Resetting the Stage: Local Presenters Eye the 2021-22 Performing Arts Season With Optimism and Caution | Performing Arts | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Resetting the Stage: Local Presenters Eye the 2021-22 Performing Arts Season With Optimism and Caution

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On March 13, 2020, Canadian circus troupe FLIP Fabrique was rehearsing on the Flynn Main Stage in Burlington, preparing for an evening performance of its high-flying show Blizzard. The weather was mild for late winter in Vermont, but another kind of storm was brewing.

As dancers and acrobats flipped and twirled onstage, Flynn artistic director Steve MacQueen walked the aisle of the stately art deco theater to deliver an unthinkable message.

"They were all set up, bouncing around and stuff. And I was like, 'Uh, I have bad news,'" he recalled.

That day — Friday the 13th, of course — the Flynn closed indefinitely as the pandemic spread across Vermont. FLIP Fabrique's performance became one of the first shows lost to the coronavirus. It wouldn't be the last.

Within 48 hours, every performing arts venue in Vermont had shut down, along with gyms, bars, restaurants, movie theaters and basically any other place where people would normally gather. On March 24, Gov. Phil Scott issued his "Stay Home, Stay Safe" executive order, officially placing the entire state on lockdown.

You know what happened next: Not much.

But also kind of a lot, and almost none of it good.

Many local stages have stayed dark for the past 18 months. Artists and presenters helped fill the void and stave off our collective boredom with livestreamed concerts, theater and comedy — and, in the warmer months, outdoor performances. Some bars and nightclubs have reopened for indoor, in-person shows. But for the most part, the performing arts as we knew them have been on hiatus, including a 2020-21 season whose few offerings were almost entirely virtual.

"We're coming out of a long, dark period with theaters," MacQueen said.

It's hard to grasp the dimensions of the shadow this period has cast on Vermont. In 2019, arts and culture contributed $1.1 billion to the state's economy, according to the CreateVT Action Plan, a creative-sector road map recently published by the Vermont Arts Council. That number includes a broad array of arts, not just the performing kind. Still, theaters and performing arts centers are powerful economic drivers, especially in rural areas. Their closure has had profound effects that go well beyond bottomed-out bottom lines.

"I've just really missed seeing shows," MacQueen said. "I think a lot of people have."

As September turns to fall, signs of hope are emerging alongside flecks of color in the trees. The 2021-22 performing arts season is, barring catastrophe, happening. For various reasons, the programming isn't as robust as in previous years. Nonetheless, curtains will rise on stages around the region this fall. The shows will go on.

Probably.

Local presenters are approaching the upcoming season with cautious optimism. They have empirical evidence that people are hungry to experience live performance again: MacQueen cited the massive crowds at the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival in June.

On the other hand...

"There is plague upon the land," MacQueen said.

The more-transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus has thrown a spiky little wrench in the hope for a return to pre-pandemic-level programming this fall.

"The real tension that I feel is the desire to get back onstage and open this theater, which hasn't been open for about a year and a half now," MacQueen said. "But the moral imperative is to do it safely and make sure that people in the theater are safe."

Last month, following the lead of several area nightclubs and music venues, the Barre Opera House became one of the first Vermont theaters to require both proof of vaccination and masking for admission. Last week, the theater loosened its restrictions to allow for a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of a show in lieu of a vaccination card. Versions of those protocols are likely to be standard at regional venues throughout the fall, if not longer.

For director Dan Casey and the Barre Opera House board, the move wasn't solely a matter of protecting the health and safety of audiences — it was a sound business decision.

"I think a lot of people will only go to shows where people are masked and vaccinated," Casey said.

To back up that claim, he showed Seven Days a letter to concert promoters from folk singer Tom Rush, who kicks off the Barre Opera House season on Saturday, September 25. Rush writes that his shows at venues that require proof of vaccination "are selling much better than the others."

"I believe it," MacQueen said. "Getting people sick really isn't a sound business strategy."

Angélique Kidjo - COURTESY OF  FABRICE MABILLOT
  • Courtesy Of Fabrice Mabillot
  • Angélique Kidjo

At the Flynn, performers, staff and volunteers must be vaccinated. As of this writing, the organization hasn't yet announced audience protocols. That's because its season doesn't start until Saturday, October 23, with a grand reopening celebration featuring Afro-pop singer Angélique Kidjo. But, as almost all theaters from Broadway to Barre now require vaccination cards, having yours handy in the queue along Main Street seems like a safe bet.

What will audiences find when they venture to local theaters? Expect the same diverse and dynamic programming as ever — just a bit less of it. The Barre Opera House has 11 shows scheduled, about half its usual number. This fall, the University of Vermont Lane Series will present six concerts in its newly renovated UVM Recital Hall, compared with its typical 12 to 14.

Most presenters are hedging their bets on the 2021-22 season by back-loading their calendars, hoping that conditions will be more favorable in the spring. Fall schedules are slighter, both because promoters are reluctant to overbook for perhaps-hesitant audiences and because the pool of performers isn't as deep.

For instance, you won't see many major theater productions this fall, due to the challenge and expense of mounting large-scale shows. And travel restrictions mean fewer international acts.

Many presenters are attempting to pick up where they left off in 2020. For example, FLIP Fabrique will come to the Flynn in February, one of many pandemic cancellations that have made return engagements at Vermont theaters.

"We made a commitment, right from the beginning, to support the artists we had previously scheduled," said Mary Lou Aleskie, director of the Hopkins Center for the Performing Arts at Dartmouth College. "This season was really fundamentally about rescheduling some of those events that we knew that artists were still committed to doing."

Natalie Neuert, director of the Lane Series, initially took a similar approach, though she was able to rebook only one canceled artist from the 2019-20 season: Ghanaian singer-songwriter Okaidja Afroso, who now lives in Portland, Ore.

To fill the rest of the schedule, Neuert prioritized artists whom "we haven't paid enough attention to ... people who are under-recognized for their gifts." For example, she said, she booked solo pianist Michelle Cann, who performs on Friday, November 19, and primarily plays music by classical composers of color.

"She's really fantastic," Neuert said.

In the following pages, you'll find more of what the 2021-22 performing arts season has in store for Vermonters. We've highlighted a representative selection of shows, from high-concept theater and dance to gut-busting comedy to good ol' rock and roll. It's just a sampling of what will headline marquees around the state this season, with more announcements likely to come, according to presenters.

We've also checked in with some notable local performing arts organizations, such as the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association and the Vermont Dance Alliance, to find out how they've adapted to the pandemic era and what they plan for the future. And we learned about building a sustainable entertainment economy in rural Vermont — with the help of puppets.

Enjoy the shows.



Arturo O'Farrill Quintet

Friday, October 8, 7:30 p.m., University of Vermont Lane Series, UVM Recital Hall, Burlington, $5-38.50.
Arturo O'Farrill Quintet - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Arturo O'Farrill Quintet

Amid the lockdowns and quarantines of the pandemic, musicians struggled to re-create the magic and connection of live performance. Many turned to livestreaming with, frankly, mixed results.

Bandleader Arturo O'Farrill found more success with the virtual medium than most. In 2020, the New York Times placed his weekly sessions with the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, "Virtual Birdland," among the 10 Best Quarantine Concerts Online. Even so, he'd probably be the first to tell you that in music, as in so much else, there's just no substitute for the real thing.

That's because O'Farrill is among the most lauded live performers of his generation. The son of legendary Latin jazz bandleader Chico O'Farrill, the pianist and composer has been a pillar of the New York City jazz scene for decades, performing alongside the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie and Wynton Marsalis. The "scion of Latin jazz nobility," as the New York City Jazz Record called him, is pretty adept in the studio, too, as his seven Grammy Awards attest.

For his season-opening Lane Series appearance, O'Farrill performs with his sons Zack and Adam, as well as special guests from the University of Vermont jazz program. The performance will also be livestreamed.

— D.B.

If you like this, try...
  • Terence Blanchard's "Absence" featuring the E-Collective and Turtle Island Quartet, Wednesday, October 20, 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., $15-45.
  • Matthew Whitaker Quartet, Saturday, November 6, 7:30 p.m., Mahaney Arts Center, Middlebury, $5-25.
  • Nella, Tuesday, November 9, 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., $25.


Amythyst Kiah

Saturday, October 23, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Alexander Twilight Theatre, Northern Vermont University-Lyndon, $15-38; free for students.
Amythyst Kiah - COURTESY OF SANDLIN GAITHER
  • Courtesy Of Sandlin Gaither
  • Amythyst Kiah

Amythyst Kiah is an artist of many worlds. The Grammy Award-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist grew up listening to Tori Amos and Nine Inch Nails in the suburbs of Chattanooga, Tenn. She also studied bluegrass music — and the mostly whitewashed narrative of the Black string tradition in the Appalachians. That juxtaposition helps Kiah create a unique sound as musically robust as it is lyrically deep.

Whether covering Radiohead, as she did on her 2013 debut album, Dig, or singing with her all-women-of-color supergroup, Our Native Daughters, Kiah's style is unmistakable. And her songs tackle weighty themes.

"Wild Turkey," from her most recent release, Wary + Strange, is a haunting elegy to her mother, who committed suicide when Kiah was 17. "Black Myself" features a soaring vocal from Kiah as she sings, "I'll stand my ground and smile in your face / 'Cause I'm Black myself."

The album explores the complexities of being a southern Black LGBTQ+ woman, as Kiah shows equal parts strength and vulnerability. As Maura Johnston put it in her Pitchfork review of the record, "Wary + Strange is a rock album that doesn't play by anyone's rules but her own."

— C.F.

If you like this, try...
  • Aoife O'Donovan with Hawktail, Friday, September 24, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Lyndon Institute Auditorium, Lyndon Center, $15-52; free for students.
  • Grand Reopening Celebration featuring Angélique Kidjo with special guests Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR), Nicole Nelson & the Resistance Revival Chorus VT, Ferene Paris Meyer, and DJ Craig Mitchell, Saturday, October 23, 7:30 p.m., Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $125.
  • Anaïs Mitchell and Bonny Light Horseman, Tuesday, February 15, 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., $15-45.


Blue Öyster Cult

Friday, October 29, 8 p.m., Paramount Theatre, Rutland, $45-65.
Blue Öyster Cult - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Blue Öyster Cult

Look, I know everyone is waiting for the Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken "more cowbell" joke from "Saturday Night Live" that inevitably comes up when someone mentions classic-rock greats Blue Öyster Cult, especially their iconic hit "Don't Fear the Reaper." But why recycle an old gag about one song when you can contemplate a whole catalog of tongue-in-cheek, weird-as-hell rockers?

From the "I just took a bong hit and watched late-night TV" energy of "Godzilla" to the lunacy of "Joan Crawford" — a song about the actress rising from the grave to terrorize junkies, schoolgirls and police — there aren't many bands like Blue Öyster Cult, then or now.

When a band's back catalog stretches for decades — to 1967, in this case — set lists become adventures. You can expect the acid-rock pioneers to play the hits in concert — there's no way they won't unleash "Burnin' for You" or, obviously, "Don't Fear the Reaper." But the real gems to hope for live are old barn stompers like "Astronomy" or "The Red and the Black," an ode to Canadian Mounties.

As "classic rock" somehow now encompasses music from the 1980s and '90s, 1970s bands that age gracefully are the true classics. Because when your original appeal wasn't based on good looks and seeming cool (no offense, guys), it's the songs that people remember. And Blue Öyster Cult have the songs.

— C.F.

If you like this, try...
  • Little Feat, Saturday, November 20, 8 p.m., Higher Ground Presents, Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $59-287.
  • Hot Tuna with David Grisman Trio, Tuesday, November 30, 8 p.m., Higher Ground Presents, Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $48.50-69.50.
  • Croce Plays Croce, Saturday, February 12, 7:30 p.m., Barre Opera House, $24-36.


Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic

Friday, December 10, 7:30 p.m., Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $20.
Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic - COURTESY OF PATRICK RANDAK
  • Courtesy Of Patrick Randak
  • Ayodele Casel: Chasing Magic

Individual words don't covey much by themselves. But string them together in a particular order, and they can express just about anything we wish.

Ayodele Casel finds the same richness in tap dancing. On their own, moves such as "shuffle, heel, toe, cramp roll ... don't really have a lot of meaning," she says in her one-woman show While I Have the Floor. But when she wants to communicate "musically and rhythmically," they become magical: "Two pieces of metal on each foot and an infinite amount of music."

Named one of the Biggest Breakout Stars of 2019 by the New York Times, tap dancer, choreographer and actor Casel is a powerhouse of expression. A recent fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, she creates works rooted in culture, language and identity and has performed at Carnegie Hall, the White House, Radio City Music Hall and off-Broadway in Savion Glover's Downtown: Live Communication

In Chasing Magic, Bronx-born Casel brings her Afro-Latinx-infused percussive style to the Flynn Main Stage with featured guest Arturo O'Farrill, a Grammy Award-winning Latin jazz pianist and composer. In an April review, NYT dance critic Gia Kourlas wrote that Casel is an artist of "extraordinary depth" and that Chasing Magic is "polished in look and spontaneous in feel." That's about the best description any communicator could hope for.

— E.M.S.

If you like this, try...
  • Dorrance Dance, Tuesday, October 5, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Lyndon Institute Auditorium, Lyndon Center, $15-58; free for students.
  • Boston Ballet II presents "Suite From the Nutcracker," Saturday, November 6, 7 p.m., Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, Stowe, $13-28.
  • Urban Bush Women, Friday, January 21, and Saturday, January 22, 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., $15-45.


FLIP Fabrique: Six°

Wednesday, February 2, 7 p.m., Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $15-55.
Flip Fabrique: Six° - COURTESY OF STEPHANE BOURGEOIS
  • Courtesy Of Stephane Bourgeois
  • Flip Fabrique: Six°

For Vermonters who have missed the distinctive je ne sais quoi of the Québec nouveau cirque scene, acrobatic troupe FLIP Fabrique may be the antidote. Founded in 2011 by Bruno Gagnon and friends and based in Québec City, the group has toured everywhere from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to Paris to Dartmouth College and maintains a devotion to fun, silliness and the inner child in all of us. 

FLIP Fabrique's immersive shows have included pop-up performances La Tournée des 400 Coups and Les Passages Insolites; Transit, a dynamic rumination on change and friendship; and, recently, Blizzard, a wintry fable featuring onstage snow and madcap, gravity-defying feats. 

The troupe's newest show, Six°, is a comedy as much as a circus. The curtain opens on six envelopes — and only five performers. As the characters follow their invitations deep into the forest and through the halls of a mysterious talking house, they learn more about themselves, face challenges and, of course, display incredible feats of derring-do.

Led by acrobatic comedian Jamie Adkins, Six° is a visually stunning show about connection and unexpected joy.

— E.H.

If you like this, try...
  • New Works: An Evening With Ice Dance International, Friday, September 17, 7 p.m., Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center, Stowe, $10-500.
  • Viva Momix, Friday, December 3, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, December 4, 2 & 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth, N.H., $15-45.
  • Peking Acrobats, Wednesday, March 9, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Dibden Center for the Arts, Northern Vermont University-Johnson, $15-46, free for students.


DeAnne Smith

Friday, December 17, and Saturday, December 18, 7 & 9:30 p.m., Vermont Comedy Club, Burlington, $20.
Deanne Smith - COURTESY OF BRUCE SMITH
  • Courtesy Of Bruce Smith
  • Deanne Smith

To get a sense of DeAnne Smith's brand of humor, look no further than their most recent pinned Tweet: "It's so weird that Russians are so anti-gay," Smith writes. "They invented the concept of a woman inside a woman inside a woman inside a woman inside a woman."

That's a nesting doll joke, folks — the best nesting doll joke ever, in our humble estimation. Granted, that's a narrow field. But the joke is emblematic of Smith's silly and incisive style that delivers social commentary inside punch lines inside social commentary inside still more punch lines.

Smith is a Canadian Comedy Award winner who's appeared all over the globe, from the Just for Laughs festival in Montréal to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to the New Zealand International Comedy Festival. The comic is also no stranger to TV, with appearances on "Last Comic Standing" and "The Late Late Show With James Corden."

Smith's latest half-hour special, "Gentleman Elf," is currently available on Netflix and finds the comedian asking bold and hilarious questions about gender identity, sexuality and, ultimately, belonging. It's that last topic that most keenly informs Smith's comedy. "I don't want to hear a popular person being funny," they told the Daily Beast in 2019. "I want to hear from the misfits, and the freaks, and the weirdos — to me, that's the best part of comedy."

— D.B.

If you like this, try...
  • Jenny Yang, Friday, October 22, and Saturday, October 23, 7 & 9:30 p.m., Vermont Comedy Club, Burlington, $25.
  • Paula Poundstone, Friday, January 28, and Saturday, January 29, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Dibden Center for the Arts, Northern Vermont University-Johnson, $15-52; free for students.
  • Hasan Minhaj: "The King's Jester," Tuesday, March 1, 7:30 p.m., Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $51.50-104.


Ye Vagabonds

Saturday, March 5, 8 p.m., Barre Opera House, $22-27.
Ye Vagabonds - COURTESY OF STEVE O'CONNOR
  • Courtesy Of Steve O'connor
  • Ye Vagabonds

Playing traditional folk music is a lot like being an archaeologist, uncovering lost works to dazzle a modern society that's become disconnected from its roots. For Carlow, Ireland's Ye Vagabonds, the idea is not to reinvent or reinterpret the ancient Celtic songs they play, but rather to present them with the kind of mastery they deserve. The sibling duo of Brian and Diarmuid Mac Gloinn, who often sing in Gaelic, embrace the legacy of their genre while also representing its future.

The sense of history in Ye Vagabonds's music is unmistakable. On "Bacach Shíol Andaí" from their 2019 LP, The Hare's Lament, the Mac Gloinns sing of revolutionary James Napper Tandy's return to Ireland in 1798. They use powerful harmonies — at times soaring, at others melancholic — to revive traditional love stories, such as "I Courted a Wee Girl," a song sung by British Isles minstrels for more than three centuries.

As the vanguard of the new Irish folk scene, Ye Vagabonds have already won multiple awards in Europe and heaps of praise from folk music publications. To wit, the Irish Times dubbed the band's sound "a labyrinthine treasure trove."

It's not easy to find a musical experience that doubles as a time machine and a classy night out at the theater. Ye Vagabonds have you covered.

— C.F.

If you like this, try...
  • Chris Thile, Tuesday, October 12, 7:30 p.m., Lebanon Opera House, N.H., $38-58.
  • We Banjo 3, Saturday, January 22, 7:30 p.m., Barre Opera House, $24-34.
  • Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, Wednesday, March 2, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Fuller Hall, St. Johnsbury Academy, $15-52; free for students.


SITI Company: The Medium

Thursday, March 31, and Friday, April 1, 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., Price TBA.
Siti Company: The Medium - COURTESY OF JOAN MARCUS
  • Courtesy Of Joan Marcus
  • Siti Company: The Medium

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan was ahead of his time. In the early 1960s, about 30 years before the internet existed, he conceived of a similar idea — an electronic "global village," as he called it. He also coined the phrase "The medium is the message," a comment on how methods of communication are just as important, relevant and worthy of scrutiny as the content they carry.

Inspired by McLuhan's credos, New York City's Saratoga International Theater Institute, aka SITI, created its first original work, The Medium, in 1993. The hallucinatory performance art piece delved into how emerging technologies, torrents of digitized information and broadcast media influence our lives.

In a recent blog post on SITI's website, The Medium director Anne Bogart described some foundational questions the collective asked itself when it created the show: "Who are we becoming in light of the new and emerging technologies? What is the effect of media and the evolving technologies on our perceptions, our psyches, and on our personal lives?" Keep in mind that they asked these questions in the early '90s, long before people walked the streets with computers in their pockets, fending off pop-up ads amid a constant stream of algorithmically dictated content.

Not seen onstage since 1997, The Medium's 2022 revival brings back the company's members in their original roles. Though times have changed, with technology reaching fantastic new heights, the human condition remains as fascinating and ripe for exploration as ever.

— J.A.

If you like this, try...
  • Opera Company of Middlebury: The Maid of Orleans, Friday, October 1, Thursday, October 7, and Saturday, October 9, 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, October 3, 2 p.m., Town Hall Theater, Middlebury, $55-80.
  • Cartography, Saturday, November 6, 7:30 p.m., Flynn Main Stage, Burlington, $10-20.
  • The Force of Things: An Opera for Objects, Thursday, January 13, and Friday, January 14, 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, January 15, 2 & 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., $15-25.


Stile Antico

Saturday, April 23, 7 p.m., Catamount Arts, Highland Center for the Arts, Greensboro, $42.
Stile Antico - COURTESY OF MARCO BORGGREVE
  • Courtesy Of Marco Borggreve
  • Stile Antico

How did you spend the first months of quarantine? Recording a socially distanced performance of Thomas Tallis' 40-part motet "Spem in alium"? Funny enough, so did Stile Antico!

If Renaissance polyphony has rock stars, the 12 members of Stile Antico certainly rank among them. Based in London, the three-time Grammy Award-nominated ensemble is unusual in its cohort for singing unaccompanied and without a conductor. Since its founding in 2001, the group has toured in four continents, released 16 albums, been critically lauded by NPR, earned numerous awards and scored the No. 1 spot on the Billboard classical charts with its 2008 album, Song of Songs.  

Stile Antico's mission is to make Renaissance music not just cool but also accessible to the masses. The ensemble's music has been praised as masterful, emotive and moving, and the singers have cultivated an unimpeachable sense of harmony and integration. They have performed at the Boston Early Music Festival, Buckingham Palace and Madison Square Garden, and they work to expand access to the arts in schools through the Stile Antico Foundation.

For those who have never experienced a live Renaissance chamber performance, Stile Antico shows audiences that a perfectly tuned overtone can be as thrilling as anything.

— E.H.

If you like this, try...
  • Straight No Chaser, Saturday, September 18, 8 p.m., Paramount Theatre, Rutland, $39.50-59.50.
  • The Crossing & Dublin Guitar Quartet, Tuesday, February 1, 7:30 p.m., Hopkins Center for the Arts, Hanover, N.H., $15-45.
  • Roomful of Teeth, Friday, December 10, 7:30 p.m., University of Vermont Lane Series, UVM Recital Hall, Burlington, $5-38.50.