Appearing in Philadelphia for the first time, the Australian troupe Circa Contemporary Circus opened the season with their genre-defying, ultra-kinetic show Humans. Mixing circus arts, acrobatics, and traditional and contemporary dance, Humans explores the awe-inspiring capabilities—and sometimes humorous limitations—of the human body, encouraging audiences to reflect on what it means to be human. The electrifying show played to a packed Zellerbach Theater as the troupe performed dazzling feats of strength, balance, and physical poetry.
Heading into his third year, Annenberg Center Executive and Artistic Director Christopher Gruits is embracing Penn President Amy Gutmann’s vision of integrating the performing arts across campus. “Penn offers a lot of opportunities to highlight contemporary and innovative arts right here on campus,” Gruits says. “We’re creating links between the performing arts and curricula, as well as finding ways to create programming in areas you might not expect, like Penn Medicine.”
One such link will see the Annenberg Center engage with Penn’s History Department and Department of Africana Studies. Two premiere performances, Vessels and The Routes of Slavery, will bring the work of the Penn History of Slavery Project to life on stage. Visionary efforts like this are evidence of how Gruits’ leadership is revitalizing performing arts on campus.
“Chris has been a breath of fresh air, and at just the right time,” says Allison Dawn Powell, C’93, a member of the Annenberg Board of Overseers. “There’s a lot of evolution going on in the arts, and Chris has been at the forefront of bringing that to Penn.”
Fellow Overseer Lynn Jerath, W’95, agrees. “Penn is known for integrating knowledge, and Annenberg is integrating performing arts into campus culture,” Jerath says. “It’s not just a vision; Chris is really acting on it.”
A renewed partnership with NextMove Dance—founded by Penn alumnus Randy Swartz, C’67—will enrich dance programming at the Annenberg Center, with 11 companies performing in the 2018-2019 season. This will include 2 world premieres, 1 U.S. premiere, 16 Philadelphia premieres, and 4 Philadelphia debuts.
“The Annenberg Center is, and will be, the center for all who are interested in dance in Philadelphia,” Swartz said to guests at a pre-reception before the Circa performance. “We’re thrilled to be back, and we’re thrilled to have you with us.”
As always, the Annenberg Center will showcase a wide array of events to please all tastes. Highlights include the world-renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem serving as Artist-in-Residence; a performance by film and television composer Max Richter; a celebration of early music and immigrant culture-making through the programming series “The Philadelphians: Migrations that Made Our City”; and the Student Discovery series, which welcomes younger local schoolchildren to enjoy specially curated performances.
In addition, Annenberg’s longstanding reputation for showcasing jazz music continues, with performances by T.S. Monk, son of the legendary Thelonious Monk; genre-bending Japanese artist Hiromi; and select pre-show performances that will give students in Penn’s Jazz Combos a new stage to hone their skills.
Several Annenberg events will be preceded or followed by discussions, often with Penn faculty, that encourage audiences to engage more deeply with creative and performing arts—and to return to Annenberg for more.
“We’re always focused on bringing a range of artistry from around the world that you can’t otherwise get in Philadelphia,” Gruits says. “That’s what makes this such a unique and important cultural venue for the city.”
The 2018-2019 season at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts will provide a myriad of opportunities for engaging with performing arts on campus. We invite you to join us at any of our events, and to contact Kristin Winch to find out how you can contribute to creating the one-of-a-kind Annenberg experience.