The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: "wildLIFE," Rothko and More

Tens of thousands of elephants are killed each year for the illegal ivory trade. This dismaying reality has been the motivation for activist-artist Maruyama’s latest body of work, “The wildLIFE Project.” Opening on Friday at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, “The wildLIFE Project” highlights Maruyama’s skills as an expert craftswoman and furniture-maker — featuring objects that not only recall the beauty of our world’s large land mammal, but also honor their sacred value.

Inspired by her recent travels to Kenya, Maruyama has constructed several types of objects for this exhibition. The most lifelike of these are her enormous elephant masks, which are somberly mounted on the walls like trophy heads from a hunt. Produced from many small wooden panels tied together with bits of string, the masks’ jointed construction indicates intimate observation and provides a sense of possible reanimation.

Maruyama has created shrines that pay tribute to the endangered species. Modeling these works on Buddhist altars, the artist incorporates interactive, sensory elements such as fresh flowers, burning incense and ringing steel bells. The result is a soulful exhibition space in which viewers can encounter the majesty of the elephant and consider species’ precarious existence.

Maruyama also provides visitors with a means to action by supplementing her meditative works with educational resources including documentary screenings and information about advocacy groups. HCCC curator Kathryn Hall notes that Maruyama not only wants audiences to consider the plight of elephants, but “to think about other endangered species…and about the responsibility we have as humans as caretakers of the Earth.”

There’s an opening reception 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Friday, September 18. Regular viewing hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Through January 3. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main. For information, call 713-529-4848 or visit Free. 

While it’s true that the season opener for Opera in the Heights comes with the warning “clowns appear in this opera,” Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci (The Clowns) is actually a story about the people whose job it is to portray clowns. I Pagliacci (The Clowns) also has a Friday opening. 

“It deals specifically with the commedia dell’arte performance style, an Italian tradition,” says Stage Director Susan Stone Li, who has set the piece in Victorian England, a conservative era when the public was fascinated with circuses and traveling troupes. “This was when side-show freaks became a very popular way to spend time, to see this distorted version of humanity.

“We are using the costumes to help highlight what we’re trying to highlight in the story itself, about the distortion of societal law, the distortion of relationships. There’s a sense of deconstruction in the costuming; there’s a sense of something being off in the physical sense,” says Li. Art imitates life, as off-stage drama is realized onstage by the husband and wife performers of the acting company.
“Eiki [Isomura] is fearless,” says Li about the conductor. “We are working toward putting singers in different areas of the house. We are polyphonic, kind of a stereo surround sound for the audience, putting singers in the balcony, putting singers in the aisles so that it is a full-on, engaging experience, and that’s really scary for a musician, especially a maestro.”

In addition to the clowns, expect to see violence and aggression. “We’re staging a lot of combat. There is blood; there is death; there is adultery,” says Li.

7:30 p.m. September 18, 24 and 26; 2 p.m. September 20. Lambert Hall, 1703 Heights. For information, call 713-861-5303 or visit $35 to $67.

On Saturday, Grammy Award-winning composer John Corigliano joins Houston Symphony conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada to offer commentary on the world premiere of his STOMP during the new concert feature On-Stage Insights with Andrés. The lighthearted piece, which was commissioned for the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, includes dancehall-style foot stomping.

STOMP's followed by Mahler Symphony No. 5, a work that has an emotional scope and the famously romantic and lyrical fourth movement, Adagietto, which Mahler penned as a love letter to Alma, the woman destined to become his wife.

Equally familiar, but for different reasons, is the first movement Trauermarsch (Funeral March), with its distinctive trumpet solo.
“The opening motive has a trumpet, of course, but it’s in a triplet rhythmic pattern, somewhat like the opening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony,” says Mark Hughes, principal trumpet player. “It starts out very somber, soft and very quickly the whole brass section comes in, almost like a screech of agony or pain, then the strings come in, with the theme of the funeral march.

“He ends with the most exhilarating movement. It’s what makes the symphony such an emotional ride for the audience. It ends so exhilarating that you can’t help but feel like you’ve conquered the world,” says Hughes. “People have to experience a Mahler symphony live. The beauty, the emotion and the work — it’s life-changing.”

8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit $25 to $129. 

When Bells Are Ringing opened on Broadway in 1956, it was a runaway hit, and went on to be a beloved film starring the show’s original lead, Judy Holliday. It’s the story of an operator who works at an answering service, and the madcap scrapes she and her clientele get into.
If it sounds a trifle archaic, that’s half the fun, says Bayou City Concert Musicals Artistic Director Paul Hope, who’s directing the show alongside Mitchell Greco. The musical has a weekend run and Sunday's the last chance to catch it. 

“It’s a classic Broadway musical,” Hope says. “And you have to embrace it as a period piece. Doctors and lawyers still use answering services, and in my research, we have a bunch of answering services here in Houston.”

He thinks the show will resonate with audiences for both its silliness and its sincerity, as well as for having the iconic songs “The Party’s Over” and “Just in Time.”

Bayou City Concert Musicals’ mission is to produce shows that haven’t been seen in Houston for at least 20 years. The group just wrapped up a series of shows that debuted on the Great White Way in the 1940s, so Hope feels Bells Are Ringing, with its 1950s setting, is a perfect launch for a series from that decade.

More than introducing audiences to beautiful shows that may have fallen by the wayside over the decades, Hope believes there’s something new for theatergoers to find in these pieces. In the case of Bells, it’s a message about finding out who you are.

“This is a show about learning to love yourself,” he says. “One of the main characters finds herself falling in love with someone and she doesn’t understand how he can love her; she doesn’t think she’s enough. We can all learn from these people who discover they are worthy of love and find ways to be proud of themselves.”

7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Houston Community College Central — Heinen Theatre, 3517 Austin. For information, call 713-465-6484 or visit $25 to $50. 

“Houston knows [Mark] Rothko, particularly the late work, better than almost any other city anywhere in the world because of the Rothko Chapel,” says Alison de Lima Greene, curator of contemporary art and special projects at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. [The “Mark Rothko: A Retrospective” exhibit] “is the chance for people who already know the late work to re-understand it with greater depth and to understand everything he achieved independent of the Chapel.” The exhibit opens on Sunday. 

The exhibit features more than 60 paintings, including early Modernist works and a shift away from narrative content toward Surrealism. His classic paintings, representing what became his signature style of luminous color and loosely painted, tiered rectangles, are featured, as well as his Color Field paintings. The last room of the exhibition showcases works produced in the years before his death, including a brilliant red canvas.

“We’re always very aware of the importance of late Rothko, and I think being able to see the transition fully from the so-called multiform paintings to the classic paintings to the great Seagram mural studies as well as the very first test paintings that led to the Rothko [Chapel] compositions help us understand all of the richness of Rothko’s career and how much more wide-ranging his vision was than the absolute statement of the Chapel,” says de Lima Greene.

“While Rothko painted in increasingly dark tones while doing the Chapel paintings, he also experimented with lighter color harmonies. He wanted to paint important paintings, not just beautiful ones.”

10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Through January 24. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit $23. 

Alexandra Irrera, Ashley Clos, Holly Beretto and Susie Tommaney contributed to this post. 
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