By Donalevan Maines
Photo by Angelo Redaelli
A golden year of entertainment awaits audiences as Society for the Performing Arts, the largest nonprofit presenting organization of its kind in the entire Southwest, celebrates 50 years of “bringing the world’s best to Houston.”
The 2016–2017 season begins with a sensory-friendly matinee by David Parsons Dance at noon on Friday, September 23, before the energetic, athletic ensemble performs that night at 8 in Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center. The mid-day performance is designed for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families.
This year’s SPA lineup boasts a number of Houston debuts, from 13-year-old jazz prodigy Joey Alexander to Underwater Bubble Show, along with returning favorites such as out humorist David Sedaris and the hilarious Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, that amazing en pointe ballet corps featuring men in tutus.
“Our goal every season is to bring a wide selection of the world’s best performing artists to the stages of Houston, and this 50th anniversary season continues that tradition,” says June Christensen, SPA’s CEO and president. “The 2016–2017 season for SPA offers something for fans of nearly every performing-art form.”
Long an advocate for dance, SPA continues the practice in its anniversary season with a Dance Series that also boasts Brazil’s Balé Folclórico da Bahia (January 13, 2017), followed by Pilobolus and their latest work Shadowlands (January 20), and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (April 21). The series will conclude with a performance from Jessica Lang Dance (May 20) that includes the brand-new Tesseracts of Time, commissioned in part by SPA. Christensen says the collaboration with Steven Holl, whose legendary projects include the current expansion of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is deemed a “dance for architecture.”
The 2016–2017 season also features a stunning Music Series, starting with a holiday performance from The Irish Tenors (December 7), then Third Coast Percussion (March 4, 2017), and an encore of sibling piano masters The 5 Browns (May 12).
SPA’s annual free show at Miller Outdoor Theatre will showcase French/American electro-swing band Gingkoa on May 6, 2017.
SPA, which presented Broadway musicals for 26 years, including Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly! in 1966, will showcase a new incarnation of Annie at Jones Hall, with a nod toward the original staging of the 1977 Tony Award-winning musical. The title character, a resilient redhead from the popular Harold Gray comic strip Little Orphan Annie, will sing “It’s the Hard Knock Life,” “Maybe,” and “Tomorrow” in the perfectly family-friendly show.
In 2016–2017, SPA expands its lineup of family programming with two series: the Family Fun Jr. Series, geared toward children ages 4–10, and the Family Fun Series, with shows for the entire family. Things kick off October 9 with Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood LIVE, an interactive musical adventure through the vibrant world of the iconic “Neighborhood of Make-Believe.” Odd Squad LIVE, another staging centered around a PBS show, will make its Houston debut January 21, 2017, with Kid Agents Otto and Olive. Rounding out the Family Fun Jr. Series on October 28 will be the cutting-edge, immersive entertainment from Latvia, Underwater Bubble Show.
Among offerings in the Family Fun Series will be Cirque Dreams HOLIDAZE, a November 18–20 holiday extravaganza that blends circus performers with Broadway musical staging, the return of STOMP February 10–12, 2017, and a one-of-a-kind new tour from Australia, Circus 1903 (June 9–11), that celebrates the golden age of the circus with a global cast of performers and stunning animal puppets from Significant Objects.
Award-winning British author Neil Gaiman will return to Houston for a performance on July 8, 2017.
David Sedaris, who will appear on Saturday, October 22, in Brown Theater at the Wortham Center, shot to fame when his amusingly self-deprecating essay Santaland Diaries was broadcast in 1992 on National Public Radio. He confirmed his promise with short stories and best-selling essay collections such as Naked (1997), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000), and, most recently, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2013).
Joey Alexander, who is set to perform on Friday, February 17, 2017, in the Wortham’s Cullen Theater, was born on the island of Bali. Discovered by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, Alexander was nominated for 2016 Grammy Awards in the categories of Best Improvisational Jazz Solo (for Giant Steps) and Best Jazz Instrumental Album (for My Favorite Things).
The hairy-chested dancers of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo will entertain on Friday, March 24, 2017, at the Wortham. The playful troupe has delighted audiences around the world since its founding in 1974 by gleeful enthusiasts of grand ballet.
Subscriptions for the 2016–2017 season are on sale now. Renewing subscribers will be seated first; all other orders will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information regarding performance dates, times, and details, call 713.227.4772 or visit spahouston.org.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.