SummerStage: Bringing the world’s performing arts to a park near you

Limón Dance Company

Perhaps this seems like an obvious statement, but I’ll say it anyway. There is no excuse to be bored in New York City over the summer. No matter what day or night of the week and where you’re located, there’s a LOT going on.

One significant contributor to the city’s summer programming is City Park’s Foundation’s SummerStage, a presenter of free performing arts programs throughout the five boroughs. As the largest presenter of free arts and culture in the city, their offerings range from live music from all over the world to original theatrical works to commissioned collaborations that premiere at venues ranging from Rumsey Field in Central park to smaller parks in some of the farthest reaches of the city.

Erika Eliott, the Artistic Director of SummerStage, curates this massive season of performing arts events, and takes the lead on music programming and working with other curators to set the theatre and dance lineup. She took the time out to speak with the Arts Initiative about some of the programming comprising SummerStage’s 27th season, as well as to give us a bit of background on her curatorial process:

“It is my hope that SummerStage can be a destination and a place where all New Yorkers can discover something they know and love. I try to represent the cultural diversity of the city.” She begins this process by asking herself, “Who are some of the really important communities in New York City?” She then works to find shows that appeal to them in both language and style, with a focus on bringing contemporary music into these venues. “If we’re looking at Brazil, I’m not necessarily looking at who can do a great traditional music performance. This year we are presenting Criolo, who was just named by MTV Brazil as ‘Best New Artist’. We bring artists like this to New York not only because they represent strong communities here, but because they are on the cutting edge of the music scene in their own countries.”

“We also have the opportunity to connect artists from neighborhoods around New York back to those neighborhoods,” Eliott points out. “This summer, for example, we are presenting Talib Kweli in Brooklyn.”

So what is the first piece of advice Eliott has for a Columbia student trying to navigate the myriad of offerings through SummerStage? “Take a risk – go to a park you don’t know,” she recommends. “For the price of a subway ride you can get to concerts in neighborhoods that you may not have otherwise had the motivation to visit. Those concerts will really show you the fabric of New York City.”

Eliott emphasizes that though SummerStage’s home base is at Rumsey field in Central Park, there are opportunities to experience the city’s diverse and fascinating cultures, many times in the neighborhoods where such musical genres developed. “Going to a hip hop show in Brooklyn or a salsa show on the Lower East Side is a really unique experience.” She also added, “but beyond that, in Central Park – go to any day that we have a show going, and you will discover something you are impressed by and hopefully will want to find out more about.”

Another key part of SummerStage is the commissioning of new original works of music and dance, taking what is normally an exclusive opportunity – experiencing a world premiere, one-of-a-kind performance – and opening it up to the public. Some highlights of this year’s commissions are:

Bird with Strings: Miguel Atwood Ferguson’s reimagining of the famous Charlie Parker album, Charlie Parker with Strings.

The New York Pops with Ozomatli: Including a brand new orchestration especially for this event!

Limón Dance Company with special musical guest Paquito D’Rivera: Featuring the world premiere of Come With Me, a specially commissioned dance piece set to live music.

For more information on SummerStage, visit their website. And did we mention all shows are FREE?

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