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Cal Performances Explores Migration & Exile in “Place & Displacement”: Six “Illuminations” (Dec 2–April 23)

Cal Performances presents the West Coast premiere of Ted Hearne & Saul Williams’ Place on Sat, March 12 as part of this season’s “Illuminations: Place and Displacement” series (credit: courtesy of Ted Hearne)

Now in its second season, Cal Performances at UC Berkeley’s “Illuminations” series continues with six mainstage programs addressing the timely theme of “Place and Displacement.” These programs comprise the Bay Area premiere of Yemandja, a new Cal Performances co-commission from Angélique Kidjo, the organization’s first season-long Artist-in-Residence (April 23); the world premiere of Songs of Strength by Emmy-winning Vietnamese-American composer-instrumentalist Vân-Ánh Võ (Dec 4); the West Coast premieres of “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration” by Alicia Hall Moran and MacArthur Fellow Jason Moran (Feb 17) and Place, a Grammy-nominated meditation on gentrification and displacement by Ted Hearne and Saul Williams (March 12); and performances by the Kronos Quartet with Iranian vocalist Mahsa Vahdat (Dec 2) and violinist Ilmar Gavilán and pianist Aldo López-Gavilán, two brothers separated from adolescence to adulthood by the American embargo of Cuba (Jan 23). Showcasing the work of artists whose lives have been touched by the devastating but catalyzing effects of migration and exile, “Place and Displacement” explores loss, disempowerment and the need to reclaim and celebrate the cultures and connections at risk from political and social upheaval.

Jeremy Geffen, executive and artistic director of Cal Performances, explains:

“The performing arts provide some of the few opportunities we as individuals have to truly see the world through another’s eyes. As such, they possess unique potential to create emotive response and urgently-needed understanding. ‘Illuminations’ was designed both to contextualize compelling works of art that examine the pressing issues of our time, through the peerless intellectual resources found behind closed doors across the UC Berkeley campus, and to unite the campus and surrounding community in a dialogue about the nuances necessary to turn understanding into change.

“This season’s ‘Illuminations’ theme of ‘Place and Displacement’ creates a space in which we can examine on a personal level the effects of migration, of dislocation, of gentrification and of belonging. Whether originated through persecution, economic upheaval, social unrest or climate change, this theme has found resonance in both the deeply affecting performance works presented by Cal Performances, and around the UC Berkeley campus.”

Launched last season, Cal Performances’ “Illuminations” series brings the public into the heart of the groundbreaking research that distinguishes the work of UC Berkeley, providing a platform for civic engagement, public discourse, and social and cultural transformation by connecting UC Berkeley’s scholarship to the performing arts. “Illuminations” performances and events bring together a diverse community – longtime Cal Performances patrons, first-time visitors, academics and teachers, students, visiting artists, and members of the wider public – to make visible the dynamic relationships between campus scholarship and pressing issues in the wider world as seen through a lens of artistic inquiry.

Cal Performances’ first season-long Artist-in-Residence is four-time Grammy-winning Benin-born singer, composer, activist and humanitarian Angélique Kidjo, whose work blends contemporary issues with African musical traditions, probing the past for lessons on improving the future. Fluent in multiple languages and cultures, Kidjo has been honored for her activist work by the World Economic Forum and Amnesty International, recognized by the BBC as “one of the greatest artists in international music today,” and chosen as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People of 2021.”

After anchoring three live panel discussions and engaging with student groups before performing her unique take on Talking Heads’s seminal 1980 album Remain in Light earlier this fall, Kidjo returns to UC Berkeley this coming spring for the Bay Area premiere of Yemandja: A Story of Africa (April 23). A Cal Performances co-commission that marks her first foray into musical theater, the new work examines themes of love, betrayal, honor and revenge in 19th-century West Africa, where the slave trade was in full swing. Conceived by Kidjo, who composed it in collaboration with French musician Jean Hebrail, and set to a libretto by Naïma Hebrail Kidjo, Yemandja is a work of magical realism that uses song to show what happens when people are robbed of their culture. Its Bay Area premiere stars Angélique Kidjo herself, backed by a live band and chorus of dancer-singers in a fully staged production from 3Arts Artist Award-winning director Cheryl Lynn Bruce, with stage design by MacArthur award-winning visual artist Kerry James Marshall. Click here to see Angélique Kidjo talk about “Place, Displacement: Bias in our Algorithms and Society” in a live “Illuminations” panel discussion earlier this fall, and here to see her interviewed as part of a UC Berkeley conversation about “Music, Diaspora, and the World.”

“Place and Displacement” presents the world premiere of Songs of Strength, a new project from Vân-Ánh Võ, the Emmy-winning composer, ensemble leader and virtuoso performer of the 16-string dan tranh (zither) best known for her many collaborations with Kronos Quartet. Placing music from her native Vietnam in conversation with contemporary sounds from around the world, her new work celebrates the voices and struggles of both women and other immigrants. Set to texts in English, Persian and Vietnamese, its world premiere production features performances by Iranian singer-songwriter Mahsa Vahdat, rapper Kev Choice, breakdancer Tunjie and Võ’s own multicultural Blood Moon Orchestra (Dec 4). As NPR writes, “Võ is a veteran when it comes to taking risks, and it pays off in her compelling music.”

The series also features two West Coast premieres. The first of these is “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration,” a highly personal musical journey through a century of Black resilience and cultural expression from the husband-and-wife duo of MacArthur award-winning jazz pianist-composer Jason Moran and classically trained mezzo-soprano Alicia Hall Moran. Hailed as a series of “gripping portraits of a vast social upheaval” (Chicago Tribune), Two Wings also features performances by the Grammy-nominated Imani Winds ensemble and Cuban conductor Tania León (Feb 17). The second such premiere is Place, a fiery meditation on gentrification and displacement by composer Ted Hearne and librettist Saul Williams that has already been recognized with two 2021 Grammy nominations. Scored for six vocalists and an 18-piece instrumental ensemble, the staged production receives its West Coast premiere in a production by Harlem-based Soros Fellow Patricia McGregor (March 12).

Two chamber performances round out the “Place and Displacement” lineup. The series opens with a program of music inspired by classical and contemporary Persian poets from Mahsa Vahdat, who emigrated to the Bay Area to pursue creative freedom beyond the repressive regime of her Iranian homeland, and the inimitable Kronos Quartet (Dec 2). Completing the series are Ilmar Gavilán and his pianist brother, Aldo López-Gavilán, who grew up as child prodigies in Cuba before becoming separated for decades by the U.S.–Cuban embargo. Now the two – the subjects of an acclaimed documentary film, Los Hermanos, playing at film festivals, streaming on PBS, and due for screening by Cal Performances in the new year –once again perform together, reunited in a chamber jazz duo that reflects their training in both the Cuban jazz and European classical traditions (Jan 23).

For high-resolution photos, visit Cal Performances’ online press room at

Cal Performances’ “Illuminations” series presents “Place and Displacement”
University of California at Berkeley

Dec 2
KRONOS QUARTET with special guest Mahsa VAHDAT, vocalist
Music inspired by classical and contemporary Persian poets

Dec 4
Vân-Ánh VÕ: Songs of Strength (world premiere)
Vân-Ánh Võ, dan tranh, & the Blood Moon Orchestra; Mahsa Vahdat, vocalist; Kev Choice, rapper; Tunjie, breakdancer

Jan 23
Ilmar GAVILÁN, violin & Aldo LÓPEZ-GAVILÁN, piano
Music for jazz duo

Feb 17
“Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration” (West Coast premiere)
Jason MORAN & Alicia HALL MORAN, producers
Alicia Hall Moran, mezzo-soprano; Jason Moran, piano; Imani Winds; Tania León, conductor
Additional artists TBA

March 12
Ted HEARNE, music; Saul WILLIAMS, libretto: Place (West Coast premiere)
Patricia McGregor, director
Six vocalists; 18-piece instrumental ensemble

April 23
Angélique KIDJO: Yemandja (West Coast premiere of Cal Performances co-commission)
Starring Angélique Kidjo
Conceived by Angélique Kidjo, Jean Hebrail and Naïma Hebrail Kidjo
Book & lyrics by Naïma Hebrail Kidjo
Developed with and directed by Cheryl Lynn Bruce

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© 21C Media Group November 2021


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