Sole Survivors The last lingering doubts about middle-aged dancers having what it takes to perform were laid to rest in Berkeley last spring, when 50-year-old Mikhail Baryshnikov danced a solo that amplified his powerful heartbeat with a monitor attached to his well-muscled torso. The same was true of Netherlands Dance Theater III, which danced here with style and verve, and of The Hard Nut, in which Mark Morris delighted viewers as both a well-oiled party guest and a flirtatious belly dancer in the Arabian variation of his holiday show. After taking in a performance of the local New Shoes, Old Souls Dance Company, Morris helped its members create Morris Dances, a contemporary work set to music by Gustav Holst. Morris won't actually be dancing this one, but his streamlined musical work should look good on the performers who will -- a collection of former pros over 40. Carlos Carvajal, Priscilla Regalado, Cecilia Marta, and Michael Smuin also contribute world premieres to the program, which begins at 8 p.m. (and continues through Jan. 23) at the Cowell Theater, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission $20-25; call 441-3687.
Extraterrestrial Affairs Aliens and paranormal activity play larger-than-usual roles in people's love lives in A Common Vision, Neena Beber's millennial comic romance. Try to follow along as Dolores (Anne Darragh) seeks therapy to overcome a painful breakup, only to have her therapist, Eliott (Warren D. Keith), insist she was actually traumatized by an ET encounter. While Eliott's ex-wife is questioning his sanity, a pair of bodyguards come forward to claim "Dolores sightings," which they contend wreaked havoc on their love lives. In the midst of it all, Dolores' neighbor Mona (Amy Resnick) feeds her own primal urges with catalog shopping and tabloids. Beber, the author of Thirst, has rounded up a well-credentialed cast for her imagined collision between Y2K and Cupid, including Keith (Fargo) and Darragh, last seen in the Magic productions Speaking in Tongues and The Baltimore Waltz. The show previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Feb. 14) at the Magic Theater, Building D, Fort Mason, Marina & Buchanan, S.F. Admission is $18-32; call 441-8822.
Destiny! Destiny! No matter how carefully you've crafted your adult persona, you can't completely escape your childhood, particularly if you have children of your own (a friend of mine said she recently found herself speaking to her infant daughter, quite without meaning to, in the half-forgotten language of her immigrant parents). Such is the dramatic crux on which Heart of the World turns. Loosely based on the interfaith marriage of creators Albert Greenberg and Helen Stoltzfus (with co-creator Martha Boesing), this is a story about a Christian woman and a Jewish man who fall in love, marry, and live happily with their religious and cultural differences -- until they decide to have kids. Once they begin revisiting their respective pasts, the play weaves discussions of child-rearing into questions about how and why ancestry matters, and which parts of one's cultural heritage should be salvaged. The show previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through Feb. 7) at a Traveling Jewish Theater, 470 Florida (at 17th Street), S.F. Admission is $20-25; call 399-1809.
Mentor Illness Ever since playwright Donald Margulies questioned concepts of plagiarism and artistic license in his Pulitzer Prize-nominated drama Collected Stories, some viewers must have wondered where he got the idea. Intellectual property is a hot commodity, after all; in this case, it's the subject of a heated debate between a young writer and her mentor, whose ideas are separated by a yawning generation gap. Stage and film actress Cristine McMurdo-Wallis (Hanna in ACT's production of Angels in America) plays Ruth Steiner, a Greenwich Village-based college professor and acclaimed short story writer whose career began in the '50s when, like many fellow Midwesterners, she migrated to New York and plunged into the literary and feminist movements. All hell breaks loose when Steiner's talented assistant turns a story from Steiner's past into the subject of her first novel. Jennifer Tighe (ER guest star) is protege Lisa Morrison in the show, which previews at 8 p.m. (and runs through March 5) at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, 2025 Addison (at Shattuck), Berkeley. Admission is $29.50-45; call (510) 845-4700.
NovelTV It's not as alarming as divvying up a cow and exhibiting its innards, as was recently done, but slicing a 35-foot petroleum tanker truck into 10 pieces and transforming each section into a TV lounge is still unusual enough to give one pause. After sucking up the tanker's residual contents with a chemical pump, the New York-based industrial design team LOT/EK, pronounced "low-tech" (also known as Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano), carved it open with regular power tools and a plasma cutter for tough spots. Then they reinforced it, lined the sections with rubber tubing, and outfitted each with a TV set, ultimately creating the interactive and very functional art installation "TV-TANK." To get at the obvious question -- why? -- head down to the exhibit's opening night party, which begins at 7:30 p.m. with Tolla & Lignano's public lecture "Urban Scan A-Z," followed by a reception in the Tecoah and Thomas Bruce Galleries at the California College of Arts and Crafts, 450 Irwin (at 16th Street), S.F. Admission is free; call (510) 594-3650.
Fit for Kings On Jan. 6, Mexico celebrated Dia de los Santos Reyes (or Day of Kings) with festivities and the exchange of gifts, commemorating the three Wise Men's fabled offerings of frankincense and myrrh. Here in the north, the party continues with the 12th annual Dia de los Reyes Celebration, a concert series honoring the Nativity with choral works and African chants performed by Coro Hispano and Conjunto Nuevo Mundo. Program highlights include a performance of the 17th-century Mexican composer Juan Gutierrez de Padilla's nine-part villancico cycle, performed publicly for the first time in over 300 years. Folkloric elements, dance rhythms, and Spanish slang make their way into the form, which was specifically used for liturgical feast days. Accompanied by harpsichord, strings, cornet, and percussion, the singers also offer new villancico arrangements from Cuba and Venezuela, Peruvian pastorelas sung in Latin, and African-based works honoring an American King: Martin Luther. The concert begins at 8 p.m. at St. Joseph the Worker Church, 1640 Addison, Berkeley, and on Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Mission Dolores Basilica, Dolores & 16th streets, S.F. Admission is free-$12 for both shows; call 431-4234.
The Queen & I Broadway took a beating with the tongue-twisting operetta selection "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Homosexual" and a rousing chorus of the utterly tasteless ditty "How Do You Solve Your Problem Gonorrhea?" but by the time Dirty Little Showtunes! was over, most viewers were too helplessly giggly to really protest. With that repeatedly extended show, performer/lyricist Tom Orr put a gay spin on musical warhorses and Julie Andrews' mostly snow-white reputation, and now he's doing it again with Sweet Parody! This time, though, Orr sticks it to bad performance art, spoofing gratuitous nudity, interpretive dance, confessional poetry, and other unpleasantries (for additional points of reference, see Matt Groening's cartoon about Annoying Performance Artist Magazine). Accompanied by pianist Birdie-Bob Watt, Orr will be joined by a different set of guests each week (including Showtunes! alumni), beginning opening night with cabaret artists Connie Champagne and Trauma Flintstone doing "Orr-iginal" material. The show opens at 8 p.m. (and runs through Feb. 1) at Venue 9, 252 Ninth St. (at Folsom), S.F. Admission is $10-12 (proceeds will be donated to local charities); call 289-2000.
Come Into Her House She isn't even 30 yet, but Queen Latifah has seen enough ups and downs in her short career to make the title of her memoir, Ladies First: Revelations From a Strong Woman, seem like an understatement. The New Jersey native regally announced herself with All Hail the Queen, a landmark hip-hop album with heavy club rotation and backup by De La Soul, only to be dropped an album later by her label Tommy Boy due to disappointing sales, then be signed by Motown, where she went gold with Black Reign. She started her own management/record company, Flavor Unit, having learned from that experience the value of a second career, then embarked on her third, starring as an urban career woman in the sitcom Living Single. She broke into movies as the lesbian bank robber Cleo in Set It Off, a performance so inspiring that a group of women from Olympia modeled their own bank robbery on the film, a copy of which officers found in a suspect's home. And that brings us to her latest film, Living Out Loud, which saw a short run despite Latifah's own critically acclaimed turn. Latifah will sign copies of her book beginning at noon at the Alexander Book Company, 50 Second St. (at Market), S.F. Admission is free; call 495-2992.
Schuur as the Sun Will Shine Like the shy singer Jane Horrocks plays in Little Voice -- the one with a jaw-dropping ability to imitate the voices of famous divas -- jazz singer Diane Schuur has said she used to isolate herself in her room to avoid the other kids, who teased her for singing like an adult. Once her mother dragged her out and made her practice with a microphone to jazz recordings, though, there was no turning back for the vocalist, whose phrasing critics have favorably compared to that of her idols, Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington. (Audiences look forward to Schuur's rendition of Washington's "What a Difference a Day Makes.") Blind since birth, the former Seattle-ite -- nicknamed "Deedles" -- graduated from a state school for the blind and went on to build a repertoire of originals and jazz classics, which she's performed with the Count Basie Orchestra and at White House engagements. A pre-CD release party for her first record on Atlantic begins at 8 p.m. (additional performances through Jan. 24) at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Jack London Square, Oakland. Admission is $5-22; call (510) 238-9200.