World Trade Center arts space to open with music, theater and dance

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World Trade Center arts space to open with music, theater and dance
The Perelman Performing Arts Center at the World Trade Center site in New York, May 18, 2023. A one-man Laurence Fishburne show, a Bill T. Jones premiere and a new take on “Cats” will be among the offerings at the new Perelman Performing Arts Center. (Victor Llorente/The New York Times)

by Robin Pogrebin

NEW YORK, NY.- As the marble-clad, cube-like Perelman Performing Arts Center has taken shape at the World Trade Center site, questions have swirled about what will actually happen inside.

Some answers came on Wednesday, when the center announced a first year of programming that will feature original work, including the premiere of an autobiographical play written by and starring actor Laurence Fishburne called “Like They Do in the Movies,” as well as partnerships, including with the Tribeca Festival.

Bill Rauch, the center’s artistic director, said the roster was deliberately eclectic.

“We much want to give many different audiences many different reasons to come into our building,” he said in a telephone interview, adding that PAC NYC — as the center is being called — is invested in “creating connections.”

The year will feature dance, opera, music and theater. Some highlights include:

— The world premiere of “Watch Night,” a new multidisciplinary piece by dance artist Bill T. Jones, poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph and composer Tamar-kali, in November.

— The New York premiere of “An American Soldier,” an opera by composer Huang Ruo and playwright David Henry Hwang. The opera, which will be staged in May, tells the true story of Danny Chen, a New Yorker who enlisted in the Army and was subjected to hazing and racist taunts in Afghanistan, and who killed himself at 19.

— A reimagining of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical “Cats” set in New York City’s ballroom scene. The musical, planned for next June and July, will be directed by Zhailon Levingston and Rauch; its choreographers will be Arturo Lyons and Omari Wiles, and its dramaturge and gender consultant will be Josephine Kearns.

Dance performances will include a celebration of street dance from around the world, including notable DJs. There will be a recital by Easter Island pianist Mahani Teave, an evening with Broadway performer Brian Stokes Mitchell and, in October, the 2023 Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition.

Performances at the center are to begin Sept. 19 with a five-evening, pay-what-you-wish concert series called “Refuge: A Concert Series to Welcome the World.”

One night will feature New York artists who come from elsewhere, including Raven Chacon, Angélique Kidjo and Michael Mwenso. Another will focus on spiritually oriented performers, including the Klezmatics and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. Other concerts will highlight educators (featuring Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra), family ensembles (such as the Villalobos Brothers) and childhood traditions (with Alphabet Rockers).

The center is named for Ronald O. Perelman, the billionaire who made a $75 million pledge in 2016. But its largest donor wound up being Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor, who gave $130 million to get it built. The center, which used to call itself “the Perelman” for short, now calls itself PAC NYC.

“There will be something for everyone at PAC NYC,” Bloomberg, the center’s chair, said in a statement.

The Tribeca Festival will do its own programming, but Rauch described its presence as “a collaboration.”

“It’s a natural allyship for us, given our location — it made great sense,” he said. “We’re very excited to have them in the building.”

PAC NYC has also partnered with Creative Artists Agency to present conversations with celebrity authors like Kerry Washington, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush.

“Part of what we want to do is not only reflect the dynamic energy of all five boroughs but to invite conversation in our spaces,” Rauch said, “so having events that are book readings and getting to hear from the authors just feels like it’s well aligned.”

Beginning June 23, tickets, starting at $39, are available through February. PAC NYC memberships starting at $10 for the inaugural season are available as of Wednesday.

There are three stages at the PAC seating 99, 250 and 450 people. David Rockwell and his Rockwell Group designed the interior of the lobby and restaurant, which will be run by chef Marcus Samuelsson, along with the bar and outdoor terrace.

Plans for programming in the building’s lobby space will be announced in the future and will generally be programmed with less lead time, Rauch said.

“All the performances on that stage will be open and free,” Rauch said. “That commitment to access is really crucial.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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