October 11-13
Pink Martini with the San Antonio Symphony
Majestic Theater
224 East Houston
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)
One of the most encouraging developments in recent pop music has been the way cultural, rhythmic, and even language barriers have dissolved in an insatiable thirst for fresh new sounds. It is partly a product of the rise of turntablism, where you achieve distinction by unearthing the most arcane material and welding it with modern dance beats.

Pink Martini, an eclectic 10-piece band from Portland, Oregon, could be the perfect exemplar of this post-millennial, sonic wanderlust. Since forming in 1994, the group has mixed chamber music with Parisian café jazz, Cuban rumbas, and moody film-noir soundscapes, producing a heady, beat-crazy cocktail. Already a major hit in France — where the 1998 debut CD, Sympathique, has been certified "double gold" — Pink Martini has devoted its American tours to hooking up with various orchestras, and an October visit will be the first collaboration with the San Antonio Symphony. It will be a homecoming of sorts for band trombonist Robert Taylor, who played trombone for five years with the S.A. Symphony. — Gilbert Garcia

January 17, 18, 19
The Mikado
San Antonio Lyric Opera
McAllister Auditorium
San Antonio College
1300 San Pedro
In 1885 the uncontested kings of English entertainment were an unlikely duo named Gilbert and Sullivan. For decades they had owned Victorian theater, with a succession of light operas that both glorified and poked unremitting fun at their fellow Englishmen. Their finest hour, however, was yet to come, and it wouldn't be due to the cultural myopia that marked such send ups as The Pirates of Penzance. It would be in response to a fluffy little trifle set in Japan, replete with clicking fans, kimonos, and girls in rice powder and wigs. With the opening of The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan stunned and tantalized a theater-going audience that included, on opening night, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. "The whole thing," said one attendee "is like a glass of champagne."

Much of the western world's first images of far-off Japan were supplied by productions of The Mikado, which had been inspired by a Japanese village erected in London's Knightsbridge district. For all its fluff, dazzle, and outright silliness, W.S. Gilbert saw to it that the motions of the stage had a ring of truth, by securing Japanese natives to teach performers how to move, gesture, and use their folding fans.

An entirely different kind of fan keeps Gilbert and Sullivan alive today, in thousands of productions annually around the world. The comic operas remain wildly popular, and some cities devote entire festivals to Gilbert and Sullivan's works each year. After last year's season of great tragedies, our own Lyric Opera at last embraces the sheer pleasure of Gilbert and Sullivan's greatest work. Hopefully, plenty of San Antonio viewers will, too. — Retha Oliver

March 11
Voice of the Dragon
Carver Community Cultural Center
Lila Cockrell Theater
200 East Market
207-2234 (Carver)
Thirty years ago, martial arts were regarded by most Americans as the lowbrow province of Elvis Presley, young boys obsessed with Bruce Lee movies, and suburbanites who took their wisdom from David Carradine's solemn offerings on the TV series Kung Fu.

Yet martial arts are an ancient tradition too durable to be killed by the cheesiest trappings (remember the mid-'70s hit, "Kung Fu Fighting"?). And since being presented in the sleek, hip package of the hit film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it has taken on a cool, contemporary sheen to rival that of The Matrix. Capitalizing on the pop-culture momentum of Crouching Tiger is Voice of the Dragon, an adventurous historical epic that occupies a hybrid genre category all its own, best described as "martial-arts ballet."

It's a quirky synthesis that inevitably showcases the fluid grace found in martial arts and the brilliant athleticism necessary for great ballet. But the most exciting aspect of Dragon is that it promises to deliver, in a live theater setting, the kind of spinning, high-flying, hand-to-hand spectacle that most of us have only witnessed in technology enhanced celluloid action sequences.

An adventure fable narrated by a time traveling ghost, Dragon exuberantly melds music, dance, and a live-action comic-book style with the allegorical, 17th-century tale of a defiant nun named Gar Man Jang. The result is a meditation on loyalty, betrayal and reverence for tradition, all delivered with a healthy dose of flamboyance and bombast. — Gilbert Garcia

April 8-13
Defending the Caveman
Majestic Theater
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)
Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman isn't your usual stand-up. Like all great comedy, this work of art is really a brilliant, intricate monologue that builds on themes Becker introduces early, and continues to expand throughout the evening both as comic elements and thought-tickling truisms. His performance combines the storyteller's art, an actor's stage presence, and an anthropologist's earnestness.

Becker has wittily distilled all the differences between man and woman, taken their measure, and made it hilarious. The observations are so on target it hurts, but you can't stop laughing, and that hurts, too. Judging by the sore muscles the next morning on my jaws and sides, a night with the Caveman was a better workout than a morning with Jane Fonda.

Plenty of other people thought so, too. It wasn't long before Becker was plucked from the obscurity of stand-up comedy and unleashed on Broadway, where his show became legendary in 1997, when it displaced another comedic tour-de-force, Lily Tomlin's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, to become the longest-running one-person show in the history of the great white way.

Since its 1991 opening, Caveman has played to over two million people worldwide. Hit productions have been mounted in London, South Africa, and Iceland. It remains to be seen if the 3,000-seat Majestic can conjure the same magic that Becker displayed at the Improv in Dallas so long ago, but I, for one, am willing to give it another shot. — Retha Oliver

And others of note ...

with Los Lobos and the Guadalupe Dance Company
Thursday, September 26
$25, $50 preferred seating and VIP reception
Lila Cockrell Theater
200 E. Market Street
271-3151 (Guadalupe)
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)

Saturday, October 12
Watson Fine Arts Center
St. Philip's College

Sunday, October 20
Ruth Taylor Concert Hall
Trinity University
Schubert's meditations on German winter with Julianne Baird, soprano, and Andrew Willis, fortepiano
with the Trinity Choir, Chamber Singers, and University Chorus
Tuesday, November 12
$10, Trinity students free
Parker Chapel
Trinity University

Friday, November 22 through Sunday, November 24
Majestic Theater
224 East Houston
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)

Tuesday, December 17 through Sunday, December 22
224 East Houston
Majestic Theater
224-9600 (Ticketmaster)

February 19
$20, $25, $35
Laurie Auditorium
715 Stadium Drive