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Kristen Catch-Up: An Immersive Arts Weekend in New York

Friday, January 18, 2019

UNCW may just be getting back from winter break, but the arts never hibernate. The beginning of the year brings an annual conference in New York of Association of Performing Arts Professionals, and our director, Kristen Brogdon, has been persistent in her pursuit of diverse and unique cultural programming for upcoming UNCW Presents seasons and Lumina Festivals. Kristen ended up skipping the APAP conference this year and instead immersed herself in a long weekend taking full advantage of the arts and cultural programming surrounding the conference. 

For this week’s blog, I went Behind the Curtain with Kristen or a deeper dive into her recent arts excursion. Kristen’s trip was filled with too many outstanding performances to cover in a single blog post, so these are just a few highlights. 

If you’re a music fan, chances are you’ve heard of New York’s famed globalFEST—a magical time of year where fans, music industry professionals, and press all converge on the city to hear the latest and greatest the industry has to offer. As part of globalFEST, Kristen got to experience the musical stylings of Amythyst Kiah. Based out of Johnston City, TN, Kiah’s raw and powerful vocals are rooted in blues, but transcend into a unique sound that creates a musical experience that is truly unforgettable. Don’t take our word for it; hear Amythyst Kiah’s sound for yourself on her website! 

Kiah is also a member of a new musical group comprised of Allison Russel, Leyla McCalla, and Rhiannon Giddens. Wilmington got to see Rhiannon Giddens live during the 2018 Lumina Festival and Cucalorus Festival. Fans will be excited to know that UNCW Presents is looking to bring her back to Wilmington as soon as possible.  In the meantime, the new group’s debut album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, is slated to drop on February 22nd. 

On the other side of the performing arts spectrum, theatre festival Under the Radar also had a stunning line-up. A platform for diverse and cutting-edge performance artists, Under the Radar takes place at New York’s Public Theatre (known for workshopping Hamilton) and has presented over 210 companies from 41 countries. As part of the Under the Radar festival, Kristen saw Manual Cinema’s production of Frankenstein, which is a combination of the original Frankenstein and the legend of how Mary Shelley wrote the Gothic sci-fi classic 200 years ago. Thanks to Manual Cinema’s mastery of shadow puppetry, real-time animation, and cinematic transitions, Kristen said the performance “felt like film was being made right in front of you, in real time.”  

If you’re a self-described “sucker for a good duet” like Kristen is, chances are that you’ll enjoy Boys in Trouble. As part of Live Artery, the New York Live Arts showcase, Boys in Trouble is from trailblazing transgender choreographer, Sean Dorsey. As America grapples with masculinity, in all its differing forms, Boys in Trouble raises intersectional questions of embodiment, violence, Black queer love, whiteness, shame and posturing. Kristen’s highlight was the “Sweet Time Duet,” which was overflowing with “such joy, compassion, and tenderness." 

Lakaï Dance Theatre’s The Block: An Afro-Musical which was created, performed and produced by artists of color, was another highlight from Live Artery. The performance begins with a poetry slam, and then uses spoken word to move the story along through storytelling in music and movement. The Block was developed from personal stories, representing everything from the nuances of male and female relationships and misogyny, to police violence and the importance of finding meaningful and good paying work. In Kristen’s words, the performance “puts all the details together and does everything right.”  

Radioactive Practice, a work-in-progress performance by Abby Z and the New Utility is expected to make its full premiere in 2020, but Live Artery attendees got an exhilarating look into the performance ahead of time. Radioactive Practice contains dangerous and daring dancing feats, aimed at challenging dancers to explore their mental and physical limits on stage. An experiment that the dancers are all equally invested in, Radioactive Practice brings aesthetic and cultural collisions to the forefront to address cultural bias and misunderstanding through form.  

The last (but certainly not the least) highlight from New York is MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and North Carolina native, Michelle Dorrance of Dorrance Dance Company, presented by New York City Center. Dorrance and her tap dance ensemble are acclaimed for their innovative approach to tap dance. Kristen describes them as incorporating “stage craft into tap to create a full theatrical experience.” 

Kristen’s short trip was packed with dance, concerts, and plays which also included a celebration of the 100th year anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, a performance by Meshell Ndegeocello at Winter JazzFest, and the launch event for the Philip Glass Institute at the New School, which featured a performance excerpt of the iconic “Einstein on the Beach.” All in all, when you bring a bunch of talented, thriving artists together, Kristen says “it elevates the experience and it becomes more than the sum of its parts.” Now more than ever before, artists are working hard to break down barriers and give life to new ideas, and Kristen’s New York weekend is symbolic of that. There’s nothing quite like the buzzing, inspired energy after an arts weekend, and we hope that you’ll join us in Kenan Auditorium soon for a unique arts and cultural experience of your own! 

-Lindsay Lake