A new Celebrity Series of Boston initiative is bringing dance to a promising new performance space. And three provocative collaborations of live music and movement created by groundbreaking choreographers and ensembles will make their Boston debuts in the series: Ephrat Asherie Dance (Oct. 26-27), Sankofa Danzafro (Nov. 3-4), and Dance Heginbotham (Nov. 10-11).
The venue is New England Conservatory’s Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre. Part of the new Student Life and Performance Center located in the Fenway, the flexible, multi-purpose theater offers a variety of configurations in staging and seating, accommodating an audience of up to 250.
“We are very excited,” says Celebrity Series artistic programmer Amy Lam. “We are always on the lookout for venues, and we’ve been looking for a versatile space like this for a long time.”
The new series is designed to complement other dance offerings, Lam says: “Our goal is to provide a variety of performance platforms for artists in all different stages of their careers. This series can include multimedia and cross-genre artists who may not need a proscenium stage. The black box offers a completely different experience, an intimacy, a deeper connection to the energy in the most direct and visceral way, and we are encouraging companies to really work the space to enhance the experience.”
Celebrity Series is the first outside renter of the new black box theater. NEC interim president Thomas Novak says, “NEC and the Celebrity Series have enjoyed a longstanding partnership, presenting the world’s leading musicians in Jordan Hall. We are thrilled to enhance our relationship [with] three dance programs in Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre.”
The companies were all chosen because they work intimately with live music. “The acoustic in the theater is amazing, so we wanted to showcase that aspect,” Lam says.
The series opens with “Odeon,” the first full-length show by Ephrat Asherie Dance. A collaboration between the Bessie Award-winning Israeli-born choreographer and her brother, jazz pianist Ehud Asherie, the work unfolds to the music of Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth. Asherie’s urban dance theater company is known for its inventive movement language, which combines contemporary dance with street and club dance.
“Club dance is very inclusive and tolerant, yet it encourages everyone to bring their own distinctive voice,” says Asherie. “It’s a collective consciousness that still celebrates the individual. I’m taking things that don’t seem to connect, but are all based in African-rooted forms. As a choreographer, I’m interested in how to make those connections visible. It’s about people coming together, art at the human level. ”
Colombian company Sankofa Danzafro is the series’s largest ensemble, with up to 16 performers. Sankofa means “to return to the root.” The company performs not just in theaters, but on street corners, in commercial areas, and in community centers. Its high-energy “City of Others” puts Afro-Colombian and Afro-contemporary dance, plus live drumming and singing, through an edgy urban lens in an exploration of struggle, resilience, and coexistence. “It’s very timely,” says Lam. “It’s about diversity and discrimination and a sense of belonging.”
Though Dance Heginbotham is making its Boston debut, artistic director John Heginbotham is familiar to New England dance fans for his 14-year tenure as a performer with Mark Morris Dance Group. Heginbotham’s own troupe is known for its structured movement invention, athleticism, and often whimsical theatricality. The program features live music by a cadre of NEC faculty and affiliates: guitar virtuoso Jérôme Mouffe, the Verona Quartet, flamenco artist Yosi Karahashi (with a castanet choir), and jazz pianist-composer Ethan Iverson, who wrote and will perform the score for Heginbotham’s “Easy Win.” Iverson, a longtime accompanist for Morris whose “Pepperland” score will be featured in a later Celebrity Series presentation of Morris’s company, says, “ ‘Easy Win’ is my first solo piano score for dance. It has a lot of themes and ideas I fiddled with in playing dance classes for Mark Morris. It’s jazz, but with heavy rhythmic elements, and it plays off all kinds of American music and social dance music.”
Iverson says he is excited to perform in the new theater, which he says has a great vibe. Lam concurs, adding, “It’s a luxury to have a space this size and this versatile. It gives us more opportunities to present dance. And more is better!”
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org