Cultural, political issues take center stage in Performing Art Department’s 2008-09 season

Theater, like film and architecture, is a collaborative art, drawing on the work of actors, writers, directors, designers, dancers, choreographers, musicians and others. That sense of interdisciplinary cooperation is at the heart of the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences’ 2008-09 season, which will explore connections between theater and contemporary cultural and political issues as well as between the PAD and other campus areas.

“This is a year of political transition that, not unlike 1968, will see the campaign, election and inauguration of an American president in the midst of a controversial war,” said Robert Henke, Ph.D., chair of PAD and associate professor of drama and of comparative literature, both in Arts & Sciences.

Ting-Ting Chang, Ph.D., a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance, will perform “The Peacock Dance” as part of the Performing Art Department’s “Dance Close-Up” Sept. 4-6.

“Our productions will address elections, gender relationships, immigration, the intertwining of politics and psychology, and war,” Henke said. “We will examine the relational and political power of an art that, from the polis of ancient Greece to the present, has explored human beings in their interactions with others.”

The season opens Sept. 4-6 with “Dance Close-Up,” the biennial concert of new and original choreography by the PAD’s dance faculty — the unofficial kickoff to St. Louis’ professional dance season.

Directed by Mary-Jean Cowell, Ph.D., associate professor and coordinator of the Dance Program in Arts & Sciences, the performance will include a half-dozen works in a variety of dance styles, ranging from Chinese and Indian to contemporary and ballet.

On Sept. 26-27, Marge Betley, dramaturg and literary manager for the Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, N.Y., will lead the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival, which will feature staged readings of three winning student plays from the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition. Works include “Better” by senior Margaret Stamell; “All at Once” by senior Kari Lombard; and “Candlestick Park” by recent graduate Elizabeth Birkenmeier (LA ’08). (The latter, a love story centered on the world’s most dedicated Beatles fan, will receive a full staging in March.)

The season continues Oct. 24-Nov. 2 with “Of Thee I Sing,” the classic 1931 political satire by George and Ira Gershwin. Directed by Jeffery Matthews, senior lecturer in drama in Arts & Sciences, the story centers on an eligible bachelor president who jilts a French beauty queen, only to find himself poised on the brink of war with France.

Next up is David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” Nov. 20-23. Directed by Annamaria Pileggi, senior lecturer in drama, the play explores the relationship between Claire and Anna, two Victorian women whose intimate, long-term relationship is euphemistically referred to as a “Boston marriage.”

“Common Ground,” this year’s Washington University Dance Theatre concert, will run Dec. 5-7. Directed by Cecil Slaughter, senior lecturer in dance, the performance will feature student dancers in professionally choreographed works by both faculty and visiting artists.

Highlights will include “Still Crossing,” a work exploring the immigrant experience by visiting artist Liz Lerman; and “Dark Elegies,” a poignant classic by Antony Tudor (1908-1987), set by James Jordan, ballet master of the Kansas City Ballet.

Henry I. Schvey, Ph.D., professor of drama, will direct William Shakespeare’s iconic “Hamlet” Feb. 13-22. Andrea Urice, senior lecturer in drama, will direct Birkenmeier’s “Candlestick Park” March 26-29.

The season will conclude April 17-26 with Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children,” an anti-war masterpiece set amidst the ravages of Europe’s Thirty Years’ War and directed by William Whitaker, senior lecturer in drama.

The A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Festival is free and open to the public. Tickets to “Dance Close-Up” are $17, or $12 for students, faculty, staff and seniors. All other events are $15, or $10 for students, faculty, staff and seniors.

Subscriptions to three or more events are available for $12 per show. In addition, the PAD offers a special “season pass” for $56. A current University I.D. is required; registration deadline is Sept. 4.

For more information about the PAD season or to order tickets, call the Edison Theatre box office at 935-6543.

Special events enhance PAD lineup

In conjunction with its performances, the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will host a series of lectures, discussions, symposia and other events throughout the year.

Highlights will include panel discussions with visiting artist Liz Lerman (Oct. 30) and faculty choreographers (Dec. 2).

On Feb. 18, the PAD will host a staged reading of the much-debated 1603 Quarto version of “Hamlet,” followed by a Feb. 21 symposium, “Hamlet and the Adolescent Mind,” co-sponsored by the Center for the Study of Ethics and Human Values and by the Department of Psychology in Arts & Sciences.

In March, the PAD and African & African American Studies Program in Arts & Sciences will host a weeklong residency by the renowned Kenyan performance group Haba na Haba (“Step by Step” in Swahili). The group — which performs acrobatics, music, dance and drama to raise awareness about topics such as AIDS, prostitution and education — will participate in a number of performances and cultural exchanges both on campus and in the St. Louis community. The visit will culminate in the performance “Coexistence,” based on the recent tribal conflicts in Kenya.

Finally, April 21, the PAD will sponsor an academic symposium centering on “Mother Courage and Her Children.”

— Liam Otten