Penn Live Arts Blog / Page / 15

A salute to trailblazer Arthur Mitchell and Dance Theatre of Harlem

Posted June 10, 2020


Arthur Mitchell, in 2015, holding a photograph of himself dancing with Diana Adams in Agon in 1957. Credit: EYEVINE
The monumental legacy of Arthur Mitchell, self-described as the “Jackie Robinson” of professional ballet, defies definition. His tap audition for LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts propelled him on a trailblazing path, forging creative opportunities for generations of Black and Brown artists worldwide. In 1957, he stunned audiences in George Balanchine’s neo-classic Agon (1957), partnering with white ballerina Diana Adams, and crushing racial boundaries and 400 years of ballet history. Known for his technical virtuosity, powerful artistry, elegant lines and pure charisma, he quickly rose to international stardom. As a Balanchine protégé, he joined New York City Ballet in November 1955, replacing the injured Jacques d’Amboise in Western Symphony, and is credited as being the first African American principal dancer (1962-1968) in a major American ballet company. Mitchell’s legendary roles include his naughty and mercurial Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1962) and his passionate partnering with Suzanne Farrell in Metastaseis & Pithoprakta (1968). However, it was Mitchell’s performance in Balanchine’s Requiem Canticles (1968), a tribute to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that shaped dance history. Greatly impacted and galvanized by King’s passing, Mitchell needed to follow his dream. Read more...

Philadelphia School of Dance Arts celebrates 60th anniversary

Posted June 9, 2020

Dance Special Features

In December, we presented Philadelphia’s beloved dance company, PHILADANCO, in Xmas Philes, an original Annenberg Center commission. Led by esteemed executive and artistic director Joan Myers Brown, the company is not only celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, but its Philadelphia School of Dance Arts is commemorating 60 amazing years of dance education.

Having grown up in West Philadelphia, Myers Brown knew she wanted to give back to the neighborhood, and she met this goal by founding the Philadelphia School of Dance Arts in 1960. Over the years, the school has welcomed thousands of students, inspiring many successful alums including Tony Award®-winning singer/actor Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton, Smash) and Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker/producer Lee Daniels (The Butler, Empire). Furthering the school’s reach around the globe, PHILADANCO was formed in 1970, and now boasts three apprentice and youth companies in addition to the renowned professional ensemble. Read more...

A 40-year love affair with MOMIX

Posted June 8, 2020

Penn Live Arts Recommends Dance

Photo courtesy of MOMIX
MOMIX has a long and joyful relationship with Philadelphia audiences, wowing dance lovers, newcomers and even skeptics with its theatrical magic. MOMIX has appeared on the Dance Celebration Series presented by the Annenberg Center and Dance Affiliates/NextMove Dance 12 times during a 30-year partnership. The first time I saw MOMIX, I was awed by its outrageous inventiveness, almost reckless physicality, unbelievable beauty, transformative use of props, constructed costumes and lights, new age music, and unusual subject matter.

Early Roots

The MOMIX connection began in the early 1970s when Philadelphia audiences were amazed by the wild and wacky antics of the recently-formed troupe, Pilobolus, on the Walnut Street Theatre Dance Series. Moses Pendleton, the artistic director and founder of MOMIX, was also one of the founders of Pilobolus. While at Dartmouth College, Pendleton, a skier and English literature major, took a dance class with Alison Becker Chase, who required students to create an original dance. Legend has it that three male dancers—Pendleton, Steve Johnson and Jonathan Wolken—new to dance and not wanting to dance alone, created a work they titled Pilobolus, in which they stayed connected the entire time. This work led to the founding of the company Pilobolus and a new dance language based on collaboration, weight-sharing techniques, creative play, physical prowess and sculptural beauty. Read more...

A message from our Executive & Artistic Director

Posted June 4, 2020

I write to you this week knowing that we are filled with emotion over the events of recent days. It has been difficult to watch and experience as communities across our country react to the tragic killing of George Floyd and to the sight of thousands of people coming together in peaceful protest, even as we continue to struggle with the public health crisis of COVID-19.

As a center for the arts, we reaffirm our continued commitment to presenting artists of color on our stages, supporting artistic work that addresses the important issues of our time, and we join President Gutmann in pledging to work toward creating an environment that is inclusive and free from discrimination, for our patrons and supporters of diverse cultural backgrounds, our staff, board and all persons of color across the Penn campus.

While we grapple daily with anger, pain and sorrow, I hope it gives you solace to remember that the performing arts are a powerful influence in helping us work through the large issues that may be hard to process individually. The performing arts regularly bring us together in all of our diversities, in a shared experience of fellowship. During such troubled times, they play a greater role in our lives. Even experienced in the digital realm, the arts help us make sense of tragedy and challenge, bringing us meaning, comfort and spiritual affirmation, all of which are essential in our lives right now. Read more...

Join us tomorrow on YouTube Live for pianist Jenny Lin

Posted May 27, 2020

Penn Live Arts Recommends New Music Virtual Stage

With our launch of Annenberg Center @ Home, this spring has been a season of new beginnings. Tomorrow evening at 7 PM, we take another new step into the world of livestreamed events.

In March, we presented pianist and Steinway artist Jenny Lin at the Penn Museum. Little did we know at the time that it would be our final performance for the season, not to mention the conclusion of Lin’s own spring concert schedule. With this in mind, we invited Lin back for our first-ever livestreamed event, a watch party and live discussion with Christopher Gruits, our Executive & Artistic Director. Read more...

Take in Penn's glorious Morris Arboretum from home

Posted May 27, 2020


While we wait for the day when we can again visit the glorious gardens of the Morris Arboretum we checked out some of the free family-friendly activities they're offering. One of our cultural partners, Morris Arboretum is Penn’s historic public garden as well as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Enjoy interactive jigsaw puzzles depicting the lush landscapes of the gardens; downloadable garden-inspired coloring book pages showing flowers currently in bloom, features of the Arboretum and items from their archives; and a variety of nature-based word search puzzles. Get to know Morris Arboretum now, from home, so you’ll be ready when it comes time to visit in person!

Spotlight on composer James Primosch, Professor of Music at Penn

Posted May 27, 2020

Special Features

At the top of May, acclaimed composer and Penn Professor of Music James Primosch wrote on his blog, “Sometimes not much is happening, but suddenly when things do happen they come in clumps. I’ve seen it with performances that cluster together, with empty weeks before and after. And now I have two CDs coming out a week apart.” How fortunate for music-lovers: proverbial May flowers in the form of magnificent music.

The album Descent/Return features piano and vocal works by Primosch and John Harbison, Primosch’s teacher, mentor and friend. Primosch studied composition with Harbison in the summer of 1984 during his Tanglewood Fellowship. Read more...

ListenUp: Zeitgeist Playlist

Posted May 27, 2020

ListenUp New Music

In October 2019, joined by Bowerbird and Penn’s Department of Music, we presented Zeitgeist: George Crumb at 90, a three-concert festival that celebrated more than seventy years of music by Grammy® and Pulitzer Prize®-winning composer George Crumb. Crumb is one of the most frequently performed composers today. His music often juxtaposes contrasting musical styles, ranging from the western art-music tradition, to hymns and folk, to non-Western music. Many of his works include programmatic, symbolic, mystical and theatrical elements, which are often reflected in his beautiful and meticulously notated scores. Crumb retired from Penn in 1997 after more than 30 years of teaching. He was awarded an honorary doctor of music degree from Penn in May 2009. This week’s playlist celebrates the music performed during Zeitgeist including Apparition, Metamorphoses, Madrigals, Book I-IV and the Vietnam War-haunted Black Angels, in addition to a selection of Crumb’s early compositions. Listen in to this sweeping retrospective of the work of this essential American composer.

The Crossing's new album CARTHAGE features music by James Primosch

Posted May 26, 2020

Penn Live Arts Recommends New Music

The Crossing @ Christmas at the Church of the Holy Trinity
Photo by Ryan Collerd
We were thrilled to partner with The Crossing this season as our choir-in-residence, and deeply disappointed when their residency was cut short due to COVID-19. We presented The Crossing @ Christmas in December, followed by the unforgettable Knee Plays in February as part of our three-week #GLASSFEST honoring Philip Glass. We then closed our doors just days before the choir’s final residency performance of the season, the world premiere of Michael Gordon’s Travel Guide to Nicaragua with cellist Maya Beiser. While we had hoped to reschedule the performance, we ultimately had to cancel it as the pandemic continued to unfold.

Nevertheless, The Crossing, like many performing ensembles, has carried on in the virtual landscape. Every morning since March 16, Rising with The Crossing has provided us with daily selections from the choir’s best performances and recordings. Read more...

ListenUp: New Music Playlist

Posted May 21, 2020

New Music ListenUp

We ring in this week’s playlist with the sound of bells. Sō Percussion, slated to make their Annenberg Center debut this past April, has been rescheduled for October, when they’ll perform the world premieres of works by graduate students in composition from Penn’s Department of Music. Here, we feature the ensemble’s recordings of music by Steve Reich, Paul Lansky, and Glenn Kotche. Next up on the playlist is a sampling of The Crossing’s gorgeous recording of Robert Convery’s Voyages, which is set to Hart Crane’s early 20th-century poem of the same name. Although The Crossing’s residency at the Annenberg Center this year was cut short, we can’t wait to bring them back in future seasons. We round out our new music playlist by revisiting two solo piano works we heard at Jenny Lin’s Glass Reflections recital at the Penn Museum this past March: Philip Glass’ hypnotic Etude No. 2 and György Ligeti’s intricate first étude, Désordre.