BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
We are thrilled to be one of the vehicles connecting you with the wildly-anticipated 2023/24 season at the Robert and Judi Newman Center for the Performing Arts. We sat down with Executive Director, Aisha Ahmad-Post, and learned quickly that she has not wavered in her steadfast mission to connect the hyper-locals with International scale performances that enrich all of our lives making her and her strong team one of the most admired groups in Denver. So, mark your calendars for the upcoming shows and we’ll see you in the seats!
Friday, September 22nd and Saturday, September 23rd, the Martha Graham Dance Company will take stage, continuing the legacy of esteemed choreographer and other-worldly modern dancer Martha Graham. The company brings the ingenuity of Graham into the 21st century, nurturing leading dancers and choreographers and expanding its mission to present the work of its founder and her contemporaries while bringing fresh perspectives. They have been a world leader in the evolving art form of modern dance since its founding in 1926. Today, the Company is embracing a new programming vision that showcases masterpieces by Graham alongside newly commissioned works by contemporary artists. With programs that offer a rich thematic narrative, the Company creates new platforms for contemporary dance and multiple points of access for audiences.
Martha Graham is a fundamental part of American dance and theater history. The prolific choreographer and gifted dancer created 181 ballets and her own dance technique, which has been compared to ballet in its scope and magnitude. In her lifetime, Graham founded a dance company and school, and built a vocabulary of movement focused on increasing the emotional activity of a dancer’s body. Martha Graham and her school of dance have been and continue to be sources of inspiration for generations of modern dancers.
September 27, marks an evening with Okaidja Afroso: Jaku Mumor. Okaidja Afroso journeys to the U.S. from his home in Ghana, West Africa to bring a powerful experience that draws inspiration from nature-based rituals and ancestral knowledge while creating a soundscape that is modern and unique. Afroso’s outreach project, Jaku Mumor – Ancestral Spirit, brings rich opportunities for fostering communication and sparking conversation about the challenges faced by indigenous communities around the globe; challenges that will impact us all, though we do not feel them as directly as those working with and fighting against these challenges on a daily basis. In Jaku Mumor – Ancestral Spirit, Okaidja creates a contemporary African oral tradition that needs to be witnessed – a beautiful combination of old and new. Blending traditional dance and rhythms with modern harmonies and updated lyrics, he speaks through his music in a way that will resonate with anyone who listens.
Okaidja Afroso is a multi-instrumentalist afro-jazz and afro-classical musician, singer-songwriter and traditional dancer from Ghana, West Africa. He draws from the ecological knowledge of the indigenous Ga-Dangme fishermen and works to share indigenous practices of resilience through his performance art. Afroso comes from a family of musicians and storytellers in the fishing village of Kokrobite on Ghana’s west coast. At 19 he became a principal dancer with the Ghana Dance Ensemble in Accra. In 1999 he was invited to Portland, Oregon by the late worldbeat master Obo Addy to join his team of musicians and dancers to help promote West African culture to audiences throughout the Pacific Northwest. Afroso has performed in the Arctic to the Kennedy Center in New York City, and he has spent countless hours in classrooms across the U.S. teaching children about Ghanaian culture and arts through educational outreach programs.
September 30th, see Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer & Shahzad Ismaily: Love in Exile. An improvisatory supergroup composed of three brilliant minds. With Iyer as composer/pianist, Aftab as vocalist, and Ismaily as bassist, Love in Exile creates lush, haunting collaborative soundscapes of meditation and yearning. It is a chronicle of shared cultural experiences and deep human connection that Rolling Stone calls “like nothing else out there.”
Individually, their accolades are substantial – vocalist Arooj Aftab, the first Pakistani to win a Grammy, wows audiences worldwide with her mesmerizing live shows; MacArthur genius and Grammy nominee Vijay Iyer is one of today’s most influential pianists; multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily’s sensitivity and technical acumen have made him a legend among musicians like the late Lou Reed for whom he was a session player. Yet the marvel here is how ego disappears as the three players merge to create a singular, gorgeous sound.
Composer-pianist Vijay Iyer (pronounced “VID-jay EYE-yer”) has carved out a unique path as an influential, prolific, shape-shifting presence in modern music. He was described by Pitchfork as “one of the best in the world at what he does,” by The New York Times as a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway.” A musical innovator, and an active collaborator, Iyer continues to reimagine the role of the musician in the 21st century. He holds a lifetime appointment as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts at Harvard University, with a joint affiliation with the Department of Music and the Department of African and African-American Studies.
Arooj Aftab is a Grammy award-winning singer, composer, and producer from Pakistan (the first Pakistani to win a Grammy). She works in various musical styles, including jazz, minimalism, and neo-Sufi. She is known for her genre-blending approach, rapturous performances and captivating voice. Aftab, originally a self-taught musician, went on to graduate from Berklee College of Music with a degree in music production and engineering. Based in Brooklyn, Arooj is an eclectic new-age artist that fits into many genres in her own unique way. She is rapidly evolving as an emerging artist, touring all over the globe. “My music is world-building – it is a meeting of ancient tradition with contemporary style, resulting in new music with a broad appeal that spans generation and genre.”
Shahzad Ismaily is an American bassist, composer and producer of Pakistani descent. Formerly a biochemist, he is a largely self-taught composer and musician, mastering an impressive list of instruments including the electric and double bass, guitar, banjo, accordion, flute, drums and various analog synthesizers and drum machines. He has recorded and performed with an incredibly diverse array of prominent musicians, including Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Jolie Holland, Laura Veirs and Billy Martin (of Medeski Martin and Wood). Ismaily composed the score for the critically-acclaimed movie Frozen River (2008).
And finally, let’s talk about what’s going down on October 15th. The highly anticipated, Samara Joy will hit the stage. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Samara, she is a grammy-winning rising star who comes from a rich musical background, stemming from gospel roots. The Bronx native, at only 23 years old, is quickly cementing her status as a Gen Z jazz icon. A classic jazz singer from the next generation, Samara has a stunningly beautiful and almost unbelievably rich voice for her age, contributing to her timeless and irresistible sound. With her upcoming Verve Records debut, Linger Awhile, Samara makes her case to join the likes of Sarah, Ella and Billie as the next mononymous jazz singing sensation recorded by the venerable label. Her voice, velvety and precociously refined, has already earned her fans, numbering among them Anita Baker and Regina King. She wows appreciators of the jazz scene while simultaneously bringing the genre to a younger audience. Linger Awhile showcases her otherworldly talent, and introduces the next generation to the jazz tradition of vocalese, a style of singing and writing in which lyrics are penned for an existing improvisational melody. To watch her perform is to understand the joy of music.
Clearly a season of excellence filled with performances not to be missed. Visit newmancenterpresents.com for more details.