Psophonia Dance Company’s newest production, The Between Space, marks the beginning of a new era for the troupe, now in its 17th year. The performance is our choice for Friday. Founder and Artistic Director Sophia L. Torres has paired up with Houston performer and dance-maker Leslie Scates. “In the past, Psophonia may have shared the stage with another company but not the dancers nor the process,” explains Torres. “This gravitation toward more open and fulfilling collaborations will be part of our new development as a company.”
The title "The Between Space" describes the place between the known and the unknown, the now and the future, says Torres. “Each piece in the show explores some aspect of what it means to move or shift between things. It’s the space between what you were and what you are to become.”
The program includes Pier and Fractured, both choreographed by Torres. In Pier, the dancers interact with a large wooden sculptural set, designed to embody a pier with help by master carpenters Isaac Martinez and Keith Epperson. Also on the program is Scates’s subtly funny Five Streams. Hello, women. You can cry in the shower. Come dressed for a date., which is composed of stories and conversations by five women; the work originally premiered at the University of Houston Dance Ensemble earlier this year. The show closes with Untitled, a collaborative work between Scates and Torres.
8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Barn, 2201 Preston Street. For information, visit psophonia.com or call 713-834-4162. $20.
“It is pure insanity and fun,” says Christine Weems about Spontaneous Smattering Episode 6: Return of the Cone Man, a 24-hour play festival at The Company OnStage with two performances on Saturday. “You never know what to expect.”
That’s true for both the artists and the audience. Playwrights arrive Friday night to draw cast names out of a hat, and receive parameters such as theme, genre and a mandatory line of dialogue.
“I have no idea what they’re going to write,” says Weems, co-founder of Cone Man Productions. “They go home and write for 13 hours. The scripts are completely random, written on the fly in the middle of the night.”
When the actors and directors receive their scripts the next morning, there’s a mad scramble to learn lines, block the play and find props and costumes. “It never ceases to amaze me what the casts are able to put together on the fly,” Weems says. “Costuming-wise, it’s amazing. We had a western one year and they had full western costumes; it was amazing. We post pictures and Facebook updates during the day with [the hashtag] #smattering,” Weems says. “So you can keep track of the craziness as it’s unfolding.”
The audience members vote on best script, best plot and best in show. “At the end of the second show, there’s an awards ceremony. After that, it evolves into a party.” It’s a party with a social conscience. All the proceeds from Smattering benefit the Houston Food Bank. Every actor, writer, director, stage manager, light board operator participating donates canned food. Audience members are encouraged to do the same.
7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday. 536 Westbury Square. For information, call 281-773-3642 or visit conemanrunning.com. $15.
Another pick for Saturday is the Catherine Couturier Gallery's exhibit of “Lori Vrba: The Moth Wing Diaries.”
When asked to describe her work in one word, photographer Lori Vrba quickly responds, “The word is always personal.” It’s easy enough to understand why. Drawing on rich visuals from her own life, the self-taught Vrba produces black-and-white photographs and photo-based assemblage works. The pieces feature the poised forms and faces of her children, friends and family as well as the wildlife and lush forests of her own North Carolina backyard. After exhibiting across the country and around the world, the native Texan returns home to celebrate the publication of her first monograph with an exhibition by the same name: “The Moth Wing Diaries.”
Vrba’s “Diaries” is a culmination of the artist’s unapologetic, ongoing explorations of femininity and the Southern landscape. But the most precious elements of the artist’s life — her home, family and the natural elements surrounding them — are not simply captured on film. Instead, they typically appear at Vrba’s direction in mysterious narrative moments, candidly cast to represent themes such as youth, strength, wildness or vulnerability. In Vrba’s photograph Repose, for example, a young girl faces the camera; her eyes close and her head tilts slightly. The untamed wisps of her wavy hair are caught in the light, and they reach out like Medusa’s curved serpent tendrils.
There’s a “The Moth Wing Diaries” reception 5 to 7 p.m. July 11. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Through August 31. Catherine Couturier Gallery, 2635 Colquitt. For information, call 713-524-5070 or visit catherinecouturier.com. Free.
Our first choice for Sunday is Kathleen Collins's Losing Ground, being screened here as part of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Restorations and Revivals series. African American filmmaker Collins never saw her 1982 independent feature Losing Ground in a theater. It was never released theatrically. There was one showing on public television in the late 1980s.
One of the very few black women filmmakers to write and direct an independent project, Collins was a graduate of Skidmore and the Sorbonne. She taught film history and screenwriting at City College of New York and had her plays produced in New York. A smart, sophisticated, snappy woman, Collins died in 1988 at age 46 from breast cancer. Her seminal work lay hidden for decades after that until her daughter Nina restored the film using the original negatives.
Like Collins, Ground is provocative, literate and sexy in a brainy way. It’s a portrait of a marriage on the skids. An intelligent, well-off couple, professor Sara and artist Victor, take a summer house on the Hudson. Sara, bored in her marriage, soon rushes back to New York to act in a student film that features silky Duane Jones (Night of the Living Dead) as her romantic co-star in an update of the folk tale Frankie and Johnny. Victor, in the meantime, finds his pleasure with the girls in town who model for him. There’s such a thing as finding ecstasy in intellect, Collins implies. It was as radical a notion in 1982 as it is today. No wonder no one wanted to distribute her movie; who’d believe it?
Houstonian Alvia Wardlaw, who had a small role in Losing Ground, leads a discussion after the Sunday screening. 5 p.m. June 21; 7 p.m. June 26; 5 p.m. June 28. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7515 or visit mfah.org. $9.
We don't usually present an event in back-to-back editions of The 5 Best Things to Do, but last weekend one of our picks, The Taming of the Shrew by Houston Ballet, was canceled due to the weather. Some flooding inside the Wortham Theater Center kept the company off the stage. So we want to remind everyone, this is the last weekend for the production and there's a matinee performance on Sunday in which principal dancer Simon Ball will give his last performance (it was supposed to be last Sunday but the flooded stage...) If you can, catch it before it closes.
The Taming of the Shrew in all its politically incorrect — by modern-day standards — glory comes complete with comedy, epic battles and splendid lifts, the production gives principals Connor Walsh and Melody Mennite the chance to reprise their roles from their 2011 Houston premiere of John Cranko’s work. Walsh dances the part of Petruchio, the man who drinks too much and is persuaded to marry Katherina, the so-called shrew, for money. “If you take Kate out of this play and put her in modern-day society,” Walsh says, “she’s actually just a modern-day feminist; she’s way ahead of her time. She’s in a man’s world, and she’s rejecting it. She lives at a time that she does not get to run her own life, and she’s rebelling against that. Which now we applaud. But she lived in a period where that was an outrageous idea.”
At the same time, he points out, Kate is really disagreeable when we first meet her. “She is quite awful in the beginning. The more awful she is, the less of a victim she is. It’s more of her getting a taste of her own medicine.” Walsh thinks the point of the work is really about selflessness, especially when the two start to get along and are willing to do things for each other.
His own character goes through a progression as well, Walsh says. “It seems that he really does fall in love with Kate. He’s sort of doing these things for money and for love, but in the end he also becomes very unselfish. He seems to be very happy with Kate. And less drunk.
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“As dancers, we love revisiting a role. When you start working on it, you’re skipping the process of learning the material, learning the technical aspects of the partnering with the difficult steps and turns. You have to work a little bit to get that back, but you’re a step ahead and you can dive straight into interpretation,” says Walsh, adding, “I’m using the same inspirations. I’m just trying to take it to another level, trying to make our characters more cohesive and more believable.”
“It is a fantastic ballet. It’s in a lot of companies’ repertoire. When we’re doing a Shakespeare-themed season, it’s a perfect way to finish. We’re finishing the season on a high note; it’s masterfully crafted in the way the story is told and the way the humor is delivered.”
7:30 p.m. June 19; 2 and 7:30 p.m. June 20; 2 p.m. June 21. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit houstonballet.org. $20 to $165.
Ashley Clos, Susie Tommaney, D.L. Groover, Alexandra Irrera and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.