BUFFALO - The holiday season is one of the favored times, when people like to enjoy the performing arts. It's a time when people especially enjoy introducing their children or grandchildren to the performing arts.
There are many performances which have come to be holiday traditions. These include the ballet ''Nutcracker,'' readings or complete dramatizations of Charles Dickens' short novel ''A Christmas Carol,'' the opera ''Amahl and the Night Visitors,'' concerts of Handel's oratorio ''Messiah,'' and many, many more.
Throughout next week, Shea's Performing Arts Center, in downtown Buffalo, invites you to see a new and different holiday spectacle. It's a jaw-dropping marriage between the Broadway stage and the long-time favorite performing art of the circus. It's called ''Cirque Dreams Holidaze.''
I'd like to share some basic facts about the performances in Buffalo, followed by some background about Cirque Dreams, and then share with you a conversation I had recently with an attractive young lady who will be performing there. She has fulfilled the traditional American dream of having run away and joined the circus.
HOW DO I ATTEND?
''Cirque Dreams Holidaze'' will open in Buffalo on Tuesday evening, and will be performed at least once and sometimes twice per day, through the following Sunday, which will be Dec. 20.
Performances will all take place in the huge and elegant Shea's Performing Arts Center. It's located at 646 Main St., in the Downtown Buffalo Theater District.
Tickets to the performances range in price between $24.50 and $67.50. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, 8 p.m. on Friday, and Saturday, plus matinee performances at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. There will be eight performances, in all.
You can purchase tickets in person at the Shea's box office, which is located directly to the right of the theater's main entrance. You can also purchase tickets in person at any outlet of Ticketmaster.
You can purchase tickets by telephone, with a major credit card, by phoning (800) 745-3000. Buy them via computer at this web address: www.ticketmaster.com.
ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE
A circus is a performance of highly skilled acts. Its intention is not usually to tell a story, but rather to impress the audience with the rare and impressive skills of the performers.
Typical circus acts include high wire acts, jugglers, trapeze performers, acrobats, and other stunt-oriented performers. Performances are nearly always accompanied by music, both instrumental and sung.
Similar performances have been given since before the birth of Christ. Through most of American history, circuses have been known as travelling shows which came to a town for one performance or a limited number of performances, and then moved on to another community. These performances were usually performed in a giant tent, which is called ''a big top.''
Beginning in the 1980s, two large changes have begun to be seen in circuses. The performances have moved away from trained animal acts, which were increasingly being blamed for being cruel and inhuman in their treatment of animals, and they have increasingly been performed in theaters and auditoriums, rather than tents, where weather and performing conditions were more possible to control.
These indoor performances with few or no animal acts have come to be identified by the term ''Cirque,'' pronounced ''SEERK,'' which is simply the French word for ''Circus.''
There are a number of companies which have created tours of Cirque productions. ''Cirque Dreams Holidaze'' is a product of the Cirque Dreams Company, which was founded in 1993 in Florida, by a showman from New York City named Neil Goldberg.
Unlike some of the Cirque companies which have specialized in music and costuming which emphasize the erotic possibilities of the performers, these shows are family friendly.
The Holidaze show, which will be performed in Buffalo, begins with a giant 24 feet tall Christmas tree, decorated with brightly colored and shiny ornaments which turn out to be costumed performers.
From the comfort of their seats in the Shea's auditorium, audience members can watch high wire artists costumed as toy soldiers, tumblers and acrobats costumed as gingerbread men, reindeer who actually fly through the air, and many, many more such wonders.
Even the silvery icicles on the giant tree are actually costumed performers who twist their sparkling costumes with long, dangling silver fringes into shapes which will inspire awe.
To steer the audiences' attention from one act to the next, the cast includes three singers. One is costumed as the Ice Queen. One represents the Angel of Music. The third performs as Charles Dickens, the novelist whose stories of the famed Ebenezer Scrooge are known by virtually everyone.
The performing artists are skilled circus performers from all over the world, resulting in a performance of diverse and remarkable skills. The performances also include a number of puppets, adding an element of whimsy to the music of the singers and the skills of the circus performers.
MEET THE ICE QUEEN
I recently had the opportunity to chat by telephone with the graceful and talented young soprano who appears in ''Cirque Dreams Holidaze'' as the Ice Queen.
Anna Bergman grew up in San Francisco, and she was speaking to me from Raleigh, N.C., where the company was performing, on their way to next week's performances in Buffalo.
She told me that this is her second production, performing with the Cirque Dreams Organization. Unlike other productions by that company, ''Holidaze'' really is effective only close to Christmas, so the company is formed in November, and disbands in January.
''My character has both a good side and a bad side,'' she told me. ''Winter includes cold weather with slippery streets and increased likelihood of colds and shivering and being uncomfortable.
''On the other hand,'' she continued, ''Winter causes people to pause in their busy schedules, to think about what they're doing and what they should do, to wrap up and cuddle up and turn to family and friends for company and warmth. My character in this show has both sides to her.''
Although the soprano has only recently moved from her home in California to New York City, in pursuit of a career in her field, she has already had a wide variety of experiences.
Her performances in New York have already included performing in the restaging of ''Pippin,'' at Manhattan Center, starring Ben Vereen, and performing in ''The Secret Garden'' the musical based on the beloved children's story by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
She has made a number of recordings, and has appeared in regional productions as the title character in ''Evita,'' as the fiery Anita in ''West Side Story,'' as Rizzo, the bad girl with a good heart in ''Grease,'' and as Cassie, the diva of Michael Bennett's ''A Chorus Line,'' just to name a few.
Her tours, before this one, have included being lead vocalist in another of the Cirque Dreams productions, and performing throughout South Korea in the professional touring company of the Broadway show ''Fame.''
How does performing as the Ice Queen compare to these other, better known roles? She answers that it has been interesting and educational to interact with her fellow cast members, who are often well known in their areas of specialty, and who come from Russia, Central Europe, Great Britain, Korea, China, and virtually all areas of the world.
She said she has never yet been in Buffalo, nor in Western New York, but the cast is already making plans to make the short trip from Buffalo to Niagara Falls. ''We have most of our days free, and we all try to do as much as possible and see all the wonderful things around our country, so we can combine performing, which we love, with getting to know all the parts of our country.''
So, if you're looking to combine the magic of the holiday season with the warmth and wonder of a first rate circus, ''Cirque Dreams Holidaze'' may be just the thing for you. See it in Buffalo, next week.
Tonight at the Reg Lenna Studio Theater, Chautauqua County's own improvisation performing troupe, the Unexpected Guests, will present their annual Super Holiday Improv Comedy Special.
The performance begins at 10 p.m., and is intended for mature audiences, only. Enjoy live entertainment in a style made famous by Chicago's Second City Company and by the television series ''Whose Line Is it, Anyway?'' General admission tickets are $5, and may be purchased at the door.
The Reg Studio Theater is located on E. Third St., adjacent to the Civic Center.
Tonight at 8 p.m., hear the Fredonia Women's Choir presents its annual performance of Lessons and Carols.
The performance will take place at the First United Methodist Church, at 25 Church St., in Fredonia. The performance is free of charge, and the public is welcome to attend.
The Fredonia performance is based upon the original ''Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,'' which has been broadcast each holiday season on radio, worldwide, from Kings College Chapel, in Cambridge University (U.K.,) since 1916.
The staff of ''Baily's Beads,'' the award-winning literary magazine of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, will begin accepting submissions for publication in the 2011 issue, on Jan. 6.
Suggestions of material which could be submitted would include poetry, short stories, novel excerpts, memoirs, travel writing, personal essays, plays, and translations.
Submitted works should by typed, and should have a cover sheet with the author's name and contact information. The author's name should not appear anywhere else on the manuscript.
Poetry should be typed single-spaced. Prose should be typed double-spaced. Manuscripts should be mailed to Baily's Beads, 300 Campus Dr. Bradford, Pa. 16701.
The 2010 edition of the magazine will be unveiled at a reception at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 20. Since 2005, the magazine has been awarded numerous ratings from the Columbia University Press Association, placing it among the finest literary publications in the nation.
Speaking of Shea's Performing Arts Center, in Buffalo - which we were in the major part of today's column - they're inviting the public to a free showing of the classic film ''White Christmas,'' starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.
The showing will be tomorrow afternoon, with doors opening at 1 p.m. and the film starting to roll at 2 p.m.
Seating is open, on a first-come, first served basis. It's an opportunity for the younger members of the family to have an exciting afternoon in the beautiful theater, with first rate projection equipment and sound equipment. Maybe it could teach them that just because something came out sooner than yesterday, doesn't necessarily make it inferior.
Those of us who are a bit older might enjoy it, as well.
Others who are looking for the holiday spirit, in the Buffalo Area, might want to try O'Connell and Company.
They're presenting a production called ''The Magic of Christmas,'' this afternoon at 2:30, tomorrow at 2:30 p.m., and next Thursday through Sunday. The singing and dancing should be first rate.
Performances will be at Gleasner Hall, on the North Campus of Erie Community College. That's at 6205 Main St., in Williamsville. The entrance to the theater is on Young St., between Main and Wehrle streets.
Tickets cost $20 for the general public, $15 for senior citizens or students, and $12.50 for members of the ECC community, with I.D. For more information about the performance, or to reserve tickets, phone 848-0800.