A trio of international artists explore the idea of performance beyond the usual definition of live artists presenting to an audience in "Jérôme Bel, Wu Tsang, and Haegue Yang. Double Life" which has an opening reception on Friday. The works blur the differences between performing and visual arts, documentary and fiction.
Based in Paris, choreographer Jérôme Bel contributes two works, the 2004 video Veronique Doisneau and 2009's Cédric Andrieux. In both, Bel invited dancers onstage to discuss their life experiences through movement and dialogue. (By becoming both the subject of the work and an active par-ticipant in its presentation, each dancer becomes more than just a physical body translating movement.)
Wu Tsang contributes For how we perceived a life (Take 3), a 16mm film loop capturing images of the artist and other performers lip-syncing to segments from Paris Is Burning, the legendary documentary by Jennie Livingston. Presented out of context, the statements made in Paris take on new meanings. Tsang also premieres his newly completed commission, Miss Communication and Mr:Re, a two-channel video installation showing several encounters between the artist and poet and critical theorist Fred Moten.
Haegue Yang's Mountains of Encounter is an installation of bright red suspended Venetian blinds. Illuminated by moving spotlights, Mountains references a series of secret meetings between Helen Foster Snow, an American journalist, and Jang Jirak, a Korean national, in China during the 1930s. Snow eventually wrote a book, Song of Ariran, based on those encounters that records the complex, often troubled history between Korea, Japan and China. Yang's work is filled with angles and peaks that echo both the mountain region where the two met and the searchlights and bars of the prisons, the probable punishment for their activities.
Related special events include "In Conversation: Haegue Yang and Dean Daderko" on December 13 and a performance by dancer Cédric Andrieux January 30 and 31. There's an opening reception at 6:30 to 9 p.m. December 12 with a gallery tour led by curator Dean Daderko. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Through March 13. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, 5216 Montrose. For information, call 713‑284‑8250 or visit camh.org. Free.
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For those of us looking for a holiday show that's a little unorthodox, Horse Head Theatre Company gives us Abby Koenig's one-woman comedy The Jew Who Loves Christmas. It's a one-night-only performance on Saturday. Originally performed in December 2013, Koenig's one-night-only, 30-minute show is a look at her Jewish family's tradition of celebrating Christmas every year. "My whole family is crazy," says Koenig, "but once a year for the holidays, we come together and are normal."
Koenig's show isn't the usual send-up of ethnic characters that the title may suggest. Underlying the comedy, the piece reflects a darker reality that Koenig felt compelled to address onstage. "Big events happen to my family around the holidays that have impact on all of us," says Koenig. "Most notably, five years ago my sister passed away suddenly at Christmastime and I wanted to write about it, but I didn't know how to tie it all together until this show."
The result is a darkly comedic multimedia performance that alternates between hilarious and unfunny. Koenig uses her own family tragedy to discuss issues that anyone, Jewish or not, can understand. "The Jew Who Loves Christmas uses comedy to deal with deeper issues around how the holidays have this sugar coated sadness to them," says Koenig. "I hope that anyone who feels the holidays are a magical but difficult time will relate to my show and know that they aren't the only ones who feel that way."
See Horse Head Theatre Company's Holiday Huzzah The Jew Who Loves Christmas at 8 p.m. Obsidian Art Space, 3522 White Oak Drive. For information, visit horseheadtheatre.org. $25 to 45.
It's a dirty, grimy Industrial Age London that we'll see in Classical Theatre's new adaptation of A Christmas Carol, one of our choices for Saturday. The group's executive artistic director, John Johnston, who along with company member Matthew Keenan wrote the script, tells us they wanted to return Christmas Carol to Charles Dickens's original rich language and dark tones. "More and more [contemporary] productions [are] about appealing to younger audiences through spectacle," Johnston tells us. "Glitter and stage fog had replaced the language Dickens had so carefully written."
Here, Christmas Carol begins with the rather startling line "Marley was dead." (It's Marley who, having been Ebenezer Scrooge's former and equally mean-spirited business partner, first appears in ghost form to warn Scrooge to change his miserly ways or face damnation.) "To me, having an adaptation that doesn't use 'Marley was dead...' is like having a stage play of Moby Dick and not opening with 'Call me Ishmael.' If that single fact is not plainly understood, the fantastic nature of this story is diminished. And this story is, without question, fantastic." Johnston tells us the line, which he considers crucial, presents some narrative problems and so over the years has been dropped.
The full title of Dickens's novella is A Christmas Carol in Prose Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, Johnston reminds us. "It's a ghost story that happens to take place at Christmas. It's important to me that the story be dark but that the ghosts bring light into Scrooge's life. If it isn't dark to begin with, there's nowhere for the story to go. As for the story, it is serious. It's perhaps the most sober of all stories: the reclamation of a man's soul. That's not to say it's without humor, naturally, but...it is a ghost story. Ghost stories are scary. [Over the course of the story,] Scrooge is scared to the point that he completely changes his entire way of life. Of course it has a happy resolution, but it will most definitely not be a production of this story our audiences will have seen before." James Belcher appears as Scrooge; Thomas Prior is the Narrator/Bob Cratchit.
8 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, December 22 and 23; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Through December 23. Classical Theatre Company -- Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose. For information, call 713‑963‑9665 or visit classicaltheatre.org. $25.
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The key word in the show title Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring The Rockettes is "spectacular." The Rockettes' signature performance style has never been what you could call subtle, and this year they've kicked everything up a few notches (literally). One of our picks for Sunday, Radio City Christmas Spectacular is a must-see for the holidays.
Expect all-new, bigger, brighter, more colorful musical numbers including New York at Christmas (the Rockettes climb on board a life-size double-decker bus and, with the help of a 50-foot LED screen, give the audience a tour of New York City). In another scene, dozens of Santas dance across the stage...maybe we should say hundreds of dancing Santas; the dozens of live dancers are mirrored, seemingly to infinity, on an upstage video screen. Watch for the Rockettes' impressive tumbling line during "The Parade of Wooden Soldiers" and their fun, spirited version of "The 12 Days of Christmas" (since this is The Rockettes, yes, there's a kickline). Other numbers include scenes from The Nutcracker, a visit to Santa's workshop and a living nativity. The crescendo ending to the show is, of course, an onstage appearance by Santa Claus. (Pay close attention to his reindeer -- they look suspiciously like Rockettes!)
Times vary daily. Through December 28. The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby. For information, call 800‑952‑6560 or visit houston.broadway.com. $41 to $161.50.
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One of our favorite holiday traditions (along with wearing shorts on Christmas day and binge-eating holiday tamales) has to be the Houston Symphony's Very Merry Pops, which is one of our picks for Sunday. In a Jones Hall decked out for the holiday season, the symphony (conducted by Michael Krajewski) will perform traditional standard Christmas classics including "Winter Wonderland," "Sleigh Ride" and "Angels We Have Heard on High." "Little Drummer Boy," "O Holy Night" and more seasonal favorites are also on the program. The Houston Symphony Chorus, under the direction of Betsy Cook Weber, provides vocal accompaniment.
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $25 to $134.
Jessica Goldman and Bob Ruggiero contributed to this post.