Members of the Houston Modern Dance Firm carry out in Combined Messages on the stairways of POST Houston, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Houston.
Photograph: Marie D. De Jesús, Houston Chronicle / Workers photographer
At first, it’s arduous to consider something in addition to these stairs.
Spanning 4 flights over three beneficiant tales, the double-helix staircase at POST Houston’s retail atrium completely dominates its area. Trying up, it resembles one X on high of one other. Its gold railings, huge marble steps and inexperienced accents really feel like one thing out of M.C. Escher’s creativeness, perhaps a classic Gene Kelly manufacturing quantity.
It’s true, “chamber music” might not instantly spring to thoughts when contemplating Lovett Business’s mixed-use makeover of the previous Barbara Jordan Publish Workplace, slated to formally open in a number of weeks. However ROCO has a knack for well-curated live shows in unorthodox locales, and parking a string quartet on the foot of these monumental stairs definitely qualifies.
The atrium’s tenants haven’t fairly moved in but, which Saturday evening left the area feeling particularly uncooked for Combined Messages, the season opener of ROCO’s Connections collection. The progressive native chamber orchestra and Houston Modern Dance Firm, the live performance’s co-producers, made this cavernous stretch of concrete, glass partitions and HVAC ducts hum with inventive power. Surprisingly sufficient, the acoustics carried simply high quality.
It was additionally World Publish Day, an opportunity to replicate on the misplaced artwork of letter writing. The centerpiece of the hourlong program was Elvis Costello’s “The Juliet Letters,” his 1993 pop/classical collaboration with the UK-based Brodsky Quartet. That undertaking germinated after the “Watching the Detectives” singer noticed Brodsky carry out an entire cycle of Dmitri Shostakovich’s string quartets.
For ROCO, at all times making connections, that meant Combined Messages opened with two actions from Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 1. The ROCO String Quartet — concertmaster Scott St. John, violinist Ben Grube, violist Rainel Joubert and cellist Shino Hayashi — opened with a haunting melody that slowly unfold from viola to violins, exuding an nearly mystical calm. Darkening harmonies created a quick second of rigidity, earlier than a brighter part restored a deep-seated feeling of peace. The second motion discovered the gamers exploring a vibrant theme over Hayashi’s sturdy spine till a dramatic end.
Subsequent, visitor performer Outspoken Bean descended the steps from the highest ground, close to the doorway to the 5-acre Skylawn rooftop backyard. Opening with a good-natured riff on “On the Highway Once more” by Texas icon Willie Nelson — who christens POST Houston’s 5,000-seat 713 Music Corridor on Nov. 17 — Houston’s poet laureate delivered memorable strains (“damaged crayons shade exterior the strains”), rapid-fire retail jargon and a few potent ideas on id, love and the facility of “common folks.”
Based on Costello’s liner notes, the vignettes of “The Juliet Letters” have been impressed by a person in Verona, Italy, who took it upon himself to reply letters addressed to Shakespeare’s ill-fated romantic heroine. Costello’s febrile creativeness did the remainder. Saturday, the ROCO strings and Panamanin-born tenor Eduardo Alberto Tercero introduced these letters to life, with no small quantity of brooding and pathos. Though his vocals tended to sweeten Costello’s snider moments, the singer additionally channeled moments of actual anguish.
As choreographed by Houston Modern Dance Firm founder Marlana Doyle, roughly two dozen dancers stuffed the atrium’s stairs with white-clad our bodies, typically swaying, typically standing stock-still, and typically sitting down and tossing crumpled-up papers onto the ground. Typically they scanned the realm, as if looking for one thing, or somebody.
Utilizing the steps as a kind of vertical stage, they lent a distinctly dreamlike feeling to the efficiency, amplifying the night’s themes of communication and miscommunication — by embracing and pulling away, for instance — by means of purposeful actions and rough-hewn grace.
Chris Grey is a Galveston author.