This weekend’s AsiaFest is a chance for Houstonians to travel without leaving their own city—a completely free, family-friendly day that includes multiple performances, demonstrations, an international shopping bazaar, and plenty of hands-on activities for kids.
Originally scheduled for the end of May, the event was postponed due to a forecast of flooding and storms. The rescheduled event will now take place entirely indoors—great news for Houstonians who don’t want to be outside in the heat, and who might be concerned about further rain on the calendar this weekend.
“It’s been a bit of a puzzle to take something that spreads out across a whole block and move it indoors,” acknowledges Stephanie Todd Wong, Asia Society’s director of performing arts and culture. “It’s been reconfiguring the inside of the building, it’s been reconfiguring the schedule of performances so they’re all happening on our indoor stage, and it’s been partners taking up a little less space than they originally requested. So, everyone’s been chipping in to make room.”
Performances are all day, beginning at 11 a.m. Look for Bharatanatyam and Indian folk dance, a Taiwanese dragon dance, traditional Vietnamese and Chinese music, and Hawaiian/Polynesian song and dance, among others.
“We try to make an effort to provide the widest variety for our guests,” Wong says. “We know that many people are visiting us for the first time and might be encountering these performing arts styles for the first time. So, we’ve tried to provide a true variety so people can get a sense of the true breadth of diversity of Asia. Sometimes we think of Asia as a monolithic thing, and it’s not.”
The Legends of Taiwan will perform a traditional dragon dance. Those familiar with Chinese New Year lion dancing will recognize similar themes. Like its lion dance cousin, the dragon dance is performed for festive events and celebrations, with many dancers creating a long dragon and using poles and intricate steps to move the mythical creature, which often symbolizes, depending on its color, prosperity and hope for a good harvest.
“There’s acrobatics involved and it’s exciting and invigorating and really colorful,” says Wong. “So I think that will be a big crowd pleaser.”
The Anjali Center for the Performing Arts will perform Bharatanatyam, a tradition style of Indian dance with its roots in the Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu, later flourishing in South India. The North American Youth Chinese Orchestra is an ensemble of 10 young musicians of Chinese descent who performing on traditional Chinese instruments such as the guzheng, a Chinese zither, and the pipa, a lute-like instrument. “It’s really kind of amazing to watch these kids pop up on stage and share what they’ve learned [about their heritage],” Wong says.
There will also be performances from Dance of Asian America, Kajal Desai Dance and Wellness, Viet Wave Music, and the Houston Halau. Performances will run every 45 minutes.
“Hopefully, it’s learning through fun and learning through food and what you hear,” she says. “You’ll come in and have some dumplings or bubble tea, then go into the theater and catch a performance, and do some origami and some calligraphy. We’re really trying to give people the sense of being able to travel without leaving their backyard.”
Asiafest, June 29. Free. Asia Society Texas, 1370 Southmore Blvd. 713-496-9901. More info at asiasociety.org.