Charlotte Observer Fall Arts Information 2022
Returning favorites and large new reveals and occasions are on faucet this season for native arts and tradition organizations. In the meantime, a number of main teams discover themselves at a crossroads now. We’ve got all of it lined for you.
Australians swaying atop 15-foot poles. The return of “I Am Queen: Charlotte.” And the world premiere of a symphony based on David Bowie’s final album.
Get ready Charlotte. Those are just a sample of the more than 200 visual and performing arts events coming to the inaugural Charlotte International Arts Festival this month. Blumenthal Performing Arts is hosting the ambitious explosion of activity across the city for 2 1/2 weeks.
The festival runs from Sept. 16 to Oct. 2, featuring international and local artists in performances and showcases at indoor and outdoor venues, including local parks.
Tom Gabbard, president and CEO of Blumenthal Performing Arts, recently spoke with The Charlotte Observer about how the festival came together and his hopes for its impact on the region.
“We are all struggling with how we create true respect and understanding among cultures — whether it’s an international culture that’s across the sea or an international culture that’s right in our backyard,” Gabbard said. “Having a festival with ‘International’ in the name was a logical next step.”
Charlotte as a big playground
After Charlotte SHOUT!, an art, music and food festival, was canceled last year, the Blumenthal began asking questions about what to do next: What does Charlotte need right now? What’s the driving force? What is the community asking for?
As the Blumenthal’s director of artistic experiences, Bree Stallings was part of the discussion.
The word “play” came to mind, Stallings said, not just through the eyes of a child but in a broader sense. The team wanted people to stop and engage with the educational opportunities, installations and artwork.
“How do we get a community to play?” Stallings asked. “How do we get adults to play? For me, it’s a combination of making a space feel safe, approachable and inviting.
How do we intentionally create playful areas and how do those playful areas make Charlotte a better place to live and overall, the quality of life better?”
A team of five, guided by Gabbard, pitched ideas for the festival.
They came up with so many suggestions, they tabled some for future festivals. They’ve had to plan how, when and where each of the 200 activities would fit in the schedule and gain the most engagement from the community.
“It feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle,” Stallings said. “We’re moving each piece, day by day.”
Many activities at Ballantyne’s Backyard, Brooklyn Collective, Levine Avenue and Romare Bearden Park are free. Tickets for shows and experiences at Belk Theater, Booth Playhouse and Knight Theater may be purchased in advance online.
Bowie, Blackstar and Hedwig
The arts festival and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra will make history with Bowie’s music.
“Blackstar Symphony, The Music of David Bowie,” is a live performance of Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar.” It was released on his birthday on Jan. 8 2016, just two days before he died at age 69.
The symphony’s world premiere will be on Sept. 16 and 17 at Belk Theater. (Tickets start at $37.50.) The first part of the show, performed by a 65-piece orchestra, includes music from the entire “Blackstar” album and the second part features some of Bowie’s most popular songs, including “Life on Mars,” “Heroes” and “Space Oddity”.
The creative team responsible for the production includes Australian conductor Tim Davies, leading the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Donny McCaslin, artistic director and Bowie’s saxophonist for Blackstar, and vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey, who traveled with Bowie until his death.
Actor, playwright, screenwriter, and director John Cameron Mitchell — the creator and star of the 2001 film “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”, will be joining Blackstar Symphony as guest artist.
“It’s pretty exciting to host a world premiere and to incorporate it into the festival,” Gabbard said. “It is a symphonic tribute to Bowie and an opportunity to take his beloved final album and present it in a live concert.”
After the premiere, the production will travel to other cities.
Spanning the globe
Enhancing the international aspect of the lineup is entertainment from over 10 countries. That includes a Mexican music and dance group called Mexico Beyond Mariachi, Bassem Youssef of Egypt, known as the “Jon Stewart of the Arab World” and VS Guitar Duo from Russia.
“I’m thrilled that a lot of these out-of-town guests will see Charlotte in the finest way,” Gabbard said. “Showing that we value the arts, showing that this is a cosmopolitan place.”
For instance, the Italian company eVenti Verticali, which specializes in vertical theater, will present “Wanted” at the Ballantyne’s Backyard for free at various times from Sept. 16-25. Two acrobats present a comedic journey while dangling from a crane and interacting with live virtual animation inspired by comics and video games from the ‘80s
Australia’s Parer Studio is showcasing, “Man,” a contemporary version of Auguste Rodin’s “Thinker” at Ballantyne’s Backyard during the festival. It’s a free event to marvel at the white inflatable statue that is over 38 feet high and 40 feet wide.
And Romare Bearden Park in uptown will be home to a giant interactive squid — think “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” — throughout the festival.
Moradavaga, a company started by two architects from Italy and Portugal create various large-scale artwork and acoustic installations, like this one. Yes, it will be time to “Release the Kraken.”
Bound for Ballantyne
Film, interactive exhibits and live music will fill nontraditional spaces such as Ballantyne’s Backyard, a more than 100-acre green space that was once the Ballantyne Golf Club.
“We’re particularly excited to be in Ballantyne’s Backyard,” Gabbard said. Having events in Ballantyne in south Charlotte is a new thing for the Blumenthal, which historically has been viewed as an uptown venue operator and presenter.
Commercial real estate firm Northwood Office partnered with the Blumenthal to bring activities and exhibits to Ballantyne’s Backyard.
“When Blumenthal reached out, it was an easy yes for us,” said Hailey Rorie, director of community relations at Northwood Office. “We are really trying to establish ourselves as the go-to place in South Charlotte for quality fun.”
Ballantyne’s Backyard will be the site for Architects of Air’s Luminarium Timisien, an inflatable sculpture with a series of tunnels. It’s a 154-foot long, and 97-foot wide structure, made of polyvinyl chloride, a plastic that provides an immersive experience with gentle, sensory sound from the company based in Nottingham, England.
Domes with skylights allow for color to be streamed into the labyrinth, encouraging visitors to look up. The architecture is inspired by traditional Islamic architecture and Antoni Gaudí’s Casa Guell, a palace in Barcelona.
During daylight hours, visitors can walk through the maze. Tuesdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. are dedicated to people who want a sensory friendly program. This ticketed event is $5 per person.
Slow down for tiny things
At the suggestion of Chris Wangro, the festival’s outside consultant and author of “Staging Urban Landscapes,” an installation of “100 Tiny Things” was added to the festival’s schedule.
Stallings put out a call for artists to submit applications for tiny art exhibits which would be installed along the corridor between the Belk and Knight theaters.
“I see Charlotte as a serious architecture town,” Stallings said. “It’s cool but sometimes rigid. The goal was to get artists to think about how they can manipulate (the architecture.) Eyes peeking out from a sewer grate, putting googly eyes on a fire hydrant. The objective is to de-serious this walk between these two buildings.”
Stalling received 200 applications for “100 Tiny Things.” Many artists strolled the street looking for places to add their tiny art.
Some included photographs with their application while others sent the coordinates for where they’d want to place the miniature art pieces.
Stallings was impressed with the intentionality of the artists’ placement of the small exhibits.
“It’s a tiny scavenger hunt that people don’t know they’re on until they start to notice,” she said. “(We want) people to see their city with new eyes. If somebody does a double-take and slows down to spend a little time with art, that’s always really successful to me.”
‘I Am Queen: Charlotte’ returns
On the final Saturday of the festival, Oct. 1, the storytelling production group Epoch Tribe will showcase “I Am Queen: Charlotte” at Knight Theater. It’s a 90-minute show lifting up the stories of Black women in Charlotte.
“It’s a celebration of Black women and our stories, specific to Charlotte,” said Hannah Hasan, writer of “I Am Queen: Charlotte” and co-founder of Epoch Tribe. “It’s a way to pay homage to our city, being named after Queen Charlotte, and also to expand what we know and believe about the stories of marginalized people.”
Beginning last year, Hasan interviewed more than 50 Black women from the community then turned their stories into monologues. Almost 2,000 people attended the first production in March at Belk Theater.
Gabbard had been in the audience, and Hasan sought his feedback.
She knew they could improve on what they presented. Gabbard invited Epoch Tribe to be a part of the new festival, to produce “I am Queen: Charlotte” again. Audiences can see the new version at Knight Theater; tickets cost $19.50
“This is another opportunity to present to the community an upgraded version of our art,” Hasan said. “That’s important because that rarely happens. (Gabbard) believes in our work and hopefully it’s something he will help us take around the country, if we decide to do that.”
Gabbard has high hopes for turning the festival into a major, annual regional event.
“We’re bringing high-profile, bold artistic projects here, but all in a very accessible manner,” he said. “We’re looking to connect with each and every member of the community.”
This story is part of an Observer underwriting project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, supporting arts journalism in Charlotte.
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This story was initially printed September 7, 2022, 6:00 AM.