Celebrating our 50th anniversary
Today, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Annenberg Center. The gala event, held on April 8, 1971, was a proud milestone in the history of the University of Pennsylvania, and a momentous occasion for the entire Philadelphia region. As the first multi-disciplinary theatre in the city, we have, since our founding, served as a cultural destination that has connected audiences and the University through a range of innovative programs across music, dance, theatre and film.
Addressing the audience on what The New York Times
called a “huge ochre-carpeted lobby
” of the brand new $5.7 million theatre, Nancy Hanks, head of the National Endowment for the Arts said, “The Center is designed to benefit the community, the campus and especially the students and faculty by surrounding dramatic experience with the intellectual, research and scientific resources of the University.” George Gerbner, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, added, “It will be a place where students, professionals, artists and scholars join campus and community in the exploration of the living and electronic arts as they participate in the conduct of inquiry into its forms and nature, and into its role in our lives." More memories of the ceremony can be found on page six of the Penn Almanac’s archival issue
. Read more...
Recent Highlights: Jan – Mar 2021
Penn Live Arts Debuts Dance Early Music Film Music Philadelphia Debuts Special Features Virtual Stage World Premieres
Photo courtesy of HopeBoykinDance
Powerful. Stunning. Inspiring. These are just a few of the words our audiences have shared with us since the spring digital season began in early February. It’s always great to hear such praise for the artists who have given a superlative performance. But in the past year, as we transitioned to livestreamed performances, it is particularly meaningful. And when we read that “the production team stars along with the dancers,” we get excited at the thought that perhaps that invisible barrier, across the virtual divide, just might be dissolving, bringing our virtual audiences so much closer. As one of only a couple of venues in the Philadelphia area to stream live performances in real time, this is a wonderful affirmation of the artists and their art and our staff learning to work in completely new ways. Here are a few highlights from the first weeks of our spring season.
Preserving the live experience has been our overriding goal for our 20/21 season. For debut artists, the dramatic tension of the live experience lends an extra level of energy, even in a virtual setting. For the audience, hearing new artists such as rising jazz stars Samara Joy and Pasquale Grasso gives a peek into the future of the art form. These fresh voices and musicians were a great kickoff to the spring season. You can read more about Samara Joy and her connection to Philadelphia in The Philadelphia Tribune and hear from both artists on our blog in our 5 Questions series. Read more...
5 Questions with Rennie Harris
He’s called “the most brilliant hip-hop choreographer in America,” (The New Yorker
) and we know his upcoming performance will live up to such lofty acclaim. Rennie Harris Puremovement returns April 1
with a program of works including some that directly reflect on the current tragedies facing our nation. So, we were very eager to learn more about this beloved Philadelphian and discover all he’s working on right now in just 5 Questions.
1. What role does the dancer have in today's world?
Dancers are what I call physical historians. Dancers hold the information of choreographers past and the present. It is their job to tell the story of the choreographer and to do so by manifesting the choreographer’s ideas and thoughts into a physical reality (on stage) for all to see. Without the dancer, the ideas of a choreographer will remain an idea or theory. Read more...
One Year On
Special Features Virtual Stage
Pictured: Angélique Kidjo in one of our final performances before closing our doors, February 2020
It’s hard to believe that we are now one year on from the total shutdown of our economy and the world as we knew it. Saying that sounds dramatic, but it's true. Recently, we have begun to regain some of our regular economic activity, and with the coming of spring and the advent of the vaccine rollout there is hope on the horizon. Yet, for the performing arts industry globally, this year has meant a total reevaluation of our business model while at the same time presenting an urgent need to maintain our venues, staff
, not to mention supporting the artists that grace our stages. It is hardly hyperbolic to state that our industry has never faced a greater challenge. Even during the Spanish flu pandemic, theatres, including Broadway, stayed open. During the Great Depression, the government invested in the Federal Theatre Project (1935-39) and during WWII, theatre and movie-going was a revered national pastime, an important source of information and a welcome distraction from the realities of rationing and war.
One year into our own generation’s challenge, we can begin to reflect on this tumultuous time and consider the many struggles but also the opportunities that have been realized because of this unprecedented situation. In a year when our nation grappled with the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systematic racism, we were given an opportunity to ponder our role as arts providers and respond to national circumstances by delivering these programs in innovative and truly inclusive ways. Read more...
Find wonder and fun with Flip Fabrique’s Blizzard
Photo by Sébastien Durocher
Families, this is just for you—an hour of free-spirited fun and wonder in a performance for kids and their adults of all ages. Our contemporary circus friends Flip Fabrique
are sharing their current production Blizzard
for one night only, Saturday, March 20 at 7 PM. You can watch for free via YouTube here.
This piece is special in its own right, but its timing feels apropos. As we reflect on our last “normal” week one year ago, I realize that Blizzard was the last performance I attended in person, outside of the Annenberg Center. It was wonderful to see Blizzard at TOHU in Montréal in the winter snow of December 2019. There is nostalgia in this piece for the Annenberg Center too. We were planning to present Blizzard live on our stage in April 2021. It was set to be announced when the world and all performing arts shut down in March 2020. We were not able to share that announcement with you, nor able to share the show with you in person. But now, through the generosity of the company’s special virtual presentation, we may share this performance with all of you in some form! Read more...
Celebrating Early Music Month
Photo from our November 15, 2020 performance by Meg Bragle, Mezzo-soprano & Richard Stone, Lute
Early music enthusiasts would know that the month of March is also Early Music Month, an awareness campaign created five years ago by Early Music America
. Here at the Annenberg Center, we are joining the Early Music Month celebration by spotlighting our recent early music livestreams. At the end of February, we welcomed Gwyn Roberts and Richard Stone, co-founders of Philadelphia’s Tempesta di Mare, for a program that explored the works of baroque composers who stayed close to home. Stone also performed in the fall alongside mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle in an intimate meditation on the meaning of solitude. See below for photo highlights from these marvelous performances. Read more...
Looking Back at Vessels
African Roots Music Theatre World Music World Premieres
Photos by Kielinski Photography
On March 7, 2019 – one year before the coronavirus pandemic hit – we presented the world premiere of Vessels
. An Annenberg Center co-commission, this poignant work centered on the question, “What does freedom sound like in a space of confinement?” Set on an abstraction of a slave ship with neither spoken words nor instrumental music, Vessels
explored the journey of African women across the Middle Passage through sound and movement.
Inspiration struck Vessels co-creator Rebecca Mwase when she heard a talk about how millions of enslaved people arrived on these shores with their sanity intact. She immediately thought that song and dance must have played a crucial role. Mwase partnered with Ron Ragin, a singer and composer who focuses on interdisciplinary performance art and music of the African Diaspora, and the two embarked on a four-year journey studying traditional song and dance to create this important work. Read more...
Dance eXchange – Free weekly dance classes for youth
Our friends at BalletX are inspiring children to stay active and get dancing! Based on the methodology of the National Dance Institute (NDI) and fueled by the artistry of BalletX, youth in grades K-5 can hop on Zoom to learn some of the basic vocabulary of dance while fostering self-confidence, focus and determination. These FREE classes happen at 3 PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays through May and even better, there’s no commitment! Just register once and a Zoom link will be emailed two hours before each class so your kiddo can join whenever they can. Check it out >>
Laughter, Love and a Lobby
Nearly 50 years ago, the first chapter of a love story was written in our Zellerbach Theatre when our Board member Rick Feintuch, W’74, PAR’05, PAR’08 and his wife Merry Feintuch, W’74, PAR’05, PAR’08 went on their first date, leading to a long-lasting love and friendship. We are happy to share that with a recent gift from the couple, the new Feintuch Family Lobby at the Annenberg Center will officially be dedicated this spring as part of our 50th anniversary celebration.
Explore Rick and Merry's story >>
5 Questions with Thomas Kraines & Kinan Abou-afach
Cellist Thomas Kraines and cellist/oudist Kinan Abou-afach are joining forces on our stage on March 4
. Kraines has graced our stage numerous times with the Daedalus Quartet, Penn’s quartet-in-residence. Abou-afach, whose musical output champions Arabic and Syrian traditions, was supposed to perform for us alongside the Daedalus Quartet back in April 2020 but that show was cancelled due to the pandemic. We are so excited these excellent musicians will share our stage soon, but first, let’s learn more about this duo in a special 5 Questions double feature. Read more...
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