In some fine arts circles, “entertainment” has become something of a dirty word. But at Cal Performances, one of the country’s top presenters of artistic productions, the notion of art as entertainment is wholeheartedly embraced.
One look at this season’s calendar reveals a host of music, dance, and theatrical events that break down, if not obliterate entirely, any division between “art” and “entertainment.” Take, for example, the preseason warm-up event, the Goat Rodeo Sessions on Aug. 24. The foot-stomping, hand-clapping mix of Celtic, bluegrass, jazz, and classical music performed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer, mandolinist Chris Thile, and guest singer Aoife O’Donovan provided an evening as serious as it was fun.
The season proper kicks off on Sept. 29 with the delightful, multi-dimensional “Fall Free for All!” that has become a mainstay of the tenure of Cal Performances Director Matias Tarnopolsky. Performances are staged all across campus and include international performers, student music groups, and hands-on opportunities such as the popular “Instrument Petting Zoo.”
“Connection can take so many forms, and there is real value in all of them,” Tarnopolsky says. “Art can promote thought, a visceral reaction of great joy, or something else. Ultimately, it’s all entertaining, because ‘entertaining,’ in the truest sense of the word, means ‘engaging.’ ”
But is Tarnopolsky pushing art down what the snobbish might consider a slippery slope? “The word ‘entertainment’ sometimes has a really superficial quality to it,” he declares, “but I don’t think that’s right. ‘Entertainment’ for us means fully connecting and engaging with what’s happening on the stage.”
Here’s a look at some of the engaging non-traditional highlights of the upcoming season:
October starts with the jazz trio of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Jack DeJohnette on Oct. 4th and ends with Fado superstar Mariza on Oct. 28. In between, you’ll find a sprinkling of unusual fare. Oct. 6 brings Angel Heart, a theatrical/musical journey that unites a host of great artists to tell the story (narrated by Malcolm McDowell) of a young girl who finds peace after heartbreak with the help of a guardian angel. The multicultural Silk Road Ensemble performs on Oct. 27.
“This is the first time The Silk Road Ensemble is coming without Yo-Yo Ma,” Tarnapolsky says. “What they do so magnificently is show us that the transcendent power of music is universal. The themes remain the same whether you’re playing the violin or the shakuhachi flute, the tabla or the timpani.”
Next up is Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán (Nov. 3) —an ensemble formed over 100 years ago near Jalisco, Mexico that Tarnopolsky says “have created their own versions of popular forms.” It’s followed Nov. 6-10 by puppeteer Basil Twist’s Dogugaeshi . Twist has performed at Lincoln Center and on The Pee-Wee Herman Show, and his hour-long Dogugaeshi, which combines Japanese tradition with modern technology, won a Bessie Award in 2005.
Even farther afield on Nov. 14 is The Intergalactic Nemesis: Book One: Target Earth— a science-fiction radio with moments of spine-chilling suspense that also promises not to freeze your funny bone.
Imago Theatre presents its widely admired work Frogz! Nov. 23-24. The show features the slow, simple interactions of silent, human-size animals, occasionally accompanied by music and moments of poignancy. “The success of our work lies in our ability to bring out humor but also, within the economized world of our characters, the human condition in different aspects,” says the company’s artistic co-director/founding member Jerry Mouawad. “I think that the charm of the work rests in part that it tries to stay in the moment,” he says. “Each character doesn’t have a past or much concern about the future—much like animals—and there’s part of the human spirit that is quite excited by their in-the-moment exploration.”
The year ends on a more traditional note as Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs the Messiah oratorio by Handel on Dec. 14.
—Jason Victor Serinus