In planning the Redfern Arts Center’s 38th season, Executive Director Shannon Mayers noticed a theme emerged.
“There is some international flavor this year,” she said. “We love highlighting different cultures.”
The 2019-2020 lineup includes seven ticketed performances in dance, theater, music and puppetry presented by U.S.-based companies that blend styles and tell stories from around the world.
The Redfern opens its doors with a Season Kickoff Party Wednesday, Sept. 11, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. The annual free celebration of the arts offers a chance to eat, drink and connect behind the scenes, hear about performing arts programs at Keene State College and enjoy highlights of the upcoming performance season, which runs from September 2019 through May 2020.
The season officially opens with a performance by Slavic Soul Party! Sept. 26. The Brooklyn ensemble plays its own brand of funk, Balkan brass and New Orleans-style music on stages from Carnegie Hall to Serbian schoolyards and dive bars.
“They sound like a Bulgarian wedding meets a gypsy jazz funeral in New Orleans,” said Mayers.
Another recurring theme this season is Redfern premieres and the presentation of new works.
Stage and screen actor Roger Guenveur Smith will present his new solo theater piece, “Otto Frank,” on Oct. 17. Smith’s credits include the Spike Lee films, “Do the Right Thing” and “Malcolm X” and his theater piece, “Rodney King,” performed in 2016 at the Redfern.
“Otto Frank” explores the legacy of Anne Frank’s father, who shared his family’s experiences and memories through his daughter’s famous diary. Smith performed “Rodney King” in Amsterdam and visited the Anne Frank house.
“He was struck by an image of Otto in the annex alone, and about the fact (Frank) came back to an empty house and his entire family was killed, and he was left with this decision and responsibility of what to do with his daughter’s diary,” said Mayers.
Mayers met Smith for dinner after his “Rodney King” performance at the Redfern and convinced him to perform the piece there because he had access to Keene State’s Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (celebrating its 36th anniversary) for research. Last fall, Smith visited the Redfern for public engagement, class visits and a roundtable discussion with campus and community members to explore content around his performance, then in development.
“He doesn’t see this as a historical piece,” said Mayers. “He will use some of Otto’s own writings and present them through a modern lens.”
Next will be a Redfern debut performance of Ephrat Asherie Dance’s “Odeon” Oct. 24. A New York City-based b-girl, dancer and choreographer, Asherie created her dance work for seven dancers and four musicians.
It’s set to the music of 20th-century Brazilian composer, Ernesto Nazareth, and performed by her brother, jazz musician Ehud Asherie. The piece layers and remixes break dance, hip-hop, house and vogue styles with Nazareth’s fusion of Afro-Brazilian rhythms and European classical traditions.
The spring season opens Feb. 7 with an on-stage appearance by Julian Fleisher and His Rather Big Band. The band will perform a concert dedicated to the year 1975, which Fleisher believes is the best year in American popular music. Fleisher, a New York-based cabaret and jazz artist and New York Public Radio host, promises to deliver lots of showmanship.
“He comes out in a rhinestone suit,” said Mayers.
A family show follows Feb. 22 with Piti Theatre Company’s bi-lingual performance of “Sammy and Le Grand Buffet,” performed by Jonathan Mirin as an American clown in Paris trying to prepare a great feast. Mirin will also perform in September during the Season Kickoff Party.
Vermont’s acclaimed Sandglass Theater returns to the Redfern March 12 with “Babylon,” a new production created in response to the worldwide refugee crisis and its impact on communities in the United States. The company uses full-sized tabletop puppets, moving panoramic scrolls and original four-part choral songs to present stories of characters from various countries. These stories are based on those compiled from interviews of refugees from around the world living in Vermont.
“This piece is so pertinent,” said Mayers.
The season’s closing performance is “POWER,” a new piece by award-winning Brooklyn choreographer Reggie Wilson and Fist and Heel Performance Group March 26. Known for pieces that combine past and present, “POWER” is the result of Wilson’s imagining what black Shaker worship might have looked like.
“A lot of (Wilson’s) work is based on slave and blues music and dance — there’s call-and-response in this piece, for instance,” said Mayers. “He considers himself an anthropologist.”
There are a couple of black Shaker communities, one in Philadelphia, that fused African-American cultural influence with the religion in the form of movement and song. Wilson collaborated on this piece with the two New Hampshire Shaker communities — one in Hancock and the other in Canterbury.
“The company is intergenerational,” said Mayers. “There are members who have been with him for 20 years — dancers with all different kinds of movement and style.”
The Redfern’s Creative Connections program provides more free opportunities for audiences to dig deeper into art, artists, and the creative process. Highlights for the 38th season include puppetry workshops with Sandglass Theater; post-show art making following Piti Theatre’s performance of “Sammy and Le Grand Buffet”; and a community dance workshop with Ephrat Asherie Dance.
“It’s always great to bring something to the community that’s different,” said Mayers. “These are all incredible, high-quality performers who wouldn’t even be able to see in Boston. We’re unique in our mission of providing opportunities for exposure and engagement to both students and the public.”
Tickets for the Redfern Arts Center’s 38th season go on sale Monday, Aug. 5 to members, and to the general public on Monday, Aug. 12. Memberships can be purchased by calling 358-2168 and at the box office or at keene.edu/arts/redfern. For more information about Creative Connections activities, contact Sharon Fantl at 358-2167 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.