Miami’s performing arts center took so long to launch that for a while proponents took to wearing buttons saying “In My Lifetime.” That long gestation — which lasted three decades — makes the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’s upcoming 10th anniversary even more of a landmark.
On Tuesday, the Arsht Center announced that it will commemorate its first decade with 10@10, a series of 10 commissioned works set to roll out during the 2015-2016 season. (The Arsht Center opened in October 2006; but next season will mark its 10th year of operation.)
The effort includes a new dance by Liberty City-raised Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; a new orchestral work by Israeli composer Avner Dorman to be premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra; and a trilogy of plays — counted as three of the 10 — from The House Theatre of Chicago inspired by the mythology of King Arthur.
“We’re looking back over 10 years but also looking forward 10 years,” said Arsht Center CEO John Richard. “Nothing is more important than adding new work.”
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None of the participating companies or artists are based in Miami, a fact that seems at odds with the Arsht Center’s goals of being a cultural center for the city with close ties to the community.
Arsht Center executive vice president Scott Shiller said the anniversary projects were inspired by Miami, the importance of the arts here, and the Arsht Center’s role as a cultural center. By involving well-known names that would continue to perform the pieces elsewhere, 10@10 would bring attention to Miami’s arts scene, Shiller said.
“We’re not only driving the tide of culture here in Miami,” Shiller said. “These artists will provide outside perspective. Artists outside Miami will recognize the role Miami has in the performing arts, seeing the uniqueness of Miami.”
The budget for 10@10 is $300,000, which is 10 percent of the Arsht Center’s programming budget next season — a relatively small sum for commissioning new work — with title sponsors to be sought for each event. The Battle piece, which the famous Ailey troupe will premiere at their New York season in December before bringing it to Miami in February 2016, is the only one to already have a sponsor. It will be underwritten by Ira Hall, a former executive with Texaco and IBM who is the treasurer of the Arsht Center’s board of directors.
Two of the events are not original artistic pieces, but programs being added to popular series at the Arsht: a flamenco tablao, or cabaret, which will be part of the 2016 Flamenco Festival Miami; and a Jazz Roots concert that will pay tribute to a pioneering jazz musician.
The focus on outside artists derives in part from the Arsht’s own evolution. Although the Center was originally planned as a home base for four resident companies, two of them, the Florida Philharmonic and the Concert Association of Florida, no longer exist. The two that remain, the Florida Grand Opera and Miami City Ballet, limited their participation in 10@10 to focus on celebrating their 75th and 30th anniversaries, respectively, next season.
Over the years, the Arsht Center has struggled to balance the risk and expense of commissioning new pieces and presenting local artists, which can be less of a draw than established names. Although popular and touring events such as Broadway musicals or famous jazz acts make up much of its programming, the Center has also made significant efforts to showcase original work by Miami artists, such as hosting a resident theater troupe, Zoetic Stage, and sponsoring Miami-bred choreographer Rosie Herrera.
Local playwright and actor Teo Castellanos, whose shows NE Second Avenue and Fat Boy have been presented at the Arsht, said he was “surprised and disappointed” that no home-grown performances would be featured, especially given the Center’s recent efforts with Miami work.
“It’s no secret that they present these big shows,” Castellanos says. “But on the 10th anniversary they should make a more concentrated effort to present and nurture local talent.”
The other 10@10 projects include the premiere of a new dance by Haitian choreographer Jeanguy Saintus, director of Port-au-Prince-based troupe Ayikodans, whom the Arsht Center has sponsored a number of times. Another is an addition to the Center’s arts education programming inspired by Rock Odyssey, a musical based on Homer’s Odyssey which has been seen by 300,000 Miami fifth graders; the new musical, this one for seventh graders, is centered on American history and themes of ingenuity, persistence and love of discovery. Finally, the Arsht is commissioning a new limited edition print for its Knight Masterworks Print Collection.
Battle’s dance, called The Attention of Souls, will be set to a section of composer John Mackey’s Wine-Dark Sea. The 43-year-old choreographer, who first studied dance at Northwestern High School and New World School of the Arts, said he was thrilled that the first piece he would create since taking over the Alvin Ailey company in 2011 was being sponsored by his hometown arts center.
“This is where the creativity started, where it was nurtured, where I felt safe,” Battle said. “Something about being supported here makes me feel more courageous.”