paw-some times

Bear Witness to This Revamped Peter and the Wolf

A Houston Zoo–ROCO partnership brings the Prokofiev classic to an expanded black bear habitat.

By Holly Beretto January 24, 2019

Black bears love the camera, apparently.

Last year’s ROCO performance of Peter and the Wolf was such a hit at the Houston Zoo, the show is coming back—this time with a twist.

“There are no more wolves at the Zoo,” explains ROCO’s founder and artistic director Alecia Lawyer, “but there is a new black bear exhibit.”

The orchestra’s wind quartet and timpani will perform the Prokofiev classic, often used as an introduction to orchestral instruments, with a nod to the new Hamill Foundation Black Bear Exhibit. Bears, of course, will stand in for the wolf in the original title. Featuring actors from Horse Head Theatre Co. and costumes designed by Clair Hummel and created from upcycled materials from Magpies & Peacocks, Sunday's three concerts offer family fun. Bonus: They’re free with Houston Zoo admission.

“I love that this is a four-way partnership, between our orchestra, Magpies & Peacocks, Horse Head, and the Zoo,” says Lawyer. “I don’t think that music has meaning unless it’s connecting with something. And this concert is about connecting with the greater community.”

ROCO’s nimble orchestra, which can morph from a 40-strong symphony to string or brass quartets and quintets, performs all over Houston at venues including churches and museums. Lawyer wants Houstonians to see that music can be part of the fabric of city life. Concerts like this one further that mission.

At its heart, Peter and the Wolf (or Bear), is an instrumental take on a Russian folks tale about a little boy named Peter who lives on the edge of a forest. One day he goes out to wander and leaves the gate to the family homestead open, only to have one of its ducks decide to roam free. He’s scolded by his grandfather, who tells him it’s important to keep the gate closed because there are wolves in the area. Our boy Peter now makes it his mission to hunt the wolf. Or, in the case of the ROCO/Houston Zoo show, the bear.

Kathy Watkins, the Zoo’s senior supervisor of the carnivores department, hopes the concert will encourage people to visit the revamped bear exhibit. “Black bears are native to Texas, and they’re great pollinators,” she says. “We’re looking forward to showing people how they can co-exist with these animals.”

The Hamilton Foundation Black Bear Exhibit more than triples the size of the bears’ original habitat, giving the zoo’s two 5-year-old bears, Belle and Willow, plenty of space to roam and explore. They have a new pool, lots of climbing space, and a glass wall that lets them peer back at visitors. They’ve also got loads of shade—helpful for naps and play out of Houston’s hot sun.

“They’re active,” Watkins says of the duo. “So to have different environments for enrichment here is great for them. They climb, sleep, swim. The new exhibit is not only more space, it’s better use of it.”

The exhibit opened last September and Watkins said that it’s been a popular way for people to learn not only about the bears, but how they can help them, especially by recycling. Using recycled goods and recycling paper, glass, and other items preserves trees, which are keys to black bears’ natural habitats.

The exhibit will be open before and after the concerts for guests to explore.

Sunday, January 27. Free with zoo admission. Houston Zoo, 6200 Hermann Park Dr. 713-665-2700. More info and tickets at

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