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Finding Freedom

September 5, 2017
man on stage with others around him
Student Mark Mieden in the 2009 original production of Six Songs from Ellis.

Theatre and Dance presents six works about the struggle to preserve liberty for all.

By Katherine Kirkaldie and Patrick Konesko

Since the beginning of the American experiment, the pursuit of freedom has been central to our national identity. Lady Liberty and her inscription to “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” have been a beacon, welcoming others to share in the freedom that we hold so dear. But just what does it mean to live free?

The 2017–18 UW Department of Theatre and Dance production season offers six works that speak to the struggle—bitter, funny or glorious—required if we are to preserve the possibility of liberty for all.

The season opens with a gala performance by the 2017–18 Eminent Artists-in-Residence, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, in which the company will premiere an original work.

“Inspired by the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s history, raison d’être, and unique artistic journey to its current status as a company of international acclaim, the Department of Theatre and Dance is thrilled to host the Dance Theatre of Harlem as Eminent Artists-in-Residence with support from the UW Office of the President,” says Professor Marsha Knight. “Among a list of undertakings, a new work by choreographer Darrell Grand Moultrie will make its world premiere at the Sept. 29 gala performance, celebrating the artistic exchange between the UW and the Dance Theatre of Harlem.” The performance is also supported by UW Presents.

The company will be at UW two weeks, with an extended six-week residency featuring acclaimed dancers, choreographers and teachers Tai Jimenez and Charmaine Hunter. During the residency, the guest artists will teach, lead workshops and set repertoire on UW dance students.

In October, Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities uses a fraught family homecoming to explore the ways in which secrets, extremism and American political ideology can tear apart a once-close family and, by extension, a nation. Next up is Facism: A Musical Comedy, a new, in-your-face political satire from Seán Stone and William Missouri Downs—the creators of Angry Psycho Princesses—that celebrates freedom of speech in an increasingly politically correct world. The fall semester closes with an evening of dance centered on the unique works of the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

The spring semester offers a historical perspective on the sacrifices that freedom demands. The season opens with the play A Bright Room Called Day, Pulitzer Prize winner Tony Kushner’s pointed comparison between the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany and the state of American politics in the 1980s. Next, Aaron Copland’s opera The Tender Land offers a glimpse of life, love and community in the Midwest during the Great Depression.

The season closes with an updated staging of Marsha Knight’s original work, Six Songs from Ellis. This collaborative dance/theater piece brings the season to a fitting—and relevant—end as it explores the experiences of the immigrants and refugees who passed through Ellis Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as they uproot from their place of origin to pursue their dreams of finding freedom.

Knight says:  “The importance of hearing voices of the past, the reminder of timeliness, the parallel of past with present, and making the immigrant experience human and individual are at the heart of this work.”

Season Calendar

Other Desert Cities (Drama)

By Jon Robin Baitz; directed by Dr. Patrick Konesko

BCPA Thrust Theatre, Oct. 10–15

Facism: A Musical Comedy (Musical/Comedy)

Music and lyrics by Sean Stone; book by William Missouri Downs; directed by William Missouri Downs and Kevin Inouye

BCPA Main Stage, Nov. 14–19

Fall for Dance (Dance)

Choreographed by Dance Theatre of Harlem Guest Artists and UW dance faculty

BCPA Main Stage, Dec. 1–3

A Bright Room Called Day (Drama)

By Tony Kushner; directed by Kevin Inouye

BCPA Thrust Theatre, Feb. 6–10

The Tender Land (Opera)

Music by Aaron Copland; libretto by Horace Everett; directed by Sean Stone; conducted by Michael Griffith

BCPA Main Stage, March 28–31

Six Songs from Ellis (Dance/Theatre)

Created by Marsha Knight; directed By Marsha Knight and Leigh Selting

BCPA Main Stage, April 24–29

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dance Theatre of Harlem is a leading dance institution of global acclaim. Its mission is to maintain a world-class school that trains young people in classical ballet and the allied arts; to provide arts education, community outreach programs and positive role models for all; and to present a ballet company of African-American and other racially diverse artists who perform the most demanding repertory at the highest level of quality.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem Company consists of 14 diverse dance artists who perform an eclectic demanding repertoire. The company performs treasured classics, neo-classical works by George Balanchine and resident choreographer Robert Garland, cutting-edge contemporary works, and works that use the language of ballet to celebrate African American culture, bringing new life to the art form of classical ballet.

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