Gitana Productions will present its original performance-art theater production “Between Worlds: An American Journey” from June 8-11 at The Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square in St. Louis. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, with a 3 p.m. matinee and 5:30 p.m. final performance on Sunday. Tickets are $25 general admission. Call Metrotix at 314-534-1111 or visit metrotix.com.
“This is performance art at its best,” said Gitana Productions Executive Director Cecilia Nadal. “We use acting, poetry, music and dance to present our shared and diverse American history, and we invite the audience to consider what we, as Americans, want to become.”
Although performance art is often presented in public to onlookers, “Between Worlds: An American Journey” uses the nontraditional art form to explore timely political and cultural themes in the comfortable setting of The Grandel.
“Between Worlds” features St. Louis Poet Laureate Michael Castro along with local actors, dancers and rap artists, to highlight multicultural influences in American music, acting and dance.
“Our performers and themes represent a diverse cross-section of America,” said Nadal. “We wanted to show how our cultures intersect across the past, present and future.”
For example, a modern day African American rap artist converses with Pericles, the 5th century Athenian founder of democracy, about the ideal vs. the reality of democracy. In another scene, an Irish indentured servant and a freed slave share their historic dance forms, which leads to the cross-cultural innovation of “tap dancing” in the mid-1800s. Later, an African American teacher converses with a Muslim woman about racism and prejudice, changing their own preconceptions about each other.
The original music for “Between Worlds: An American Journey” was composed through a collaboration of international violinist and musical director Aska Kaneko, St. Louis trumpeter Dawn Weber, pianist Phillip Graves, and electronic instrumentalist Christian Oncken.
Nadal also enlisted the talent of choreographer and director Vivian Anderson Watt, a 2017 St. Louis Visionary Award Winner recognized for her many years of work with thousands of young dancers in the St. Louis region. Watt has directed, choreographed and performed as an actress with Gitana since 1997 and was the first artistic director for Gitana’s Faces Of Love series.
“These collaborations clearly demonstrate that innovation is not just cultural but also crosses creative styles, musical backgrounds and disciplines,” said Nadal. As producer, she simply gave the artists a list of themes that would be addressed in the production. “We were thrilled to see where these talented local and international artists creatively took those themes using spoken word, original music, rap and drama.”
Aska Kaneko, an internationally known violinist from Japan, and well-known St. Louis trumpeter Dawn Weber collaborated to create a unique, cross-cultural sound that was performed at Gitana’s Faces Of Love Concert to rave reviews in February. Both classically trained artists have ventured into jazz and contemporary styles of music, are talented vocalists and have received critical acclaim for their versatility and quality
performances. Christian Oncken, a local electronic instrumentalist, and pianist Phillip Graves joined this unique team to individually and jointly create original music for “Between Worlds.”
Gitana Productions, celebrating 20 years of service to the St. Louis region, is working with local nonprofit community groups to provide access to the production to those who otherwise might not be able to afford tickets. Gitana is offering hundreds of free tickets to disadvantaged children and families through nonprofits such as the St. Louis Dream Center, an outreach of Joyce Meyers Ministries which reaches thousands of disadvantaged children and families in St. Louis area each year, impacting their neighborhoods and quality of life.
Following performances at The Grandel, Gitana will take the show to neighborhoods and municipalities where theater and dance performances seldom occur, areas Nadal calls “arts deserts” with the potential to evolve through sustained engagement. Two of the venues where theater has never been presented before include Devotional Baptist Church in Kinloch and Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Hyde Park.
Funding and support for Gitana Productions are provided by the Regional Arts Commission, Missouri Arts Council and Arts and Education Council, and The Grandel, which is operated and managed by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation. V