This week, the Kravis Center announced its long-awaited 2017-2018 season. It’s more jam-packed than ever, with a full slate of top-shelf comedians (Dennis Miller, Howie Mandel, Jackie Mason); rock, jazz and classical headliners (The Beach Boys, Audra McDonald, Itzhak Perlman); and an especially eclectic theatre season (“The Book of Mormon,” “Hamlet,” “The Illusionists”).
But the highlight, as far as my radar is concerned, is the remarkable growth of the venue’s “PEAK”—Provocative Entertainment at Kravis—programs, which showcases, in the Kravis’ own words, “ethnic diversity and impactful themes.”
Staged in the Kravis’ intimate Rinker Playhouse, PEAK began five seasons ago as an experiment to attract more cutting-edge artists and hipper, younger audiences. It’s improved ever since, and this year’s lineup doubles the number of PEAK acts from its first year to a record 16, encompassing avant-garde dance, timely monologues, a multimedia music showcase and even an LGBTQ variety show. Here’s the sweet 16:
Lemon Andersen: “When Aliens Fall From the Sky” (Nov. 9-10, 2017)
This performance art presentation from a veteran of Russell Simmons’ “Def Poetry Jam” has nothing to do with extraterrestrials; rather, it’s a meditation on immigration and identity in America, with Andersen transforming the poems and journeys of 13 travelers into an original theatre piece.
DakhaBrakha (Nov. 12, 2017)
If you haven’t been brushing up on your old Ukrainian dialect lately, DakhaBrakha translates to “give/take.” There will be many such cultural exchanges at this revisionist expression of Ukrainian folklore, where a panoply of Indian, Arabic, African, Russian and Australian instruments—including the accordion and didgeridoo—create borderless harmony that its creators call “ethnic chaos.”
“Ethel’s Documerica” (Nov. 17, 2017)
This singular production takes a multimedia approach to environmental awareness. Images from “Project Documerica,” a photo essay commissioned by the EPA in 1970, will play on a video screen, while ETHEL, a band that hybridizes indie and classical music, will perform audio interpretations of the photos, in a show that reflects on our relationship with the world around us.
10 Hairy Legs (Jan. 19-20, 2018)
Beyond the subversive humor of its name, this New Jersey-based dance company is a markedly serious purveyor of male-centered dance. The 100-percent male repertory has earned effusive praise for its mission of advancing the role of the male in dance, and this tour, subtitled “Celebrating the Artistry of the Male Dancer,” showcases some of its finest commissions by esteemed choreographers.
Contra-Tiempo Urban Latin Dance Theater (Feb. 9-10, 2018)
The provocative, self-proclaimed troupe known as Contra-Tiempo formed in 2005—and while its name translates in English to “against time,” the group is so cutting-edge that it’s perennially ahead of it. Cesar Alvarez, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based company, composes its soundtracks by mashing together deconstructed salsa, Americana, hip-hop, industrial and found sounds, which in turn inspire choreography that spans the spectrum from salsa, Afro-Cuban and hip-hop to modern and jazz dance.
Urban Bush Women: “Hair and Other Stories” (Feb. 16-17, 2018)
This Brooklyn dance company communicates themes resonant with the African diaspora in the most exciting, energizing way possible: through movement and sound. Continuing the company’s exploration of the female form in dance, “Hair and Other Stories” explores self-image, race and gender inequality with choreography that stimulates the mind and touches the soul.
Yamato: The Drummers of Japan (Feb. 19-20, 2018)
Visitors to the Morikami know fall about taiko drumming, but this touring band of thunderous drummers may kick it up a notch. Yamato, which performs on taiko drums made from ancient trees, will bow its latest show “The Challengers,” a spirited celebration complete with specially designed costumes.
Mike Daisey: “The End of Journalism” (Feb. 23-24, 2018)
This imaginative storyteller has completed more than 25 monologues in 20 years, including one that lasted 24 hours. His latest, “The End of Journalism,” is a timely, pungent lament on the decline of the Fourth Estate, from the shrinking influence of newspapers to the Facebook propaganda that proliferated during the 2016 election.
Kaki King (March 1, 2018)
Any gig by this “new guitar God” (per Rolling Stone) is something to celebrate. A guitarist and composer with prodigious talent and a chameleonic approach to genre, Kaki King has collaborated with artists ranging Eddie Vedder to Timbaland to my favorite band, the Mountain Goats. This concert experience, “The Neck is a Bridge to the Body,” may be her most ambitious yet: It’s a multimedia extravaganza in which her guitar melds into the psychedelic imagery projecting behind her. See it to believe it.
Mountainfilm on Tour (March 9-10, 2018)
The only purely cinematic program on the PEAK 16, this mini film festival screens documentaries and short features from the nearly 40-year-old history of Colorado’s annual Telluride Mountainfilm festival. The event’s objective has always been to showcase films intended to make the world a better place, so prepare to be inspired.
Zakir Hussain, Tabla (March 15, 2018)
This concert presents a rare stateside appearance from Hussain, a living legend of the tabla—a deceptively simple-looking instrument, consisting of two hand drums, that dates back centuries. Hussain’s father, Alla Rakha, mastered the tabla, and Hussain has followed suit, winning Grammy awards, performing on the “Apocalypse Now” soundtrack, and collaborating with the Grateful Dead. At his Kravis set, he’ll perform alongside flautist Rakesh Chaurasia.
Lil Buck and Jon Boogz: “Love Heals All Wounds” (March 21-22, 2018)
These exciting progenitors of jookin, a form of street dancing originating in Memphis, have goals no less lofty than changing the world through dance. “Love Heals All Wounds,” which features Buck and Boogz’s dance company Control Freakz, displays the dancer-choreographers’ deft footwork and spoken-word eloquence while promoting messages of inclusivity and diversity.
Ranky Tanky (April 11-12, 2018)
This four-piece band, along with singer Quiana Parler, perform music in the authentic Gullah tradition—which originated with enslaved West Africans and proliferated in the Lowcountry regions of Georgia and South Carolina. One of the most celebrated contemporary Gullah bands, Ranky Tanky keeps the genre alive and thriving, with raucous barnburners and soul-stirring spirituals alike.
Che Malambo (April 13-14, 2018)
With roots in 17th-century South America, this all-male Argentinean dance company combines precise movement with explosive percussion instrumentation. Straddling drums, the dancers showcase fleet feet and remarkable strength and agility, thanks to choreography inspired by the rhythm of galloping horses.
“The Mountaintop” (April 20-21, 2018)
L.A. Theatre Works tours its production of this two-character play set in the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on the night before Martin Luther King’s assassination. Paranoid and brilliant, King engages in conversation with a hotel maid that yields vivid, metaphysical results.
“It Gets Better” (June 16, 2018)
PEAK concludes with a stage presentation of columnist Dan Savage’s influential “It Gets Better” initiative, founded in 2010 to combat bullying of LGBTQ youth. The multimedia presentation features poems, skits, songs and more, performed by students from the local “It Gets Better” program in Lake Worth.
Whew! Enough awesomeness this season? PEAK, of course, is just a fraction of Kravis’ full season lineup. Check out the entire mammoth sked at kravis.org.