11 for 2011: arts, entertainment high notes for a new year

Balky economy aside, a new year dawns with promising programming and developments in store on Atlanta's cultural scene. Here are 11 big items worth checking out (in no particular order):

1. Time marches on, but rarely with the grace and soulfulness of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the classic creation "Revelations" when it makes its annual stop at the Fox Theatre on Feb. 10-13.

As the New York-based modern dance company glances back -- it will also revive “Three Black Kings,” set to Duke Ellington’s last major score, with its third and final part a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. -- it also will be looking forward, too. Robert Battle, who will take over the troupe on July 1, will appear in an opening-night ceremony along with Judith Jamison, who's stepping down as artistic director after a storied 21-year run. (1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com, www.alvinailey.org/atlanta)

2. It takes a lot more than pixie dust to make the most technologically advanced version yet of "Peter Pan" fly. The creation of Threesixty Entertainment, a London-based theatrical production company, this thoroughly modern "Pan" will open Jan. 21 under a 1,300-seat tent downtown at Pemberton Place (between the World of Coca-Cola and the Georgia Aquarium).

Making its third American stop in Atlanta, the show is part live theater, part movie. The tent's 100-foot-tall walls serve as the screen for 360-degree projected video showing a virtual version of circa 1904 London and beyond. The projections envelope an in-the-round production featuring actors, puppets, music and flying sequences. The run is through April 10. (1-888-772-6849, www.peterpantheshow.com)

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3. The High Museum of Art's ongoing partnership with New York's Museum of Modern Art will yield its biggest plum with "Picasso to Warhol: Twelve Modern Masters," opening Oct. 15.

A trove of works rarely shown in the South, the show focuses on a dozen of the 20th century's most important art-makers: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Constantin Brancusi, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Leger, Marcel Duchamp, Giorgio De Chirico, Joan Miro, Alexander Calder, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Mini galleries will juxtapose early work with mature pieces by each artist. Through April 29. (404-733-4444, www.high.org)

4. Fernbank Museum of Natural History recently announced the name of its permanent children's exhibit debuting in the spring: NatureQuest. It suggests the the kind of experience planners expect the $8 million exhibit to deliver: encouraging kids to make many discoveries about nature amid the 6,700-square-foot space with more than 100 hands-on activities.

Explorers will be able to shimmy up spiraling netting inside a mighty red oak, walk through a virtual waterfall and investigate an ancient cave. The exhibit will have almost no text, and no set path to follow. The idea, said Christine Bean, Fernbank's vice president of education, is to "give kids the idea that you are a scientist and you can be a scientist through your whole life." (404-929-6300, www.fernbankmuseum.org)

5. "They'd better eat their Wheaties!" Spivey Hall executive and artistic director Sam Dixon wrote on his blog last November, when the Jupiter String Quartet began a three-season residency with the Clayton State University concert hall in Morrow.

That's because the Boston-based group, in addition to performing and giving master classes at Spivey Hall, will be working intensively with student musicians at three Southside high schools: Lovejoy in Hampton, Union Grove in McDonough and Whitewater in Fayetteville. This educational outreach program, dubbed "Project Jupiter," celebrates Spivey's 20th anniversary.

The quartet returns with a master class (open to the public) at 7:30 p.m. March 10 and a concert at 8:15 p.m. March 12 (pre-concert talk at 7:15 p.m.). (678-466-4200, www.spiveyhall.org)

6. Closed since March 2009, the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens reopens Jan. 31 after a $20 million expansion and renovation that has added 16,000 square feet of gallery space, a sculpture garden and expanded lobby and storage room.

The reopening week is being billed as "Art Expands," and indeed there are five major new shows to court visitors, including "The American Scene on Paper: Prints and Drawings from the Schoen Collection," 153 works centering around topics such as the American farm laborer's plight and the growth of the urban environment; and "Tradition Redefined: The Larry and Brenda Thompson Collection of African American Art." Outdoors, in the Jane and Harry Willson Sculpture Garden, a space dedicated to female sculptors, will be "Horizons," 12 life-size cast iron figures by Icelandic artist Steinunn Porarinsdottir. (706-542-4662, www.uga.edu/gamuseum)

7. "Gone With the Wind" has never gone from Atlanta, where the 75th anniversary of Margaret Mitchell's best-selling novel of Civil War struggle and survival will be celebrated this year.

The Atlanta History Center kicks off a series of programs on Feb. 16 at the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown with a talk by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr., authors of "Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood." On June 9-12, there will be GWTW events across the metro area, including at the Mitchell House, Georgian Terrace Hotel, Road to Tara Museum, Atlanta-Fulton Public libraries, Gone With the Wind Museum: Scarlett on the Square and Oakland Cemetery. That leads to the June 30 premiere of Georgia Public Broadcasting's documentary "Margaret Mitchell." (404-814-4000, www.margaretmitchellhouse.com)

8. In December, Marietta artist Gyun Hur noted on her blog that she was heading to North Georgia to hunt up silk flowers. Small surprise that the Korea-born artist, whose installation of chopped silk blooms at Duluth's Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for the Arts won her the $50,000 Hudgens Prize earlier that month, needs more raw material.

The 27-year-old artist plans two major metro installations this year, one commissioned by the Atlanta nonprofit Flux Projects at Lenox Square in March and another at the Hudgens Center (part of her prize) in December. Hur finds deep meaning and emotion in recycled cemetery flowers. In her prize-winning Hudgens installation, "She Prays Happiness" (on view through Feb. 19), rows of the shredded flowers line the gallery floor, evoking her mother's Korean wedding quilt. Among the many  talented emerging artists in Atlanta, she's one to watch. (www.thehudgens.org, www.fluxprojects.org)

9. For Atlantans into animal attractions, this could be your year. Zoo Atlanta's panda cub should make his public debut in late March, and the Georgia Aquarium's delayed-from-2010 dolphin exhibit will open in the spring. (404-624-9453, www.zooatlanta.org)

The $110 million dolphin exhibit was slated to open in last November, but was postponed when some of the animals arrived later than expected due to permitting, slowing acclimation and training. They will perform in an enclosed theater with full production elements. The expansion on the west side of the aquarium holds 2 million gallons of water. (404-581-4000, www.georgiaaquarium.org)

Arriving via stork on Nov. 3, Zoo Atlanta's yet-to-be-named giant panda cub was the only baby panda born in the U.S. in 2010. (404-624-9453, www.zooatlanta.org)

10. It's been called the War Between the States, the War Against the States, the War Against Northern Aggression, the Second American Revolution, the Lost Cause and the Late Unpleasantness. By any name, 2011 is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

There will be observances across Atlanta and Georgia. Among the first is a ranger-led tour on Jan. 15 at Pickett's Mill Battlefield in Dallas following Union General William B. Hazen's approach route to that war ground. On Jan. 25, the Georgia Center for the Book will present a program with Barry L. Brown and Gordon R. Elwell, authors of "Crossroads of Conflict: A Guide to Civil War Sites in Georgia." And the Atlanta History Center's permanent exhibit "Turning Point: The American Civil War," one of the nation's most complete Civil War assemblages, should attract many Georgians interested in the sesquicentennial. (www.gacivilwar.org)

11. P.T. Barnum, who famously hawked his circus as "the Greatest Show on Earth," once philosophized, "Every crowd has a silver lining."

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will celebrate the 200th anniversary of P.T. Barnum's birth when it brings "Barnum's FUNundrum" to town in February, and true to Barnum's spirit, it's making a play for two separate Atlanta crowds. After performing Feb. 17-21 at Philips Arena downtown, Ringling for the first time will take its big show directly to the Gwinnett Arena on Feb. 24-27. The company used to send a smaller tour to Gwinnett every other year, but obviously saw an opening after Big Apple Circus decided not to visit Stone Mountain Park this year.

"Barnum's FUNundrum" will feature 130 performers from six continents led by Johnathan Lee Iverson, Ringling's first African-American ringmaster. It includes performances by trapeze artists the Flying Caceres; Mighty Meetal, billed as "the strongest man in the world"; the Barnum Bouncers, a Chinese trampoline troupe; and a heapin' helpin' of pachyderms. (www.ringling.com)

(404-733-4444, www.high.org)

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