Penn Live Arts Announces 50th Anniversary Season
With eyes on the future and a humble nod to the past, Penn Live Arts has announced its 2022-2023 50th Anniversary Season, which will celebrate the richness of five decades of performance while continuing its penchant for innovation. .
“The Annenberg Center opened in 1971 and was conceived as a place of experimentation in the performing arts and was centered on this idea that the performing arts are a universal mode of communication – a medium for cultures and disparate people to connect,” said Christopher Gruits. , executive and artistic director of Penn Live Arts. “I think he’s done that job well for 50 years. Coming out of the pandemic, we have planned a new season around major pillars that include residencies, premieres, and an ongoing commitment to experimentation and innovation centered around new works, dance, theater, etc
A key attraction of the new season is Alice and John: A Coltrane Festival, which will focus as much on the work of Alice Coltrane, an accomplished jazz pianist, harpist and composer, as on that of her better-known husband, John Coltrane. Festival-related performances, taking place in the second half of October, will explore their collective impact on jazz and other genres of American music. Artistic advisor Lakecia Benjamin, a rising star saxophonist, is curating the programs – which will consist of a performance by her son and fellow saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, for example – and will also collaborate with choreographer Pam Tanowitz to create an all-new piece based on The Music of ‘Alice Coltrane. Ms. Benjamin will perform live in October alongside the Pam Tanowitz Dance Company.
“A lot of the way we’ve structured this season is looking back and looking forward,” Mr Gruits said. “Looking at the legacy of musicians and their albums and the art that was happening in that era, and also looking forward to the next generation of artists.”
Another Coltrane Festival performer will be Brandi Younger, a harpist who will perform her original works at the Prince Theatre. Conferences led by Coltrane experts will also complete the festival. Ms Benjamin said she wanted listeners to get a sense of the legendary jazz couple’s personalities.
“It pays homage to them, but also how people can get a glimpse of the personalities they were; that’s another indication of the music,” she said, explaining that at times listeners can feel transported to Alice Coltrane’s Sai Anantam Ashram through her use of the organ. “You can’t play who you are not.”
More broadly, but also in tandem with the Coltrane Festival, Penn Live Arts is also partnering with the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC), a theater company and workshop based in New York since 1967. They will participate in a residency spanning the period 2022- 23 season which includes a festival of one-act plays, Our voices, our time, which will take place in the fall and aims to amplify Black voices, stories and perspectives. Three plays will be selected by a panel of judges and will premiere at the Annenberg Center in October, before moving on to performances in New York.
The NEC residency further involves curricular collaboration with the fall 2022 multi-generational, community-focused August Wilson and Beyond course at the School of Arts and Sciences, co-taught by English Studies Professor Herman Beavers and African, and English teacher Suzana Berger. Brandon Dirden, a popular actor who has starred in many of the August Wilson plays that the class typically reviews, will speak with the class, and NEC Artistic Director Karen Brown will be present in a workshop session during from which students will begin to create their own performance. which is based on interviews in the West Philadelphia community.
“[Karen Brown] will be with us that day, so that she and any company member with us can talk about NEC’s founding goals and values and how that may have changed over the years in response to their communities and to their audience, and our students will have that really concrete and powerful example with them as they generate their own goals and get feedback on the spot, on the spot, in the process,” Ms. Berger said.
“It’s a great opportunity and what I think I love is that it reminds me once again of what I love about Philadelphia, which is that it closes that distance between movers and shakers. , people like us in the field,” said Dr. Beavers, who also noted that this will be the 10th anniversary of the August Wilson course. “I don’t know if that would happen in a city like New York, because there are too many layers between people who influence the world of theater and people like us who do something on a small scale. It’s amazing and a great opportunity.
The NEC residency will conclude with the world premiere of a new play in February 2023 directed by Denise Dowse, juxtaposing the civil rights movement with recent social justice movements.
Listen hearmeanwhile, is a new series that celebrates brand new music and features four contemporary composers.
“Penn has a compositional heritage, a renowned program, and so we’ve found living composers who will do pre-concert talks before performances where an audience can get contexts for a composer’s style and why they chose a particular piece,” Mr. Gruits said. .
November will feature a Philadelphia premiere of “Falling Out of Time,” by Argentinian orchestral composer Osvaldo Golijov, as well as a performance by renowned jazz composer Terence Blanchard who will perform based on the work of the African-American photographer and filmmaker. Gordon Parks.
Rounding out the season’s offering are ongoing presentations by major dance companies like the Martha Graham Dance Company and the Ballet Hispánico, in addition to Coltrane-related performances by the Pam Tanowitz Dance Company. Dance represents 10 of the season’s offerings between October and June.
The hybrid live-streaming model that Penn Live Arts began last season is also underway, continuing in September with an in-person and digital performance by four-woman folk band Kardemmit, playing the Finnish instrument kantele. Maori film curator at-large Karmael Holmes will continue to organize film screenings, including for the BlackStar Film Festival at the Annenberg Center from August 3-7.
The Penn Live Arts Accelerator program is also formalized this season to support new work in dance, music and theater. Inaugural artists for the accelerator program are The Crossing, Dance Theater of Harlem, Negro Ensemble Company, Pam Tanowitz Dance and Rennie Harris Pure Movement, who will create plays in Annenberg before taking them elsewhere, with the support of Penn Resources Live Arts. NEC is perhaps the most striking example of the group, as a company that will immediately take its cultured one-act plays from Philadelphia to New York.
“When we looked at Philly, we saw a gap in black theater and storytelling, and Annenberg has always been committed to various artists – that’s a legacy we’ve had,” Mr. Gruits said, explaining how the collaboration with NEC was born. “We were the first to introduce Philly to August Wilson and his work, and we wanted to honor that legacy and think about, going forward, how to support black storytelling. There is no better partnership for this than NEC. They have a long history of commitment to new black artists and black playwrights.
In sum, Mr. Gruits added that this season is a “celebratory season,” and one that reaffirms the Annenberg Center’s history of investing in “the best” of the arts.
“I think it also provides a platform for really important artists today to communicate about what they’re doing and to address a lot of issues that we’re trying to address as a society,” he added. “These are artists you can’t otherwise see in Philadelphia, and these programs are very special. We hope audiences will engage with them and take away something meaningful from their experience.
Adapted from a Penn today article by Brandon Baker, May 5, 2022.