Top Five Things to Do This Weekend: Chucho Valdés, Vine Leaf Dances and More

Houston gets a visit from Latin jazz royalty on Friday when Da Camera presents the Chucho Valdés Quintet. The New York Times called the Cuban musician/bandleader "one of the world's great virtuosic pianists"; Jazziz magazine dubbed him "the most complete pianist in the world." The four Grammy Awards sitting on his mantle seem to indicate the praise is well-deserved. The son of Bebo Valdés, the stylish pianist and bandleader from the golden era of music on the island, Valdés burst on the international scene when he stepped away from his father's elegant style and founded the legendary Latin jazz group Irakere in 1972. Since then, he's built a reputation as a gifted musician well able to mix his native Afro-Cuban rhythms with classical European influences and American jazz traditions. Now, at 70 years old, he's taken over the elder statesman status his father once held. Friday's set list is sure to include several numbers from Chucho's Steps, the release that won Valdés the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album.

The Chucho Valdés Quintet appears at 8 p.m. on Friday at the Wortham Theatre Center, 500 Texas. For information, visit the Da Camera website or call 713-524-5050. $33 to $60.

Choreographer Karen Stokes mounts Vine Leaf Dances on Friday and Saturday. While the individual works are short, it took Stokes a long time to create them. "There are some choreographers who work very quickly, I happen not to be one of those," Karen Stokes tells us. "I build works over a long period of time. It sometimes takes me five years to produce an evening-length work. As I'm working I'm actually creating shorter works." And it's four of those works that we'll see during Vine Leaf Dance, a two-act program. Vine Leaf takes its name from the word vignette, which is defined, according to press materials, as "stories that are so small they can be written on a vine leaf." The second half of the program features Stokes' new one-act, Distreston & Balia. Distreston, as its name implies, explores a world filled with residents that are in distress. Zombie-like characters whip themselves into a frenzy and eventually collapse into a disordered mound. In Balia, the characters live in a tranquil and calm world, sweeping gracefully across the stage. Stokes says both pieces reflect states of mind, confusion and serenity.

See Vine Leaf Dances at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Barnevelder Theatre, 2201 Preston. For information, visit the company's website or call 713-409-2838. $12 to $22.

Child soldiers, emotional homecomings and medical rescues are among the images seen in "WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath," a large exhibition currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and our recommendation for Saturday. Philip Jones Griffiths's 1968 shot of a young Vietnamese boy boy wearing a seemingly over-sized helmet and combat boots has a special impact when viewers learn a bit about the child. "Called 'Little Tiger' for killing two 'Viet Cong women cadre'--his mother and teacher, it was rumored, Vietnam" reads the title card. Micha Bar-Am's 1976 photo The return from Entebbe, Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel, from his series Promised Land, shows a middle aged woman embracing a young man in uniform; her face contorted in her extreme relief and happiness. Henri Huet 1966 photo of a hovering helicopter a body in mid-air under it. At first glance, it could be a falling body, but the title card reveals it's actually a dead soldier being raised up to an evacuation helicopter. The exhibit covers more than 165 years of conflict, from the Mexican-American War of the mid-1800s to the current combat in the Middle East and Africa.

"WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY" is a timed entry exhibit and requires a separate ticket. 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, 12:15 to 7 p.m. Sundays. Through February 3. 1001 Bissonnet. For information, visit the museum's website or call 713-639-7300. $15 to $18.

For more than half a century, Bill Cosby has remained a powerful and relevant force in both comedy and social activism. The clean, fatherly figure, appearing on Sunday at the Arena Theatre, has had generations of fans. He's well-known as Cliff Huxtable, the head of The Cosby Show, as the creator of children's shows, and for his humanitarian work, but he's still a stand-up comedian at heart and even at 75 years old he still has all of his skill. Though his performances no longer span three hours and may be paced a little slower than you remember from watching Bill Cosby: Himself over and over again, the same familiar style and goofy expressions bring to life the tiny domestic failures and victories that make up domestic American existence. "I have one drawer left," he remarks, talking self-deprecatingly about his wife's dominance of the home. "I don't know where it is." Cosby is a living legend, the last of his kind, and it would be a shame to miss him when the opportunity arises.

See Bill Cosby at 8 p.m. on Sunday. 7326 Southwest Freeway. For information, visit the arena's website or call 713-772-5900. $77 to $209.

The music of the late Danish composer Carl Nielsen is of special interest for fellow Dane, conductor Thomas Dausgaard; the conductor's piano teacher was a student of Nielsen. On Sunday, Dausgaard leads the Houston Symphony in Beethoven and Listz, a program that includes not only works by those two notables, but Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, The Inextinguishable as well. Dausgaard is also well-acquainted with Beethoven's music; among his 50-plus CDs, he has recorded the complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

Guest pianist Stephen Hough joins Dausgaard and the orchestra onstage to perform Liszt: Piano Concerto No. 1. Hough, a past winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and currently Artist-in-Residence with the BBC Symphony in London, is a bit of a renaissance man. His recently released CD Stephen Hough's French Album has been called "a glimpse into the musical mind of a great pianist." In addition to being a world-class performer, Hough is a much-in-demand composer, writing commissions for Le Musée de Louvre and the Berlin Philharmonic. A prolific author, Hough has frequently written about theology and often writes for several London newspaper, including The Times, The Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, where he pens an extremely popular cultural blog. On a different tack tack, he recently had an exhibit of his paintings in a London gallery.

See what Thomas Dausgaard, Stephen Hough and the Houston Symphony can do when they join forces at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, 615 Louisiana. For information, visit the symphony's website or call 713-224-7575. $20 to $111.

Jef with One F contributed to this post.

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Olivia Flores Alvarez