see Main Street as Norman Rockwell did - complete with wreaths and Christmas lights - when he painted the famous Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas. Each year, Stockbridge once again becomes a magical New England village with over 50 antique cars parked along the street (weather permitting) and a full range of festive activities to delight the child in everyone. Plans have been made for horse drawn rides, holiday music, Roger the Jester and lunch at the Christmas food booth. Children may create ornaments at Santa's workshop and see Santa & Mrs. Claus when they visit the festivities.

If you enjoy caroling, there is another nostalgic event, called the Luminaria Walk slated for Saturday, December 6 from 6 to 7 pm. Your participation is invited. Meet in front of The Red Lion Inn, Main Street with your candle or flashlight and join the festive caroling followed by the Luminaria walk to the First Congregational Church.

Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce

Christmas Shopping is an Art, too
Hardware at Mass MoCA

Isn't it great to find a special treasure that will bring lasting pleasure as a gift while supporting an artist or craftsperson? That is why many people are looking forward to Thursday, December 11 at 5:00 when Hardware, the Mass MoCA Store has its Holiday Party.

On that one night, Mass Moca invites local artisans and craftspeople to fill the lobby with fabulous gifts. Don't miss this opportunity to find something for everyone on your holiday list (jewelry, textiles, toys)—while supporting local producers—and Mass MoCA. Fun food and drinks flow all night (cash bar), with prizes every hour.

If you are one of the first 50 folks to respond you will receive a free gift upon arrival. Can't commit in advance? That's ok, it's all very ad hoc anyway. By the way, MoCA members receive a 20% discount on all HARDWARE purchases at this event. And if you are not yet a member, it's a fine chance to join or give a membership to someone for Christmas.


Eclipse Mill Gallery Small Works Holiday Sale

Some 15 artists and artisans are participating in the Small Works Holiday Sale at the Eclipse Mill Gallery. There is an opening celebration on Friday, November 21, from 6 to 8 PM. In addition to small paintings, photography, and sculpture, there will be hand made paper, jewelry, and crafts. For a more personal and affordable approach to gift giving this season this is a wonderful alternative. As well as a chance to support local artists at 243 Union Street, North Adams, on Route Two at the Eclipse Mill. The gallery and Sale will be open on weekends through December 21 from noon to 5 PM.

12 x12 on 12.12 At Storefront Artist Project in Pittsfield

In a unique Holiday project the Storefront Artists have put out a call for donations of works that measure 12 x 12" as a benefit for their Artist Mentor Program with school children. There will be a preview of the work on December 6 from 1-5. Raffle tickets are being sold for $25 each and the drawing will occur on December 12. The Storefront Artist Salon with food, drink and discussion about art will occur on Wednesday, December 10 from 6:30 to 8 PM at 437 North Street in Pittsfield.

Elaine Hoffman- Thanksgiving Weekend Sale

If gorgeous teapots, berry bowls and other  handmade pottery at 10 to 75% off are your thing, head down Route 41 and visit Elaine Hoffman at 103 Great Barrington Road, West Stockbridge. You can even paint a plate yourself which Elaine will fire in her kiln for a unique Christmas gift.

Give a call to check the opening hours at 413-232-4646

Hoffman Pottery

River Hill Pottery - Always an inspired gift

Hand thrown clay in North Adams means Phil and Gail Sellers of River Hill Pottery at the Eclipse Mill.  They create baskets from clay instead of straw or wicker which are both functional and beautiful. Their work is sold by a number of galleries and arts and crafts shops around the country. Their website provides a great overview of their work. While visiting the pottery studio at 243 Union Street in North Adams be sure to drop in at the Eclipse Mill Gallery for its Holiday sale and visit the bookstore of Grover Askins.

River Hill Pottery

Berkshire Botanical Garden - Holiday Marketplace
December 6 - 7, 10am-5pm

I always feel good buying something from the garden's annual exhibition and sale of unique handcrafted wreaths and holiday decorations, seasonal blooms and greens, herb products, crafts and gift items. Free admission. Located at the junction of Routes 102 and 183 in Stockbridge.

Berkshire Botonical Garden

Algorithmic Art at Greylock Arts in Adams

The avant-garde artist space Greylock Arts in Adams is opening the exhibition Algorithmic Art with a reception on Saturday, November 22 from 5:30 to 8:30 PM. The exhibition includes work by Larry Alice, Richard Harrington, Danil Hirschmn, Tristan Perich and Sean Riley. The gallery is open on Saturdays from 1 to 4 PM and by appointment through January 10. Greylock Arts is located at 93 Summer Street in Adams. Phone: 413 241 8692 and e mail

Songs of the Spirit at MCLA December 3

 "Songs of the Spirit," a multicultural, interfaith concert is performed on Wednesday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 pm. in the Church Street Center as the next MCLA Presents event at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

An annual event at MCLA, since 2005, this year's program will reunite four artists from the 2007 New York tour: Tracy Grammer,  Halle, Frank London,  and Lorin Sklamberg of The Klezmatics.