The Five Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Horse Races & a Drone Drama

It's the first weekend of spring, and there's lots to see and do in Houston before sitting down for this Sunday's Easter brunch or dinner. It's opening night and the quarter horses are at the starting gate over at Sam Houston Race Park, there's a battle between sci-fi and fantasy at Numbers (which one will triumph?) and, for those who love cool things, a big blow-out bash at Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark. For sophistication and culture, don't miss Dance Salad (with several U.S. debuts) and the opening of Grounded at the Alley, a thoughtful exploration of modern warfare.

The nearly two years of lawsuits, restraining orders, bad blood and smack talk are over, and horse-racing enthusiasts are pumped. Last month, the Texas Racing Commission, under pressure from the state legislature, voted to ditch the contentious “instant racing” gambling rules. The controversy came to a head last September when Texas’s major race parks were ordered to keep the lock-and-chains on the gates for a day. But forget all that. Thoroughbred season recently wrapped up over at Sam Houston Race Park, which means Opening Night Live Quarter Horse Racing is at the post (that’s horse for “starting gate”), one of our recommendations for this Friday night. The country’s most popular horse breed, which is made for short-distance sprinting, will gallop up to 55 miles per hour around the fast track. Jamie Nielsen, Sam Houston Race Park’s director of marketing, says that though the transition from thoroughbred to quarter-horse racing (which continues through May 16) is involved, park staff has the process down pat. Plus it’s helpful that “the track is maintained throughout the year,” says Nielsen, and not just during racing season.

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. Friday; live racing starts at 7 p.m. 7575 North Sam Houston Parkway West. For information, call 281-807-8700 or visit shrp.com. $7 to $29.99. 

Riddle me this, Batman: Which is better — science fiction or fantasy? Houstonians will get a chance to voice their opinions, but with a twist, and it's our other pick for this Friday night. Local entertainment troupe Dem Damn Dames is hosting The Battle of Nerdlesque: Sci-Fi vs. Fantasy, a burlesque throw-down featuring a cadre of entertainers from across the state who guarantee to titillate audience members while exploring the wonders of each genre. Tifa Tittlywinks, the show’s host and executive producer for Dem Damn Dames, says, “There will be lots of rhinestones, pasties, drinking and lots of clothes flying off — quite literally. There will be tassels, and there will be some really interesting, shall we say, booty work.” A total of 14 different acts will be judged in three different categories, but only one group — Team Sci-Fi or Team Fantasy — will take home the grand title. Folks are encouraged to hoot, holler and clap throughout the show if they see something they like because the audience vote determines the ultimate winner. Bonus: By attending the show, guests can stick around afterward and enjoy a classic night at Numbers for free.

7 to 10 p.m. Friday. Numbers, 300 Westheimer. For information, call 713?526?6551 or visit demdamndames.eventbrite.com. $15 to $30. 

It's pretty much gonna suck for a while. Ever since the grand opening of the Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark in 2008, we've been up, down and all around the 30,000-square-foot facility, practicing our kick flips, ollies, shove-its, 360s and more. And why not? With plenty of poles, walls and ramps, and the world's largest cradle (vertical half-sphere), this public park has hosted big names in skating, plus new converts to pavement grinding each and every year since. But it's all coming to a screeching halt on April 4. That's when the park is scheduled to shut down for some super-awesome upgrades, including a new grass terrace seating area and innovative, free-form shade structures, plus new graffiti boards for local artists to show their stuff. The renovation is being managed by the Houston Parks Board and funded by the Lee and Joseph D. Jamail Foundation, and work should be completed by October 10. But before that happens, there's one final blow-out bash to be had at the park, and it's all going down this Saturday, which we think is a great way to celebrate the park. “[Skate and Enjoy HTX] will be a fantastic free event for skaters, music lovers and those who love cool things in Houston,” says veteran skateboarder Barry Blumenthal (“I've been skating for 40-plus years”). “The lineup is Supergrave and Biscuit Bombs.” It'll be a blend of music, skateboarding, art, rock and roll, and giveaways. The bands will be set up near the bowl (the empty swimming pool), and Blumenthal says that creates a palatable energy that feeds between the skaters and the bands. “It almost looks like a mosh pit. It's a cool dynamic – like intense dancing for a punk band – it's a special kind of experience.”

Skate and Enjoy HTX is Saturday, March 26, 3 to 6 p.m., Lee and Joe Jamail Skatepark, 103 Sabine, 713-222-5500, click here for the event Facebook page. Free

Stuttgart Ballet principal dancers Alicia Amatriain and Jason Reilly are turning Wortham’s Cullen Theater into the Chuckle Hut with the stuttering stops and turns of Christian Spuck’s spoof-tastic Le Grand Pas de Deux, our pick for Saturday night culture in the city. The ironically titled duet has the meringue-light peaks that bring laughter while retaining the impressive crisp, clean lines and sharp, successive movements of classic, technical ballet. “They give you the comedic value of actually making fun of the dance they’re doing so well,” says Nancy Henderek, Dance Salad Festival 2016’s artistic director. The festival, presented by Houston International Dance Coalition, includes three U.S. debuts: Made in Love (Minutemade Act One), Versus Standard and, from festival favorite Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, a selection of pieces from his recently premiered work Fall. Henderek says that the two American dance troupes also on the program blend well with the international choreography. She was struck by the distinctiveness of Philadelphia-based BalletX’s Beasts and the dynamism and force of Portland-based NW Dance Project’s Yidam.

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 832-487-7041 or visit dancesalad.org. $19.50 to $52.50. 

An elite U.S. Air Force fighter pilot is moved to drone duty at Nevada’s Creech Air Force Base after she becomes pregnant. Instead of flying the skies, she’s computer-desk-bound inside a trailer, where her drone’s cameras force her to face in great detail the damage she’s done. Then she goes home to her family in suburban Las Vegas and tries to be normal. Alley Theatre company member Elizabeth Bunch stars in Grounded, by playwright George Brant, and says the role is not a polemic against war but an examination of issues on a very grand (military warfare) and intimate (the individual pilot) scale. “The entrée for this piece is the emotional life of it. Who are you? It’s a woman in the military. It’s a mother in the military. It’s about work-life balance. It’s about the surrounding warfare and what kind of warfare is acceptable; the morality about how you treat a pilot and someone who is dealing with beyond-high-pressure situations.” Bunch, the only actor onstage in the 75-minute play, says she expects audiences will leave the theater deep in discussion. Grounded offers a thought-provoking take on war and modern technology, and it's our recommendation for good drama this Sunday.

2:30 and 7:30 p.m. this Sunday. Continuing 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, March 26; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays (beginning April 2); 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Through April 17. 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $43 to $75. 

Sam Byrd, Margaret Downing, Steve Jansen and Katricia Lang contributed to this post.
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Susie Tommaney is a contributing writer who enjoys covering the lively arts and culture scene in Houston and surrounding areas, connecting creative makers with the Houston Press readers to make every week a great one.
Contact: Susie Tommaney