Little Island unveils free monthlong festival

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Little Island unveils free monthlong festival
Little Island, which floats over the Hudson River near West 13th Street in Hudson River Park, on the site of an old pier in New York, May 17, 2021. The operators of the island announced on Tuesday, July 27, that it would host a free monthlong arts festival starting in mid-August that would feature more than 450 artists in more than 160 performances. Amr Alfiky/The New York Times.

by Julia Jacobs

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Little Island was dreamed up as a haven for the performing arts on the Hudson River, and in its first months, it is also being put forward as a playground for artists who have been kept from the stage for far too long.

The operators of the island announced Tuesday that it would host a free monthlong arts festival starting in mid-August that would feature more than 450 artists in more than 160 performances.

There will be dance, including works curated by Misty Copeland, Robert Garland and Georgina Pazcoguin. There will be music, including pianists Jenny Lin and Adam Tendler, composer Tyshawn Sorey and saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and her band. And there will be live comedy, with television stars like Ziwe and Bowen Yang in the lineup.

The festival — which is being produced by Mikki Shepard, formerly the executive producer of the Apollo Theater — is another major effort by New York’s performing arts community to revive the arts after the pandemic darkened theaters and concert halls for more than a year. For the performers, it is an opportunity to get paid to create new work and explore where their art is heading after months of pandemic restrictions, and in the wake of racial justice protests that swept the country.

“We wanted artists to have a voice in terms of, where are they now?” Shepard said. “Coming out of this pandemic, where do they want to be?”

By offering free performances, the festival’s objective is to host an audience that combines typical arts patrons with people who might not normally buy tickets to see live music or dance. The performances in Little Island’s 687-seat amphitheater will be ticketed, but shows located elsewhere on the island will not be, allowing tourists and other park visitors to stumble upon them as they’re walking around the 2.4-acre space.

“Nothing about it is refined,” said George C. Wolfe, a senior adviser working on the festival, which is called NYC Free. “It’s to give people a place to play.”

Copeland and Garland are co-curating a performance Aug. 18 that features eight Black ballet dancers from three major companies: American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem, where Garland is resident choreographer. During the performance, Copeland will read aloud from American history texts on top of hip-hop, soul and funk music.

Other dance performances include Ballet Hispánico performing an evening of new works by Latina choreographers Aug. 18, an evening of dance curated by choreographer Ronald K. Brown on Aug. 25 and a performance by tap dancer Dormeshia on Sept. 1.

As for music, the first day of the festival Aug. 11 will feature John Cage’s work “4’33”” — in which the score instructs that no instruments be played. It will be performed by students of the Third Street Music School Settlement, led by Tendler. Other musicians include jazz duo Cécile McLorin Salvant and Sullivan Fortner; Flor de Toloache, an all-women mariachi band; and Ali Stroker, the Tony-winning “Oklahoma!” performer, who will sing and tell stories onstage. The final night of the festival includes an all-women jazz performance, curated by drummer and composer Shirazette Tinnin.

The comedy lineup features a stand-up show hosted by Michelle Buteau and a live show called “I Don’t Think So, Honey!,” hosted by Yang and Matt Rogers, that grew out of a segment on their podcast.

The festival is funded by Barry Diller, the mega-mogul who paid for Little Island and whose family foundation will bankroll the first two decades of the park’s operations. It will run from Aug. 11 to Sept. 5.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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