"Local Heroes" and "Four Wheels, One Eye: Art Cars in the Eyes of the Image Makers" These exhibitions, unrelated except that they both carry the official imprimatur of FotoFest 98, deal with the same general subject: Houston's amorphous cultural fringe, which burrows in the ground beneath the Bayou City's coldly stunning skyscrapers like those metaphorical insects mucking up David Lynch's Technicolor lawn in Blue Velvet. "Heroes," however, graces the walls at one of the city's big-three public art institutions -- the Menil Collection. (On the other hand, the Menil, in its tony way, has always been a maverick where public art is concerned.) Curated by Mark Flood, who describes himself as a "Houston artist and alleged Menil employee," the exhibit includes various scenes from the sociopolitical class struggle: Ben DeSoto's Reagan-era portraits of punks at Rock Island and the International Club, John Lee's shots of wild-eyed roller skaters at the Joust of the Urban Animals and George Hixson's photos of political protesters at the 1992 Republican National Convention and of early art-car paraders. The selfsame art-car enthusiasts are feted in "Four Wheels," a co-production of the Orange Show and the Ineri Foundation. The exhibit features numerous photos documenting the "art-car phenomenon" by the likes of Hixson, Harrod Blank, Maurice Roberts, Amalia Harithas-Blyth, Irv Tepper and Clare La Groue, as well as five of the movable artworks in the metallic flesh, including David Best's Faith and Jackie Harris's Fruitmobile. "Local Heroes" continues through March 29 at the Menil (1515 Sul Ross, 525-9400); viewing hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. "Four Wheels" is up through April 19 at the newly opened Art Car Museum (140 Heights Boulevard; info: 926-6368); viewing hours are noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.
The Snow Maiden Nina Ananiashvili, prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet, dances the title role -- the ice goddess Snegurochka, a part created specifically for her -- in this world-premiere co-production of the Houston Ballet and the American Ballet Theatre. Based on a Russian folk/fairy tale, The Snow Maiden is a tragic love triangle; Snegurochka, the offspring of Father Frost and Fairy Spring, falls for a handsome human, Misgir (Carlos Acosta), and follows him to the land of the living, though he's betrothed to the hot-blooded Coupava (Tiekka Schofield). HB's Ben Stevenson choreographed. British composer John Lanchbery penned the score, which incorporates incidental music Tchaikovsky wrote for Alexander Ostrovsky's 1873 play Snegurochka; Lanchbery will be in town to conduct several of the shows. Opening performances are at 7:30 tonight and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; the run continues through March 22. The Brown Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $11$89 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700). (Note: The ABT will perform The Snow Maiden at New York's Metropolitan Opera House in June.)
"Slide Slam!!" Ten Houston artists load up slide carousels for a merry-go-roundup of Bayou City visualism in this program, a special edition of the "Slide Jam!" series of intimate, informative slide shows about contemporary art. The artists have five minutes each to show their works, and an additional five to field questions and comments from the audience. Seating is limited. 7 p.m.; artist sign-up starts at 6. The Contemporary Arts Museum, 5216 Montrose, 284-8250. Free.
The Space Monkeys See Critic's Choice on page 83. With Ivy. 8 p.m. (doors). Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond, 528-3545. $10 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Holly Cole Not to be confused with Paula Cole -- that second-tier Sarah McLachlan of "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?" infamy -- this whip-smart pop siren is a throwback to another era. Holly doesn't write her own material, which might seem a career-killer in this age of Lilith Fair and the accompanying distaff population boom of middling writers of mostly unmemorable songs (like Paula Cole and Chantal Kreviazuk). But in pop, now and always, the song's the thing, and Holly Cole has found success by choosing her material wisely, well and in keeping with the age-old notion of informed interpretation, à la, say, Jennifer Warnes's Famous Blue Raincoat (a superb tribute to Leonard Cohen) or even Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers and Hart Songbook. It's an old-fashioned notion, but Holly gives it a solid kick in the pantsuit with her wonderful, accessible new disc, Dark Dear Heart; she croons like a sassy, smoky angel with perfect pitch on tracks by Sheryl Crow ("You Want More"), Lennon and McCartney ("I've Just Seen a Face"), Joni Mitchell ("River") and Laura Harding (co-writer of "Onion Girl" and the transcendently lovely "Make It Go Away"). Jeb Loy Nichols opens. 8 p.m. (doors). Instant Karma, 1617 Richmond, 528-3545. $8 (Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Little Women Louisa May Alcott's feisty March sisters -- Jo, Beth, Meg and Amy -- hit the high notes in Mark Adamo's chamber-operatic reworking of Alcott's much-adapted tale about the slow but sure passage of time in 19th-century New England. The Houston Grand Opera presents the world premiere of the work, performed by the Houston Opera Studio; Christopher Larkin conducts the HGO Orchestra. In English with English surtitles. 8 tonight; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. The Cullen Theater at Wortham Center, 500 Texas, 237-1439. $15$25 (Houston Ticket Center: 227-ARTS; Ticketmaster: 629-3700).
Abra Moore Though Sing, Moore's navel-gazing solo debut, didn't even hint at such promise, Strangest Places, the sophomore disc by the Poi Dog Pondering co-founder, makes a case that the gangly singer/songwriter from Austin via Hawaii might be something truly special. Places is eminently listenable throughout, full of finely rendered ear candy with a club-friendly beat. A few of the selections even approach the sublime, the most significant being the off-tempo "Happiness," a misleadingly simple song that's really about the hamster-wheel pursuit of happiness. Trish Murphy opens. The Fabulous Satellite Lounge, 3616 Washington Avenue, 869-COOL.