We might as well call this guide: eight reasons to not hate February. Yes, the shortest and coldest month is upon us, when Mother Nature gets serious about Old Man Winter, and we all get reacquainted with our sidewalks and heating bills. Distractions come in the form of Phil, Cupid, Oscar and the world’s most watched sporting event, but thankfully, there are countless ways to explore the city’s creative side (indoors!) during the long wait for Spring. From Cuban dance to a tropical forest, feed your mind and soul with our top 8 events not to miss in February. For more details, check out our events section each week.

Hothouse Happy Hours_CREDIT Denmarsh Photography, Inc_640

1. Tropical Forest Congo at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

We can think of no better antidote to the slushy gray of February than the new Tropical Forest Congo exhibition. Featuring varieties of flora never before seen at Phipps, the ambitious exhibit marks the culmination of years of research conducted by Phipps’ staff in Cameroon (check out their blog all about the trip). Step into lush landscapes to discover the breathtaking plants, animals and cultures of the central African country. Encounter specimens sourced from nurseries throughout the US as well as from seeds procured from Nigeria including sausage trees bearing fragrant red flowers and large tubular fruits and the Napolean hat plant with its passionflower-like blooms. Educational kiosks, photography displays and a regional foods marketplace will entice you to explore the rich culture of Cameroon. Head into the Special Events Hall to view a royal palatial façade from the Bamileke tribe, complete with ornate wooden columns. See ceremonial elephant masks and stones carved by local artist Richard Hower and visit a replica of a small dwelling common in a forest-dwelling Baka village.

Celebrate the unveiling of Tropical Forest Congo during a special family-friendly festival on Feb. 7 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., complete with storytelling, performances by Umoja African Arts, pot-a-plant activities, African crafts, food tastings and chat with botany experts.

Looking for a fresh twist on happy hour? On Feb. 19, from 6 to 8 p.m., head to the Hothouse Happy Hour for Young Professionals to enjoy local libations amidst the blooms. Co-hosted by the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP), the mixer will showcase the Pittsburgh-sourced spirits of Maggie’s Farm Rum. Be one of the first 150 to arrive and receive a potted plant. Register now.

Photo by Renee Rosensteel.

2. CSA Performance Series at the New Hazlett Theater

You’ve heard of Community Supported Agriculture (read: CSA) and if you’re already an acolyte, you eagerly await your latest box of locally grown foods each week. Thanks to the New Hazlett, Pittsburghers can also buy art with this same buy local spirit (read more about that here). For a reasonable $100, CSA shareholders receive six freshly created productions, presented every other month at the Northside venue. Productions include everything from dance to performance art. Shareholders also enjoy special invites, access to the CSA Artist Harvest launch, easy ticket exchanges and the rare opportunity to interact directly with artists.

Kicking off its 2015 CSA Performance Series on Feb. 12th is WaywardLand, created by the artistic duo of Jil Stifel and Ben Sota. Circus arts and contemporary dance collide in this new collaboration that blends sweeping landscapes, shifting perceptions and unexpected beauty. Working in movement, dance and performance, Stifel’s choreography and multimedia projects have been presented in the US and Japan. Artistic director of Pittsburgh’s beloved Zany Umbrella Circus, Sota studied circus in Italy and San Francisco, has produced 30-plus shows and has performed around the globe.

Next up for the CSA are Anya Martin and the Hiawatha Project on April 2 and Teena Marie Custer and Roberta Guido on June 11. Subscribe and become a shareholder today.


2. Valentine’s Day Black Tie Formal at The Brew Gentlemen

Looking for an offbeat way to spend the holiday we all love to hate? Show your love for local libations and independent entrepreneurialism at The Brew Gentlemen‘s creative twist on the black tie formal. Located in the heart of Braddock, the craft brewery and taproom—which opened in May 2014—has been drawing fans for its passion for classical brewing, culinary touches and varied beers focused on “the balanced and complex.”

If you missed their epic Hitchcock-themed Halloween bash at the Carrie Furnace, you won’t want to skip this chance to share some love vibes with the Gents on their home turf. Equal parts fancy and low-key, the Valentine’s affair kicks off at 7 p.m. For $45, brewery-goers will enjoy a super special secret beer release and all-you-can-eat apps from Innovative Mobile Catering. Providing the night’s dance-worthy sounds will be DJ Duke. Oh, and there will be a chocolate fountain.

Don’t sleep on getting tickets, which are on sale now in the brewery’s taproom, as proprietor Asa Foster says the event will “definitely sell out soon.”

Looking for more beer and Valentine’s fun? We also suggest the Crafts and Drafts Valentine’s Artist Market at East End Brewing Co. on Feb. 7.

Please note: as of February 9, the Valentine’s Day Black Tie Formal at The Brew Gentlemen is sold out.

Sumeida's Song
Sumieda’s Song. Photo by Jill Steinberg.

 4. Sumieda’s Song at The Pittsburgh Opera: February 21, 24, 27 & March 1

Gripping family drama, spiraling dance rhythms and mournful melodic writings converge for three nights at the Pittsburgh Opera. Audiences will be drawn into a timeless moving story about a peasant family living in Upper Egypt, as traditional and modern values merge in tragic ways for Alwan, his mother Asakira and his cousin Sumeida. The Pittsburgh premiere of a new production by the talented Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz, Sumeida’s Song is based on the play, Song of Death, penned by the prolific and influential Egyptian writer Tawfiq al-Hakim (1898 – 1987).

Scored for a small orchestra that features a specially-tuned keyboard, periodic tuning adjustments for instruments and the traditional Middle Eastern darabukka (a goblet-shaped drum), the moving work reflects Fairouz’s Arabic heritage, and was composed when he was just 22 years old. Born in 1985 and based in NYC, Fairouz is a significant new artistic voice and among one of the most frequently performed composers of his generation.

Starring in the production are Resident Artists Laurel Semerdjian (Asakir), Adelaide Boedecker (Mabrouka), Alex DeSocio (Alwan) and Adam Bonanni (Sumeida). Go behind-the-scenes at one of the opera’s public programs, including Brown Bag Concerts, Opera Up Close discussions, Cultural Touchstones displays and Meet the Artist events. Purchase tickets.

Bricolage 2007. Photo © www.jasoncohn.com
Bricolage Urban Scrawl 2007. Photo © www.jasoncohn.com

5. Bricolage Urban Scrawl turns 10: February 27 & 28

You’ve got two nights to hop aboard the B.U.S. to one of Pittsburgh’s most eclectic fundraisers. A creative cocktail of guerrilla theater, friendly kidnapping and battle of the wits, Bricolage Production Company‘s signature benefit puts theatre-making in the spotlight.

How’s it work? Inspired by a 90-minute city bus ride, participants have 24 hours to write, cast and direct a brand new 10-minute play. If you think this sounds like a pilot for an Off-Off-Broadway reality show, you’ve got to see the results for yourself. Take a seat on the B.U.S. and watch as the stories unfold during this exhilarating one-of-a-kind fundraiser.

Turning 10 years young, this year’s wacky edition features 40-plus local artists collectively pushing the envelope to support the company’s ambitious 2015 season. Pairing distinguished theater veterans with stage newbies, the lineup features gifted B.U.S. riders Vanessa German, Melissa Martin, Mark Clayton Southers and many more.

To take in all of the action, purchase a “Double Decker” ticket, making you a VIP fly on the wall with a behind-the-scenes view as the plays are being created. Hop on board for the main event on Feb. 28, complete with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a debut of the plays at the New Hazlett. Watch this promo video for a sneak peek. Purchase your B.U.S. fare now.

Mantra Percussion. Photo by Ian Douglas.

6. Beyond Microtonal Music Festival at The Andy Warhol Museum & Pitt Music Building: February 27 – March 1

Seeking some fresh unexpected sounds for the New Year? Fans of avant-garde and contemporary music should not miss the Beyond Microtonality Festival, which showcases and celebrates artists who use alternate tunings and pitches that exist beyond Western music’s 12-tone equal-tempered system. The first-of-its-kind Pittsburgh festival features composers and performers hailing from Slovenia, Los Angeles, NYC and right here in town.

Guitarists Mak Grgić and Daniel Lippel kick off the event with a performance of the 1985 piece, Subconscious Wave, by Romanian-French composer Horațiu Rădulescu. Also featured will be Michael Harrison, who will perform his hour-long work, Revelation, for re-tuned piano. On Feb. 28, the festival welcomes Flux Quartet, who will perform String Quartet #2 and other works by the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi. Next, Mantra Percussion will perform Timbre, by American composer Michael Gordon, who is co-founder of Bang on a Can. Gordon’s epic hour-long piece is composed for six 2 x 4 pieces of wood and a light installation.

The festival culminates on March 1 with a symposium about microtonal music and hybrid tuning systems led by NewMusicBox editor Frank Oteri and Robert Hasegawa of McGill University. Following the discussion, Ray-Kallay Duo will perform Enno Pope’s Rad and new works by Oteri, Eric Moe and Kyle Gann. Flux Quartet and Mantra Percussion will then premiere a new work by Mathew Rosenblum, while Alia Musica will perform Nach-Ruf…entgleitend by Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas. Purchase tickets & passes.

Malpaso Dance Company

7. Malpaso Dance Company at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater: February 27 & 28

The buzz about Cuba has been growing since President Obama’s recent decision to normalize diplomatic relations with and ease sanctions imposed on the country—followed by a new bill that proposes to lift all travel restrictions for Americans wanting to visit Cuba as tourists. If you’re like us, you’ve been thinking about travel plans ever since the announcement in January that Allegheny County Airport Authority officials are in discussions with a Florida-based company to start nonstop charter flights to Cuba.

A rich cultural exchange with Cuba is reflected in exciting new programming hosted by the Kelly Strayhorn. Pittsburghers will be among the first to see two world premieres performed by Havana’s own Malpaso Dance Company, making their Pittsburgh debut. The acclaimed troupe will present of Despedida (Farewell), a work choreographed by Malpaso co-founder Osnel Delgado that features an original score by Grammy-award winning musician Arturo O’Farrill. The second work featured was created by the prolific American choreographer Trey McIntyre and commissioned by NYC’s Joyce Theater and Jacob’s Pillow.

The collaboration with Malpaso also includes pre-show mixers, post-show discussions, master class and student matinees. Purchase tickets.

Craving more Cuban culture in your life? Catch the three-time Grammy-nominated Miami-based ensemble Tiempo Libre at The Byham Theater on February 18.


8. Ira Glass & Monica Bill Barnes Company at The Byham Theater: February 28

Ira Glass recently lit up social media feeds with his poignant “1-Minute Will Change Your Life” video and now the renowned public radio personality is teaming up with the Monica Bill Barnes Company for a US tour of select cities. Yes, that’s right, the beloved host of This American Life is sharing the stage with dancers. Working together to combine two art forms that, as Glass himself has said, “have no business being together–dance and radio,” the heartwarming show debuted in 2013 at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall.

Dubbed “Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host,” the refreshing, witty and endearing production makes for for one very special night of movement and storytelling. Via radio interviews restaged as dance pieces, along with stories from the lives of each of the three performers—Glass, Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass—the show explores the job of being a performer, falling and staying in love and the concept of forever. A marriage of storytelling with and without words, the work has spawned a new kind of art form for the collaborators. See how it all comes together at the end of the month.

Purchase tickets.

Looking for family activities? Check out our Top 10 Family Adventures this February in Pittsburgh feature.

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.