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Friday 1/12 - Thursday 1/18

JANUARY

By Cara Jepsen

12 FRIDAY After 17 years at the Mongol court of Kublai Khan, 13th-century explorer Marco Polo, along with his father and uncle, decided to return to Venice. On the way they escorted a Mongol princess to Iran, where she was to wed a Persian prince. Their entourage--600 people in 14 ships--also stopped in Sumatra and Turkey (where they were robbed); the Polos finally returned to Italy in 1295, after which Marco wrote his Description of the World, now better known as The Adventures of Marco Polo. Those tales provide the foundation for the new Newberry Consort piece East Meets West: The Marco Polo Show, which features Chinese erhu and pipa players Betty Xiang and Wei Yang. They'll join consort regulars David Douglass and Drew Minter for the performance of medieval music, which will also include readings from the period. There's a preconcert lecture at 7 and the performance starts at 8 at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton. Tickets are $24 to $37, with discounts for students and seniors. Call 312-255-3700.

13 SATURDAY Local songwriter Frank Polancic spent five years and thousands of dollars attending scores of seminars, showcases, and networking events in Nashville, New York, and Los Angeles, where he "heard professionals talk about why some people get ahead and why some people spend their whole lives in small nightclubs." But it wasn't until he attended a seminar with Jai Josefs, author of Writing Music for Hit Songs, that he realized no one else was delivering the nuts and bolts of how to write good pop songs. Polancic, who heads a group called Musicians Empowering Musicians, is bringing Josefs to town for Secrets of Songwriting Success, his first Chicago workshop. It's today from 9:30 to 5 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, and costs $45. To register call 773-935-3856.

Former presidential candidates Ralph Nader and John Anderson have both argued that instant runoff voting would eliminate the "spoiler factor" of third-party candidates and save taxpayers money. With IRV, voters rank all candidates in order of preference. If no candidate wins a 50 percent majority, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and votes for that person are redistributed to the voters' second choice. This process would continue until someone got a majority of the vote. Anderson and other advocates will speak at a free conference on instant runoff voting today from 10 to 5 in the Cardinal Room at UIC's Circle Center, 750 S. Halsted. Call 312-587-7060.

Two-term Illinois governor Otto Kerner did a lot of good in areas such as mental health and higher education, and achieved notoriety as the author of the Kerner Commission report on urban race relations, but his name is most often associated with his later conviction on federal charges of bribery, perjury, mail fraud, and tax evasion for his dealings in the stock of an Illinois racetrack. In their new biography, Kerner: The Conflict of Intangible Rights, Tribune business writer Bill Barnhart and former state representative Gene Schlickman argue that Kerner wasn't crooked so much as he was the victim of overzealous feds determined to root out corruption in Illinois. They'll discuss Kerner's legacy (and Barnhart may even give a few stock tips) at today's Friends of Literature luncheon at 1 in the Wedgwood Room at Marshall Field's, 111 N. State. Tickets are $30; call 773-271-4628.

14 SUNDAY Vaslav Nijinsky's original choreography for Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring calls for a young virgin to dance in front of a group of people portraying "ancient old men clad in bear skins" before she is sacrificed. In Katarzyna Kozyra's four-and-a-half-minute stop-action video version, the ancients themselves perform the dance. Shot from above, the dancers are real live naked old folks (rather than youngsters in makeup) whose images are projected onto nine screens that form a circle around the viewer. The opening reception for the exhibit, which runs through February 25, is today from 4 to 7 at the University of Chicago's Renaissance Society, 5811 S. Ellis. Kozyra will lecture from 5 to 6. It's free; call 773-702-8670.

15 MONDAY Presidents who fill their cabinets with a rainbow coalition of leaders miss the point of Martin Luther King Jr.'s message that "by freeing black people we free America itself," according to Harvard law professor Lani Guinier. The onetime Clinton Justice Department nominee says, "We need to shift from a strategy of repopulating hierarchies to bring in more women and people of color to transforming hierarchies to the benefit of everyone." Guinier, author of Lift Every Voice: Turning a Civil Rights Setback Into a New Vision of Social Justice (and the first black woman to be named a tenured professor at Harvard Law School), will mark Martin Luther King Day with a free lecture today at noon at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, 5850 S. Woodlawn, as part of a celebration that includes dance, drama, and musical performances. Call 773-834-4672 for more information.

16 TUESDAY "Bryan Katon, the boy that I like, tells me that he doesn't like black girls and I think, with this big whoosh that turns my stomach upside down and almost knocks me over, is that what I am, a black girl? And that's when the trouble starts, because suddenly I don't know what I am and I don't know how to be not what he thinks I am. I don't know how to be a not black girl." So writes Rebecca Walker in her memoir, Black, White, and Jewish: Autobiography of a Shifting Self. Walker, the daughter of author Alice Walker and lawyer Mel Leventhal and founder of the activist, feminist Third Wave Foundation, will discuss her struggles with racial and cultural identity tonight at 7:30 at Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 N. Clark. It's free; call 773-769-9299.

17 WEDNESDAY Prolific London producer and DJ Phil Asher, aka Electric Soul, Basic Soul, Phoojun, and Woolph, began his career in 1991 by slipping on a record while the house DJ at the London club Delirium! went to the toilet. These days he's a key player in the city's broken-beat underground scene as well as a founder of the Restless Soul Production Team. He makes his first appearance in Chicago, the home of house, tonight from 9 to 2 at the Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand. He'll be joined by Anthony Nicholson. Cover is $10; you must be 21. Call 312-666-1695.

Lawyer and human rights activist Randall Robinson calls for reparations for 246 years of slavery in his book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, although he doesn't expect them to ever be paid. "Even the making of a well-reasoned case for restitution will do wonders for the spirit of African-Americans," he writes. "For first, it will cause them at long last to understand the genesis of their dilemma by gathering, as have all other groups, all of their history--before, during and after slavery--into one story of themselves." Robinson, currently president of the TransAfrica Forum, a private, nonprofit foundation and foreign policy think tank, will discuss his book tonight from 6 to 8 at Carter Temple, 7841 S. Wabash. It's free; call 773-445-0322.

18 THURSDAY "These poems tell two sides of a story and are meant to be read in sequence," say the instructions at the beginning of Thomas and Beulah, Rita Dove's Pulitzer-winning series of 44 poems about her grandparents, who lived through the Depression and the civil rights movement in Akron, Ohio. Those poems form the basis for Amnon Wolman's new song cycle of the same name, which will be staged this weekend in the round at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The piece combines Wolman's electronic score with live music by pianist Ursula Oppens and soprano Cynthia Haymon and recorded vocals by Dove. It premieres tonight at 8--with additional performances Saturday and Sunday at 4--at the MCA Theater, 220 E. Chicago. Tickets are $20 and seating is limited; call 312-397-4010.

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