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Best memories: Eight powerful performances that made this arts season special

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Artists of the Houston Ballet in Edwaard Liang's Murmuration
Artists of the Houston Ballet in Edwaard Liang's Murmuration Photo by © Amitava Sarkar
Jay Sullivan as Merrick in the Alley Theatre’s production of The Elephant Man
Jay Sullivan as Merrick in the Alley Theatre’s production of The Elephant Man Photo by © Jann Whaley
Jacquelyne Jay Boe, Laura Gutierrez, Alex Soares and  Brit Wallis in Lydia Hance's film Quiver
Jacquelyne Jay Boe, Laura Gutierrez, Alex Soares and Brit Wallis in Lydia Hance's film Quiver Photo by Jonathon Hance
Organ guru and fashion icon Cameron Carptenter rocked the Christ Church Cathedral in his SPA performance
Organ guru and fashion icon Cameron Carptenter rocked the Christ Church Cathedral in his SPA performance. Photo by Heiko Laschitzki
Kim Tobin and Matt Lents in Stark Naked Theatre's production of Body Awareness
Kim Tobin and Matt Lents in Stark Naked Theatre's production of Body Awareness Photo by © Gabriella Nissen
Karina Gonzalez and Joseph Walsh in Houston Ballet's production of La Bayadere
Karina Gonzalez and Joseph Walsh in Houston Ballet's production of La Bayadere Photo by © Amitava Sarkar
Artists of the Houston Ballet in Edwaard Liang's Murmuration
Jay Sullivan as Merrick in the Alley Theatre’s production of The Elephant Man
Jacquelyne Jay Boe, Laura Gutierrez, Alex Soares and  Brit Wallis in Lydia Hance's film Quiver
Organ guru and fashion icon Cameron Carptenter rocked the Christ Church Cathedral in his SPA performance
Kim Tobin and Matt Lents in Stark Naked Theatre's production of Body Awareness
Karina Gonzalez and Joseph Walsh in Houston Ballet's production of La Bayadere
Nancy Wozny, head shot, September 2012

My inbox is bombarded with new season info. Looks great, people, I'll be there, but not right now, I'm still processing this past season.

As May winds down and we head into the semi-arts desert of the summer months, I consider, so what did I see that I can still remember? A whole lot of art has passed my optic nerve between September and now. I missed a lot too, because of that troublesome one body problem.

I've seen many terrific performances. But here's my question, as I head to the pool with a stack of novels, what's still speaking to me? What would I like to see again? What am I still hoping to understand? That's the definition of a keeper, and here's my list.

Chinglish, a perfect fit for Black Lab and Asia Society

Much about Black Lab Theatre's production (with Asia Society Texas Center) of David Henry Hwang's Chinglish stayed with me: The hilarious switching between English and Mandarin, the clever minimalism of the set, and most potently Vivian Chiu's performance, which cut to the core of global misunderstanding. Chinglish looked made to fit into the Asia Society's Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater. What a coup for a small outfit to pull off such a polished performance. I tend to get excited when all the elements align this way. Chinglish runs through May 26 at Asia Society. 

Bird Dances at Houston Ballet

When the curtain came down on Edwaard Liang's Murmuration at Houston Ballet, I leapt to my feet, only to find the rest of the audience standing with me. It was that good. There's nothing unusual about turning to the natural world for inspiration in the dance world, or for that matter, the art world in general. It was the way Liang took an idea, the unexplained patterns of bird formation patterns, and ran with it, inventing his own language in the process. The duet between Mireille Hassenboehler and Simon Ball, with its dynamic ebbs and flows, brought out rare qualities that I had never noticed in these dancers. Murmuration is simply a marvel of a ballet.

Hand Dances at Musiqa

There's a reason that Musiqa won a Chamber Music America Award/ American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers for Adventurous Programming. The group has a way of putting programs together that keeps us thinking. Thierry De Mey's Table Music, performed as part of their January program, "Percussion Illusions," is just such an example. Using only their hands as instruments, UH Moores School Percussion Ensemble members Russell Maley, Briana Garcia and Eddie Solomon were mesmerizing. It proved to me once and for all that there is so much theater in music.

Karina Gonzalez Moves Up at Houston Ballet

I almost missed Karina Gonzalez dancing the role of Nikiya in La Bayadère. I had accidently double booked myself. In a last minute switch, I managed to make the performance, and I'm glad I did. I learned something in her performance that night. Dancing at this level can be larger than the role. I don't think anyone was surprised when her promotion to principal was announced. 

The Most Graceful Elephant in Town at the Alley

Jay Sullivan's eloquent portrayal of John Merrick, in the Alley Theatre production of Bernard Pomerance’s The Elephant Man, continues to haunt me. The scene when Mrs. Kendal goes to shake John Merrick's hand will be etched in my memory. He reaches out with his "good"  hand, while she reaches for the other "deformed" one. Time stops as Merrick finally agrees to her gentle request. She acknowledges the whole of him. A simple gesture dilates the moment, and we learn everything we need to know about these two characters. 

Organ Music Redefined at Society for the Performing Arts

Cameron Carpenter delighted on just about every level during his Society for the Performing Arts show at Christ Church Cathedral; he's a fantastic musician, a consummate performer, a witty speaker, and can totally rock a pair of sparkly shoes. I found his performance dazzling from start to finish. His brief introductions helped put both his musical choices and the instrument in context. His seems like the kind of musician that will be at the top of the future of classical music.

Flesh and Steel at Frame Dance Productions

Frame Dance Productions' newest film, Quiver, sets an eerie industrial tone. Choreographed and directed by Frame Dance founder Lydia Hance, Quiver juxtaposes fluid movement against a steel urban environment. Four dancers in blue felt skirts move in and out of the Pennzoil Place, while buses pass by without notice. We feel the presence of warm bodies in the space, as Hance delicately navigates the architectural elements of a site and the choreographic structure of her movement. Hance's film is just such a potent reminder of how dance forever changes a space. Quiver will be screened again as part of an evening of new and recent work called "Ecouter" on June 28-29 at Studio 101.

Matt Lents Stands Out at Stark Naked

Matt Lents proved an actor to watch in Classical Theatre's production of Candida in 2012. He sealed the deal in playing the role of Jared, an autistic child with a love of all things words, in Annie Baker's Body Awareness, Stark Naked's first offering of the season. Lents held his own performing with three of Houston's finest actors, Kim Tobin, Drake Simpson and Pamela Vogel. He's a very talented young actor, and I suspect and hope that we will be seeing more of him on Houston stages. 

Houston Ballet artists Karina Gonzalez and Chris Coomer will put you under a spell in Edwaard Laing's Murmuration

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