New/Now Gives Four Emerging Artists A Time To Shine

(Clockwise from top left) Anthony Brandt, J.E. Hernandez, Vivalda Ndula and Tazeen Zahida will see their works of art come to life this weekend.
(Clockwise from top left) Anthony Brandt, J.E. Hernandez, Vivalda Ndula and Tazeen Zahida will see their works of art come to life this weekend. Photos by Claire McAdams
Performing Arts Houston is sharing the love locally this weekend by turning the attention to H-Town artists who have stories waiting to be heard. The organization will present, for its second year, a group of performance artists in various disciplines who all hail from the Greater Houston area in New/Now: The Houston Artist Commissioning Project. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater.

“It’s our mission manifest. We launched this program in 2020 with a goal of promoting and supporting Houston's performing arts sector. We focus on all disciplines, just like our programming throughout the course of the year,” said Meg Booth, president and CEO of Performing Arts Houston.

“Performing Arts Houston has, for 50 years, brought artists from outside of Houston to the stages in the theater district. New/Now is a program where we are thrilled to bring artists from throughout Greater Houston to the theater district by commissioning them to create new work and by giving them a full presentation onstage,” she added.

Four artists’ works will come to life at Wortham Center this weekend.

Anthony Brandt’s Diabelli 200 marks the 200th anniversary of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, and, in collaboration with neuro-engineer Dr. Pepe Contreras-Vidal, will explore the neural synchrony between the performers and changes in brain activity throughout the performance. Brandt will use Diabelli’s waltz and Beethoven’s approach to the variations as inspiration for excerpts of his own variations, scored for flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, violin and cello.

J.E. Hernández’ Desert Shelter is an interdisciplinary exploration of migrants' experiences crossing the U.S.-Mexico border via the Sonoran Desert pass, told through music and dance. The arduous journey of migrants is physicalized through composition, scored for a string sextet and in collaboration with The Ponce Project and NobleMotion Dance.

Vivalda Ndula’s Mbandu ni Mbandu, meaning “side by side,” is a music project composed of four pieces sung in Angola’s native language Kimbundu. Mbandu ni Mbandu examines ongoing social issues such as access to health care, racial injustice and gun violence, and it conceptualizes a world where people can live together despite their differences.

Tazeen Zahida’s new theatrical work, And The Clay Pot Speaketh, retells a South Asian folktale, the love story of Sohni and Mahiwal, from Punjab. The tragic romance will be told through musical pantomime with narration, supported by South Asian poetry and folk music.

These four artists were selected from more than 60 applicants for this year’s program.

Booth says the application process is straightforward. The artists were asked to provide a description of their proposed concept as well as examples of previous works. A panel, which includes the artists who presented last year as well as staff and board members, then adjudicates the entries.

“It really is remarkable how, through the process, certain stories, applications and ideas start to bubble up, but it is a very difficult process because we have so many great artists that it's hard to create that suite,” Booth said. “Of course, we don't want to do an evening of 100 percent dance or 100 percent theater, so we really are looking to create a balance between different performing arts genres and different arts that people see on stage.”

The end result, though, is one that speaks for both the caliber of artists in the city as well as the Houston’s robust artscape.

“What I think is so beautiful about this is that in Houston we talk about how diverse we are and how many different communities we have here. Houston has historically been welcoming to so many different communities that have moved to the United States. New/Now is a direct reflection of the richness that we have and celebrate in Houston,” Booth said.

The program also allows for artists to focus exclusively on creating new work since Performing Arts Houston provides marketing materials, photo shoots, production guidance and the presentation aspect.

Booth says that the program has shown great results, and she anticipates the Houston Artist Commissioning Project will continue for years to come, and it is still evolving.

“Every year, we have conducted postmortems with the artists. We, again, will sit down and talk to this year’s artists and co-create the future. We’ll talk about what Houston needs, what Houston artists want and where the opportunities are that we can make this a more effective program,” she said. “As a presenter, we definitely want to build an audience and build an anticipation for being introduced to four exceptional new artists that maybe our audiences haven't heard about before. The future is full of opportunity.”

Performing Arts Houston’s New/Now: The Houston Artist Commissioning Project takes place at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater, 500 Texas. For tickets or information, call 713-227-4772 or visit $25
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd