Once upon a time, not so very long ago, January felt like a dull, dark break in the performing arts calendar, a null zone between fall and spring offerings as the echoes of holiday programming faded into memory. But within the last two decades, New York impresarios have filled that annual gap with some of the most ambitious events of any given year – ideally timed to coincide with the annual Association of Performing Arts Professionals conference, where presenters from across the country come to New York City to talk shop and shore up their own future seasons.
As a result, New York City in January is now a peak arts destination, flush with major annual showcases that evolved to take advantage of the lull among mainstream presenters. One could even argue that tent-pole productions like Under the Radar and globalFEST raised the stakes for the rest of the scene, judging by the extra-strong lineup this month at the New York Philharmonic and one-off events like Studio Rivbea Revisited at the Gene Frankel Theater.
So if you’re in the mood for aesthetic adventure in January, these events are ready to punch your ticket.
Catch wide-ranging theater from around the world
Founded in 2005 by Mark Russell, the longtime artistic director of the East Village venue then known as P.S. 122, Under the Radar brings to town adventurous theater and performance-art companies from all over the world. After two years of inactivity prompted by the pandemic, the festival returns to in-person performances this year at the Public Theater and a fistful of partner venues. Some of the hottest buzz surrounds an acclaimed Royal Court Theatre production of Jasmine Lee-Jones’s provocatively titled “seven methods of killing kylie jenner.” But in a conversation with Gothamist in November, Russell urged would-be audience members not to miss “Are we not drawn onward to new erA,” a palindromic paean to a challenged planet, and “Moby Dick,” a condensation of the Melville novel populated by puppet actors and an oversize whale. The festival runs Jan. 4–22; check out the complete schedule here.
Get your groove on with a global slate of music makers
From its relatively modest beginnings in 2003 as a one-night, three-stage celebration of musical artists and traditions spanning the entire planet, globalFEST has grown into a major force in cultural diplomacy, with a related conference, Wavelengths, focusing explicitly on the intersections of arts, culture, politics and social justice. The leadership team is now flung far and wide: Bill Bragin is the founding executive artistic director of the Arts Center at New York University Abu Dhabi, while Shanta Thake is Chief Artistic Officer at Lincoln Center. Now, together with co-founder Isabel Soffer, they’re taking over David Geffen Hall for their 20th-anniversary live event on Jan. 15, to be followed with a “Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST” video series with NPR Music. Acts this year hail from Haiti, Morocco, Spain, Algeria and points beyond; buy your tickets here.
Preview the future of opera, now
If you still think of opera as a fusty old art form mired in oversize stages populated with singers in horned helmets, you probably haven't seen an opera recently, and you definitely haven't experienced Prototype. The youngest of New York City’s cutting-edge affairs, this movable feast was established jointly by Beth Morrison Projects and downtown arts center HERE in 2013. In no time at all, the upstart fest cemented a reputation for brave, audacious operas and music theater works spanning the broadest conceivable range of subject matter: history, mystery, Grand Guignol, camp horror, the Book of Revelation and so on. This year’s hot ticket is “In Our Daughter’s Eyes,” a one-man vehicle for baritone Nathan Gunn composed by Du Yun (whose Pulitzer Prize-winning “Angel’s Bone” was a Prototype affair), but don’t overlook promising offerings by Gelsey Bell, Silvana Estrada and Emma O’Halloran. The festival runs Jan. 5–15; learn more here.
Experience NYC as the jazz capital of the world
Winter Jazzfest was born in 2005 as a one-venue celebration of emerging jazz talent, but quickly exploded into a city-spanning affair showcasing not only artists but also communities and collaboratives. The festival’s signature element is its two evening-length marathons – one in Manhattan, the other in Brooklyn – each of which provides access to multiple sets at seven venues apiece. Gender parity and social justice are championed in multiple events, including an opening-night celebration of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington’s “New Standards Songbook. And events commemorating two groundbreaking figures who passed in 2022 – impresario Meghan Stabile and trumpeter/bandleader Jaimie Branch – promise homage and catharsis. Winter Jazzfest runs Jan. 12–18 at venues all over town; plot your itinerary here.