Photo by Emilio Parra Doiztua / The New York Times
One of the most beautiful things about art is how it brings people together. Whether we see a concert, visit the museum or take a dance class, we expect to interact with people at every one of those experiences. But what happens when the communal element of art is taken away from us due to a global health crisis? And what role does art play when issues of systemic racism and social justice leave us feeling even more distanced and divided as people?
As international art dealer David Zwirner puts it, “While art can reach into the darkest places of the human psyche, it does so to help us understand and hopefully transcend. Art lifts us up. In the end, I think its mission is simply to make us better people.” In other words, the messages and meaning behind art are how we appreciate our differences as humans. Art is both literally and figuratively our canvas for expression and contemplation. We use visuals, music, dance or whatever art form speaks to us most to depict what words alone cannot. In doing so, we make art that can be poignant, controversial, insightful or whatever we want it to be. Read more...
The Annenberg Center believes that Black lives matter, and we stand in solidarity with the nationwide movement to eliminate the racism, violence, oppression and systemic injustice that is endemic across our country. As part of an institution of higher education and as an arts organization, we recognize that we are often at the forefront of addressing issues that confront our society. We must be leaders of change and part of the solution.
This statement is the beginning of a process, not the end. We recognize that we have much work ahead of us and we pledge to work toward creating an environment that is inclusive and free from discrimination for artists of color on our stages, for our patrons of diverse cultural backgrounds, and for staff, board, faculty, students and all persons of color across the Penn campus.
While we have a long history of supporting artists of color and offering diverse programming on our stages, and that will not change, this is not enough. We must examine our own institution and dig deep to challenge our assumptions and examine the ways our organization has operated out of privilege. We must work not only to ensure inclusivity on our stages and in our operations, but we must also pledge to actively fight against racism and injustice. Read more...
Martha Graham Dance Company is one of the oldest and most celebrated contemporary dance companies on the planet. True to its tradition of social activism, this iconic company continues to respond to the issues of today with a digital reinvention of Graham’s Immediate Tragedy, to be premiered live online on June 19. Originally created in 1937 in response to the Spanish Civil War, this collaborative piece with composer Henry Cowell was never filmed and considered lost for decades. Today, inspired by archival remnants of Graham’s original solo, this reimagined, digital work draws on the shared experience of our current, immediate tragedy, the global pandemic.
Commissioned by The Soraya, this new iteration of Immediate Tragedy features an original score by Christopher Rountree to be performed by the Los Angeles-based collective, Wild Up. These musicians took inspiration from shards of Cowell’s music notations found in the Graham archives, while 14 dancers each worked to develop specific movement phrases based on photos of the original piece. From around the world, these artists collaborated from the safety of their homes through a variety of technologies to synchronize movement, music and digital design.
Story Time with Stim is a new read-aloud collaboration with Penn’s student-led Stimulus Children’s Theatre Company, or Stim, for short. Every year, Stim visits local schools and hospitals to share the performing arts with kids through performances and workshops. After Stim’s spring musical, A Year with Frog and Toad, was cancelled due to COVID-19, we were motivated to find a new way to tell stories to kids in a virtual format.
Please note, these videos are no longer available due to arrangements with the publishers.
June 23: Curious George Rides a Bike:
June 18: Where Have the Unicorns Gone?:
June 11: Frog & Toad Are Friends:
Guest contributor Jaden Cloobeck is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences studying Psychology with a minor in Theatre Arts. He is the Chair of Stimulus Children's Theatre Company for the 2020-2021 academic year.
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...
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...
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.
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...
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...
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...
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!