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’Tis the Season

A music and dance round-up from Nutcracker to Lúnasa

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This weekend, Tucson Regional Ballet's dancers will prance to Tchaikovsky's beloved "Nutcracker," played live by Tucson Symphony Orchestra. And the modern dancers of Artifact Dance Project will do jazzy moves to the live fusion music of local band Reverie.

In the pure music category, the TSO musicians and chorus will perform portions of Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and Handel's "Messiah." The Irish traditional band Lúnasa and guest singer Karan Casey will deliver Irish Christmas music and other tunes. (See listings for even more live music concerts.)

Here's a road map to four concerts offering seasonal delights:

For the 21st year, Tucson Regional Ballet stages "A Southwest Nutcracker," a charming re-imagining version of the classic 1892 ballet. The familiar European story is transported to 1880s Tucson, where the Sugar Plum Fairy becomes the Prickly Pear Fairy, the mice metamorphose into coyotes, and the proper Victorian family becomes Mexican-American hacenderos.

"We have 83 dancers performing, and TSO fills the pit with 35 to 40 musicians," the company's Linda Walker said. "We love having the symphony. They're so wonderful."

Christina Berryman and Madison Little share the part of Maria (the Latina stand-in for Clara). As the Prickly Pear Fairy for the second year running, Elizabeth Reckart is partnered by the talented Max Foster, one of four UA dance students stepping in as guest artists.

"A Southwest Nutcracker" is at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, at TCC Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. Tickets $29 to $35, plus group discounts. Available at 886-1222; www.tucsonregionalballet.org; TCC box office; www.ticketmaster.com, 1-800-745-3000.

Saturday night, the mood turns modern at the downtown warehouse studio of Artifact Dance Project. Reverie, which has five times partnered with Artifact, performs with Heather Hardy in a concert called "Down in Town." On five of the numbers, a quintet of Artifact dancers perform jazzy new choreography composed by company co-artistic directors Ashley Bowman and Claire Hancock.

"Reverie does a fusion of soul, rock and soul," Bowman said. "It's all original–it's their music."

Doors open for "Down in Town" at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, concert begins at 7, at 17 E. Toole Ave. $15. Tickets at downintown.brownpapertickets.com

While some TSO instrumentalists play Tchaikovsky's sugarplum music, other members of the orchestra will be busy with other old masters. Along with the TSO Chorus, the symphony will perform Bach's "Cantata No. 1" from his "Christmas Oratorio and excerpts from Handel's "Messiah," another Christmastime favorite best known for its glorious "Hallelujah Chorus."

Mezzo-soprano Korby Myrick, one of four soloists, has an Artifact connection. She'll sing in the dance company's major concert "Artist's Proof" at Stevie Eller in January. And Handel's "Messiah" has a link to the Irish fun coming on Sunday evening: the oratorio debuted in Dublin in 1742.

The TSO Christmas choral concert is at 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive. Tickets $43 to $53, available at TSO box office, 2175 N. Sixth Ave., by phone at 882-8585, or on-line at www.tucsonsymphony.org.

Lúnasa, a five-member Irish band, plays a one-night Christmas show. The critically acclaimed all-instrumental ensemble–fiddle, uilleann pipes, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin and whistle – normally performs without a singer. This time around, the band enlisted Karan Casey on vocals. A lovely singer who co-founded the super group Solas, she dazzled Tucson in 2013, in concert with John Doyle.

"Lúnasa is pretty traditional," she said by phone last week from Baltimore, one stop on a three-week U.S. tour, speaking in the lilting accent of her native Cork. "The lads will do a few sets and we'll do a few carols. I don't want to give them all away but we'll do The Wexford Carol,' which is really old."

There'll be no Irish dancing to go with the music ("I have two left feet,'" Casey said) but she does promise to sing "Silent Night"–or "Oíche Chiúin"--in Irish.

Lúnasa and Karan Casey concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Boulevard. Tickets $27 regular, $24 seniors and students, at www.inconcerttucson.com, at Antigone Books and at the Folk Shop. 981-1475.

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