Ringling Bros. Is Built to Amaze But Could Use Some Work

Categories: Performance Art

Photo by Lynda Rouner
I skipped the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year, but did have a chance to check out Fully Charged the year before. In the two years since then, there have been some improvements made in the latest tour, Built to Amaze, but not necessarily enough to justify a ticket to those hoping for a whole new experience.

One thing that was definitely changed for the worse was the music. Circus music is usually made up heavily of tunes that are more or less knockoffs of pop songs, but whereas Fully Charged felt like it pulled from more timeless melodies like Abba's "Mamma Mia," Built to Amaze seemed to try over-hard to tap into modern, drill-team-ready pop songs. They even busted out "Gangnam Style," which at this point is a pop culture crime.

Music aside, it's a brighter show than in previous years, trading mystery for bald performance. These included some really inventive highlights.

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Five Divine Things Bette Midler Must Do While in Houston

Can you get any more fabulous than the inimitable Bette Midler? Eh, probably not.

The Divine Miss M has a career that spans nearly half a century, and it began alongside a young Barry Manilow, performing bawdy comedy shows while he accompanied her on the piano. Her career started out with Barry Manilow.

Things only went uphill from there. Those steel nerves and her grand sense of comedic timing eventually earned her a spot on the stage in the theater, from which she'd eventually move on down to the sandy acting shores, starring in classics like Beaches and The Rose.

And now, after all of those years on stage, she's become a gay icon, a straight icon, a theater icon, and whatever else you can possibly pair with icon. She's toting around a boatload of Grammy Awards, Academy Awards, and Emmy Awards, and she's got walls lined with platinum records from her years being so darn fab.

So what else could she possibly want to do in this lifetime? Bette not only is everything; she's done everything, too.

Well, almost everything, that is. It seems that while Bette, who will be in town on Tuesday to speak at the Wortham Theater Center for the Brilliant Lecture Series, was earning all those awards and being all fancy and fantastic, she skipped over a couple of bucket list items -- Bette-centric items -- and they're things that happen right around our fine city. It's a wrong that should be righted as soon as possible.

But don't worry, Ms Midler. We know how important bucket lists are, and we're here to help you out on this one. Here is the guide to all of the Bette-related stuff to do in Houston. And yes, we left "hang out with us and take selfies" off the list.

We know our limits.

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When Brilliant Met Divine: A Healthy Conversation with Bette Midler

Photo by Jonathan Pushnik
Bette Midler
She sings. She dances. She acts. She jokes. She cleans up decrepit, crumbling urban properties. She wins awards for all those things. And she also, simply, talks.

In a bit of a departure from her standard high-production fare, on April 29, Bette Midler, the aptly monikered Divine Miss M, addresses the equal-parts anticipatory/participatory audience of the Brilliant Lecture Series.

"I'm happy to be doing this event. I've been doing them for a couple of years now, I kind of enjoy them," Bette Midler remarked on her upcoming Q-and-A appearance with the series which this year has also welcomed luminaries Betty Buckley, Robert Duvall, and Diane Keaton. "I've been to Minneapolis, I went to Niagara Falls, I mean, I've been around.

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Mayor Parker Announces Houston's Fall Arts Season

A crowd of whose who in the Houston arts community gathered last Friday on a very sticky morning for Mayor Anise Parker's official opening to the Houston Fall Arts Season. Held on the front lawn of the Menil, the purpose of the address was to give a preview of what is to come this year for Houston's robust art community and reflect on the success the city has seen in regard to its "Houston Is Inspired" tourism campaign, which has been running for several months now.

Opening the commencement was the Director of the Menil, Josef Helfenstein, who spoke on behalf of the "over 500 arts organizations" actively creating and producing art in the city. Helfenstein was followed by Executive Director of classical music company, Musicqa, Joseph Wilson. Wilson gave a sneak-peek into the upcoming installation exhibition "What Time Is It," which will open in downtown's market square on September 28. The exhibition is a collaborative effort between Musiqa and artist Jo Ann Fleischhauer that incorporates music and art with the concept of time.

Mayor Parker chats with Musiqa's Joseph Wilson and HAA's Jonathan Glus.

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Tear Up Those Note Cards: The Moth StorySLAM is Coming to Houston

Photo by Flickr user Imark
A Moth StorySLAM

If you've been listening to 88.7 KUHF recently, you've probably heard an episode of The Moth Radio Hour, the hour-long program dedicated to "true stories, told live, without notes." On Tuesday, the Moth's monthly StorySLAM launches in Houston. The first slam will take place on 7:30 p.m. at Stereo Live and will continue on the second Tuesday of each month.

Elizabeth Sosa Bailey, community engagement coordinator at Houston Public Media and the new producer of the Houston Moth StorySLAM, said the stories you hear on the Moth Radio Hour, a show syndicated to more than 200 public radio stations nationwide, are curated from stories told at Moth StorySLAM in more than 14 different cities nationwide.

"After each slam, there is one winner, and the 12 winners at the end of the year get together for the GrandSLAM," she said. "The Moth Radio Hour is made up of stories from those GrandSLAM winners in each city."

The Moth was founded in 1997 by writer George Dawes Green, who grew up in Georgia. As an adult, he began to reminisce about the hours of porch-side storytelling and whiskey-drinking that was a tradition of his upbringing. He called his group of storytellers The Moths after the bugs that would swoop towards the lights on those late porch nights.

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Blue Man Group Returns to Houston

Categories: Performance Art

Photo by Paul Kolnik

Everyone's favorite blue men return to Houston for an eight-performance engagement at Jones Hall from June 4 to June 9. Blue Man Group's touring production brings together all of its trademark elements: original instrumental rhythms, mind-altering video projections and unforgettable sound design. Part music concert, part multimedia art project, Blue Man Group is all parts theatrical spectacle. As any iPhone user knows, all things tech become dated, but there's a reason why this performing troupe has stayed a hot ticket since the early '90s. Underneath all that blue paint and computer-generated imagery, Blue Man Group has a heart.

"We say that no matter how high-tech things get, there's still something human there. We'll always need others, always need to collaborate," says co-founder and original Blue Man Philip Stanton via press materials." People still need to come together and look each other in the eye. Through the Blue Man's connection with the audience, we hope to encourage this human-to-human interaction, while helping people reconnect with their own sense of wonder and discovery, with their own sense of what is possible in their lives."

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Comicpalooza: The Shadow Casts Come Out at Night

Categories: Performance Art

Your humble narrator was part of a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast for the better part of a decade. I spent every Saturday night in Frank-n-Furter's fishnets singing "Sweet Transvestite" and soaking up the unique ambience of carnival and cabaret that comes from the experience. There is simply nothing like it. They don't call it a cult classic for nothing.

You can get the same experience once a month at the River Oaks Theatre here in Houston, but the After Midnight Cast specializes in rolling road shows that bring the magic and mockery to wherever it might be appropriate. This weekend at Comicpalooza they'll set-up shop with three different performances.

Of course they'll do Rocky, but the experience is somewhat different than the one people have been flocking to at midnight for the last three decades.

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Steven Petronio Crafts Haunting Dance From Nick Cave's Music in Underland

Photo by Julie Lemberger
In Underland, eclectic videography, movement, and costume work together to build a world onstage
The Setup
In 2003, Sydney Dance Company commissioned Steven Petronio to create a ballet for them. Inspired by the music of Australian musician Nick Cave, his collaborator on this work, Petronio conceived Underland, a chilling piece exploring the dark motifs of Cave's music. The Sydney Dance Company's license on Underland recently ended, and last Friday evening, thanks to the Society of the Performing Arts, Petronio's own company brought this world to life in the Wortham Theater Center.

The Execution
A web of ropes hangs from the rafters, motionless. Three rectangular screens loom in the background. As light creeps onto the stage, so creeps a man slowly down the web, his legs bent out like a frog's. The screen farthest from him shows a close-up of him in his descent, while sped-up clips of fire, marches, funerals, and streets sputter across the adjacent two. It's enchanting, yet disorienting - it's our welcome to Underland.

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VIDEO: Peter Pan Takes the Metro Rail

Categories: Performance Art

Monica Fuentes
Daytime commuters downtown got a surprise this afternoon thanks to Theatre Under the Stars. That's because Peter Pan (and nemesis Captain Hook) opted to ride the light rail to Neverland instead of flying.

The ride was coordinated by TUTS to help drum up excitement for the Emmy Award-winning musical, which opens December 11 at the Hobby Center.

Last month, editor Margaret Downing talked to legendary actress Cathy Rigby, who, at age 60, is still performing as Peter Pan. On this ride, Peter and Captain Hook managed to get along pretty well, minus a brief skirmish at the Main Street stop. (That's TUTS actress and teacher Kristin Warren as Peter Pan and Sam Byrd, TUTS PR manager, as Hook, in the photo above.)

Check out the video after the jump.

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Revolve Dance Company Premieres Work, Solves Staging Challenges in Nexus

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Photo by David Bullanday Photography
The Setup
On November 9 and 10, Revolve Dance Company takes over Barnevelder Theater to present its fall concert Nexus, a collection of new pieces imagined by a variety of choreographers, including its co-directors and founding members.

The Execution
The pieces comprising Nexus were an eclectic bunch, spanning a variety of genres and themes. While they did not deliberately share a narrative, these pieces aligned themselves in order of increasing sophistication in movement quality and staging.

The first piece, "Let's Go for a Ride," was energetic on the surface, as women in brightly colored flapper dresses took turns seducing (man)nequins on roller skates to the tune of a pop song laced with Andrews Sisters riffs. Beyond its novelty, however, it felt somewhat underdeveloped. The movement held extremely tightly to the music, feeling more like a direct translation than an interpretation. Orders of solos and movement phrases became quickly predictable, and the dancers threw a number of smiles at the audience which, while cute at first, came across as needy by the end of the piece.

An issue that arose in "Ride" and also in the third piece, "Sound of Silence," was the sheer number of dancers on stage. It should be noted that managing 12 dancers on stage in an intimate venue is no small feat. If there is no focal point, unison movement can look very blurry, and if spacings are not exaggerated, the density of dancers on stage can appear to remain the same throughout the piece. In both of these works, there were times when the movement and staging may have been crisper on three or four dancers instead of a dozen.

That said, there are also incredibly powerful and sophisticated ways to use 12 dancers on stage, and these are what Revolve spent the last two-thirds of the show exploring to remarkable ends.

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