Start your weekend on a romantic note with Romeo & Juliet at the Houston Symphony on Friday. A rising young conductor, Perry So makes his debut with the Houston Symphony as guest conductor for an internationally themed event that begins with the Chinese folk melodies of Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival Overture and Saint-Saëns’s Piano Concerto No. 5, and ends with selections from Prokofiev’s classic ballet score, Romeo & Juliet.
The Spring Festival Overture is often chosen for the Lunar New Year, with its happy atmosphere and the tunes and rhythms of the folk music of northern Shaanxi province in China, often accompanied by the flute, gong, drum, oboe, violin, marimba and double-reeded suona horn.
Pianist, composer and writer Stephen Hough will perform the exotic and touching Piano Concerto No. 5. “It has the subtitle The Egyptian, partly because Saint-Saëns wrote some of it in Egypt, and it has some Egyptian elements,” says Hough. “You’ll hear in the very beginning, it sounds unlike traditional French music. In the second movement, you have a beautiful love song for a few pages; it becomes Chinese, bells and gongs, all on the black notes of the piano, the pentatonic scale, like music in the Far East is written. In the last movement, it’s ragtime, ramped up on speed, never a dull moment.
“The thing about Saint-Saëns is that he was a great pianist, one of the great ones of his time. It’s very, very virtuosic. He loved to play scales and octaves, so it’s full of that kind of color.”
The performance closes with selected melodies from Romeo & Juliet, evoking Shakespeare’s timeless story of doomed romance. Sergei Prokofiev, who also composed Peter and the Wolf, provoked controversy in the Soviet Union when his original version of the ballet had a happy ending.
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $25 to $129.
Comedian Slade Ham was performing for U.S. military troops near the Syrian border in Turkey when the terrorists hit Paris recently. Will he reference the experience in his Houston show this Friday and Saturday? Probably. The majority of his material comes from his everyday life. Being on a military base near the Syrian border isn’t so everyday for most of us, we know, but it is for Ham.
Along with criss-crossing America, Ham has entertained service men and women in 32 countries, completing 20-plus tours, including multiple visits to Iraq and Afghanistan. “There’s a lot of camaraderie before and after the shows that makes them a bit unique, and there’s mutual gratitude as well. I get to sorta say thanks to them for their service.”
Ham, who has toured with Ralphie May and Christopher Titus, uses his travel time to work on new material. “I am constantly transitioning through new things on the road. I’m very cognizant of my repeat audience. It’s even worse for me than it is for the audience if they’re bored.”
10:30 p.m. Friday; 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Joke Joint Comedy Showcase, 11460 Fuqua. For information, call 281-481-1188 or visit jokejointcomedyshowcase.com. $5 to $18.
More than 1 million people have seen The Nutcracker as choreographed by former Houston Ballet artistic director Ben Stevenson. For many, it was a chance to introduce their children to the beauty of storytelling without words, in athleticism and grace set to wonderful music. For the Houston Ballet, it has been a cash cow (much like A Christmas Carol at the Alley Theatre), and a chance for its dancers to shine in a classic tale.
As it turns out, this year is the last opportunity Houston audiences will have to add to the number of people who’ve seen Stevenson’s version. We suggest you catch the Saturday performance and beat the crowds. (The 7 p.m. show has discounted tickets.)
In 2016, Artistic Director Stanton Welch will present his own choreography with new sets and costumes. And based upon his other work with story ballets for the Houston Ballet (Romeo & Juliet most recently), that is indeed something to look forward to.
But anyone who has seen the beauty and animation of Stevenson’s version knows its place in Houston’s ballet legacy. The one-month run includes 34 performances. Clara and King Rat, the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets will be there. Will you?
Times vary daily, including 2 and 7:30 p.m. on November 28. Performances continue through December 27. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $39 to $139.
On Sunday, the members of SonKiss’d Dance Theater take to a different sort of stage for Moving Mountains. Actually, there isn’t a stage exactly. It’s more like a wall. A rock climbing wall.
The performance is a mix of athletic feats, dance moves, hip-hop poetry, aerial silks work and experimental music 30 feet in the air. “There’s not a story line,” Chris Thomas, director of SonKiss’d, tells us. “It’s more of a theme, a theme about overcoming obstacles. It’s about having the faith and strength to overcome your problems, no matter what they are.”
Wait a minute, SonKiss’d, faith…is this a religious thing? “No,” laughs Thomas. “Our name reflects our personal beliefs, but our work isn’t religious at all. It’s just dance. Of course, with Moving Mountains, it’s dance 30 feet up in the air, but it’s just dance.”
During the show, dancers move from wall to wall, eventually making their way around the entire space. The audience (limited to 40 people per show) follows along. Some dancers perform in pairs, others alone.
“One dancer free-falls down from 30 feet in the air; later he runs down the side of a wall. The aerial artist works in the middle of the space. Her silks are tied to the [ceiling], not to a wall. Our poet narrates each section.”
Climbing up rock walls hasn’t been easy for the troupe. They worked for two months (from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. while the gym was closed) training and strengthening their muscles. You’d think that dancers would be in pretty good shape, and they are. But rock climbing uses a whole different set of muscles. “It kills your tendons and ligaments. And your hands? It tears them up. You can’t even open a jar for the first two weeks of training.”
6 p.m. Sunday. Texas Rock Gym, 1526 Campbell. For information, visit sonkissd.com. $30 (includes an open bar).
On Sunday, near dusk, we recommend Bruce Munro’s Field of Light. When artwork was first installed at Discovery Green last winter, children seemed unable to resist reaching out to touch the colorful illuminated stems, in spite of all the “no touching” reminders.
“I love it; children touching it. There honestly has to be a degree of care, and occasionally things get broken. We were all children at one point in our life, and in a way the Field of Light is the innocence of myself,” says Munro, recalling childhood memories during the holidays.
“It was always the same films running. In The Wizard of Oz, the film goes from black and white to color when Dorothy gets to Oz, and that, even now, when I see that part of the film, it brings back that memory of shock. Film is about light and moving images. The other memory is the tree lights. I was the youngest of three children, and my job was testing the bulbs to see if they worked. I think it brings out the child in everybody, that installation.”
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The exhibit consists of 4,500 radiant, frosted glass spheres connected by illuminated fiber optic; they glow and change color and are best viewed after dusk. His team arranges the lights around the landscape of each exhibition site; here in Houston, it flanks the Brown Promenade.
“In a way, the Field of Light is one of those pieces of work which is gently saying ‘thank you’ to the landscape that it’s in. It’s not necessarily the star of the show; it’s a place for people to be able to go, to contemplate,” says Munro.
3 to 11 p.m. daily. Through February 21. Discovery Green, 1500 McKinney. For information, call 713-400-7336 or visit discoverygreen.com/fieldoflight. Free.
Susie Tommaney, Margaret Downing and Bill Simpson contributed to this post.