The 2014-15 C. Shaw and Nancy K. Smith Artist Series kicks off Sept. 26 with a performance by contemporary dance group Keigwin+Company. It is the first of six performances selected by a committee of students to share diverse cultures and performance genres with members of the college and greater community. And for this season, students wanted to shake things up a bit.
"The student group wanted to bring a freshness to the series this year," Assistant Director for Student Programs Ashley Owen said. "It includes genres we haven't tapped in a while, as well as favorites like Second City, who will perform from new angles."
Also this year, the Artist Series Committee offers new options and discounts for ticket packages, adding a "you pick three" partial package option for students as well as discounts for members of the military, in addition to their regular season ticket packages and other discounts.
The annual series has been a staple at Davidson for more than 60 years, bringing to the community renowned acts–acts that locals may not see otherwise–while keeping ticket prices low. Yamato, a group of Japanese taiko drummers, was part of last year's Artist Series and performed to a sold-out, standing-room-only house.
"I wanted to be involved with the Artist Series because it is important to me to help cultivate arts appreciation on campus," Gabrielle Garrard '16 said. A political science and art history double-major, she serves as chair of the 2014-15 Artist Series committee. She also served as a committee member last year, and helped to select this year's acts.
"Performances like these are another way to show the human experience in a beautiful way," she said.
New York-based Keigwin+Company opens the season with an innovative, contemporary dance performance. The group was founded in 2003 by Artistic Director Larry Keigwin and has performed at theatres and dance festivals throughout the country. K+C performances embody a theatrical sensibility of wit, style and heart, and engage the audience with creative staging, costuming and movement.
"Their lines in their promotional video were stunning," Garrard said.
Keigwin has created 24 dances over the last decade, including the acclaimed large-scale community project, Bolero, which has been commissioned in multiple communities across the country.
The group performs at 8 p.m. Friday in the Duke Family Performance Hall of the Knobloch Campus Center (all Artist Series shows begin at 8 p.m. in the Performance Hall).
The series shifts gears from contemporary dance to a performance style steeped in history and tradition, bringing Step Afrika! to Davidson Nov. 4. As members of the first professional dance company dedicated to the tradition of stepping, the performers use their bodies to create intricate rhythms and sounds, stomping, clapping and speaking in precise beats and tempos.
Stepping stems from a rich African tradition in which communities would use movement, words and sounds to communicate allegiance to a group. In the United States, the practice grew from song and dance rituals practiced by historically African-American fraternities and sororities beginning in the early 20th century.
Step Afrika! has been performing nationally and internationally for 20 years, and is evolving the dance form to include other styles, such as Tap, Modern and Hip Hop as it introduces stepping to new audiences around the world.
Later in November, three-time Grammy Award-winning sextet eighth blackbird brings its production, "Electrically Charged," to Davidson. The Chicago-based group uses new, music-making technology to perform classical works in provocative ways.
The group holds ongoing ensemble-in-residence positions at the Curtis Institute of Music, University of Richmond and University of Chicago. Its Davidson performance is Nov. 21.
Moving into the new year, on Jan. 14 Davidson welcomes back a fan favorite, The Second City. The Chicago- and Toronto-based improvisational sketch comedy group is known as a training ground for comedy greats, and has many famous alumni, including Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Bill Murray and hundreds more. The Second City has 11 full-time ensembles and performs nationally, entertaining more than 1 million audience members per year.
The group returns to Davidson for the third time, but this time brings a new sort of show: "The Second City Hits Home," in which the improv sketches will be Davidson-specific.
The Artist Series then shifts gears once again, and kicks off Black History Month with a performance of The Clothesline Muse Jan. 31. A multi-disciplinary theatre project, the show employs dance, percussive music, spoken word, text, video and interactive art as it explores the clothesline as a metaphor for the African-American community lifeline. It transforms the task of hand-washing clothing into moving performance, honoring African-American ancestry and rich history through dance, imagery and song.
The series closes Feb.24 with Broadway's Next H!t Musical – an unscripted, theatrical awards show in which master improvisers create a spontaneous evening of music and humor using suggestions from the audience. The audience then votes for its favorite song, and watches as the cast turns it into a full musical, with dialogue, characters and plot-again, totally unscripted.
The New York City-based group tours nationally and has been turning heads with its remarkable show, made by the people for the people. Admission to this show is free, but tickets are required.
Each year the Artist Series Committee tries to offer one of its shows for free, which is possible thanks to the support of several organizations.
The student activity fee, allocated to student organizations by the college's Activity Tax Council, funds the majority of the Artist Series. Other funding comes from the Student Activities Office, the McGaw Endowment and Friends of the Arts.
This year, the Keigwin+Company performance is funded in part by a $7,232 grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Clothesline Muse performance is supported with a $1,500 grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts' National Theater Project.
The different support resources coupled with annual ticket sales provide the roughly $140,000 needed to cover expenses related to the series and residency programs.
Mini residency programs and workshops with the artists are a big part of the Artist Series. In fact, five of the six performance groups this year will offer workshops or master classes during their visits, giving students the opportunity to learn from working professionals from different geographic areas and performance genres.
The residencies also are a way to reach an even broader audience of students, faculty and staff members.
The 2001 opening of Duke Family Performance Hall changed the face of the Artists Series, which began at Davidson as a faculty initiative in the 1950s and transformed into a student-directed program in the mid-1970s. The new 619-seat hall has allowed the committee to select larger acts that require more production resources, Owen said.
Last year's performances drew, on average, more than 520 people – an increase of more than 100 per show from the year prior. This year, more than 300 season tickets already have been sold, an increase of about 100 season tickets over last season, and about half of them were to Davidson students, faculty and staff members.
In an effort to increase the student ticket sales, the Artist Series committee decided to offer some different ticket options this year, including a partial season package, for which students may pick any three shows to attend for $15. Additionally, faculty, staff, seniors and military get reduced rates for tickets and ticket packages.
"This season is a good mix of what our students would like as well as what members of the larger community will like, and we want to provide as much access as we can to these incredible national and international acts," Owen said.
All performances take place in the Duke Family Performance Hall of the Knobloch Campus Center at 8 p.m. For ticket information, visit Union Ticket Office or call 704-894-2135.