See an electrified giraffe at Zoo Lights at the Houston Zoo, our suggestion for Friday. The life-size, long-necked giraffe, a wire structure wrapped in lights, has lots of company with dozens of brightly lit horses, apes, hippos, elephants and other animal sculptures scattered around the zoo's illuminated and decorated grounds. Jackie Wallace, zoo spokesperson, tells us that with a total of 2 million lights, this year's Zoo Lights is bigger than ever. "It's doubled in size," she says.
Among the features that are new this year are a walk-in snow globe and more toy train scenes. Past visitor favorite Holly Berry, a 1958 Cadillac that's been heaped with holiday decorations and lights, is back, playing seasonal favorites. (Someone must have left her radio on.) The zoo's live oak trees, covered in twinkling lights, are a must-see. Most evenings, local choirs perform holiday carols.
"Most families take about two hours to see the entire [exhibit]," Wallace says. "There's a path for you to follow; that way you make sure and see everything." That "everything" won't include many live animals. "A lot of them are sleeping in their [quarters]," Wallace explains.
Giant turkey legs, pizza, funnel cakes, s'mores, hot chocolate -- with or without a shot of Baileys ® -- beer and wine are on the menu at the zoo's Macaw Cafe and Cypress Circle food court.
6 to 10 p.m. Daily. Through January 4. 6200 Herman Park Drive. For information, call 713-533-6500 or visit houstonzoo.org. $10.95 to $12.95.
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There are giant mice, a King Rat, toy soldiers that come to life and Clara, who seems a nice enough young girl, whirled into a wild post-party night when magic and Tchaikovsky's music take over Friday evening's events. Yes, it's time once again for Houston Ballet's annual holiday offering of The Nutcracker. Houston Ballet Principal Dancer Simon Ball has been doing The Nutcracker for 30 years now. Initially recruited by his ballet-lessons-taking sister to fill out the ranks of little soldiers in the party scene, Ball says he discovered he loved the energy of the ballet. "And I made a career of it."
This year Ball will reprise his role as the Nutcracker Prince, which means he's in Act I and Act II, pairing with the Snow Queen and the Sugar Plum Fairy. "That's a definite challenge, but I do like that we have a character who appears throughout the ballet," he says. He will also dance the role of the mysterious Dr. Drosselmeyer, who presents Clara with the doll in the first place. Former Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson (now artistic director of the Texas Ballet Theater in Fort Worth), who choreographed the version used in Houston, is coming back this year to see the production here, Ball says.
His first memories of The Nutcracker, Ball says, will always be with him, and remind him of how important this production is to many people. "It does make me remember that this is the first experience and maybe the only experience that young people have in ballet, so you have to take it with that kind of seriousness that you are potentially setting someone's life off because they came to the ballet and loved it and are either lifelong ballet fans or they want to be a dancer themselves," he says.
And two of the youngsters in attendance will be Ball's own children, ages four and eight. "I'm looking forward to bringing my two daughters to the show and passing that on. I feel very lucky that they can see their daddy dance. You never imagine that when you begin ballet that, 'Oh, maybe someday my kids will watch me dance.'"
The Nutcracker opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 28. Performances continue through December 28. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For complete listings, call 713‑227‑2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $35 to $95.
Jaston Williams of Greater Tuna fame is headed back to Galveston for three weekend shows including two Saturday performances. In this case, the name of his latest one-man show -- Maid Marion in a Stolen Car -- isn't just a catchy title but an episode he's reliving from his own life. He decided to do this quickly put-together show after realizing, he said, "The theatrical life is more interesting than what you put onstage."
Basically, the high points of this story, which will be part of the two-act show, running about two hours with intermission, start with our hero (Williams) somehow part of "a radical feminist theater company in New Mexico" in the 1970s. They were doing a production of Robin Hood, and the woman playing Maid Marion was, well, crazy, he said. Someone came up with the idea of them dressing up like clowns and go out to the town square to attract business. So he jumps in the car with her and they're driving along when suddenly "she did a hard right and jumped the curb and tore through this vacant lot." Whereupon he asks her what's going on and she informs him the car they're riding in is stolen.
Williams also will trace through the brainstorming that led to the development of the Greater Tuna series of shows, as well as his start in musical theater -- in the front yard of his family's home at age six singing "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun" after viewing Annie Get Your Gun.
8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. The Grand 1984 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice Street, Galveston. For information, visit thegrand.com. $32 to $45.
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Catch a Krzysztof Kieslowski double feature on Sunday during the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston's Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.
The famed Polish filmmaker explores what might happen to someone's life if one little incident were changed in his 1981 Blind Chance. (Think Groundhog Day with a decidedly darkly and ironic Polish twist.) The story restarts three times. Medical student Witek (a young Boguslaw Linda, who would soon become one of Poland's most respected actors) is trying to catch a train into Warsaw. Each time Witek races to the train, there's a man drinking beer on the platform. The first time, he sidesteps the man and barely makes it onto the train. The second time, he crashes right into the man and the third time, he almost careens into the man. It's the differences in his encounters with the man that set Witek on a different course for his future. Familiar faces turn up in each segment. "It's not just pure chance," someone says early on. "I wouldn't be so sure," comes the reply.
Seven years after the release of Blind Chance, Kieslowski signed with TV Poland for a ten-part series on the Ten Commandments, The Decalogue (1988), set in modern Warsaw. He stipulated that he be allowed to take two of the one-hour stories and expand them into free-standing movies. Episode V, the "thou shalt not murder" plot, was adapted into A Short Film About Killing, a stark, unflinching look at murder and its repercussions. Three lives intersect in this prize-winning film, which was co-written with Krzysztof Piesiewicz: There's a psychotic drifter, a taxi driver who is brutally bludgeoned by the drifter and the innocent young lawyer who defends the murderer.
The murder is senseless and grotesque; the drifter's punishment is equally grotesque. In the washed-out, heavily filtered cinematography by Slawomir Idziak, Warsaw has never looked so dispirited: green or sul-furous yellow around the edges of the frame. A heartfelt plea against capital punishment, A Short Film About Killing was influential in the eventual abolition of Poland's death penalty.
See A Short Film About Killing at 3 p.m. on November 30; it's followed by Blind Chance at 4:45 p.m. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑639‑7515 or visit mfah.org. $9.
Start a new holiday tradition on Sunday when Houston's only open-access glass-blowing studio, Three Dimensional Visions, is offering the opportunity to create your own holiday ornament during Make an Ornament sessions. Every Sunday afternoon, visitors can choose their form (sphere vs. tear drop), the type of hanger and the colors to make their own unique ornament. Visitors apply the color and help one of the studio's professionals to blow the piece. The process takes about 30 minutes per person and your ornament is available for pickup starting Wednesday. Sally Pennington Moore of the Studio says: "Why not start an annual tradition and make unique ornaments for your tree with your family or friends?" Less ambitious visitors can select an ornament from the gallery's wide choice displayed on the Studio Tree. Space is limited, so reservations are necessary.
Noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through December 21. Three Dimensional Visions, 17442 FM 2920 Road, Tomball. For information, call 281-734-0366 or visit threedimensionalvisions.com. $29.
Margaret Downing, D. L. Groover and Jim J. Tommaney contributed to this post.