WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2014

From dance to music to comedy, Seven Days of Opening Nights kicks off with stellar lineup

The Soweto Gospel Choir

The Soweto Gospel Choir

You can’t really accuse Seven Days of Opening Nights of taking it easy. The acclaimed arts festival offers 27 performances during its 2011-2012 season, including 20 shows in 12 days during the festival proper (Feb. 9-20). Then, of course, there are the 11 master classes for Florida State University students in the arts, and another four educational performances for Leon County K-12 students.

“Festival season is always a blast,” said Seven Days Director Steve MacQueen. “I get to step out from behind my desk and put on some great shows.”

The festival long ago outgrew its rather specific name (after its first year, in fact). This year’s offerings are typically eclectic, incorporating a Pulitzer-Prize-winning fiction writer (Jennifer Egan), a New Orleans legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (Allen Toussaint),a dance company run by America’s foremost prima ballerina (Suzanne Farrell Ballet), a pioneering female comedian with a tendency to work very blue (Joan Rivers), a sultry jazz singer who’ll offer nuggets from the Great American Songbook on Valentine’s Day (Jane Monheit), and some extremely flexible and fearless young men and women from Hebei, China (the Golden Dragon Acrobats).

In addition, there’s a massive, 100-piece symphony from Poland (Wraclaw Philharmonic), a vibrant and celebratory group of singers from South Africa (Soweto Gospel Choir), a movie that no one has seen yet (Geoffrey Gilmore), the world’s hottest young old-time string band (Carolina Chocolate Drops), a play about a Scotsman obsessed with Americana (National Theatre of Scotland’s “Long Gone Lonesome”), and the premiere of a new work by another Pulitzer winner (Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio’s performance of composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s new Quintet).

There’s also a wild new dance piece that requires you to use your cell phone during the performance (ZviDance’s “Zoom”), an exhibit of amazing textile works and Asian jewelry (FSU Museum of Fine Arts’ “Thread of Life”), an explosive survey of all things band (PRISM), a jazz virtuoso who plays the bass likes it’s a ukulele (Christian McBride and Inside Straight), and a sisterly trio of new-chamber-music advocates (Ahn Trio).

In other words, another Seven Days.

“The diversity of the schedule — last year, one gentleman approvingly called it ‘schizophrenic’ — comes from the mission itself, which is to illustrate Florida State’s commitment to the arts through the programs it teaches, which include visual art, theater, dance, music, film and creative writing,” MacQueen said. “That allows us to present a wide variety of artists and performers, and to attract a lot of different audiences.”

This marks the 14th season of Seven Days of Opening Nights, which was created by Florida State University President Sandy D’Alemberte as a way to highlight FSU’s cultural contributions. Seven Days was an immediate hit with audiences, and its built-in educational component made it a hit with students as well. Most of the artists who perform during Seven Days also spend time with FSU’s students of the arts. For instance, this year, students in the university’s Creative Writing Program will get face time with Jennifer Egan; dance students will have master classes with both Suzanne Farrell Ballet and ZviDance; FSU Film School students will have a number of opportunities for discussion with indie-film guru Geoffrey Gilmore;and classical players get to play for the Ahn Trio.

“The educational element has always been a huge part of Seven Days,” MacQueen said. “And this year, we’re actually increasing our educational outreach by offering programs to K-12 students in the region. It’s a new initiative that I’m proud of.”

Under this new K-12 education initiative, more than1,000 choral students will see a special performance by the Soweto Gospel Choir, another 600 will see the Carolina Chocolate Drops perform a show at Tallahassee’s Rickards High School, 300 high-school drama students will spend time with the National Theatre of Scotland, and the Ahn Trio will visit two separate middle-school orchestra classes.

Seven Days is also doing its part to help the city create its “arts district” on nearby Gaines Street. After the runaway success of last year’s public mural, painted during the festival, at the corner of Railroad Avenue and Gaines Street, the only solution was . . . to do it again.This year’s mural will again be located on Gaines (location TBA) and will be a celebration of the area’s natural resources.

With its mix of world-class performances, educational offerings and great community support, Seven Days of Opening Nights has become an indelible part of the region’s cultural identity. And while other Tallahassee cultural institutions had a rough time in 2011, Seven Days is going strong.

“We’re fortunate to have a strong base of sponsors who have been with us for years, people like Larry Strom at Champion Chevrolet,and Bill Law and now Jim Murdaugh at Tallahassee Community College,” MacQueen said. “The business community has done a lot to support this festival, and I plan to build those relationships and make them even stronger. So this festival has a bright future.”

This year’s lineup:

FEBRUARY (all shows start at 8 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

4 — Christian McBride and Inside Straight, jazz, Opperman Music Hall

9 — Soweto Gospel Choir, world music (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

10 — Thread of Life,” art opening (FSU Museum of Fine Art, 6 p.m.)

10 — Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author (University Center Ballroom)

11 — PRISM, FSU band showcase (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

12 — The Ahn Trio, classical music (Opperman Music Hall, 2 p.m.)

12 — National Theatre of Scotland, “Long Gone Lonesome,” (Turner Auditorium, TCC)

13 — Wroclaw Symphony Orchestra with Garrick Ohlsson, classical, (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

14 — Jane Monheit, vocalist (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

15 — Joan Rivers, comedy (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

16 — The Suzanne Farrell Ballet, dance (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

17 — Allen Toussaint and Trombone Shorty, R&B (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

18 — Golden Dragon Acrobats, international family show (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall), two shows:

            2 p.m. — FSU Circus performing at Westcott Fountain as people arrive

            8 p.m. — the bigger of the two shows

19 — ZviDance, dance (Smith-Fichter Dance Theatre, 2 p.m.)

19 — Carolina Chocolate Drops, old-time/bluegrass (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

20 — Geoffrey Gilmore’s “A Movie You Haven’t Seen Yet(FSU Student Life Cinema)

26 — Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, classical (Opperman Hall, 2 p.m.)

MARCH

21 — Bela Fleck & the Flecktones (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

APRIL

1 — Sarah Vowell, author (Ruby Diamond Concert Hall)

TBD — Geoffrey Gilmore, film (FSU Student Life Cinema)

For tickets, visit www.tickets.fsu.edu or call the FSU Ticket Office at (850) 644-6500.

Much more information is available at www.sevendaysfestival.org.