Subscribe RSS

What is RSS?


January 2009
« Dec    




Review: Spirits to Enforce

Posted on December 12th, 2008 by admin

Spirits to Enforce
by Mickle Maher

The Catastrophic Theatre
Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex
December 11, 2008

Review by Nancy Wozny
Photos by George Hixson

It’s the last supper over there at The Catastrophic Theatre’s production of Mickle Maher’s Spirits to Enforce, except instead of 12 apostles, we get 12 superheroes, kind of nutty ones at that. There’s even a Jesus lookalike at the center, Walt Zipprian as Ariel, orchestrating the action. Here’s the scenario: superheros are holed up in a submarine where they are conducting a telethon to raise money to put on a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Times are tough for this pack of thespian crusaders. All are fearless defenders of the island of Fathom Town, a place they keep safe and tidy with their oddball traits. The Intoxicator gets the bad guys buzzed, Memory Lass remembers the future, and The Pleaser, well you can figure that out. Then there’s Snow Heavy Branch guy who can’t stop talking about a gondola. Of course, there’s an evil doer (gotta have one), Dr. Cannibal (as in Caliban), who has his own sordid history with The Tempest. Turns out they all do, as the gang discovers they are all remnant spirits of Prospero’s Isle. Snippets of their literary legacies come through in their various phone conversations. They also find that fundraising and putting on a show may be a way harder job than fighting evil. Bard wonks should pay close attention to choice Tempest-isms cleverly tucked into phone chats.

But if you spend too much time connecting the plot dots, you might miss the lush language. Maher’s work feels more like a symphony than a play. It’s a joyride for choral music lovers, and it’s best to just strap yourself in tight and enjoy the prose-bending trip. Maher enlists all kinds of musical structures. Your ear can get lost in the syncopated rhythms, and let it, because that’s where the juice is. They talk all at once, in sequence, in canon, and in a few marvelous moments, to each other. It’s a delicious cacophony for the ears. For most of the play the actors are glued to the phone looking head on at the audience. At one particularly dramatic crescendo, Zipprian stands up to deliver a satisfying Leonardo da Vinci iconic stage picture.

Maher’s work defies conventions. The set, designed Kevin Holden, is one long desk smack parallel to the audience. We only see the actors from the waist up, outside of an occasional trip to the water cooler, in the dark no less, and in Zipprian’s big Jesus moments. Once or twice an actor stands up and gets off the phone; it’s phenomenally exciting. There’s no blocking to speak of, as most of the play takes place in a narrow rectangle. With so much to listen to why mess it up with action. It’s a tight container, hey, like an orchestra.

The cast —all superb—each bring their own distinct variety of mania to their bizarre characters. The play makes for one snazzy showcase for the current talent trust at Catastrophic. Memory Lass (Charlesanne Rabensburg) projects wacky tenderness with The Tune (John Deloach). The flamed-haired Tamarie Cooper is over the top as The Ocean (that’s a good superhero fit for her). Kyle Sturdivant delivers an endearing performance as The Pleaser, while Mikelle Johnson pushes kooky to new heights as The Intoxicator. Zipprian’s Ariel anchors the show, especially when he hands out lollipops during break time.

Catastrophic Theatre’s artistic director Jason Nodler directs close to the center, keeping true to Maher’s idiosyncratic ways. Bless this stalwart troupe for bringing Maher’s breathtakingly original voice to Houston. “Spirits to Enforce” is a quote from the epilogue of The Tempest. The very next line, “art to enchant.” aptly describes this show.

The Catastrophic Theatre presents Mickle Maher’s Spirits To Enforce through December 20th at Barnevelder, 2201 Preston. Call 713-880-5216 or visit


Stranger in Paradise by Michael Guidry

Posted on December 11th, 2008 by admin

Michael Guidry’s solo exhibition will feature a new series of paintings titled Stranger in Paradise. The artist executes his paintings in acrylic on panel and/or canvas. They evoke feelings of isolation, loss and distance. For Guidry, paradise does not always mean an ideal setting rather a place where one feels at ease. In terms of aesthetics, the artist begins with realist photographs of himself in various settings. He then abstracts these images into pattern and geometric forms comprised of multiple layers of paint to the point where his own likeness is concealed. In his own words, this enables Guidry to “begin with photographs of myself in different environments. I then manipulate the images by breaking down the photographs and flattening their imagery into what I think of as more psychological landscapes that ultimately transform into the abstracted and colorful geometric forms that comprise my paintings.”

Michael Guidry is the Curator of the University of Houston Art Collection and serves as chair of the Programming Committee at Lawndale Art Center.

Exhibit opening Friday, January 9th at Wade Wilson Art Gallery.


Electric Mud - Blaffer Gallery January Events

Posted on December 11th, 2008 by admin

Friday, January 16
6 – 8 p.m.
Opening Reception for
Electric Mud and
Texas Oil: Landscape of an Industry

Saturday, January 17
12 – 2 p.m.
Roundtable Discussion and Luncheon for
Electric Mud
Featuring Sara Cochran, David
Pagel, Michael Reafsnyder,
Claudia Schmuckli, and
Patrick Wilson

Saturday, January 24
Blaffer Membership Event
Houston Heights Gallery Crawl
Private Home Tour


Houston Center for Contemporary Craft

Posted on December 10th, 2008 by admin

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft


Houston Symphony

Posted on December 8th, 2008 by admin



Posted on December 8th, 2008 by admin

Stokes Choreographs a Life Between Company and Class

By Nancy Wozny

There’s a virtual whirlwind around Karen Stokes these days as she puts the final touches on her newest batch of work for Travesty Dance Group. Stokes tours her seven-dance rep concert Portables with a welcome stop at Zilkha Hall this month while balancing her job as University of Houston’s head of the Dance Division.

“It’s a juggling act,” says Stokes, while she grades papers and prepares for a Philadelphia tour. “I am learning to delegate, but I think it’s pretty rare in the academic world to have a company as active as mine.” Stokes appreciates the safety net of a full-time job but also admits it’s important to have a research component, like a professional modern dance company, to stay competitive in academia.

Heralded for her full-evening works such as her nostalgic Hometown and the darker Pronoun Pieces, Stokes takes a diverse approach with Portables. “A rep show offers you a different experience as a company, an audience member, and a choreographer,” she says. “It’s a fun format that we have gotten a little bit away from lately as evening-length works are more the trend. I think of it as sewing seeds and I promise the audience will not be bored.”

Each Portable offers a different glimpse into Stokes’ choreographic imagination. She may very well develop some of these seeds into larger works, but for now she just wants to see how they fly as shorter pieces. Balance, a Houston premiere, explores the different regions of the brain, the part that makes you crazy, the joyful parts, and the place in the center, hence balance. “So far, we have just gotten to the dark part,” she adds.

Stokes found herself pushing her usual creative habits in Transparent, where she collaborated with composer Rob Smith for a recent premiere with Musiqa. The idea was to build a piece based on Margaret Atwood’s poem “Variations on the Word Sleep” simultaneously, rather than just have Smith hand over his music. “Usually I work closely with a piece of music until it’s embedded into my psyche,” says Stokes. “Neither one of us knew what the finished project would be like until the very end.”

For his part, Smith found the process invigorating. “Both Karen and I have a penchant for creating high-energy works, however in Transparent, we created something that was much more introspective, mysterious and slow moving,” says Smith, Associate Professor of Composition and Director of the AURA Contemporary Ensemble. “Exploring new directions with another artist was a great experience, as we were able to continually bounce ideas off of each other which made the process exponentially more effective.”

Orange takes its energy from the color much the way an earlier work of Stokes’ Green did. “It’s extremely quirky and strange,” she says. “It’s one sassy color.” Set to music by Bill Ryan, Orange conjures a sense of place created by the psychological tone of the color. “Rob introduced me to Bill’s music and I fell in love with every piece I heard,” enthuses Stokes. Raw Silk, a piece she showed an excerpt of at Framing Dance last fall, is set to Ryan’s jazzy contemporary score. “It’s really a reflection of the marriage between my movement ideas and the music,” Stokes says.

Stokes sees her work at UH and Travesty as crucial in her mission to forge a vibrant bridge between the community and the university. Since taking the UH helm eleven years ago, Stokes has continued the mission set up by her predecessor, Joanna Friesen, by opening up UH’s studios to the faculty. “Toni Leago Valle, Sophia Torres, Teresa Chapman, Sarah Draper, and Becky Valls all rehearse here,” says Stokes, about the dance hub she has created. In addition to community outreach, Stokes placed the choreographic process front and center when she launched the Center for Choreography in 2000. “It’s more of an approach to the curriculum that influences everything, from how we teach dance history to the work we do with guest artists,” says Stokes. “The emphasis is on dance making.”

Department Director Steven Wallace was so impressed with Stokes’ deep connections within the dance community that the first thing he did when he arrived at his post at UH was add the word “dance” to the Department of Theatre. “Karen’s approach has become a model for me,” says Wallace. “I knew we needed to create the same kind of connections to the theater world that Karen has been making in the dance community. My philosophy is to open the door of the university and that is precisely what Karen has done.”

Travesty is a tri-city company Stokes started in 1997 with fellow dance academics Kimberly Karpanty and Rebecca Malcolm-Naib. Performances have taken place in New York, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, Cleveland and Houston.

“I am probably the most active member of the trio,” Stokes admits. The company got its curious name from a car conversation among the three as they were schlepping from show to show discussing the ongoing challenges of running a small dance company. One of them blurted out, “This is a travesty.” Shortly afterwards, the trio realized they had named the company. The Houston Travesty keeps nine dancers under contract and rehearses three days a week, which includes a mandatory company ballet class. Stokes is most proud of the troupe she has brought together, many of whom have graduated from UH.

“I get to know the dancers as people and what they are capable of as performers,” she boasts. “The group is very cohesive. We have bonded together as a community and we truly like each other. We have reached a point of togetherness that is more like a marriage than a fresh romance.”

Travesty dancer and independent choreographer Mechelle Flemming has been working with Stokes for several years now and enjoys the rigorous process. “Karen provides challenges that not only push me physically, but mentally,” says Flemming.“I believe the source of her dance mojo lies within the creative process. Her ability to allow the work to become what it will is by far an amazing thing. Karen will go in the direction the dance takes her.”

Known for including a vocal component, Stokes couldn’t quite imagine a concert without some of her own musical compositions. In the past she has composed scores for several of her works and her dancers have been required to sing complicated harmonies. Admittedly, Portables does not contain the big modern dance choirs of her earlier works, still Stokes has written a special for song her solo, Interlude, set to a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. “Yes there will be singing,” she quips, “there has to be singing.” The show ends with Sorbet, a big juicy dance-dense romp set to Mozart. Stokes says, “It’s a closer, all right.”

Travesty Dance Group presents Portables at Zilkha Hall, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on December 11-13 at 7:30 pm. Call (713) 315-2525 or visit


Lifting Their Voices

Posted on December 6th, 2008 by admin

Houston Grand Opera Girls Chorus Shines at Villa de Matel
By Holly Beretto

Is there a more holiday-feeling sound than a chorus of voices lifted in song, sharing the music of the season? And if there is, would there be a better example than on Saturday, Nov. 29 at the Villa de Matel, where the inaugural Houston Grand Opera Girls Chorus offered its first concert?

This is the story of a chorus – and the story of a concert – that has all the makings of a movie-of-the-week triumph. The idea for the chorus began about a year ago, almost on a whim, when the director of HGO’s Children’s Chorus mentioned that she wanted to start a girls chorus. HGO was finding it auditioned great girls with great voices for its children’s chorus, but couldn’t use all of them. But it didn’t want to let them go, either.

The idea churned around HGO’s outreach division, HGOco, until finally, with partnership from the University of Houston Moores School of Music, which provided support and practice rooms for the girls, the chorus was born. Twenty-four girls from all backgrounds, from all over Houston started practice just three days after Hurricane Ike roared through the Bayou City, leaving many of the girls and their parents without power and with a host of major worries.

“But all of you showed up – and continued to show up – for practice,” said Kathy Kelley, HGO’s head of music staff and conductor of the chorus, in her remarks on Saturday.

Their practice more than paid off. In the soaring splendor of the Villa de Matel chapel, twenty-four voices filled the rafters with earnest, lyrical song. Their selection included pieces from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, as well as several art songs and Yuletide standards. Sharing the stage with the girls were HGO Studio members soprano Caitlin Lynch and mezzo-sopranos Jamie Barton and Faith Sherman.

The chorus’s gorgeous descants on Angels We Have Heard on High and Joy to the World showcased not only beautiful arrangements, but demonstrated their ability to harmonize together, to listen to each other and to bring forth an epic sound. On the lovely A La Nanita Nana, the trio of Megan Montalbano, Kristin Mass and Alexandra Oakes paired with descants by Anne Lee Gordon and Swaroop Rao, showing that these young voices have both the preparation and the potential to shine in their continued study of music.

There’s something thrilling in watching these girls, these ‘tweens and teens, looking like the melting pot that is Houston, singing these ancient and contemporary pieces. Here are voices lifted in song, demonstrating a command of music and a dedication to their craft. What a gift to the community.

Make sure you catch their encore this Saturday at the Bayou Bend, where they’ll perform four mini-concerts, beginning at 5:30. Tickets are free, but donations are appreciated and reservations required. Call HGO’s box office at 713-228-6737 or email


UH 2008 School of Art Annual Student Exhibition

Posted on November 18th, 2008 by varina

Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, is pleased to present the 2008 School of Art Annual Student Exhibition, on view from Dec. 6 through Dec. 20, 2008. The exhibition presents the work of senior Bachelor of Fine Arts and non-graduating Master of Fine Arts students from the School of Art, which is a part of the University of Houston’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences. Blaffer Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Houston’s central campus. A free opening reception is scheduled for Dec. 5, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m.

Students participating in the exhibition are majoring in graphic communications, interior design, painting, photography/digital media, printmaking and sculpture. Many of them will exhibit their work for the first time within a museum context, allowing visitors a chance to see what the artists of tomorrow are doing today.

“The Annual Student Exhibition is a significant project among university and Houston art-goers because it highlights students’ current inspirations, giving the audience a taste of what artistic trends we might see in the future,” said Kelly Bennet, Blaffer’s exhibition designer and museum preparator. “I truly look forward to this show every December.”

The 2008 School of Art Annual Student Exhibition is made possible in part by the University of Houston’s Student Fees Advisory Committee.

About Blaffer Gallery:
Founded in 1973, Blaffer Gallery, the Art Museum of the University of Houston, was named in honor of the late Sarah Campbell Blaffer, a noted Houston arts patron and collector. Since its inception, the museum has been a vital force in the presentation and promotion of contemporary visual arts in Houston. Blaffer Gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building on the University of Houston’s central campus, entrance 16 off Cullen Boulevard. It is free and open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sundays, Mondays and University holidays. The museum is ADA compliant. For general inquiries, please call 713.743.9530, or visit the museum online at


Strange Bedfellows

Posted on November 18th, 2008 by varina

The half-way point has been reached in Goldesberry Gallery’s presentation of the group exhibition Strange Bedfellows. The exhibition continues through Saturday, November 29, 2008.

Strange Bedfellows features work that presents odd, and sometimes larger-than life, juxtapositions in depictions of the figure, whether straightforward or through anthropomorphized flora and fauna, and how it is handled in contemporary craft media.

Tom Bartel, Mark Newport, and Cynthia Consentio are fascinated with the human condition and questions concerning the human form, notions of identity, masculinity, societal roles, and cultural mores through juxtaposed exaggeration, or distortion, of objects and qualities from different worlds to make connections with incongruities within human experience. Melody Ellisand Kevin Titzer further explore this experience by creating figures full of humor, menace, and morality tales. Susan Gillerpresents creatures reminiscent of the wicked rabbit-costumed character Frank in the cult film “Donnie Darko”. Pat Johnsondraws inspiration from her own life in an attempt to unveil her fears and desires by examining the fine line between the seen and unseen. Karen Woodward uses diminutive, cartoon-like figures of flame worked glass to illuminate both physical and psychological aspects of the individual. Finally, Wendy Walgate, concentrating on ideas of accumulation and nostalgia, builds contemporary wunderkammen.

Strange Bedfellows was curated by Eric Davis.

Since 1991 Goldesberry Gallery has been Houston’s premier gallery for work in craft media including ceramics, fiber, glass, wood, and unique handcrafted jewelry. The gallery is located at 2625 Colquitt on “Gallery Row” in the Upper Kirby District. Gallery hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For more information about this exhibition and other work, please contact the gallery at 713.528.0405 or by writing


THE YARN INITIATIVE: Craftily Wrapping Babies, Warming Hearts

Posted on November 18th, 2008 by varina

The Center for Success and Independence announces the launch of The Yarn Initiative, the gift of craft shaped at the Center for Success and Independence that provides newborn babies with the essential comfort of warmth.

Through The Yarn Initiative, students at The Center for Success and Independence, a residential treatment facility for adolescents with emotional, behavioral and substance abuse problems, voluntarily knit and crochet baby blankets and donate them to the newborns born at Ben Taub Hospital as part of their therapy at the Center. “The processes of knitting and crocheting are very therapeutic,” said Clinical Director and founder of the Center Dr. Marylou Erbland. “The repetitive motions of the hands relax the body and focus the mind, yielding results similar to those of meditation.” Through knitting and crocheting, these adolescents continue to develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress increase self-esteem and resolve conflict.

Muse Boutique quickly became hooked on this crafty cause. The whimsical women’s store is selling the Muse signature canvas tote bag in store for $10 with a portion of the sales funding The Yarn Initiative. “We felt so strongly about this program that we had to get involved,” said Muse co-owner Lindsey Mousoudakis. “New mothers often visit the store with their precious newborns lovingly tucked under a blanket. Every baby deserves to leave the hospital wrapped in a blanket.”

The Bristol High-rise Condominiums also will host a Knit and Purl holiday shopping party on Friday, Dec. 5 where in addition to baby blankets, those who aren’t closet knitters can purchase other cozy items made by the students, such as scarves and hats. All proceeds from the day of holiday warmth will benefit The Yarn Initiative.

It is the mission of The Center for Success and Independence to make a positive difference in the lives of youth and their families though intensive treatment designed to address emotional, educational, and addictive disorders from a team of committed professional staff assisting youth in achieving their highest potential. When you support The Yarn Initiative, you help fund many Center For Success and Independence patient programs that provide adolescents with confidence and self esteem. For more information on The Center for Success and Independence and the Yarn Initiative, contact Dr. Marylou Erbland at 713.426.4545. The canvas tote bags are available at Muse located at 2411 West Alabama.



Arts Houston