While Houstonians laud the city's diverse cultural makeup as a point of pride, it's not often that an opportunity surfaces to delve into the traditions of such communities — beyond their culinary arts. At least not without having to dig deep and travel to undiscovered areas of town.
Surely a cornucopia of colorful events are happening everywhere in this megalopolis, yet Asia Society Texas Center (ASTC) inaugural fall performing arts season aims to render easy access to these rich experiences in the nonprofit's swanky, Yoshio Taniguchi-designed building.
Parking? Across the street. What's your excuse?
The program is curated by Asia Society Texas Center director of programs Sabrina Lynn Motley, who left a post at The Getty Center in Los Angeles to join ASTC's administrative team. Her anthropology degree from UCLA whets her artsy curiosity to amass a season that investigates the subtleties within customary and contemporary Asian lore, mostly through music and dance complemented by film and theater.
Father Ali Khan first performed at Asia Society New York in the 1960s, and aspired to partake in Houston's debut program as well.
Voices of Afghanistan (Tonight at 7:30; tickets are $15 to $25) features singer Ustad Farida Mahwash and rubâb (Afghan lute) virtuoso Homayoun Sakhi in a full evening musicale of love airs, both romantic and spiritual, sung in Pashto and Dari, which are modern Persian patois. In 1991, Farida Mahwash sought refuge in Pakistan after opposing political forces sternly warned her not to communicate messages contrary to their dogma — or face execution.
She was granted asylum in the United States, where she has sung with other artists of repute, like Dawn Upshaw.
Similar to the rubâb is the sarod, used mainly in northern India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Umstad Amjad Ali Khan (Sept. 20; tickets are $15 to $25) and his two sons, Amaan and Ayann, are credited with elevating the status of the sarod from folk lute to an artistic medium of international notoriety. Father Ali Khan first performed at Asia Society New York in the 1960s, and aspired to partake in Houston's debut program as well.
Power danseuse Mythili Prakash (Thursday; tickets are $15 to $25) goes beyond the execution of Bharatanatyam (traditional South Indian dance) into art advocacy, believing that transmitting form and technique are just the beginning. She has a passion for communicating the form's ethos, and why it's critical to preserve its practice. That passion comes from her mother, Viji Prakash, who's a dancer and musician of distinction.
Mythili Prakash will be working with local teacher Rathna Kumar to lead a master class at Anjali School of Dance in Sugar Land (Sept. 29).
Zeb & Haniya (Oct. 4; tickets are $15 to $25), presented by Center Stage, is contemporary in approach. Jazz and Blues sang in Farsi, Turkish, Pashtun and English evince the yearning of Pakistan's young generation.
Vahdat's predicament, one that prohibits her from singing publicly in her homeland of Iran, adds an additional undercurrent of personal struggle.
Houston favorite Dominic Walsh Dance Theater collaborates with Hana Sakai and Kensaku Satou (Oct. 19-21; tickets are $30 to $35) to mix athletic, contemporary ballet with thunderous Japanese taiko drumming.
The first performance as part of Asia Society Texas Center's "Crossroads Asia" series presents Mahsa Vahdat & Mighty Sam McClain (Nov. 7; tickets are $15 to $25). "Crossroads Asia" focuses on artists that reach beyond fusion. Case in point: This duo's musicianship bridges across cultures and regions to invent a new genre altogether.
That would be an interplay between Chicago Blues with classical Persian sonorities. Vahdat's predicament, one that prohibits her from singing publicly in her homeland of Iran, adds an additional undercurrent of personal struggle.
CultureTip: You'll need tissues for this show, though Motley promises you'll feel uplifted by this unusual category of music making. Take a listen to their newest album, A Deeper Tone of Longing: Love Duets Across Civilizations.