The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: "Fresh," Morris, Welch & Kylián and More

Ascending Swarm by Laura Grossett
Ascending Swarm by Laura Grossett
Courtesy of Laura Grossett

On Friday, the new exhibit "Fresh" by Laura Grossett, Sandria Hu and Marie Leterme opens at Hunter Gather. Swarms of oversize insects aren’t usually associated with printmaking, but they’re perfectly suited to Grossett’s Ascending Swarm. The artist printed a host of bees, each individually, and attached them to a nine-foot-wide section of gallery wall. While they hover silently, they menacingly jut into the white space of the Hunter Gather gallery. Grossett’s print surface is pasteboard made from recycled consumer products such as cereal boxes and yogurt containers. Ascending Swarm is part of the Hunter Gather exhibition “Fresh.”

Printmakers traditionally produce large numbers of uniform duplicates on paper. But the artists of “Fresh” produce multiple original, one-of-a-kind prints on a variety of materials. “Artists are just constantly investigating what they can use to create a multiple original,” says Margaret Smithers-Crump, owner and director of Hunter Gather. “Over the last 40 to 50 years, printmakers have really tried to see what they can use in their everyday world that can function as a mark-making device.”

For her Reflections on Satisfaction series, Cassie Normandy White uses fabric. The result is a unique succession of prints featuring a vivid melee of colors ranging from ghostly pale to richly saturated.

Sandria Hu achieves inimitable printings in her Archeological Dress series by fashioning a plate out of pre-owned christening gowns. In a process that Laura Rossi, Hunter Gather assistant director, likens to mummification, Hu repeatedly applied acrylic gel to the dresses until they became petrified. “[Hu] is artifacting…a human life,”says Smithers-Crump.

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Marie Leterme, whose Galveston studio was devastated by Hurricane Ike, uses found materials in her series. “She will find plants from her garden. She has found bits of debris and metal off of the building. She’s taken that loss and has a whole series of works that are stemming from what was a catastrophe,” says Smithers-Crump.

To Rossi, the works seen in “Fresh” explore a dialogue between absence and presence, positive and negative, and memory and regeneration. Smithers-Crump agrees. “I think we…have several dialogues going on, and I think the works beautifully talk to each other, and that’s what we hope for.”

There’s an opening reception 6 to 8 p.m. May 29. Regular viewing hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays; 1 to 5 p.m. Sat-urdays. Through July 25. 5320 Gulfton. For information, call 713-664-3302 or visit Free. 

From "Sound Speed Marker by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler
From "Sound Speed Marker by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler
Courtesy of Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston

Also opening on Friday is "Sound Speed Marker" by artist duo Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. Texas has a reputation for big oil, big hats, big money and even bigger hair. It’s not entirely accurate, but the stereotype persists. Hubbard and Birchler engage with and, arguably, dispute the stereotype in the work seen here. 

“Hubbard and Birchler use all of these ideas and fantasies that people have about Texas as a sort of touchstone for their own moviemaking,” says Claudia Schmuckli, director and chief curator at the Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston. The exhibition constructs an egalitarian relationship between sound and visuals and features a trio of video installations, photographs and sculpture by Hubbard and Birchler, whom Schmuckli calls master filmmakers and photographers. “They work in a very poetic language that blends both documentary and fictional aspects of filmmaking.”

All the pieces in the “Sound Speed Marker” trilogy “take as a point of their departure particular places in Texas that have an association with cinematic history and with filmmaking,” says Schmuckli. Grand Paris Texas discusses the inhabitants of Paris, Texas, and their personal connection to cinema history. Anecdotes and fragmented memories from interviews with the people of Sierra Blanca about Movie Mountain, a popular location for filming westerns, make up Movie Mountain (Méliès). And Giant is a “tender archaeological investigation…[of] filmmaking in West Texas and one of the greatest movies ever made. It speaks to the Texas mystique and how that mystique got constructed over the course of a century.

“It also speaks to the artists’ own trajectory and their move towards being Texans…As a European, you’re not used to the openness of the landscape and the diversity from the deserts to the swamps,” says Schmuckli, who was born in Switzerland. “I think these films very beautifully reveal the uniqueness of this experience.”

There’s an opening reception at 7 p.m. May 29. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays. Through September 5. Blaffer Art Museum at the University of Houston, 4800 Calhoun. For information, call 713-743-9521 or visit Free. 

Kim Tobin-Lehl and Luis Gallido in Stage Kiss at Stark Naked Theatre
Kim Tobin-Lehl and Luis Gallido in Stage Kiss at Stark Naked Theatre
Photo by Gabriella Nissen

“She” is a middle-aged woman going through a midlife crisis. “He” is her ex-love, 20 years back, and now the fellow actor she is kissing repeatedly in the play in which they’ve both been cast. Stage Kiss, one of our choices for Saturday, is making its regional premiere courtesy of Stark Naked Theatre Company, is one of the most accessible plays by well-respected playwright Sarah Ruhl (Eurydice and In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play), according to company co-founder Philip Lehl (Macbeth, Clybourne Park, LMNOP). He has a part in the play, which is being directed by Brandon Weinbrenner (who did so well with Venus in Fur at the Alley last season), while his wife, Kim Tobin-Lehl (Body Awareness, Macbeth), plays the “She” role (yes, that’s the name Ruhl went with) and Luis Gallido (Wittenberg, Marie Antoinette) is the “He.”

“In Stage Kiss, it’s a question of where do the characters stop and the real people start?” says Weinbrenner, who identifies the play as magical realism set in the present day over a four- to five-month period.

Tobin-Lehl says her character is “at a place in her life where she feels unfulfilled romantically, and she happens to go in and audition for a play. She feels like life is kind of bland and empty. She gets cast against her ex-love of 20 years ago, and she has to kiss him over and over and over, and in the midst of all those kisses, it reignites this love, and in the midst of that, it reignites her needs for romance and to feel validated about being beautiful again and having hope again for a life that could be more exciting, more beautiful, transcend the ordinary. And then the play brings her back around to what does actually fulfill your life,” Tobin-Lehl says.

Lehl says he finds the play intriguing in the ideas it explores. “The idea of a female midlife crisis is somewhat novel.”

The two-act play takes about two hours with intermission. Cast members also include Philip Hays, Jennifer Laporte, Josh Morrison and Molly Searcy. As, in essence, a play within a play, Stage Kiss also shows “all the effort that goes into what made that piece of theater,” Weinbrenner says. “It’s set in the theater,” Lehl says, “but it’s about love versus romance. And kissing.”

7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 20. Studio 101, Spring Street Studios, 1824 Spring Street. For information, call 832-866-6514 or visit Pay-what-you-can to $40. 

Our second pick for Saturday is a mixed-repertory program from the Houston Ballet. About a year ago, Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch met with New York City-based stage designer Eduardo Sicango to begin describing his vision for Zodiac, a new ballet based upon the 12 astrological signs that will world-premiere as part of Houston Ballet’s Morris, Welch & Kylián. Sicango, who has done theater sets and costumes on and off-Broadway and across the country, as well as working in opera for companies including New York City Opera and Houston Grand Opera, told Welch he had no preconceived notions and was ready for Welch’s ideas.

Welch asked Sicango if he’d seen the movie 300 (he had) and the work of graphic artist Frank Miller that the movie was based on. “I thought, well, gee, if you really look at Frank Miller’s work, [the actors have] pretty much no clothes on. Really, they’re kind of naked. Lots of loincloths. That was kind of a challenge. But it told me this was very sensual in a way and celebrating the beautiful physique of dancers,” says Sicango.

That wasn’t the only thing the well-respected designer, who has an MFA in stage design from the Tisch School of the Arts, had to go on. He researched the background of all the astrological signs. He asked for and received a CD of the commissioned score by Australian composer Ross Edwards that would be used.

“I went straight to the Met Museum to their Greco-Roman gallery and really looked at those statues and their faces. To soak in the color palette, the hairstyles, the draping and again the lack of clothes.” At one point, he asked Welch if the dancers were mortals and was told, “No, they’re gods and demigods.”

He asked Welch if he wanted a classical approach and says he was told: “No, I want it rather edgy. He mentioned Mad Max.” Sicango went online and typed in “female armor.” Laughing, he says, “You’ll be surprised at what you get. Some of that has crept into the designs of a lot of leathers, a lot of metals, a lot of leafing.” When interviewed, Sicango said they were still revising costumes if they found that, say, a headdress was too heavy for a dancer.

The other world premiere in the program is The Letter V by American choreographer Mark Morris, and it will be his first work commissioned for Houston Ballet, although some of his other choreographed pieces are already part of this ballet’s repertoire. It’s set to Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88. Morris has choreographed more than 150 dances since the 1980s.

The third piece is a -revival of Jiri Kylián’s Svadebka, which uses Igor Stravinsky’s music about a peasant wedding. Eight couples dance the piece, with the lead role of the bride going to first soloist Jessica Collado. Four soloists from  supported by members of the Houston Chamber Choir will perform during the dance, marking the first time the ballet and choir have done this.

7:30 p.m. May 28, May 30, June 5 and June 6; and 2 p.m. May 31 and June 7. Wortham Theater, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit $20 to $140. 

Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy represents triumph over adversity: The series of films, which follow an impoverished Bengali boy, were made by a director who pawned his wife’s jewelry to pay for filming. After the director’s death, the original negatives were thought to have been destroyed in a nitrate explosion. Twenty years later, the Criterion Collection took the rediscovered burned film, meticulously rehydrated and repaired it and scanned it into 4K resolution. The remarkable restorations are being screened by Museum of Fine Arts, Houston over several days, including a Sunday screening. 

“We see him as a baby in the first film. In Unvanquished, he is a young boy and moving to a more urban town,” says Marian Luntz, curator of film and video at MFAH. While the director’s first film was admittedly unpolished, Ray knew exactly what he was doing the second time around.

“It is really a departure from Bollywood, which is so stylized and slick,” says Luntz. “They’re at the Ganges River, and you see people washing and cleansing in ritual. The boy is learning, interacting with strangers, being very adventurous. He’s riveting to look at. But he quickly has to mature due to circumstances.”

“It’s a very moving cinematic experience, a coming-of-age story,” Luntz says. “It’s enhanced by the score of the great Ravi Shankar.”
Ray is highly regarded by fans, critics and his peers. Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa has been quoted as saying, “Never having seen a Satyajit Ray film is like never having seen the sun or the moon.” A screening of Ray’s work in New York earlier this month brought out such notables as Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach, Jim Jarmusch, Gay Talese and others.

“These films are so well received even today,” says Luntz. “I hope that people will see all three films, though they also stand up well by themselves.”

Pather Panchali screens at 7 p.m. May 30; Aparajito (The Unvanquished) screens at 5 p.m. May 31; The World of Apu screens at 5 p.m. June 7. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit $9. 

Katricia Lang, Margaret Downing and Susie Tommaney contributed to this post. 

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