Illusionists Penn and Teller collaborated with members of the inventive, outside-the-box-thinking Pilobolus dance company for [esc], one of the works the group will perform on Friday. The work premiered in the summer of 2013 and is on the program for the performance along with other pieces from the company's repertoire. As its title implies, the piece is about escaping from a variety of contraptions. During [esc], one dancer is sealed inside an oversize bag while volunteers from the audience assist in the assembly of a large wooden box. The dancer is put into the box, which is then secured with heavy-duty straps. Another dancer is tied up and crammed into a locked duffel bag while yet another is strapped to a chair using duct tape, a plastic bag tied around her head, and two other dancers are handcuffed and chained to a pole. (Penn and Teller created the devices.)
Pilobolus, founded in 1971, has often collaborated with artists from other mediums such as Penn and Teller. The company's latest creative challenge to the definition of contemporary dance, [esc] has received mixed reviews. One critic objected to the fact that the woman taped to the chair found it necessary to rip open her blouse along with the plastic bag, for example. Others have enthusiastically embraced it as a sterling example of "don't-try-this-at-home" choreography by a daring company. Decide for yourself at Friday's performance.
7:30 p.m. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit spahouston.org. $25 to $70.
Professional psychic and author Victoria Laurie, who's based in Austin, reads from her newly released Ghost Hunter mystery series, The Ghoul Next Door on Saturday at Murder by the Book. Laurie reads from and signs Ghoul, which follows the adventures of the Ghoul Getters television show team on an investigation of a reported haunting.
In case you can't tell by the book's title, Laurie includes a bit of sass and humor in her supernatural stories. (Other titles in the series include Demons Are a Ghoul's Best Friend, Ghouls Just Haunt to Have Fun, Ghouls Gone Wild and our favorite, Ghoul Interrupted). Laurie will also conduct intuitive readings for a few members of the audience.
4 p.m. Saturday. Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit murderbooks.com. Free.
Mercury -- The Orchestra Redefined performs one of the Romantic period's most accomplished works on period instruments during Saturday's Tchaikovsky Serenade concert. The four-movement Serenade for Strings starts with a stirring and highly accented 36‑bar introduction reportedly meant to echo Mozart's style. The motif is repeated at the end of the movement and again at the end of the work, tying it all together. Serenade's second movement, Valse, is often performed alone. Valse should be familiar to the most casual music fan; it's been used in several film and television soundtracks. Mozart's Divertimento in D, K. 136, and Mendelssohn's Concerto for Violin and Strings complete the program. The concert features Antoine Plante, Mercury's artistic director, at the podium and Jonathan Godfrey, one of the group's co-founders, on violin.
8 p.m. Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-533-0080 or visit mercuryhouston.org. $10 to $65. This story continues on the next page.
Saturday's screening of Sophie Fiennes and Slavoj Zizek's The Pervert's Guide to Ideology is a semi-sequel to the duo's last outing, The Pervert's Guide to Cinema. Like its predecessor, Ideology features a series of lectures by intellectual rock star Zizek psychoanalyzing Hollywood films. In Zizek's view, Titanic was a message to the upper class about the acceptability of mingling with the lower classes in a time of great need. Meanwhile, the shark in Jaws represented America's fears of Nazi Germany. Were all these interpretations simply delusions of Zizek's hyperactive and bombastic mind? Well, maybe. Actually, probably. But there's no denying that Pervert's Guide to Ideology gets viewers rethinking story lines and symbolism in even the most innocuous of films.
5 p.m. January 12 and 19. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713-639-7300 or visit mfah.org. $9.
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Dutch photographer Jan Banning's "Bureaucratics", our choice for Sunday, is part documentary, part sociology study. Banning photographed civil servants in eight countries over a five-year period for the series. Beginning in 2003, Banning, accompanied by writer Will Tinnemans, arrived unannounced at a series of public government offices. Tinnemans immediately began to interview the workers while Banning photographed them. The workers were not allowed to rearrange anything, so Banning captured them in their "natural environment." The photos are all shot from the same perspective; Banning positioned himself at the entry to the office.
Among the often seen items in the photos are flags, calendars and photographs of family. Plants and stuffed animals are also frequently seen. Less frequent, but nonetheless present, are portraits of a country's leading political figures, uniforms, guns and other representations of rank and authority. One Texas sheriff's office had a framed photograph of actor -- and ultimate he‑man -- John Wayne. Another photo shows a worker sitting in the middle of towering stacks of disorganized papers and files.
12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays, 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, . Through March 23. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑639‑7300 or visit mfah.org. Entry to the exhibit is included with paid museum admission (free to $13).
Jef with One F contributed to this post.