Penn Live Arts Blog / August 2020

Tiny Desk Concerts by Annenberg Center Artists

Posted August 31, 2020

Penn Live Arts Recommends Chamber Music Classical Jazz Latin Jazz Music New Music Virtual Stage World Music

Esperanza Spalding's 2010 Tiny Desk concert
Since 2008, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts has presented over 800 performances. The online concert series, perhaps the most popular of its kind in the world, features different artists from every musical genre in intimate, in-studio performances lasting about 15-20 minutes. There’s only one main rule for the artists to follow: All equipment, instruments and people must fit behind the desk. The famed desk space, reminiscent of a quirky, jam-packed office cubicle, has hosted many Annenberg Center artists over the years. Here are a few of our recent favorites! Read more...

Just keep dancing!

Posted August 27, 2020

Special Features Penn Live Arts Recommends Dance

Readers, this week we invite YOU to take a dance class with New York City Ballet Principal Daniel Ulbricht. Really? Really! We recently presented a masterclass with Daniel, and he has generously recorded a ballet class for us to share with our entire Annenberg Center family. Whether you are most comfortable onstage or in the audience, whether you would have stepped into a studio to take a class or not, this is a virtual opportunity to stand up from your screen and move in the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Masterclasses with visiting dance companies and artists are a longstanding tradition at the Annenberg Center. Penn and other university students from around Philadelphia have the opportunity to spend quality time in our dance studio with some of the best of the best several times each season. So, this August, during a time when our mainstage would usually be dark and the dancers would usually be at summer dance festivals or intensives, we seized the chance to adapt this into a virtual format. Read more...

5 Questions with Dorothy Wilkie

Posted August 25, 2020

World Music Dance

We continue our series asking five questions to discover more about Annenberg Center artists and others whom we find interesting. Today, we learn about Dorothy Wilkie, dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director of Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble. With her expansive knowledge of Afro-Cuban and West African dance, Wilkie has led Kulu Mele for over thirty years and, most recently, created the full-length work Ogun & the People as part of the company’s 50th anniversary celebration. As an Annenberg Center commissioned work, we were thrilled to have Kulu Mele grace our stage for the first time in 2019 with this world premiere. Read on to learn more about Dorothy Wilkie.

What first got you into dance? 

I always loved to dance as a child and at family gatherings, people always used to call me to dance to certain music. And that’s where it started. Coming up in school, there were Friday lunchtime dances and Friday after-school dances that I never missed. And with live music! People put rhythm and blues to Latin. We were dancing to mambo and cha cha. Slopping and bopping and stranding. Wilk (John Wilkie) and I were known to be dancers. People would make a circle and watch us. Read more...

David Parsons/Parsons Dance: A tour-de-force

Posted August 24, 2020

Dance Special Features

Parsons Dance performing Nascimento
“One of the great movers of modern dance” (The New York Times), David Parsons has had a remarkable career spent innovating and developing the physical prowess and technical skill in modern dance. Having spent his early years training as a gymnast and wrestler, Parsons’ athletic talents had already risen to the surface. His mother enrolled him in summer dance classes at age nine and by age 17, he was on his way to New York City to study at The Ailey School, where he had been awarded a scholarship. In New York, Parsons apprenticed with celebrated dancer/choreographer Paul Taylor before joining the Paul Taylor Dance Company as a principal dancer. He went on to become a guest artist with the New York City Ballet, spending his summers touring with MOMIX and performing for Mark Morris and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the early White Oak Dance Project tours. Following in the steps of Taylor, whom he considered his mentor, he founded Parsons Dance in 1985 with Howell Binkley, a Tony Award winner for his lighting designs in Jersey Boys (2006) and Hamilton (2016). Read more...

Reflection: Jazz as protest music

Posted August 19, 2020


Max Roach's We Insist! addressed political and racial issues during the 1960s.
From the beginning, jazz – rooted in slave songs and the blues, born in New Orleans in the early twentieth century, and coming of age during the Harlem Renaissance – has been at the nexus of musical expression and social justice. Wynton Marsalis says jazz is “unbelievably democratic” and jazz historian and critic Stanley Crouch wrote, “jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art form.”

As early as the 1920s, jazz musicians were using their music to call attention to discrimination. In his 1929 recording of Fats Waller’s tune, “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue,” Louis Armstrong altered the lyrics to emphasize the notion of racial prejudice. Ten years later, Billie Holiday recorded Abel Meeropol’s “Strange Fruit,” a song written in response to the 1930 lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana. TIME magazine named it the best song of the century in 1999. Read more...

5 Questions with Caleb Teicher

Posted August 17, 2020

Dance Penn Live Arts Recommends

We continue our series aiming to discover more about Annenberg Center artists, Penn faculty and others whom we find interesting in just five questions. Today, we hear from New York City-based tap and swing dancer/choreographer Caleb Teicher, whose company made its Philadelphia debut on our stage in 2018. 

Recently featured on the cover of Dance Magazine, Teicher is known for his signature style of musicality, humor and warmth, and is the recipient of a 2019 New York City Center Choreographic Fellowship, two Bessie Awards and a 2019 Harkness Promise Award. Read on to learn more about Caleb Teicher!

1. What first got you into dance?

Kids are naturally wiggly, and I was no exception… There was always music playing in my house, and I bounced around like most kids do. I was also growing up in the era of *NSYNC, and dancing was (and still is) a major part of pop culture.

The first art thing I studied, though, was drumming — a neighborhood mom (Ellen Alexander) was an incredible percussionist, and she taught lessons in her garage. After a number of years of doing that, I saw tap dance on TV and asked my mom if I could try a class. I found a great teacher not too far away (Jennifer Dell) who was hosting an all-boys beginner tap class, and that made me feel comfortable enough to try it. Read more...

5 Questions with Maori Karmael Holmes

Posted August 13, 2020

Film Special Features

Get to know Maori Karmael Holmes in just five questions. Maori founded the BlackStar Film Festival and currently serves as its Artistic Director & CEO. We are a proud presenting partner of the Festival (August 20-26), and recently announced the appointment of Maori as our new Curator-at-Large for Film. She’s also serving as Mediamaker-in-Residence at the Annenberg School. Read on to find out what we can expect from Maori!

1. There is a lot of great film, discussion, events in the BlackStar Film Festival this year. What one thing should we not miss?

That’s always a hard question to answer. The entire festival is carefully planned by all of us and we want folks to participate in everything!

2. What’s your process for evaluating and selecting films?

This year, we started working with a crew of a dozen student reviewers (many of whom attend Penn) who watched the films in full and made notes. Read more...

BlackStar Film Festival

Posted August 12, 2020


BlackStar Film Festival, the prestigious celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and of global communities of color, is the only event of its kind in Philadelphia. Since 2012, when the multi-day festival was founded by Artistic Director & CEO Maori Karmael Holmes, this showcase of work by Black, Brown and Indigenous film and video artists has brought together filmmakers, patrons and enthusiasts from around the world. The Annenberg Center is a producing partner of the Festival, which runs August 20-26.

Due to COVID-19, BlackStar has gone digital for this year. More than 80 films representing over 20 countries will be shown, including 24 world premieres. Among the highlights are the world premiere of The Ancestors Live – 50 Years of Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble (August 22), which honors Philadelphia-based Kùlú Mèlé’s 50th anniversary and the making of Ogun & the People (which was commissioned by the Annenberg Center and received its world premiere on our stage in November 2019), and Legendary: 30 Years of Philly Ballroom, an inside look at the preservation of Philadelphia’s ballroom scene, a Black and Latinx LGBTQ safe-space that has endured for 30 years (August 22). Visit the BlackStar website for the full schedule of feature films, documentaries, shorts, live panel discussions and special events. Read more...

Koresh Dance Company uses film to respond to our current times

Posted August 4, 2020

Penn Live Arts Recommends Dance Film

Koresh Dance Company recently expanded its digital reach with the release of “Hide Your Face/Unmask Your Heart.” Subtitled A Trilogy of Yearning for Normalcy, Justice and Peace of Mind, the short film trilogy is a specially curated project by founder Roni Koresh intended to refocus and reimagine new ways of dance expression during times of uncertainty and fear. Each film features words or poetry by Karl Mullen, a Philadelphia-based specialist in non-traditional art and music making, and were edited by fellow Philadelphian Sandy Mitchel, a sought-after videographer for her work in capturing dance. “Hide Your Face/Unmask Your Heart” provides relevant commentary to our current times and elevates voices of our Philadelphia arts community. 

The first film, 6 feet apart, was a response to social distancing performed by the dancers of Koresh Dance Company. The second, The Elephant is in the Room, featured esteemed dancers Rennie Harris, Raphael Xavier and Zane Booker (all of whom are also natives of the Philadelphia area) in a response to social justice and systemic racism against Black communities. Read more...