What do dance and fiber arts, the circus, a celebration of black culture, an army field band and chorus and veteran theater have in common? They will all grace the stage this spring at Keene State College’s Redfern Arts Center.

Up first in the 2019 lineup is Castle of Our Skins, which hosts both a concert and educational series that aims to foster cultural curiosity and celebrate black culture. The Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College will present three-day music residency with the Boston-based ensemble from Feb. 6-8, culminating with the concert “Hot, Cool and the Boogie Woogie” on Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Alumni Recital Hall.

Residency activities will feature a master class with Keene State music students; a lecture/ demonstration with the composer open to the campus and community; open rehearsals; a public talk on cultural inclusion in arts programming by Castle of Our Skins artistic and executive director, Ashleigh Gordon; and a post-show reception and talkback with the artists.

Castle of Our Skins, in its sixth season, was co-founded by Gordon and fellow New England Conservatory graduate, Anthony Green.

“We collaborated on projects and have a mutual respect for each other’s craft,” said Gordon in a recent interview with ELF. “We both valued the importance of education and we wanted to foster our own relationship, but we lived on different sides of the country. We could only list a handful of black composers. We felt a shortage — a void that needed to be corrected. So, we thought, ‘Why not be instrumental in some way?’ “

The organization addresses that general lack of knowledge through a holistic approach to programming, education, outreach and engagement with communities.

“We like to offer the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ model — it’s very interactive,” said Gordon.

The Keene State residency will mark only the fourth for Castle of Our Skins. Each residency is tailored for the community, by the community.

“The narrative of blackness in this country is not often positive,” said Gordon. “We created a different narrative of celebration.”

Often, programming is themed, for instance, highlighting black feminism with a concert of music by black female composers and poetry by black women writers alongside black women artisans selling their crafts to the audience. Another program celebrates black manhood with music, dance, film and art.

The Keene State program is classical music-driven.

“The western European classical music canon celebrated is based on omission,” said Gordon.

“Hot, Cool and the Boogie Woogie” will feature rarely performed works by Florence Price, David Baker, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Keene State music faculty member Christina Wright-Ivanova.

Together, these composers represent romantic, American and jazz-influenced classical music.

“What may seem like unfamiliar names in classical music offer shared sentiments of humor, loss and joy,” said Gordon.

Wright-Ivanova will play piano as part of the ensemble that evening along with members Gordon, viola; Gabriela Diaz, violin; Mina Lavcheva, violin; and Francesca McNeeley, cello.

“The full experience for me is the concert and engagement through dialogue,” said Gordon. “It helps foster that deepened sense of appreciation.”

The full lineup for the Redfern’s spring 2019 season includes:

Bindlestiff Family Cirkus: A Cardboard and Duct Tape Spectacular on Saturday, March 23. The circus has reimagined classic American circus traditions with a contemporary twist performed by clowns, jugglers, aerialists and acrobats.

The premise, according to Redfern artistic director Shannon Mayers, is they get to the stage and don’t have a set, so they make one from cardboard and duct tape. Bindlestiff will lead a workshop with members of the New England Center for Circus Arts in Brattleboro — many graduates of the school have gone to work with the family circus.

Alexander Davis Dance performs Thursday, March 28. The Keene State College alumnus and award-winning Boston dance and fiber artist explores the intersections between dance, comedy and fiber arts in his work, which draws from pop culture and everyday life.

The company will perform three works, including a new duet featuring acclaimed dance artist Peter DiMuro and a piece exploring themes of identity featuring material by Keene State College students. A fiber art installation following the performance will feature Davis’s own fiber art along with pieces from local fiber artists.  

The United States Army Field Band & Soldiers’ Chorus performs Saturday, March 30, a return engagement following a standing room only performance in 2014. The band and chorus have recently shared the stage with such ensembles as the Boston Pops, the Cincinnati Pops and the National Symphony Orchestra. Special guests include students from the Keene State College department of music.

The Telling Project: Monadnock is a unique offering that finishes the season Thursday, April 4. A national performing arts nonprofit, making its first appearance in New England, connects civilians with veterans in local populations and shapes their experience into a stage performance.

The Telling Project’s artistic director meets with local veterans and records their stories, editing them with a dramatic arc and creating a script. The nonprofit’s mission is to use theater and storytelling as a tool to help make military experiences real and deepen civilian understanding of the military experience.

Since 2008, The Telling Project has produced more than 60 original performances, put more than 300 veterans and family members on-stage and performed in 23 states. Created in collaboration with executive director/founder Jonathan Wei, it will be directed by Keene State theatre and dance faculty member Doug Wilcox.

There are one million veterans in New Hampshire, said Mayers, a number actively employed and a large group in the National Guard or in the reserves as well as veterans on campus.


Tickets for the Castle of Our Skins concert are $7-$25. Visit the website (keene.edu/arts/redfern) for more information and a full schedule of related activities open to the community. Tickets for the rest of Redfern Arts Center at Keene State College’s spring 2019 season are on sale and can be purchased in person or by phone at 358-2168 when the Redfern Box Office is open, Monday through Friday, from noon to 5 p.m., and at keene.edu/arts/redfern.