Top Five Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Swoon, Les Mis, Merry Widow and More

Our first pick for Friday is "a timeless, romantic story," according to Strange Fruit Manager on Tour Nami Hall. A timeless, romantic story that's done 15 feet in the air. Two women and two men take to the heights on fiberglass poles to perform Swoon, which combines the elements of dance and circus during the 30-minute performance scheduled for Discovery Green. Above all, "it's accessible," she says. At a recent performance, it wasn't just the audience who saw it. "People in their offices working could see us blocks away," says Hall, who grew up in Portland, Oregon, and went on to graduate from circus school in Melbourne, Australia. They're hoping the same thing happens in Houston. The group has been performing since 1994, traveling all around the world.

Swoon takes to the air at 8 p.m. Friday, 3, 6 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 and 6 p.m. Sunday. 1500 McKinney. For information, call 713-400-7336 or visit the Discovery Green website. Free.

Fans can expect several highlights during the Jessica Lang Dance company's Houston debut on Friday. One is i.n.k., a piece that incorporates video projections by visual artist Shinichi Maruyama. Another is The Calling, which features a solo dancer in a 20-foot-long white skirt.

"I got to know Shinichi really well," Lang tells us, "and he was open to having his images projected on the stage. He's known for throwing water and capturing it on film, photography with such high clarity that you can see the water and ink collide in a way that the naked eye can't see." i.n.k. was inspired by one of Maruyama's images that shows a single drop of water falling into ink, forming a crown shape in the explosion when the two liquids meet.

See our interview with Jessica Lang, with a video excerpt from i.n.k.

"The Calling, a short solo with the dancer in this giant white skirt, is becoming a really popular image," Lang says. "It's a very simple solo; Kana Kimura performs it. I had been thinking of doing a piece with a man standing in the middle of the stage and draped in fabric that fell off the edge of the stage. Out of practicality, we ended up making it just a huge skirt because draping the stage would have been a lot of fabric."

See Jessica Lang Dance at 8 p.m. Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. For information, call 713-227-4772 or visit the Society for the Performing Arts website. $23 to $73.

Most of us can't afford to sit on the front row at our favorite group's concerts (ticket prices can run near $1,000 for prime seats). The Northwoods Concert Series is helping to change all that by bringing high-profile artists to the 500‑seat Northwoods Presbyterian Church. On Saturday, the series presents the Manhattan Transfer, the jazz vocal quartet that has remained on top of the musical world for more than 40 years.

The Northwoods series fits in perfectly with MT's new concert format, which they call the Living Room Sessions. Featuring just the four singers and a piano, these more intimate concerts are full of low-key but technically brilliant performances. They also offer the group a chance to tell stories about their long career. "I knew it would translate to our stage because at Northwoods, the audience is only a few feet from the performer," said organizer Todd Nolde by e‑mail. Affordable ticket prices combined with an almost unprecedented level of nearness to the stars made a recent concert with Doc Severinsen and the San Miguel 5 a remarkable experience for fans. We expect more of the same for the Manhattan Transfer. The music starts at 7:30 p.m. 3320 Cypress Creek Parkway (FM 1960). For information, call 281-444-8861 or visit the series website. $30.

Expect a stripped-down set and minimalist costumes at the Bayou City Theatrics production of Les Misérables, one of our picks for Saturday. "When you look at Les Mis, there's definitely a sense of grandeur, of spectacle," Colton Berry, the group's artistic director, tells us. "As we do with every show we [produce], we try to bring it back to storytelling. We've stripped away the revolving stage and cut the cast down, to present something that's quite simple and allows us to focus on the storytelling. The story and the score are already stunning; they don't need a lot of dressing up. We're letting the musical stand on its own. "

This production, which, according to Berry, is the first ever in Houston with a completely local cast and crew, is set in a factory where workers have come together to recount the dramatic story of life during the French Revolution. "There are hundreds of roles in the script," Berry says, "and we've got only 24 cast members total, from leads to ensemble. During the show, one of the factory workers adopts a new piece of costume or physicality or affect, and becomes a different character. Some of the men play more than 15 characters."

Besides the toned-down visuals, BCT's Les Mis is being presented in two distinct singing styles. "We have a classic cast and modern cast. On the classic cast nights, you'll hear Les Mis as diehard fans expect it. On modern nights, we're taking a much more raw, more contemporary sound." Berry tells us it's nowhere near a rock opera, but it's also far from the traditional Broadway approach.

8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Through September 29. Frenetic Theater, 5102 Navigation. For information, call 832-444-4400 or visit the Bayou City Theatrics website. $30.

It's a role once performed by Dame Margot Fonteyn -- Hanna, the woman also known as The Merry Widow. For this production of the witty comedy by Houston Ballet, principal dancer Mireille Hassenboehler and former principal dancer Amy Fote share the role. (This is the last time Hassenboehler performs the role before her upcoming retirement later this year; it's the first time Fote appears in the role since her retirement last year.) Hanna, a wealthy widow in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, is being wooed by Count Danilo. As their courtship starts, Hanna realizes that as a young girl she had been in love with Danilo, who rejected her. Out to get a little romantic payback, Hanna sets out to make him sorry for his past actions.

Fote calls The Merry Widow "quite a masterpiece," and says, "It's a beautiful ballet with a score that you'll definitely go away humming." She praises choreographer Ronald Hynd's creativity and storytelling skills. "He's very musical, for starters. And especially with the pas de deux, he's very creative. Every scene projects the ballet forward; each movement continues to tell the story."

John Meehan, who in 1975 originated the role of Danilo, contributed to the staging for this production. Fote says she made sure to learn all her choreography before he arrived. "I didn't want to waste any time. I didn't want him to have to tell me how to do a step; rather, I wanted him to tell me why it's done that way. For me, that's much more interesting as a dancer."

Be swept away with The Merry Widow at 7:30 p.m. September 19, 21, 27 and 28, 2 p.m. September 22, 28 and 29. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, call 713-227-2787 or visit the Houston Ballet website. $19 to $190.

Margaret Downing and Jef with One F contributed to this post.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez