What You Don't Know About the Hopkins Center

Those who live in New England who are serious about the performing arts need to keep an eye on the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College in Hanover NH. The Hop, as it is known, is more than a collection of performance venues; it plays an active role in developing art and artists. It routinely commissions a variety of works, alone or with others, including such celebrated institutions as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Mellon Foundation. It also provides artists with workshop and residency opportunities that are crucial in originating and developing new works.

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The official 2017-18 season at the Hopkins Center is about to begin in mid-September, and is filled with a number of “firsts” commissioned by the Center. Here are four premieres that showcase the breadth of the season’s offerings:

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion: Dearest Home. Abraham is a MacArthur “genius” choreographer who is turning his attention from the political to “love, longing, and loss” in this new creation. Abraham workshopped  Dearest Home at the Hopkins Center last year, garnering  input from various communities at and outside of the Dartmouth campus. Originally designed and performed in a theater in the round, this new proscenium version was commissioned by the Hopkins Center and will debut there with performances on September 21 and 22, 2017.

Roomful of Teeth with Tigran Hamasyan, Piano. These Grammy-winning vocalists with culture-spanning music will share the stage with Hamasyan, described as “one of the most distinctive next-gen jazz pianists.” Their performance on January 9, 2018 will mark the New Hampshire debut for Roomful of Teeth, and the world premiere of a piece by Hamasyan that was co-commissioned by the Hop.

On March 30 and 31, 2018, a Hop co-commissioned dance piece, Gisele, comes to the stage with South African choreographer Dada Masilo. Masilo’s gender-fluid Swan Lake was performed at the Hop in 2016. This season, she will dance the lead in a re-imagined version of this ballet classic. “Using classical ballet and African dance is tricky,” Masilo said of her work to Business Feminin. “African dance is fixed to the ground while ballet is quite graceful. It took me a lot of time to find the point where they meet.” This will be the American debut of Masilo’s Gisele.

Masilo's Gisele. ( Photo by John Hogg

The renowned  Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble bring their tradition-bending work back to the Hopkins Center. The Ensemble’s performance on April 5, 2018 will include a world premiere of a piece by Jia Daqun, a leading classical composer from China. Ma and the Silk Road had performed another piece by this composer many years ago. It was they who chose Jia Daqun for this Hop-commissioned work.

Margaret Lawrence, Director of Programming at the Hopkins Center, is a 23-year veteran. She believes it is imperative for campus-based performing arts centers to take an active role in the development of the arts, in part because, unlike in many other countries, the United States offers little government funding. In addition, supporting the arts furthers the Hop’s educational mission. Artists who refine their work in workshops are often involved in residencies at the school, which means that they interact with students and the public by giving master classes as well as inviting input at viewings of works-in-progress. According to Lawrence, audiences at these events get to see something beyond the final polished performance—they observe art as it is conceived and constructed.

What do commissions, residencies and workshops mean to artists? Choreographer Kyle Abraham is particularly appreciative of what the Hopkins Center workshops have given him. Aside from the obvious benefit of financial support, Abraham feels that the Hopkins Center has been generous in days-long use of its facilities; he specifically recalls the staff’s Herculean efforts to track down numerous (and anachronistic) working typewriters for an exercise in writing love letters. His workshop resulted in much needed uninterrupted time outside of more pressured urban environments, and “happy dancers.” Moreover, receiving a commission helps to build momentum for the piece; Dearest Home is already booked in several US cities prior to a scheduled European tour.

The showcasing of art can be done in many suitable venues. The Hopkins Center is one institution that performs additional and critical functions in the artistic community. It nurtures artists and keeps the creation of art viable and humming.

Dozens of other performers from all corners of the globe are on the Hopkins Center program for the coming season. For further information about memberships and individual tickets, see the Hopkins Center website.

(A version of this article, NH's Hopkins Center--Helping to Create and Showcase the Performing Arts, appeared in Boston's The Arts Fuse on August 11, 2017.  You can find it here.) Featured photo, above, is a scene from Kyle Abraham's Dearest Home. Photo credit: Carrie Scheider)

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Susan B. Apel, writer, ArtfulEdge

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