Top Five Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Underland, Nick Flynn and More

With so many stories to tell, American dancer/choreographer Stephen Petronio chose a darker journey when the Sydney Dance Company commissioned him to write what became Underland in 2003. In 2011, Petronio was able to buy the rights to the modern dance work set to the music of Australian pop musician Nick Cave and mounted a production in New York City. Now Houston's Society for the Performing Arts is sponsoring Petronio's first visit to Houston and has asked him to perform this work that he says is set in ''a dark world, a dark place beneath the surface -- maybe post-Apocalyptic place and maybe someplace where the sun's not always shining.'' It runs continuously at just under 70 minutes, Petronio says, and is built around seven Cave songs that already existed -- some ''from a period in the '80s called the murder ballads.'' There will be 11 performers onstage during the Friday performance, including Petronio himself, who makes an appearance in the beginning that involves the help of an aerial crew. ''It's not a chipper ballet, for sure. I'm a modern choreographer. I draw heavily on many different idioms. There's a lot of very quick, very fast legwork, so there's more of a balletic feel to it.'' He said he wanted to tell this story because ''everything can't be pretty and beautiful. And dance can speak to many different parts of us. Having said that, it runs the gamut from dance to light.'' Petronio says the work appeals to a very broad audience ranging from anyone who likes Nick Cave to people who are very interested in movement. It's not a narrative work, but it has a narrative arc, he says.

See Underland at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. For information, visit the SPA website or call 713-227-4772. $35 to $70.

The Black Lab Theatre's current production, The Submission by Jeff Talbott, shows that prejudice isn't all black and white; it comes in a multitude of grays. Directed by Jordan Jaffe, the show, which opens on Friday, chronicles the adventures of a struggling playwright who pens an uplifting drama about an African-American family trying to get out of the housing projects. Happily, the play gets accepted for staging at a prestigious festival. Unhappily, although the winning entry was submitted under the pen name of a black woman, one Shaleeha G'ntamobi, the person who crafted it is actually a white gay guy named Danny. Faced with having to produce G'ntamobi for the festival judges, Danny hires an actress, Emilie, to impersonate the imagined playwright and be his voice for the all-important rehearsal process. Emilie takes to her role well, perhaps a little too well. Danny desperately sends her text messages and e-mails her instructions, but she disregards them all as she embraces her role as creator. Danny's forced to stand on the sidelines and watch her take credit for his work. As the two struggle with what's ''yours'' (his play) and what's ''mine'' (her culture), Talbott unmasks unexpected undercurrents of prejudice.

See The Submission at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. January 20 and 27. Through January 27. Frenetic Theatre, 5102 Navigation. For information, visit the Black Lab Theatre website or call 713‑515‑4028. $12 to $24.

You'll have three options to enjoy Mercury Neighborhood Concert Series: Schubert's Death and the Maiden, with back-to-back performances including a Saturday concert downtown. The program includes a string orchestra performance of Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor (Death and the Maiden) and Mendelssohn's String Quartet Op. 44, No. 1. Both pieces were originally written for string quartets.

Mercury performs Death and the Maiden at 8 p.m. Friday. University of Houston - Clear Lake, 2700 Bay Area Boulevard. $6 to $12. 8 p.m. Saturday. Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. $10 to $61. 8 p.m. Sunday. The John Cooper School, 1 John Cooper Drive, The Woodlands. $10 to $30. For information, visit the Mercury website or call 713-533-0080.

There will be two Guggenheim Fellows onstage during the MFAH Film Special Presentation: A Conversation with Author Nick Flynn on Sunday. Both Flynn and his partner for the evening, author and neuroscientist David Eagleman, have won the prestigious fellowship for their previous works. The pair will be discussing Flynn's newest release, The Reenactments: A Memoir. The book picks up where his Another Bullshit Night in Suck City left off. That book told the story of Flynn's life during his early twenties. Trying to launch his career as a writer, he took a job at a homeless shelter and subsequently met his estranged father, a shelter resident. Reenactments details Flynn's experience in making Suck City into Being Flynn, a movie with Robert De Niro, in 2012, recounting such moments as his being on set during the filming of his mother's suicide and the depiction of his father's long-term homelessness. Flynn, an assistant professor at the University of Houston, and Eagleman, director of the Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, will use film clips to illustrate their discussion of Reenactments.

A Conversation with Author Nick Flynn starts at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. For information, visit the museum website or call 713‑639-7300. Free with paid $8 to $13 museum admission.

The dance works seen in Venturing Out on Sunday are at varying stages of the creative process. Some are complete and have already been performed elsewhere; others are little more than an idea. Dancemakers use the showcase as a testing ground for works without the pressure (and expense!) of a full production. The evening is informal, opening with a mixer, followed by the performances, and closing with a post-performance reception.

Venturing Out starts at 5 p.m. on Sunday at City Dance Studio, 1307 West Clay. For information, visit the event's website. $10.

Margaret Downing and Bob Ruggiero contributed to this post.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez