Press Picks

november 20
Cirque du Soleil presents Quidam Forget everything you know about the circus. Cirque du Soleil is more than a glitzy flash of high-wire acts and mistreated tigers. This French-Canadian circus has soul, and it actually tells a story. Quidam is the tale of a young girl who suffers existential angst powerful enough to shatter her world, and ends up in the universe of Quidam. Peopled by amazing acrobats and actors who twirl in hoops above the stage, skip rope in syncopated time, dance with long ropes of silk, juggle disappearing balls and more, this surreal world will explode your expectations of a circus. The Toronto Star called the show "pure art"; Time magazine said Cirque du Soleil "makes the incredible visible." Thru Dec. 21. Opens tonight at 8 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other dates and times.) Astrodome Parking Lot, 8400 Kirby, $20-$48.25, adults; $10 $33.75, children.

Black Nativity Langston Hughes's holiday play is full of pantomime, gospel songs and folk spirituals, all incorporated into the homely story of Christ's birth. Audience participation is encouraged -- and isn't Christmas the time to sing long and loud and be happy about it? The Ensemble Theatre has imported Jesse Wooden Jr., the New Yorker who directed last year's Obie award-winning production of Black Nativity. Tonight's preview performance is also a fundraiser for Community Partners Advocates, a nonprofit organization that provides free medical care, health education and social services to disadvantaged inner-city kids. 6 p.m. cocktail reception; 7:30 p.m. performance. (See Thrills, Theater for other dates and times.) Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main, 222-8788. $60, patron; $100, sponsor.

HSPVA Fall Jazz Festival Is there anything swanker than a few liquid jazz notes floating across the dark mysteries of a November night? The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts' music department has been making jazz magic since the school's inception over a quarter-century ago. And tonight, 45 current students play the 21st Fall Jazz Festival. Hear them and feel utterly cool all night long. 7:30 p.m. High School for the Performing and Visual Arts' Denny Theatre, 4001 Stanford, 942-1967, 942-1960. $6.

november 21
Strake Hall of Malacology The most startling and beautiful image from last year's film Microcosmos had to be the two snails locked in an amorphous embrace more sensual and passionate than any song on the last five Barry White albums. Who would have thought they had it in 'em? At the Museum of Natural Science's new pride and joy, learn more about the amazing world of mollusks. Find out about oysters, squids and slugs; see live cuttlefish and giant clams; and experience a load of oddities including a left-handed whelk and the world's largest known snail shell. The hall is open to the public for the first time today, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. The Houston Museum of Natural Science, located in Hermann Park across from Miller Outdoor Theatre, 639-IMAX. $3, adults; $2, children.

Dominick Dunne Dunne calls his newest book, Another City, Not My Own, a "novel in the form of a memoir." But some critics aren't buying the idea that he has refashioned his Vanity Fair reporting on the O.J. trial, transforming it into a "novel." The central character, Augustus Bailey, is an awful lot like Dunne himself. Like Dunne, Bailey is drawn to murder trials because of his personal experience. And like Dunne, Bailey knows a lot of rich and famous folks, who wine and dine him throughout the book. Hear him read and have him sign your copy tonight -- and make sure he signs your copy with his real name. 7 p.m. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet, 523-0701. Free. (Dunne will sign only books bought at Brazos.)

French Film Festival This week, the French Embassy and the Museum of Fine Arts celebrate the work of director Agnes Varda, whose early films ushered in the French New Wave. Her career has spanned over 40 years, and includes both fictional and documentary films -- intelligent, irreverent, sometimes very funny and always passionate and engaging. For this festival, Varda herself chose her best work. Tonight's first offering is the 22-minute Uncle Yanco, a portrait of Jean Varda (the director's uncle) that chronicles the days and nights of the Greece-born painter, who lived on a houseboat and flourished in 1960s Haight Ashbury. Also see The Young Girls Turn 25, a documentary about filmmaking and the folks involved. And last on the program, there's Cleo from 5 to 7, which follows a beautiful pop singer through the two hours she waits to find out whether she has cancer. Even a tough American could love these unsentimental looks at the psyche. 7 p.m., Uncle Yanco and The Young Girls Turn 25; 9:15 p.m., Cleo from 5 to 7. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7515. $6 for all three films.

European Comic Show Some of the continent's comic books look remarkably similar to our own, but some are strange and otherworldly. Asterix, Tintin and the Smurfs you already know; but in this exhibit featuring the work of more than 100 cartoonists, you'll also meet lesser-known cartoon heroes from France, Belgium, England, Holland, Spain, Italy and Switzerland. You'll see that, like us, Europeans fantasize about big-breasted babes, superheroes and science fiction. Just as fascinating, though, is how the Europeans see us: Italy's biggest comic star is a square-jawed cowboy named Tex Willer. Thru Dec. 15. Opening reception 6-8 p.m. Houston Public Library, 500 McKinney, 236-1313. Free.

november 22
Houston Press Dome Run Yeah, you think you already know how it feels to run as fast as you can into the Dome -- you've done it plenty of times, sprinting from the distant territory of the outlying parking lots, desperate not to miss one more inning. But today is different: Today, at the end of your aerobic labors, you'll receive a hero's welcome on the Astroturf. Those who complete the 10K course (it passes through the Med Center, Rice and Hermann Park) will be rewarded with a finish on the 50-yard line, broadcast to the race crowd via Diamond Vision. 6:30-9 a.m., race-day registration; 7:45 a.m., 5K fitness run or walk; 8:10 a.m., Dome Run 10K; 9 a.m., The Houston City Championship 10K run; 9:45 a.m., Kids K run. All races except the kids' run begin near the north entrance of the Astrodome grounds and end on the Dome floor; kids begin at the east entrance. 8400 Kirby. For information, call 624-1448. $20 race-day registration includes a T-shirt and post-race festivities; $13 for Kids K (12 and under).

Warehouse Art Crawl Starting somewhere near the intersection of commerce and art, the Fifth Annual Warehouse Art Crawl will guide you through eight warehouse/studios -- artists' domains where you can ogle, ponder and buy, buy, buy all the art your little heart desires (or at least as much as your little wallet can afford). A shuttle service will help you make the circuit, so park anywhere along the route, get on the bus and circle to your heart's content. Admission and the shuttle are free, but you'll have to pay for a commemorative T-shirt. 2-9 p.m., Benner Studios, 2337 1/2 Commerce; Calaway Studios, 2409 Commerce; Eller Wagon Works, 101 Crawford; H.B.S. Warehouse, 1107 East Freeway; Erie City Ironworks, 1302 Nance; Mother Dog Studios, 720 Walnut; Purse Building Studios, 1701 Commerce, 228-0635. Free.

Miracle on Main Street Right about now, all you ex-Yankees have just about had it up to your eyeballs with the warm, sultry, nothing-like-Thanksgiving November weather. And somewhere deep in your chest is a pang of longing for some smidgen of snow, some sky-sent sign of the holidays. Stop fretting. Houstonians can be the most accommodating of folks. And to prove it, Southwestern Bell has made an outdoor ice rink right in the middle of downtown. For 50 days you can skate all you want, and most days you won't even have to wear a coat. Teach the locals all the ins and outs of "broomball," whatever that is, and make yourselves right at home. (Attention, natives: Yes, we know you can skate. But we ask that, in the name of urban harmony, you pretend to learn a thing or two, to make the Yankees think they're good for something.) 10 a.m.-midnight today; broomball, 9-10 a.m. and again at midnight. (See Thrills, Sports for other dates and times.) 1000 block of Main at Lamar, next to Foley's. For information, call 650-3022. $6, adults; $4, kids; $2, skate rental.

Great Houston Cover-Up Here's a fact to make you stop and count your blessings: The average homeless person in the U.S. is nine years old. And winter is really bad when you have no place to go to get out of the cold. With that in mind, Marriott Lodging started the great Houston Cover-Up. Contribute a sweater, blanket or coat and the Marriott folks will wash and deliver it to the Star of Hope, where it will go into the arms and onto the back of somebody who can use it. Drop off items 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Nov. 22 and 23, at Houston's Marriott Hotels, Residence Inns, Fairfield Inns, Courtyards by Marriott and the Renaissance Houston Hotel. For information, call 770-8013.

Michael DeBakey Way back in 1628, an English guy figured out how our blood went around. Then the French got busy, and in 1816, one of their guys invented the stethoscope so we could hear the red stuff go swish swish swish, and in 1967, a South African had the audacity to actually transplant a heart from one unfortunate soul to a much luckier guy. But we Americans have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to hearts. Ours are big and tacky, and we can, after all, claim surgeon Michael DeBakey as one of our own. His scholarship and achievements in the field of cardiovascular surgery read like the list of what's what in heart repair. Today, he'll speak and autograph copies of his book The New Living Heart, which he wrote for us ordinary boneheads who don't know nothing about fixing hearts, but would like to keep the ones we have in decent repair. 5 p.m., The Museum of Health and Medical Science, 1515 Hermann Drive, 798-8617. $5 minimum donation; includes snackage from Bistro Cuisine.

november 23
Landscaping to Attract Birds Longing to glimpse a red-breasted nuthatch or a black-throated blue warbler? Maybe all you need is a little bit of good advice. Get your life singing, with the call of a gray hawk or a least grebe wood stork. Find out what plants lure these lusciously luminous fliers out of the skies and into your own back yard today, when the Native Plant So-ciety reveals its secret tips and techniques for bird wooing. 1-3 p.m. Houston Arboretum Nature Center, 4501 Woodway, 681-8433. Free.

november 24
Junior School Holiday Exhibition Today, the Glassell School's youngest artists -- ages 4 to 18 -- will show the fruits of their artistic toils at an opening reception featuring holiday entertainment and refreshments. If you've been thinking about signing up your little scribbler for some art classes, this is a good opportunity to see what happens inside that beautiful new building. 5-6:30 p.m., The Glassell Junior School, 5100 Montrose, 639-7300. Free.

november 25
Read Minds by Reading Body Language If you only listen to someone's words, you're probably missing a lot. It's estimated that ninety-two percent of communication is nonverbal, and if you don't know how to read body talk, then words will end up confusing you no end. Sandy Bell, a personal coach and corporate trainer, explains all. 6-8:45 p.m. The Texas Commerce Building, 4265 San Felipe, 7th floor. Call 968-9885 to register. $10.

november 26
Walt Disney's World on Ice -- Aladdin Disney unleashes yet another creation based on an enormously successful animated film. This time it's Aladdin, and the medium is musical theater performed on ice skates, on the flooded and frozen floor of the Compaq Center. With over 300 props, 22 sets and a bi-level stage design, this production promises to be a spectacle of Roman proportions -- well, no, that'd be Hercules. Thru Nov. 30. 7:30 p.m. tonight (see Thrills, Kids for other times and dates). Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 629-3700. $10.50-$16.50.

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Lee Williams