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Tue12012020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

P.S. Resorts, a coalition of Palm Springs hotels and tourism groups, recently paid almost $30,000 to a consulting firm in an effort to determine what new events would draw the most tourists to the town.

Meanwhile, in Palm Desert, the folks at the McCallum Theatre think they may have already figured out what event could become the valley’s next big thing.

Welcome to the first Palm Desert International Dance Festival.

“If you love dance, where better to be than Palm Desert in November?” said Jeffrey Norman, the McCallum’s director of communications and public affairs.

The brand-new festival kicks off with something that’s actually been around for years: the McCallum’s 16th Annual Choreography Competition, an event that brings in dance companies, both professional and pre-professional, for two days of performances, on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10. Then the McCallum will host three of the world’s more unique and renowned dance companies: I.aM.mE on Wednesday, Nov. 13; Lula Washington Dance Theatre on Friday, Nov. 15; and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal on Saturday, Nov. 16.

Norman said the increasing popularity of the Choreography Competition led McCallum president and CEO Mitch Gershenfeld to the idea for the festival. Gershenfeld approached city of Palm Desert officials about the idea, and they were happy to jump on board.

“The aspiration, really, is that this becomes another signature event in the valley,” Norman said, adding that it will take several years, at least, before that happens.

In the dance world, the Choreography Competition already is a big deal. On Saturday, Nov. 9, a dozen dance groups from across the country will compete as Jacques d’Amboise, a veteran of New York City Ballet and a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, receives a lifetime-achievement award.

One of those dozen competitors is Lauren Edson, who won last year’s top prize in the competition. The Boise, Idaho, native and Juilliard graduate has won several other competitions. She entered the McCallum competition last year, in part, because her parents now live in Palm Desert.

“I gathered a group of dancers from Boise who I trust and really respect and admire as artists,” she said. “… We were eager to perform and share the work we’d done.”

However, eagerness is one thing; paying to bring six dancers from Boise to Palm Desert for several days is another. She mounted a successful $5,000 Kickstarter campaign last year to pay the way.

Well, success often leads to complications: In part because of her win last year, Edson finds herself more in demand, so this year, she and her dancers had to find a way to pay for trips to New York and Texas, as well as Palm Desert. That meant this year’s Kickstarter campaign—again successful—was for $15,000.

Edson and her dancers will perform her 11-minute work “I Hit the Ground.” (“The maximum’s 11 minutes, and I am coming in right at 11 minutes,” she fretted.)

“The work really deals with this one couple as a central relationship, and the changing of the power dynamic in the relationship,” she said.

On Sunday, Nov. 10, the second day of the Choreography Competition will feature 11 pre-professional choreographers, mostly from schools and organizations in the Western U.S. Also on the bill are performance exhibitions from local students who are participating in the McCallum’s East Valley Dance Project, a program of the McCallum Theatre Institute that reaches some 1,200 East Valley middle school and high school students. Norman said the inclusion of local students is “dear to his heart.”

“We see every day the impact that exposure to the arts and immersion in the arts makes on kids’ lives, especially kids who might not have had the opportunity (to be exposed to the arts) otherwise,” he said. “Study after study shows how immersion in the arts helps children learn better.” As part of the festival, some area students will be treated to daytime dance shows at the McCallum, too.

After several days off, the festival returns to the McCallum stage on Wednesday, Nov. 13, with I.aM.mE. The dance crew, featuring four men and two women between the ages of 15 and 28, won the sixth season of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew with what they call their “Brain Bangin’” style. According to the I.aM.mE website, “The style is a series of connections and large-scale visuals that create shapes and puzzles with the human body.” (Find videos of the crew online, and you’ll see exactly what that means.)

Two days later, on Friday, Nov. 15, a slightly more traditional—but no less innovative—dance group will take the stage. The Lula Washington Dance Theatre got its start as a nonprofit organization that offered an outlet to minority dancers from South Los Angeles. Today, the group is a renowned group whose modern dance reflects African-American culture and history.

On Saturday, Nov. 16, the festival will conclude with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal. While “ballet” is part of the 40-plus-year-old company’s name, the group also melds modern dance, street dance and other styles into in its energetic and often humorous works.

Both Norman and Edson said that shows like America’s Best Dance Crew, which ended last year after seven seasons, as well as ABC’s ever-popular Dancing With the Stars, have made dance in its various forms more widely popular—therefore paving the way for the Palm Desert International Dance Festival to exist.

“(These TV shows) broaden the scope and the reach of dance,” Edson said. “… It’s wonderful that the McCallum is broadening the whole event. There really are people who love so many different facets of the medium today.”

The Palm Desert International Dance Festival takes place Saturday, Nov. 9, through Saturday, Nov. 16, at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert. Ticket prices for the events vary. For tickets or more information, call 760-340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

When the McCallum Theatre announced its 2013-2014 season in the spring, the first show on the calendar was the Second Annual Family Fun Day, featuring the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater, on Sunday, Oct. 13.

But as of today, Family Fun Day is the fourth show on the calendar.

“When you get offered Bill Maher, but he can only do a show in September, we’re going to do it,” says Jeffrey Norman, the McCallum’s director of communications and public affairs.

That Bill Maher performance—on Saturday, Sept. 28—is one of a dozen new shows that was announced by the McCallum today. Single tickets for some of those early-season shows—including the Maher show ($55 to $95)—will go on sale next Thursday, Aug. 1, with the rest of the single tickets available on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

Other new shows announced today include Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell (Wednesday, Oct. 9, $65 to $125; on sale Aug. 1), Graham Nash (Thursday, Nov. 21, $35 to $75; on sale Aug. 1), and the legendary Lily Tomlin (Friday, March 21, 2014, $55 to $95; on sale Sept. 17).

Tickets for four previously announced shows will also go on sale Aug. 1: the aforementioned Family Fun Day ($7 to $15); the premiere of Alton Brown Live! (Friday, Oct. 18, $25 to $75); Frida, the Musical (Friday, Oct. 25; $29 to $79); and Vince Gill (Saturday, Nov. 2, $45 to $75).

And the season, even now, is not yet complete: Norman says that up to a half-dozen shows, and maybe even a few more, could be added before all is said and done. He describes the process of putting together the season as a “big jigsaw puzzle”—a puzzle which is primarily completed by the McCallum’s president and CEO, Mitch Gershenfeld.

“What we try to do is put together a very strong season (early) so we can send out our subscription brochure around April or so,” explains Norman. That means first booking things like Broadway musicals, plays, dance performances and tribute shows that can be scheduled well in advance.

But many artists these days, Norman says, are booking tours and deciding on show dates at the last minute. “All of a sudden, we’ll get a call from a booker. They’ll say, ‘Bill Maher is interested in coming.’ We’re interested if we can find a date and pay the fee.”

Sometimes, that means starting the McCallum season well before snowbirds and tourists have returned. But these days, that’s less of a concern, Norman says.

“Last year, we had Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers on Aug. 29,” Norman says. “It was a little bit of a risk, but we sold out. We’re noticing that increasingly, there’s a significant year-round community here, and they want to be entertained as much as the snowbirds do.”

Norman says he’s really looking forward to Diana Krall’s appearance on Friday, April 11, 2014 ($75 to $125). He says he saw her perform a couple of times at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where he worked for two decades before moving to the McCallum at the start of this year.

“We had two theaters, and she’d played in the 2,800-seat theater. She then tried out a new show in our 500-seat theater,” he remembers. “It was a quirky show—just a beautiful night of her at the piano.”

He says he’s also looking forward to the performance by Maher.

“You just never know what he’s going to say,” Norman says.

For tickets and more information, including an up-to-date schedule, visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

As an example of how all over the map the McCallum Theatre’s 2013-2014 season offerings are, look at the first four shows.

The season begins on Oct. 13 with the theater’s Second Annual Family Fun Day, featuring the Popovich Comedy Pet Theater and its performing pooches and kitties (yes, performing cats; who knew?). That’s followed five days later by the first-ever performance of Alton Brown Live, a show featuring the off-kilter-in-a-good-way Food Network host. One week later, Mexican theater hit Frida: The Musical—performed entirely in Spanish—is on the boards. Next, country-music star Vince Gill will take the stage.

So … you have pet theater, followed by a goofy but educational chef, followed by a serious Spanish-language musical, followed by country music. And by the way, that’s all followed by a series of dance events that McCallum president/CEO Mitch Gershenfeld hopes will set the stage, so to speak, for a true international dance festival to sprout in Palm Desert.

Got all that?

“We’re trying to present diverse-enough programming to attract every segment of the community,” Gershenfeld says. “We don’t want to be elitist. We want to have a presence in all of the relevant performing-arts genres.”

In all, the 2013-2014 McCallum season lineup—which was announced earlier this week, with season-series tickets going on sale next week—includes more than six dozen shows that range from separate performances by greats Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera and Patti LuPone, to plays like Driving Miss Daisy, The Addams Family and Hello, Dolly! (staring … Sally Struthers?!), to dance by Pilobolus and the Moscow Classical Ballet, to something called Cesar Millan Live!

Gershenfeld says he uses a “market-driven approach” while booking the McCallum. In other words, he won’t bring in any show that he knows won’t get butts in seats. However, he says he’ll take a risk if he thinks he can convince the public that a show is worthy.

“If I feel like I can market it and make it work, I’ll do it,” he says.

Gershenfeld is about to enter his second year as the president and CEO of the McCallum, following the retirement last year of longtime head Ted Giatas. Before Giatas’ departure, Gershenfeld handled operations and booking at the McCallum for a dozen years—and he’s kept the booking gig as CEO. In all, the former symphony musician—he’s a tuba player—and theater producer has been booking shows for three decades.

When asked what shows he’s excited about in the upcoming season, he instantly mentions Peter and the Starcatcher, a fresh-from-Broadway play that nabbed five Tony Awards last year. The show, which offers a back-story of sorts for Peter Pan, will arrive at the McCallum March 28-30, 2014.

This show falls in that if-I-can-market-it category for Gershenfeld, he says, clarifying that while traveling Broadway musicals tend to sell well, non-musical plays can struggle when they lose the big names that often star in the shows in New York.

“I am going to talk about this play every chance I get this year,” Gershenfeld says.

And as for that Alton Brown show: It’s being produced by the same people who created the Mythbusters: Behind the Myths tour, and the McCallum is actually letting the producers use the theater for a week or so to “get the show going” before it officially premieres on Oct. 18. As a hint to what the show will be like, Gershenfeld notes that attendees in the first few rows will be given ponchos to wear.

Gershenfeld also points to the Bahia Orchestra Project show on Feb. 16, 2014, as something special. The project was founded in Brazil in 2007, modeled after El Sistema in Venezuela; organizers go into poor areas and provide youngsters with musical instruments, and teach the kids how to play. These Brazilian kids-turned-musicians, with help from star pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, will play at the McCallum as part of their first North American tour.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear great music played by these young people who have had a rough go in life,” Gershenfeld says.

Gershenfeld says his goal every season, of course, is to top the previous one, although he concedes that the now-concluding McCallum series—the theater’s 25th anniversary season—was “really good,” and the best-attended since 2007-2008 and the Great Recession.

“I hope people respond to this (upcoming) season as well as the last,” Gershenfeld says.

For more information on the season, or to buy season subscriptions (starting Monday, April 8), visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance

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