Hope Stone Dance Company Artistic Director Jane Weiner has enthusiastically worked to bring contemporary dance to a wide audience. Her latest endeavor, one-step promenade, please, running Friday and Saturday, is perhaps her most ambitious effort yet. The show is set in and around the 19th Street boutiques and galleries in the Heights. Well, actually, mostly around. Dancers, according to Weiner, will make their way from one shop to another, traveling through the crowd as they go. Because the audience will be scattered throughout the area, dancers are ready to add lots of improvisation to their movements, ducking around a baby in a stroller here, circling a group of fans there. Along with members of the Hope Stone Dance company, Houston Met Too, Hope Stone Kids Ensemble, musicians Ana Treviño-Godfrey, Greg Harbar, Kristen Jensen and Kirk Suddreath will also perform.
See one step promenade, please at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, West 19th Street at Heights Boulevard. For information, visit the Hope Stone website or call 713‑526-1907. Free.
Our second choice for Friday is native Houstonian Eric Harland who's bringing his latest project, Voyager, to the Wortham Center for a night of fiery jazz. The world-class drummer, who graduated from Houston's own High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, leads an all-star group of musicians including fellow Houstonian and saxophonist Walter Smith III and guitarist Julian Lange. Voyager is all at once composed yet explosive, drawing from obvious early 20th century jazz influences, proving that modern jazz does not have to be unapproachable to the casual listener. Harland and Smith both shine on frenetic tracks like "Treachery," which builds to a crescendo after drawing the listener in at a slow boil.
8 p.m. 500 Texas. For information, visit the Da Camera website or call 713‑524-5050. $35 to $65.
There are two Houston Improv Festival shows on Friday and two more on Saturday . Now in it's second year, the festival goes beyond the predictable set-ups of the Whose Line Is It, Anyway? improvisation franchise, showcasing the deeper spontaneity of the craft from 13 troupes. "Whose Line is a highly structured form of improv," explains festival founder and producer Todd Boring. "The games they play are clearly defined with specific rules. Most of the teams at [this] festival are performing longer sets with minimal structure and no rules. "One of our big goals this year is showcasing the diversity of improvisational theater as an art form," Todd adds. To wit: Hometown troupe This Infinite Closet performs completely in the dark, and we're not speaking metaphorically.
Catch the Houston Improv Festival at 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday. Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch. For information, visit the Houston Improv Festival website or call 713-909-4439. $15 to $45.
Presented by FrenetiCore and Neo-Klazzik Creations, Houston Fringe Festival awardee Outspoken Bean returns to his onstage roots with Converse: Introspect, Live, Word Bean describes his one-act one-man presentation as personal, funny and true, combining poetry with audience dialogue interaction. "What makes Converse unique is that no two shows are the same because the audience is the second character," Bean says. The poet believes that actively engaging his audience encourages a personal connection. "I want people who are willing to experience and be a part of the performance rather than being a spectator," Bean sums up his preferred audience. A Texas Poet Laureate nominee, Outspoken Bean is the reigning Houston V.I.P Grand Slam Champ champion at Houston V.I.P. Slam Team at Boomtown Coffee, a local up-and-coming spot for poets and spoken-word artists.
Converse with Outspoken Bean at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Freneticore Theatre, 5102 Navigation. For information, visit the FrenetiCore website or call 832-387-7440. $12 to $15.
Never mind that the plot is convoluted and dense, and filled with potions and metaphors. It's the incredible music, the layered emotions that have made Richard Wagner's Tristan and Isolde such a great, enduring work, says American bass-baritone Ryan McKinny, who'll make his debut in the role of Kurwenal, the loyal companion to Tristan, in Houston Grand Opera's upcoming production.
At first, Kurwenal appears to be nothing more than a simple man, "a loyal dog" and the life of the party, says McKinny, a former HGO Studio artist, last seen here in Rape of Lucretia. By the third act, however, it's a different person we see, one trying to give his dying friend hope while he is filled with sorrow, McKinny says.
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For the five hours of this legendary tragedy, all the singers involved will be put through their paces. (When Wagner wrote the opera, others thought it couldn't actually be staged because of its length and the difficulty of the roles. And legend has it that it killed the first tenor who sang the Tristan role.)
HGO has also brought in as its leads two singers known for their mastery of this repertoire: Canadian tenor Ben Heppner and Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, who will be making their HGO debuts. "Wagner's operas, really, a lot of what they are about is showing how people interact on the surface while at the same time, this music that happens underneath, particularly the orchestra, shows the real feelings and emotions and thoughts and troubles and joys," McKinny says. And in some sense, he says, it's fascinating to him that such a "broken man" as Wagner was able to write such sublime music. "There's something appealing to me that a man who obviously had so many issues as a person can write this music that quite often gets down to the kernel of truth about what human beings are."
Embrace the grandeur of Wagner's Tristan and Isolde at 6:30 p.m. 24, 27 and May 2; 2 p.m. April 21 and May 5. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, visit the Houston Grand Opera website or call 713-228-6737. $15 to $386.
Joshua Justice, Nancy Ford and Margaret Downing contributed to this post.