Houston gets second helping of UH-curated art
Bold expressions of artists from around the world await students and Houstonians at this year’s CounterCurrent Festival, the second of its kind, at select locations around Houston.
The Cynthia Woods Mitchel Center for the Arts has been programming events for more than a decade, and last year organizers decided to expand and include a multi-site festival with a range of local and international talent.
“We program artists from all over the world to both represent the diverse cultures on the UH campus and throughout the city,” said Mitchell Center Program Director Pia Agrawal.
“Programming artists from different cultural backgrounds allows us to present work that resonates with the on- and off-campus population. We like to find elements and aspects of the work that make it special to Houston and special to CounterCurrent.”
Laura Gutierrez, a member of the “Ten Tiny Dances” performance on April 19, said she is excited to be a part of the festivities again.
“Last year I was lucky enough to perform in ‘ECLIPSE,’ a collaboration between choreographer Jonah Bokaer and visual artist Anthony McCall, and I instantly fell in love with what CounterCurrent represents,” Gutierrez said.
“I’m fortunate enough to travel frequently with dance and was always a little jealous of other cities and the festivals I’ve been to or been part of, so I was beyond excited that my hometown now had a festival that was bringing more experimental art to town.”
“Ten Tiny Dances” is a solo investigation inspired by Los Angeles-based female hip-hop crunk group PTAF.
“I usually don’t like working with music, and my last show ‘BARE’ was done in complete silence, so I wanted to branch out and try something different,” Gutierrez said.
“The song I’m using is typically not the kind of music I listen to or even enjoy, but…when I first heard this song, it fueled me instantly and still does every single time I play it.”
This year’s CounterCurrent includes audio and visual installations, live performances and participatory events. To highlight different areas of inner Houston, the festival’s nine performances will take place at different sites.
Students have also been included in this year’s festival. Creative writing junior, actress and CounterCurrent collaborator Celestina Gray said she wants to get students thinking during the various performances. In one performance, five female performers will explore being a woman in Texas today through theater and dance.
“We want you to think about the subject matter: women’s bodies, lives and struggles as well as the relationship between art, politics and the ‘average’ UH student,” Gray said.
“I put average in quotations because this school is made up of complex individuals with different backgrounds, different lives, different struggles — regardless of that, there are universalities which unite us not only as a student body but as people in general.”
A festival spread throughout the fourth largest city in the country is bound to have some hiccups in the planning process.
“One of the negatives of the experience was how the time we originally would have had for our rehearsals was cut short by government bureaucracy, which kept stalling the visa process for Omar and Maya and was pretty frustrating for all of us,” Gray said.
“The amazing thing though — and the most positive, for me, is how everyone has really risen to the challenge and is willing to put in the energy necessary to create a quality production.”
The creators have tried to make a festival that reaches beyond the surface, and Gutierrez said she hopes students take the opportunity to see the work she and other artists have done.
“In college, I wish I had gone to more performances, lectures and events that were taking place on campus (UNCSA) or affiliated with my school or the other department,” Gutierrez said.
“It’s very rare that you will have the luxury of seeing multiple performances for free once you graduate so definitely take advantage. Also, I believe that exposing yourself to as much art as possible, different cultures and environments is extremely beneficial to your own studies, whatever they may be and helps shape you into a diverse human that not only our city can benefit from but society in general.”
CounterCurrent starts today and runs through April 19. For more information about event dates and to RSVP for performances, visit countercurrentfestival.org.