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I Am A Man is an interactive virtual reality experience set to the historic events of the African American civil rights movement. It's one of the highlights during the inaugural Afro Renaissance Festival this Saturday.
I Am A Man is an interactive virtual reality experience set to the historic events of the African American civil rights movement. It's one of the highlights during the inaugural Afro Renaissance Festival this Saturday.
Film still by Derek Ham, Ph.D.

5 Best Bets This Weekend in Houston: Sweet Jazz and Black History VR

Classy and classic go hand-in-hand during this weekend of culture in the Bayou City. From an intimate concert by rising opera divas and divos, to new choreography, and chamber music inspired by runaway bamboo, there are plenty of reasons to get dressed up for a night on the town. Black History Month continues with a new festival that offers a VR immersion into the civil rights movement, and it wasn't so long ago that we celebrated the 100 year anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald's birth. The Houston Symphony pays tribute to The First Lady of Song with sultry ballads and sweet jazz.

Double Happiness & Difficult Bamboo features music by Mason Bates, Christopher Cerrone, Michael Torke and Daniel Schnyder.
Double Happiness & Difficult Bamboo features music by Mason Bates, Christopher Cerrone, Michael Torke and Daniel Schnyder.
Photo by Lynn Lane Photography

We've all been warned about those invasive species of plants that, given a foothold, will completely overrun the yard. Composer Mason Bates riffs on the dreaded running bamboo — and contemporary American anxiety — taking his music from eerie minimalism to frenetic maximalism in Difficult Bamboo, one of the works being presented by Aperio, Music of the Americas. Double Happiness & Difficult Bamboo features another of Bates's compositions, White Lies for Lomax, as well as Christopher Cerrone's atmospheric Double Happiness, Daniel Schnyder's jazz-funk Piano Trio No. 1 and Michael Torke's Yellow Pages. Contrasting works, a touch of humor, and historical field recordings blend in this introspective evening of contemporary music.

A performance is scheduled for February 15 at 8 p.m. at MATCH, 3400 Main. For information, call 713-521-4533 or visit aperioamericas.org/double-happiness-difficult-bamboo-match. $15 to $35.

Houston Grand Opera Studio members take a break from their rigorous training to perform in this intimate evening of art and song.
Houston Grand Opera Studio members take a break from their rigorous training to perform in this intimate evening of art and song.
Photo by Lynn Lane

No more teachers, no more books; it's time for Houston Grand Opera Studio members to show their stuff. Rigorous training with professional staff, and an intense study program, go a long way toward shaping the future divos and divas of the opera stage. But nothing can replace performing in front of a live audience — which is great for us — leading to HGO's popular Studio Recital Series. Don't miss this intimate evening of art and song featuring Nardus Williams (soprano), Thomas Glass (baritone) and Daniel Noyola (bass-baritone); Jonathan Gmeinder is on piano.

Performances are scheduled for February 15-16 at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Audrey Jones Beck Building, 5601 Main. For information, call 713-228-6737 or visit houstongrandopera.org/hgostudiorecitals. $40.

Houston Symphony's The Ella Fitzgerald Songbook showcases favorites including "Mack the Knife," "Summertime" and "The Lady Is a Tramp."
Houston Symphony's The Ella Fitzgerald Songbook showcases favorites including "Mack the Knife," "Summertime" and "The Lady Is a Tramp."
Photo by William P. Gottlieb

Check the weather forecast and even if it calls for "Stormy Weather," get yourself down to Jones Hall, "Come Rain or Come Shine." Ride your bike, drive in from the 'burbs or "Take the A Train," because Houston Symphony is presenting The Ella Fitzgerald Songbook. From the day she was discovered in Harlem's Apollo Theater in 1934, Fitzgerald continued to amaze audience members for more than 50 years, rightfully earning the title, Queen of Jazz. Bringing these vintage Ella standards to life are Broadway’s Capathia Jenkins, Montego Glover and N’Kenge; Principal POPS Conductor Steven Reineke will "Strike Up the Band" for an evening of sultry ballads and sweet jazz.

Performances are scheduled for February 15 through February 17 at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-224-7575 or visit houstonsymphony.org. $49 to $159.

Dance artist Jennifer Mabus is introducing a new work during Houston Choreographers X6 at the Kaplan Theatre.
Dance artist Jennifer Mabus is introducing a new work during Houston Choreographers X6 at the Kaplan Theatre.
Photo by Lynn Lane

Everything's all shiny and new when it comes to the annual Houston Choreographers X6, a time-honored tradition where half a dozen choreographers and dance makers are commissioned to create new works. Try to say "world premiere" really fast six times in a row — it's difficult, right? — then reserve your spot for this evening featuring new choreography by Stacey Allen, Jennifer Mabus, Kristy Nilsson, Donald C. Shorter Jr., Dwain Travis and Shizu Yasuda. Uptown Dance Company also makes a guest appearance to perform excerpts from Krissy Richmond's "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries."

A performance is scheduled for February 16 at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood. For information, call 713-551-7217 or visit erjcchouston.org/arts/dance-concerts. $15 to $30.

Using the Oculus Rift VR headset, I Am A Man lets users witness the 1968 Memphis sanitation worker’s strike and the events leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Using the Oculus Rift VR headset, I Am A Man lets users witness the 1968 Memphis sanitation worker’s strike and the events leading to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Film still by Derek Ham, Ph.D.

Black History Month gets a dose of (virtual) reality with this amazing VR experience by developer Derek Ham, Ph.D. Utilizing the Oculus Rift headset, I Am A Man allows us to walk in the shoes of those who were on the front lines during the civil rights era, blending historical film and images, voice overs by actual participants, and a chilling look at the events that led to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It's just one of the amazing opportunities in the inaugural Afro Renaissance Festival, a showcase of African American music, art, food, film and culture. Events include a lecture on the history of black cowboys, a performance by Dance Afrikana, live music and a screening of Brian Ellison's short, A Day In The Tr3, about Third Ward gentrification. Attendees will also have access to the exhibits at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum.

The Afro Renaissance Festival is scheduled for February 16 from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, 3816 Caroline. For information, call 713-942-8920 or visit afrorenfest.org. $40 to $50.

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