The tide has raised all boats in Houston's modern dance community. And the consistently improving quality of contemporary dance here is at least partially attributable to the arrival of dancer and choreographer Jane Weiner in 1997. Today, new companies, like Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, are exploding onto the scene, while older ones, like Suchu Dance and Weave, are hitting their stride. But Weiner's company, Hope Stone, is still the top pick. Her Doug Elkins-based movement and quirky sense of humor make for performances that are both sublime and fun.

The tide has raised all boats in Houston's modern dance community. And the consistently improving quality of contemporary dance here is at least partially attributable to the arrival of dancer and choreographer Jane Weiner in 1997. Today, new companies, like Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, are exploding onto the scene, while older ones, like Suchu Dance and Weave, are hitting their stride. But Weiner's company, Hope Stone, is still the top pick. Her Doug Elkins-based movement and quirky sense of humor make for performances that are both sublime and fun.

Stanton Welch may have clinched the artistic directorship of Houston Ballet when he set his highly stylized 1995 Madame Butterfly on the company last fall. This not-quite-full-length story ballet married a moving tale with crisp, modern movement. And Ben Stevenson's dancers looked at home in the choreography -- a sign that the company's transition from the longtime director to the young Aussie would go well. Now ballet-watchers can't wait for Welch to set his first original evening-length story ballet on the troupe.

Stanton Welch may have clinched the artistic directorship of Houston Ballet when he set his highly stylized 1995 Madame Butterfly on the company last fall. This not-quite-full-length story ballet married a moving tale with crisp, modern movement. And Ben Stevenson's dancers looked at home in the choreography -- a sign that the company's transition from the longtime director to the young Aussie would go well. Now ballet-watchers can't wait for Welch to set his first original evening-length story ballet on the troupe.

Like the great huckster P.T. Barnum, the folks at Cirque du Soleil know how to elicit the sort of oohs and aahs that come only with, well, the greatest show on earth. They proved this once again this past spring when they pitched their grand white tent downtown for a long run of Alegría. From the opening clown who delighted both children and grown-ups by flinging popcorn at the audience from a box as big as a man, to the aerial high bar act that featured muscled madmen flinging themselves through the air on a swinging silver trapeze, the show was a wonderland of amazements. But what truly set the Canadian circus apart were the gorgeous New Age tunes sung by Eve Monpetit and Nathalie Noël. The soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. Even Barnum can't top that.

Like the great huckster P.T. Barnum, the folks at Cirque du Soleil know how to elicit the sort of oohs and aahs that come only with, well, the greatest show on earth. They proved this once again this past spring when they pitched their grand white tent downtown for a long run of Alegría. From the opening clown who delighted both children and grown-ups by flinging popcorn at the audience from a box as big as a man, to the aerial high bar act that featured muscled madmen flinging themselves through the air on a swinging silver trapeze, the show was a wonderland of amazements. But what truly set the Canadian circus apart were the gorgeous New Age tunes sung by Eve Monpetit and Nathalie Noël. The soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 1996. Even Barnum can't top that.

Best Show to Make You Want to Break into Song

My Fair Lady

Anyone who loves old-time musicals walked out of TUTS's February production of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady humming just a little -- though most probably waited until they got into their cars before fully launching into the grand lyrics of such terrific tunes as "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "Just You Wait!" or "With a Little Bit of Luck." These are the kind of songs that made the oddballs who adore musicals fall in love with them in the first place. And when these nuggets of music magic are performed as beautifully as they were by TUTS's terrific cast (including Glory Crampton as a swaggering Eliza Doolittle, and Paul Schoeffler as a wonderfully pinched and rude Henry Higgins), they are inspiring once again.

Best Show to Make You Want to Break into Song

My Fair Lady

Anyone who loves old-time musicals walked out of TUTS's February production of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady humming just a little -- though most probably waited until they got into their cars before fully launching into the grand lyrics of such terrific tunes as "Wouldn't It Be Loverly," "Just You Wait!" or "With a Little Bit of Luck." These are the kind of songs that made the oddballs who adore musicals fall in love with them in the first place. And when these nuggets of music magic are performed as beautifully as they were by TUTS's terrific cast (including Glory Crampton as a swaggering Eliza Doolittle, and Paul Schoeffler as a wonderfully pinched and rude Henry Higgins), they are inspiring once again.

In 1975, Dave Hickey wrote in The Village Voice that A Soap Opera, created by Kinks star Ray Davies, was one of "only two really successful rock theatricals." Judging by Infernal Bridegroom Productions' performance of the rock classic last November, A Soap Opera hasn't lost anything to the passing years. The wild performers of IBP made the story about a tortured everyman hauling his hind end through the drudgery of middle-class life as relevant today as it was in 1975. And Cary Winscott's Starmaker, complete with white polyester suit, silver lam cape and big rock star sunglasses, was hysterical. Backed by the rangy music coming from the IBP band (led by Anthony Barilla), Winscott carried the day in one of the funniest and hippest shows of the season.
In 1975, Dave Hickey wrote in The Village Voice that A Soap Opera, created by Kinks star Ray Davies, was one of "only two really successful rock theatricals." Judging by Infernal Bridegroom Productions' performance of the rock classic last November, A Soap Opera hasn't lost anything to the passing years. The wild performers of IBP made the story about a tortured everyman hauling his hind end through the drudgery of middle-class life as relevant today as it was in 1975. And Cary Winscott's Starmaker, complete with white polyester suit, silver lamé cape and big rock star sunglasses, was hysterical. Backed by the rangy music coming from the IBP band (led by Anthony Barilla), Winscott carried the day in one of the funniest and hippest shows of the season.

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