Art Notes: Upper Valley performances move forward cautiously with fall slate

  • Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective and Turtle Island Quartet are to perform at the Hopkins Center's Spaulding Auditorium at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on October 20, 2021. While at the Hop, Blanchard will also conduct a masterclass. (Katie Sikora photograph) Katie Sikora photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/25/2021 9:21:53 PM
Modified: 8/25/2021 9:21:55 PM

Compared with last fall, when the performing arts were almost entirely online, the schedule in front of Upper Valley audiences is live and in-person.

But “normal” might be another year away.

The Hopkins Center for the Arts and Lebanon Opera House have planned busy fall performing arts seasons and tickets are on sale now. Likewise, Shaker Bridge Theatre in Enfield will open a season of five productions on Oct. 21.

Other venues are holding off. Where in years past the Valley News would publish a fall arts preview, a splashy section of photos and descriptions of coming attractions, this year calls for an ongoing series of revelations. And even that’s subject to revision.

“As of now, I think we’re feeling confident,” Michael Bodel, director of external affairs for the Hopkins Center, said in an interview earlier this month. “The thing that changes a lot is what we’re requiring of audiences.”

For example, Hop audience members are required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status. “For many events, there will likely be additional health and safety policies,” which will be posted on the webpage for the event, the Hop’s website says.

Everything, Bodel noted, is subject to change based on public health guidance.

Even with precautions in place, it’s hard to know how audiences will feel about attending performances indoors. Outdoor events have been successful this summer, but sitting indoors is a different proposition.

“Most people are down to attend something if most people are wearing masks and they themselves are vaccinated,” Bodel said.

Other venues also will require masks and are mulling vaccination requirements. “The current policy is simple: no mask, no admittance,” the Lebanon Opera House website says.

With precautions in place, venues are doing their best to lure audiences.

The Hop’s schedule is heavy on residencies and commissioned work, particularly in dance, a traditional strength.

For example, the season starts on Sept. 17 with Fires of Varanasi: Dance of the Eternal Pilgrim, a performance of the Ragamala Dance Company. The show, which mines Hindu beliefs in rebirth to explore the immigrant experience, was co-commissioned by and developed in part at the Hop starting in 2018.

Some of the Hop’s programming is hard to classify. The Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble, which was in residence at the Hop earlier this summer, plans to perform on Oct. 2 and 3 at locations around campus and Hanover. The show is appropriately titled POP UP.

Other options are easily defined. Here’s one: “jazz legend.” Trumpeter Terence Blanchard brings a clutch of musicians to Hanover for an Oct. 20 performance honoring his mentor, the great Wayne Shorter.

There’s too much going on at the Hop to give everything its own paragraph, but world music deserves a mention. Dartmouth graduate Mali Obomsawin, a member of both the Abenaki nation and the Americana trio Lula Wiles, performs with her newly formed sextet on Oct. 30. Latvian violin virtuoso Gidon Kremer performs on Nov. 5, and Venezuelan singer-songwriter Nella performs on Nov. 9.

The fall season ends with more dance: MOMIX, founded by Dartmouth graduate Moses Pendleton, performs both new and early work on Dec. 3 and 4.

Lebanon Opera House’s season consists mainly of music, including winsome pianist and singer Jason Lyle Black on Sept. 10, the harmonies of the Oshima Brothers on Sept. 23 and famed mandolinist Chris Thile on Oct. 12.

But the big name is the legendary Rosanne Cash, who appears Nov. 12. In an interview earlier this month, Joe Clifford, the opera house’s longtime director, said tickets to the Cash show were selling well, but that it’s hard to know what the coronavirus pandemic might deal out next.

“I don’t know what my fall is going to look like,” he said.

Pentangle Arts in Woodstock has been able to hold outdoor concerts every Friday, concluding this week with a “Community Heroes Concert,” featuring Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band. The concert is a thank-you note to the many people whose work helped Woodstock and surrounding towns get through the pandemic.

Even so, the coronavirus still has an influence. If it rains on Friday, Wright doesn’t want to perform indoors, so the show would be postponed, Pentangle Director Alita Wilson said. (The forecast looks OK, as of Wednesday evening.)

Thus far, the two fall events Wilson is working around are North Country Community Theater’s production of Mamma Mia! in mid-November, and Wassail Weekend, Woodstock’s annual Christmas season event.

Northern Stage typically begins its fall season in September and produces a big musical for the holiday season. Instead, the White River Junction theater giant will close its outdoor production of Million Dollar Quartet on Sept. 12 and won’t produce another show until its education program stagesThe Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Dec. 8 through Jan. 2.

Shaker Bridge Theatre, which went dark during the pandemic, reopens in late October with the first of five productions from contemporary playwrights.

“I had absolutely zero interest in doing anything in a Zoom format,” Bill Coons, founder and director of the Enfield-based company.

The playwrights Coons is featuring include a couple of familiar names. Lauren Gunderson, whose I and You starts the season on Oct. 21, also is the author of The Taming, which Shaker Bridge produced a few years ago. Reed Martin and Austin Techenor, who wrote The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged) are members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. And the author of Incognito, Nick Payne, also wrote Constellations, which Shaker Bridge has produced.

Only the first two shows are slated for this fall. The rest are scheduled for February through May.

Coons said he’s looking forward to having an audience back in Whitney Hall, which seats only 70 to 80 people.

“One of the things that I really wanted to make sure of is that this will be the same kind of theater experience that people have had in the past,” he said.

The delta variant will have a say in what that experience is like. Coons and other directors are waiting and watching, just like the rest of us.

Alex Hanson can be reached at or 603-727-3207.

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