Houston's 5 Best Weekend Events: Modern Masters, The Vampire Diaries and More

Novelist Owen Laukkanen is in town on Friday to sign his latest thriller, The Stolen Ones, which ventures into the dangerous and deadly world of human trafficking. Investigative team Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere are called in when a Minnesota sheriff's deputy is killed. A hysterical woman holding the deputy's gun is found standing over the body. She speaks no English and, at first glance, seems to be guilty of murdering the deputy. As Stevens and Windermere investigate, they find nothing is what it seems.

Laukkanen says human trafficking's a topic that's both necessary and difficult to discuss. "We have to talk about it, though," he tells us. "When I was doing research for the book I found out Houston is one of the hubs for trafficking in the country. Even if you think, 'Oh, this doesn't affect me,' really, it's all around us.

"When I was writing the book, I wanted to get it right. What happens to [victims] is a nightmare. I didn't want to sensationalize it and at the same time, I didn't want to play it down. I had to find a balancing point between the two. I want to tell a good story and I want to respect [survivors]."

A sexual assault survivor who read Stolen Ones recently told Laukkanen that he did, in fact, get it right. "It's always humbling to hear that."

Laukkanen is in town for a group discussion and signing session with Where All Light Tends to Go author David Joy (the two have been Facebook friends but haven't actually met). Novelists Bryon Quertermous and Duane Swierczynski also will be on hand to discuss and sign their latest books, Murder Boy and Canary respectively.

Owen Laukkanen appears at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit murderbooks.com. Free.

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Fans of The Vampire Diaries and spinoff series The Originals have a great deal to look forward to when The Vampire Diaries Official convention tour stops for the very first time in Houston. Starting on Friday and continuing through Sunday, series stars Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley, along with several of their co-stars and guests, will be speaking on panels, signing autographs, taking photos with fans and in general, making the VD fans present, very, very happy.

Gary Berman of Creation Entertainment, the convention organizer, promises it will be a fun, interactive event. "We have been doing The Vampire Diaries conventions for some years now and we all wanted to present an interactive, fun immersion in the property and the actors that the fans love seeing. As much as we all love the huge conventions, these only have from 800 to 2,000 people a day. Everyone gets a seat. That's our goal and we've been able to achieve it."

Celebrities scheduled to drop include Sebastian Roche (Mikael), Chris Wood (Malakai "Kai" Parker), Michael Trevino (Tyler Lockwood) and Zach Roerig (Matt Donovan). Micah Parker (Adrian) is taking on emcee duties for the entire convention, including hosting karaoke party on Friday night. On Saturday evening, there's a Founder's Day Masquerade Ball with music, dancing and costume contests (one lucky winner get to pick up a $250 gift certificate.)

In addition to regular admission, there are two VIP level passes. Extras include entrance to the Masquerade Ball, a special 30-minute panel with Somerhalder and Wesley, complimentary autographs (don't forget to bring something to sign) and guaranteed front-row seating. 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Hilton Houston North, 12400 Greenspoint. For information, visit www.creationent.com/cal/tvd_houston.html. $20 to $499.

Warning: This is the last weekend to see the Houston Ballet's production of Modern Masters and we think it's a not-to-be-missed show. It's our recommendation for Saturday. The program features three distinctive dance performances. Oliver Halkowich, a soloist with the Houston Ballet, will be dancing two roles; he's in George Balanchine's Ballo della Regina and Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's Jardi Tancat. Halkowich did the same roles five years ago and thinks he's doing them both better now since, he says, he understands them more clearly. "The Balanchine piece is very abstract. There's a bit of a story. The guy is a fisherman. We're looking for this pearl, which is the girl. But it's abstract. It's a challenging role. It's a lot of jumping and fast footwork."

In Jardi Tancat, there are three couples. "It's earthy and down. It's kind of this story of Spanish workers. We've been given a lot of images of lifting carts of oranges and planting and sowing and that sort of imagery to get us down into the ground and moving in this heavier, earthy feeling." The other piece, Etudes, takes the dancers onward from beginning work at the rehearsal bar. "I think the exciting thing about a lot of the mixed repertory programs we do is there's got to be something in there for everyone," Halkowich says.

"With Jardi you have this beautiful Spanish music from Catalonia that I think a lot of people can relate to. There's a lot of feeling and emotion in the music, and if your cup of tea is not classical ballet, then this is probably the one for you. And then the Balanchine ballet is Verdi; it's really quick, it's exciting and really uses that extreme classical technique. With those two ballets, you are really getting -everything you would want in dance. And then Etudes is just such a firework."

See Modern Masters at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-237-1439 or visit houstonballet.org. $20 to $195.

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Our first recommendation for Sunday is The Apollo Chamber Players' Mexican Kaleidoscope,a string trio and quartet concert that features pieces by prominent Mexican composers, including Manuel de Zumaya, a chapelmaster and composer who lived from 1678 to 1755. His music is mostly unknown, and new works are still being rediscovered.

"Zumaya was one of the first Mexican composers of the Baroque period, and he's the connection to Baroque music. He was the first person to translate Italian opera into Spanish," said Matthew Detrick, artistic director and violinist for Apollo.

"Between the Baroque period and the other composers on the program, there was a dearth of classical music and art in general in Mexico. It was only after the Mexican Revolution that Mexico was free from European influence and could cultivate its own music and art on its own terms."

Silvestre Revueltas, Manuel Ponce and Carlos Chávez, whose pieces are featured in the concert, became part of the worldwide push for folk-based music that began around the turn of the 20th century as they sought to re-create the indigenous music of Mexico.

"A lot of the folkloric elements are more rhythmic and dance-style, which is imagined because it wasn't written down. These composers wanted to go back to the roots and their ancestors, before Spanish influence and conquest, and bring back to the forefront the music of their ancestors," Detrick said.

A pre-concert lecture by University of Houston professor Dr. Howard Pollack takes place at 5:15 p.m. on Sunday, followed by the concert at 6 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2353 Rice Boulevard. For information, call 832-314-2340 or visit apollochamberplayers.org. $30.

Also on Sunday is the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University's production of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel (in German with English surtitles). This delightful cautionary tale by Humperdinck (no relation to the pop singer of the 1960s) tells the story of the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale characters who, sent into the woods to collect strawberries, are lured to the kitchen of a hungry witch. In a creative twist, the play has been set in the mid-20th century, with the witch being portrayed as a 1950s matron. The children are naturally drawn to the sweet-smelling kitchen, which leads stage director Pat Diamond to muse, "Things that you really want can turn out to be not so good!"

Diamond, who tells us his main artistic challenge was "finding the action in the music and narrative in the music," worked with conductor Richard Bado at the Aspen Music Festival in the past, is a freelance director with almost 20 years of experience. He lives in New York and was brought to Rice exclusively to direct this production. "It is wonderful to work with a group that is so accomplished and collaborative," he says of the opera students at the Shepherd School. "Rice produces amazing artists."

7:30 p.m., Friday, March 20; Tuesday, March 24; Thursday, March 26; 2 p.m. March 22. Rice University, 6100 Main. For information, call 713-348-8000 or visit music.rice.edu/opera/201415.shtml. $12.

Phaedra Cook, Sarah Gajkowski-Hill, Margaret Downing and Alexandra Doyle contributed to this post.

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