Arts Preview: Familiar names, new artists and big milestones mark 2017-18 season

Orange County’s coming arts season contains the usual tempting line-up of big names and popular shows, but there are signs of challenge and change in the air, too. One look at this year’s roster of high-profile events proves that the arts continue to become more inclusive and diverse, with something for everyone.

Former Segerstrom Center president Jerry Mandel, who was chosen to run the Irvine Barclay Theatre in 2015, is shaking up its well-worn line-up with new offerings in all disciplines. Pacific Symphony marks a milestone in any orchestra’s development: a Carnegie Hall debut.

In addition to beloved world-class favorites such as Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Lang Lang and Joshua Bell, the classical music season includes controversial young pianist Igor Levit, who recently gained as much fame for his political statements as his electrifying keyboard style. Soka University continues its tradition of presenting young champions of prestigious contests with Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, gold medalist of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. First, though, he’ll be making his West Coast debut performing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with Pacific Symphony at the Tchaikovsky Spectacular concert on Sept. 9.

The dance season presents two of the country’s most respected companies of color, Dance Theater of Harlem and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, during a busy five-day period next spring. Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, the Asian nation’s only modern dance company, comes to the Segerstrom Center in March. In Los Angeles, inventive, playful British choreographer Matthew Bourne kicks off the dance season with a bang when “The Red Shoes” opens at the Music Center in September.

The theater season is distinguished by the haunting and offbeat Tony winner, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” at 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall (a huge venue for a spoken-word play), and the local debut of an iconoclastic musical that is proving to be Broadway’s ultimate dark horse:  “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-infused saga of the life and times of founding father Alexander Hamilton.

In the world of visual arts, the coming season promises a cornucopia of non-traditional exhibits and ambitious projects. Four O.C. galleries and museums are participating in this year’s “Pacific Standard Time,” which focuses on Latin American art. And the Bowers Museum will present treasures from the summer palace of Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi.

MORE FROM THE 2017-18 ARTS PREVIEW

Classical music’s heavy hitters are on the way

Dance performances will push boundaries

Theaters aim for the popular and upbeat

In visual arts, Orange County steps out into the world

O.C. arts venues have something for every taste

Events for the whole family

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Arts Preview: Dance performances will push boundaries

Orange County audiences are spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting performances that challenge and expand the ideas of traditional concert dance.  Of course there will be the classics – the Mariinsky Ballet at Segerstrom Center for the Arts (Oct. 12-15) and productions of “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom (Dec. 7-17)  and, for the first time in five years, The Music Center (Dec. 7-10) – but  the 2017-2018 offerings also promise projections, props, lighting and narrative that dazzle with more than just technical movement.

In September, Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center brings the U.S. premiere of Matthew Bourne’s “The Red Shoes” to The Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre. With it, audiences can expect to see Bourne’s trademark choreography paired with the vibrant costumes and sets of a theatrical production. The narrative promises to take center stage using inventive movement as its medium for communication.

Similarly, Jessica Lang of Jessica Lang Dance says she considers dance to be her material for creating visual art. Lang’s pieces often include interactive sets with dancers manipulating props and large set pieces. Like in “The Calling,” in which a dancer stands in a dress that stretches across the entire stage, the visual elements of Lang’s pieces are memorable backdrops to her contemporary choreography. Her company will perform at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach on Oct. 7.

Also offering more than dance in its production, Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan will show how it marries dance and martial arts in a choreographed interpretation of Chinese culture. The company makes its Segerstrom debut in March with Lin Hwai-min’s ballet “Formosa,” which includes large projections and music by award-winning indigenous singer Sangpuy.

As these artists join a season that welcomes iconic dance companies such as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at Segerstrom April 19-22 and Paul Taylor Dance Company in the Laguna Dance Festival Sept. 14 and 16, they expand the definition of traditional concert dance.

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Laguna Beach dance students turn poetry into motion

  • Ryane Zipstein is one of two students at Laguna Beach High School who wrote a spoken word poem for the Laguna Beach Education Foundation. Since then, the dance department has choreographed some movement sequences to it and because they were so moved, the piece will be included in their Spring dance concert on April 28 and 29. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Ryane Zipstein is one of two students at Laguna Beach High School who wrote a spoken word poem for the Laguna Beach Education Foundation. Since then, the dance department has choreographed some movement sequences to it and because they were so moved, the piece will be included in their Spring dance concert on April 28 and 29. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Dancers with the Laguna Beach High School dance department perform to a spoken-word poem by students Ryane Zipstein and Bayley Thomas. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Dancers with the Laguna Beach High School dance department perform to a spoken-word poem by students Ryane Zipstein and Bayley Thomas. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Dancers with the Laguna Beach High School dance department perform during a spoken word poem by students Ryane Zipstein and Bayley Thomas. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

    Dancers with the Laguna Beach High School dance department perform during a spoken word poem by students Ryane Zipstein and Bayley Thomas. in Laguna Beach, CA on Thursday, April 27, 2017. (Photo by Sam Gangwer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Dancers typically begin a sequence of movement by counting 5-6-7-8 to mark the tempo and phrase of the music, but what if there was no music? What if the familiar rhythm and melody of a song were replaced instead by spoken words?

For the beginning/intermediate Dance 1 class at Laguna Beach High School, these questions were answered as the dancers prepared movement to accompany a student-written poem.

“It was a bit daunting because in order to dance with a poem, we sort of had to forget what we know about dance when it comes to keeping in time with the music,” said sophomore Gabriela de Moraes. “There are moments when the choreography matches up with specific words, but for the most part we have to create our own flow and tempo.”

The poem, written by seniors Bayley Thomas and Ryane Zipstein, was originally composed to help the Laguna Beach Unified School District’s SchoolPower foundation raise money for new staff positions that will focus on supporting students’ emotional and mental well-being. The text of the poem was meant to attract donors as it illustrates the stress, anxiety and more serious mental health issues that students experience.

Zipstein, who also performed the poem, explained her view on this need for support.

“I know being a student doesn’t sound like the most stressful situation in the world, but at this point in our lives, the stress is the most we’ve ever handled. I think about the ratio of pressure to our age, and sometimes we’re not equipped,” said Zipstein. “The angsty teen stereotype is really prevalent, but I don’t think that makes it any less serious.”

Thomas and Zipstein’s spoken word was used in a video that was screened at SchoolPower’s 32nd annual Dinner Dance on February 11 and helped generate more than $158,000 in donations for the Student Well-Being Initiative.

Because the poem was so well-received, Thomas and Zipstein’s drama director passed the original version of it on to dance director Estee Carrizosa, who was looking for opportunities to collaborate with students of other arts disciplines.

The 15 dancers in the piece dissected the poem stanza by stanza and created movement based on the emotions of the text. The resulting piece, “Resilience + Perseverance = Grit,” was presented at the school’s spring dance concert at the end of April.

Sophomore dance student Katie Palino said she was excited to try dancing to words instead of music.

“I think our dance brings the words alive and gives it this in-depth feeling so you feel the sadness or the anger even more.”

Zipstein agreed with Palino, saying that dance “fills in the gaps” that poetry creates.

“I think of dance as being on the other side of the spectrum from poetry,” she said. “It’s that contrast between mind and body. What you see and what you hear.”

Between the poem and the choreography, “Resilience + Perseverance = Grit” ended up being an entirely student-created piece. This made the final product even more symbolic of the theme, the students said, because it offered an honest look at the struggles felt by a student.

“People are fascinated by seeing through the eyes of another perspective,” said Thomas. “I think it promotes the idea that people should consider other points of view when navigating through life.”

Thomas described the collaboration as “explaining a simple struggle in an elegant, complex way.”

“As someone deeply blessed to live in an area like Laguna, I can really appreciate art that allows the audience to depart from everyday life and experience extraordinary emotion,” Thomas said. “I feel honored to be a part of the dance show.”

CONTACT VARSITY ARTS: 714-796-2258 or varsityarts@ocregister.com

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