"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.
The Orange Show Season Opener For reasons indiscernible -- at least to us -- Mayor Lee P. Brown was originally scheduled to snip the ribbon inaugurating the new season at this exotic architectural amalgamation celebrating the title hue/fruit and the whimsical Weltanschauung of its creator, late postman and odd duck Jeff McKissack. Though Hizzoner snapped to his senses at the 11th hour, canceling his appearance, the Show goes on. On the agenda: storytelling by Ramona King and instruction in the fine art of making trophies using media like "plastic spiders, doll heads and glow-in-the-dark fish." Noon to 5 p.m. 2401 Munger, 926-6368. $1; free for kids.
Ali Akbar Khan The Bangladesh-born, California-based world musician traces his musical heritage to a relative who played in the court of the 16th-century emperor Akbar, and Khan himself has performed for the pleasure of royal ears, holding down a position as court musician for the Maharaja of Jodhpur in his younger years. And though Khan, now 76, is best known as a purveyor of northern Indian classical music -- the master of the 25-stringed lute called the sarod is sometimes likened to a subcontinental Johann Sebastian Bach -- he's also had a far-reaching impact on American jazz improvisationalists and pop artists. Opener Zakir Hussain's no slouch, either; the percussionist (he plays the tabla) has collaborated with the likes of John McLaughlin, Philip Glass, Billy Cobham and Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. 8 p.m. Moores Opera House, University of Houston entrance 16 (off Cullen Boulevard). Info: 648-0422. $20$50.
Houston St. Patrick's Festival The highlights of the fourth annual fest, sponsored by Project St. Brendan and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, includes the parade down Richmond at 2 this afternoon, concerts by Tommy Makem, the Makem Brothers and the Poor Clares, Andy Cooney's Irish Spectacular '98, an Irish ceili and a Scottish ceilidgh, the ever-popular snake races and step-dancing galore. 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. today; 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday and Monday; 5 a.m. to midnight Tuesday. All events except the parade are at Garden in the Heights, 3926 Feagan. Info: 880-1065. $8$18 (Star Tickets: 888-597-STAR).
Everest We pity the IMAX cinematographers who had to lug those unwieldy cameras to the frigid, oxygen-poor roof of the world. But the end result, in typically heroic IMAX style, is a view to die for -- not literally, though the footage gleaned for this work was shot in the same week in 1996 that eight climbers perished during a stormy summit attempt. Director/trekker David Brashears and IMAX co-developed a cold-resistant and relatively lightweight instrument especially for this film; accompanying Brashears up the South Col route pioneered by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953 was American mountaineer Ed Viesturs, Jamling Tenzing Norgay (the son of Tenzing Norgay, who was with Hillary on that first successful ascent of Everest), Spanish daredeviless/physiotherapist Araceli Segarra, geophysicist Roger Bilham and Japanese climber Sumiyo Tsuzuki. The first public screening is at 10 a.m. today; Everest continues through September 25. The Houston Museum of Natural Science, 1 Hermann Circle Drive in Hermann Park, 639-IMAX. $6; $3.50 for kids and HMNS members.
The Klezmatics Self-billed as "the world's greatest party band" -- a distinction that Denton's Brave Combo, which has dipped its toes in the klezmer pool on occasion, would probably argue -- these natty New Yorkers play the heck out of the breakneck Jewish folk/wedding strain. And though it's not the first klezmer crossover act (that would be California's Klezmorim) or the best-known (arguably the Klezmer Conservatory Band) or even the best-named (the Mazeltones), the Klezmatics are, nevertheless, fun and funny. If you don't believe us, pick up one of their discs, like Jews with Horns or Rhythm and Jews. The band opens the second annual "Yiddish Lebt! Yiddish Lives!" festival (see Thrills for more info). 8 p.m. Congregation Beth Israel, 5600 North Braeswood. Info: 729-3200, extension 3231. $18; $8 for students and seniors.
The Delta 72 We thought this Washington, D.C., band was pretty great before we cranked its latest, The Soul of a New Machine; now we think the deconstructionist R&B crew might be visionary. Long lumped with the punks, the Delta is really only punk in its aggressive approach to garage rock, which includes a deft interplay between Sarah Stolfa's Farfisa organ and Gregg Foreman's harmonica. The band has, in fact, stumbled on the place where punk and Stax collide, splicing 'em together with alt baling wire and pure gumption. (P.S. The new disc's closer is titled "We Hate the Blues" -- don't believe it.) The Linoleum Experiment and Ponyboy open. 8 p.m. Zelda's, 2706 White Oak (downstairs), 862-3838. $8.
St. Patrick's Day at the Duck How better to celebrate the annual day honoring the patron saint of Eire -- and, more secularly, the wearin' of the green -- than the traditionalist celebration at the comfy, woodsy pub named McGonigel's Mucky Duck? On tap: Guinness stout (but of course), rooftop bagpiping serenades by E.J. Jones, Irish-history and -dancing sessions and music by Clandestine, Gordian Knot and the Kehoe Ceili Band. Noon. 2425 Norfolk, 528-5999. Free 'til 5 p.m.; $8 after.
"Puppet-Infested Planet" It was the Two Johns of They Might Be Giants who sang "If the pup-pup-puppet head / Was only buh-buh-busted in / It would be a better thing for everyone involved." The song of origin was "Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head," and TMBG's comically aggressive and typically gibberish-filled little ditty would be a perfect theme song for Houston's Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theatre. BPT is not your garden-variety puppet troupe; that sort, targeted at little kids and little minds, makes us want to pick up one of Punch and Judy's tiny battering rams and break all of the small bones in the offending puppeteers' hands. No, Bobbindoctrin is for big kids with functioning brains; it, too, is about gibberish-filled art with a wide streak of comic malevolence, but there's a foundation of furrowed-brow seriousness to BPT's work -- and an honest love for the form. That commitment shows up in this inaugural presentation, a co-production of BPT and its usual-suspect partner, Zocalo Theatre. The four-week video fest presents an overview of some of the earnest work being done today in the realm of puppetry, as well as various historical precedents. "Puppet-Infested Planet" opens with a screening of three documentaries, all narrated by the late, great Jim Henson and not publicly broadcast to date: Here Come the Puppets!: The 1980 World Puppet Festival, Jim Henson Presents: Sergei Obratztsov and Jim Henson Presents: Albrecht Roser. 8 p.m. NO TSU OH, 314 Main, 222-0443. Free.
The Big One Preview, featuring Michael Moore The muckraking director of Roger & Me is on the artistic warpath again with his latest flick, a skewering of corporations (like Nike) that downsize employees while upsizing profits. Moore speaks, then the film unspools. 7 p.m. Landmark Greenway 3, 5 Greenway Plaza, 626-0402. More info: 868-7015. $20 (proceeds: ACORN's Living Wage Campaign).