Houston's most extreme arts festival offers strange and extraordinary performances
Film and television star Lili Taylor performs artist Suzanne Bocanegra’s memoir-lecture about farm life across the road from Texas’s most famous brothel. An acclaimed Norwegian choreographer brings a Japanese flamenco master and an Argentinian kabuki expert together in dance. And Donald Barthelme’s post-modern fairytale masterpiece, Snow White, finally makes it to the stage after almost 50 years.
These performances are just some of the strange and extraordinary events we can expect from CounterCurrent, Houston’s most extreme cross-discipline arts festival. Oh yeah, and all the tickets are free.
For its fourth year, the CounterCurrent Festival, presented by the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, brings to town national and internationally renowned artists, but, as always, the five-day festival running from April 18-23 remains thoroughly grounded in Houston.
“We took a look at Houston’s populations and the issues of the day, political and sociological, and we responded to them,” explains Karen Farber, the Mitchell Center’s executive director, about the programming for CounterCurrent 2017. “One of our commitments is to take a look at the power the arts can have in our communities and societies.”
But CounterCurrent has always been true to its title, presenting art and projects that do not run easy with the current, but instead provoke and perhaps even challenge people’s perceptions.
“Not everyone in Houston agrees on everything,” Farber describes as a positive. “We’d like to place our artists in an environment when they can really craft their opinions, in a situation where there’s some real tension, and they’re actually dealing with the reality of our population.”
If you’re ready to meet that art challenge, CounterCurrent delivers a plethora of performances, projects and events to explore, so check out the schedule and reserve those free tickets early. But for a Festival introductory guide, here’s some currents you’ll want to sweep you away.
Farber admits she’s a little “obsessed” with Suzanne Bocanegra’s work, which has been featured every year in the festival, and calls the artist with deep Texas and Houston roots an “anti-performance-artist” who makes performance pieces. Lili Taylor will perform Bocanegra's art-lecture about life on her grandparents’ La Grange farm across the road from that best little whorehouse in Texas, the Chicken Ranch.
When: Friday (April 21) at 7 pm, Saturday (April 22) at 3 pm and 7 pm.
Where: MATCH - Box 1, 3400 Main Street.
Ten Tiny Dances
Though the dances and dancers change every year, the format and philosophy that “constraint begets creativity” produces some astonishing kinetic dance pieces every year. This 2017 edition is co-curated by one of Houston’s foremost dance experts Nancy Wozny.
When: Wednesday (April 19) at 8 pm. Reception sponsored by Saint Arnold Brewing Company at 7 pm.
Where: Post HTX, 401 Franklin Street.
Last year the activism artist collective asked Houstonians from all communities “What’s your Houston diversity problem?” then took the responses to think tanks around the world for solutions. This year the artists are back and have created a piece of structural art that is also an active, mobile mosque. Festival-goers and the general public will be invited to participate in activities in conjunction with Ghana ThinkTank’s ongoing work.
When and Where: Various times and locations, Tuesday (April 18) through Sunday (April 23).
Movement V: Ballroom
Artist Kevin Beasley creates a site-specific sculptural and sound installation at the Houston cultural landmark, The Historic Eldorado Ballroom, and lets audiences connect with local musical history through art.
“Kevin Beasley’s installation is interactive in a way that’s not immediately evident,” describes Farber. “Nothing will happen in the space unless there are people in it. Sound is triggered by bodies hitting the space. It’s very intentional on his part because he’s looking at the absent of people from that space and from that neighborhood and the history of that neighbor and how bodies can sort of echo in a historic space.”
When: Installation Tuesday (April 18) through Sunday (April 23) noon- 8 pm. Opening Reception Thursday (April 20) 7 pm - 9 pm. Performance Saturday (April 22) at 8 pm.
Where: The Historic Eldorado Ballroom, 2310 Elgin Street.
A Lost Masterpiece Found
Catastrophic Theatre’s staging of Snow White, the first novel by one of Houston’s greatest literary sons, Donald Barthelme, is garnering national attention. The story of how the almost-forgotten play manuscript finally came to be produced is a bit of a "strange only-in-Houston" fairytale itself, but the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center’s investment in the production’s development made certain Snow White would have her day. Farber had been looking to collaborate with Catastrophic for some time but Snow White became the perfect partnership.
“When Snow White came about it was so much more ideal than anything else we’d ever talked about because of obviously the Barthelme connection to the UH Creative Writing Program, and because of the possibility of interaction with the School of Theater and Dance, which ultimately became a fruitful thing, so that there are many UH participants in the piece.”
See this production now because early reviews and the national attention could signal a happy fairy tale future for the absurdist comedy.
When: Thursdays through Saturdays through May 6. All tickets are gone for the CounterCurrent performances April 20 through April 22, although a small number of walk up tickets are held for most CounterCurrent performances, with tickets first-come, first-served at the venue 30 minutes before each performance. Suggested donation of $35 for performances from April 27-May 6.
Where: MATCH - BOX 3, 3400 Main Street.
Come to the April 18 Festival opening night for Simulacrum, the culture clashing and collaborating dance performance, but stay for the party at the MATCH, beginning at 6 pm. While much of the work throughout the week will be thought-provokingly provocative, that’s all the more reason to party down with free drinks, free performances and a Houston-style celebration of the arts.
Tickets for CounterCurrent events are free but should be reserved in advance.