Michele Tayoun (Meesha Belly Dance) and ¡Viva Vallenato!
In addition to the jam-packed schedule of summer camp sessions and classes at the Perkins Center for the Arts, the Center has added a series of outdoor programs with the World Stage Series: Dance It Out! featuring four shows that highlight international music and dancing, including Afro-Puerto Rican, Cumbia, Middle Eastern and Bollywood styles, two Indie Nights that showcase three contemporary bands each night, and two Irish Music Session Meet and Greets, designed to bring together those in the community who favor traditional Irish music and instruments.
“This came out of our takeaways from the past couple of years,” said Executive Director Kahra Buss. “One of the most impactful things we have seen is the amplification of community.”
Aided by funding from the New Jersey State Council for the Arts, the art center hired Marion Jacobson as Director of Folklife in 2022 and began to look for ways to grow and strengthen the connection between the Folklife Center (which had been part of Perkins for nearly 10 years) and the programming already in place at the art center.
And it all seems to be coming together nicely this summer.
The first concert in the series (rescheduled from late June) is July 6 and features Segunda Quimbamba, Jersey’s terrific bomba and plena (dance and drum) ensemble, with a workshop and stage presentation.
July 11, ¡Viva Vallenato! will perform the folk music of Columbia and Latin America, with danceable rhythms and sweet accordion sounds.
Sicilian-American Phil Passantino from Wayne, New Jersey, fell in love with accordion vallenato music and formed the Colombian music group ¡Viva Vallenato!
July 14 is an Indie Night with Sweep Echo, Think Machine and Valendina.
July 18 features authentic Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Israeli music and dance with world percussionist Joseph Tayoun and his ensemble and a pre-concert dabke dance workshop with Michelle (Meesha) Tayoun.
July 25, audience members will experience the high-energy music and dance genre of India’s Hindu language film industry and start off the evening with a pre-show yoga workshop led by Perkins’ mind-body artist Ritu Pandya.
Aug. 4 is an Indie Night with All Systems Go, Wishful Thinking and Floracene.
And you have two chances to bring along your instrument of choice and let your Irish shine with South Jersey’s traditional duo McDermott’s Handy June 16 and Aug. 18, which you can RSVP for here.
Perkins started the World Stage Series in 2020, spurred on by an artist group who wanted to do a dance protest in the wake of the George Floyd murder.
“That first year, we had two socially distanced dances on the lawn. This year, we have expanded to include many more events, with live bands, dance workshops and a dance floor,” Jacobson said. “Going bigger was a combination of community demand and our vision to center world music and dance in our summer concert series.”
Nadia Neubert (Bollytrim) will perform during Dance It Out! Bollywood Style.
“Marion joined us in 2022, and with the additional funding, we were able to pull out all the stops,” Buss said. “As a group, we are learning more about folk artistry in our region.” And working closely with the Folklife Center reaps benefits beyond providing diverse programming for Perkins.
“This collaboration is a great way to connect with folk artisans and their communities and provide exposure for art forms that may not have been shared as frequently and openly,” Buss said.
There was a time, Jacobson told me, when individual states had their own folklorist in the capitol. “Their job was to try to pull in and expand the reach of what state funding could support by identifying the cultural tradition-bearers and offering support,” Jacobson said.
For the Center, one of the greatest benefits of working with folklife artists is being able to widen the range of offerings beyond the more familiar forms.
I asked Buss and Jacobson whether presenting events featuring less-known music and dance might be out of their comfort zone for the Perkins concert crowd. They answered with a resounding “no.”
“Perkins’ audiences are open-minded and eager for new experiences in which they can learn about and enjoy different cultures and the world of music all around us,” Jacobson said.
“We took the Folklife Center out of its silo and started to integrate its programming with our education department,” Buss said. “We started dabbling in our conservatory area and actively working with other program directors and managers to find ways to impact the different parts of the center.”
Buss agreed. “As people come to the center and see and hear the music in person, they gain a new perspective,” she said. “People are curious. If music and dance are presented in an open and welcoming way, audiences will find more things they are interested in and want to learn about.”
“Most world music forms are related in some way to each other,” Jacobson said. That opportunity to learn is why the Dance Out! concerts begin at 6:30 p.m. with a 30-minute pre-performance dance lesson and why, when presenting music and dance that may be new to audiences, Perkins tries to connect it to something familiar.
“At each concert, we give a brief introduction to the art form and provide program notes that people can read through the QR codes on their phones,” Jacobson said. “We view the performances as an opportunity to educate, which sets us apart from similar events like house concerts and porch concerts.”
“We try to give the audience nuggets of context and knowledge.”