In a significant consolidation of dance programming in Philadelphia, the Annenberg Center announced Monday a new partnership with NextMove Dance. The two will together bring in 11 visiting dance ensembles to the Annenberg as part of the performing arts center’s 2018-19 season, also announced Monday.
“It’s a healthy partnership,” Christopher Gruits, Annenberg’s artistic director, said. “Philadelphia has always been a really important place for dance nationally, so having two seasons going on in two different places wasn’t so great for audiences.”
Gruits worked closely with Randy Swartz, the artistic director at NextMove Dance, to co-curate a season. Highlights include performances by Spectrum Dance Theater, the Martha Graham Dance Company, Dance Heginbotham, and Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers.
The partnership is a reunification of sorts. NextMove grew out of Dance Celebration, a 32-year partnership between Swartz’s Dance Affiliates and the Annenberg Center. The two went separate ways in 2015 and had been programming separate dance seasons.
“The worst thing that happens with multiple seasons is that you get conflicts that split the audience,” Swartz said. “With the new regime and attitude at the Annenberg Center regarding the arts [Gruits took the helm late in 2016], they were eager to have us back.”
The Annenberg Center also announced that Dance Theatre of Harlem will serve as its artist-in-residence for the season, following this past season’s residency by the Mark Morris Dance Group. The classical ballet troupe will dance two public performances of a world premiere work by Philadelphia native and resident choreographer Robert Garland. Members of the company will also do community outreach and host master classes throughout the year.
Gruits said the center’s dance, theater, and music lineup for the 2018-19 season looks to connect audiences with current social issues where it can. A new series, “The Philadelphians,” will explore how the city has been shaped by the cultures and traditions of the diaspora. Performances in the series include a Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia program, a performance featuring the West African singer Kassé Mady Diabaté, and the Philadelphia premiere of the new choral work Vessels, exploring the Middle Passage.
“It’s a really amazing program addressing groups of enslaved people who came to the new world,” Gruits said. “We’re trying to explore the different groups that have built Philadelphia and how they’re shifting it today, so this felt like important programming for us to have.”
The season opens Sept. 28 and 29 with the U.S. premiere of Humans, a performance by Australia’s contemporary circus troupe, Circa. It will be co-presented with FringeArts.
Also on the schedule are the Philadelphia premiere of Private Peaceful, a one-man play about a young World War I soldier reminiscing about his life before facing a firing squad at dawn. Jazz, classical, and world music offerings include performances by T.S. Monk, the Crossing, and the Zimbabwean a cappella quintet Nobuntu.
One of Gruits’ priorities since he became artistic director has been to draw younger audiences with experimental formats. “We’re trying to pull out the formality without dumbing anything down,” he said. “For instance, we’ve seen talk backs with the audience work really well. We let them know that it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay not to know when to clap.”
You can find a list of the 2018-2019 performances at annenbergcenter.org. Subscriptions are on sale now. Single-performance ticket sales will open sometime in July.