Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Producing Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin proved himself over and over at Stages Repertory Theatre last season. The season of powerful scripts moved easily from money-making musicals like Altar Boyz to thoughtful social commentaries such as The Unseen and Black Pearl Sings. Rich with political heft, hilarious jokes and emotional power, the season was most impressive for its commitment to exploring what it means to be human in a difficult and complicated world. Add in the fact that most every production was beautifully cast and wonderfully directed, with designs from folks like Jon Gow and Kirk Markley that captured the strange beauty of the world, and you've got a season to remember.
Curious who might be on the Warped Tour next year? Chances are they'll play this nearly 4,000-square-foot, all-ages room way up in Spring first — or that they already have. Since JavaJazz relocated from Old Town Spring to its much more spacious FM 1960 quarters in 2006, several of the fastest-rising names in emo and punk-pop — Paramore, Plain White T's, Say Anything, From First to Last — have stopped by. Credit owner and booking agent Michael Kelley's perceptive ears for keeping JavaJazz just ahead of the ever-changing musical curve, and his partner Linda Sporkin for fostering an environment that's half after-school clubhouse, half CBGBs (and thus a frequent stop on the fire marshal's rounds). But mostly credit JavaJazz's clientele, whose ravenous appetite for music keeps them coming back again and again and again. Just remember, no booze; but rest assured there'll be plenty of water on hand since a mosh pit is almost sure to erupt.
With works including everything from square-dance dresses to Pilgrim mannequins to shadow puppets committing antebellum sodomy, "The Old Weird America" presented a weirdly insightful take on America. CAMH senior curator Toby Kamps honed in on bizarre strains of American folk culture in contemporary art and came up with a provocative collection of works that made viewers take a long, hard look at their cultural assumptions. Among the highlights was Cynthia Norton's Dancing Squared (2004), a sculpture that uses hidden motors to turn bouffant square-dance dresses into hypnotic hillbilly whirling dervishes. Meanwhile, Sam Durant salvaged hokey museum wax figures to present a revisionist history of the first Thanksgiving, an event that was more about genocide than intercultural potluck suppers. Even more unsettling, Kara Walker presented a video using vintage music and master-and-slave shadow puppets to create a disturbing and darkly satiric vision of the dark and disturbing Old South. Perhaps as an antidote to the imagery of Walker's work, Greta Pratt found and photographed contemporary Lincoln impersonators who come across as history-geek versions of a superhero.
There are no better artistic agents provocateurs than Jim and Ann Harithas and the Station Museum of Contemporary Art. The Station is privately funded and directed by the Harithases, which allows them to essentially do whatever the hell they want. A former director of the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston as well as the Corcoran Museum of Art, Jim Harithas has the brains and the art savvy as well as the social and political convictions to make the most of the situation. In past shows, the Station has presented highly charged contemporary art from Palestine as well as an exhibition of work addressing the missing and murdered women of Juárez. The Station's achievements over the past year include the American debut of the Russian art collective AES+F's dramatically apocalyptic video Last Riot and the FotoFest exhibition "Apertura/Colombia," a showing of politically fearless and often poignant Colombian contemporary art that blew away everything else in the photography biennial.
Houston's self-proclaimed "Misfit of R&B" is equal parts sex, soul and hilarity. You(genious) is known on the local music scene for his ability to lay down sultry vocals while busting plenty of moves with his well-dressed, more-to-love torso. For him, every show is a chance to woo unsuspecting female audience members with tunes like "3 Minute Romance," "Is Your Mind Right?" and "Sex on a Spoon" — a fan favorite that includes the line "Make you howl at the moon — Woo!" You(genious) always manages to captivate a crowd of hipsters, and we're guessing he'd do just as well in front of a group of drunken Betties donning veils and various penis paraphernalia.
Poor little Aurora. In Dominic Walsh Dance Theater's version of Sleeping Beauty, she was a rebellious teen suffering from narcolepsy, drug abuse and, well, general sluttiness. Walsh turned the fairy tale on its head and created a splendid fast-footed, semi-comical, quasi-tragic tail of love, lust, teen angst and fantasy. The princess was a pain and the prince a geek, but it all worked out in the end. Walsh gave himself a star turn as Dr. Lyle Lac, who saved the day, sort of, with flying leaps and sci-fi-lit mime scenes. The company dazzled, the choreography sizzled, and the overall concept was fun and thought-provoking. For fans of DWDT, this was a pure gem of genius.