We’re excited to announce that we’ve named six Connecticut performing artists as recipients of our 2020 Artists’ Awards. Each awardee will get a $2,500 grant to create new work, plus a feature slot in the next festival, currently scheduled for September 2021. The recipients and their award-winning proposals—three in dance and one each in drama, music and spoken word—are:
Ruth Lewis/Dimensional Dance, Hartford, Prudence Crandall and Sarah Harris: Whole-Souled Women, Dance. This will be an original contemporary dance based on the true story of Connecticut educator Prudence Crandall and one of her first students of color, Sarah Harris. The women risked their lives to advocate for racial justice and to challenge educational discrimination in the 1830s. This award is supported by and named for Guilford resident Carol Sirot. Dimensional Dance website.
Skyler Hagner Nonet, Guilford, [Invisible Cities] Humanity, Memory and Decay: A Suite for Jazz Nonet, Music. Inspired by Italio Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, the composition will tell the story of a once great empire faltering under its own weight and in the early stages of decay. Intended to prompt audiences to reflect on their experiences of place, the impact of their lives on their surroundings, and the health of society, the composition will capture both the beauty of the book’s fictitious cities, as well as imagined conversations about humanity between the explorer Marco Polo and the Mongol emperor Kublai Khan. Hagner performed in the 2019 festival with the Hagner-McKay Nonet. This award, funded by an anonymous donor, is named for the late Donn Trenner, a noted jazz pianist and arranger who lived in Guilford; Trenner died in May at age 93. Skyler Hagner website.
Iddi Saaka, Middletown, Blurring the Surface, Dance. This dance duet will draw on West African dance aesthetics, contemporary dance, improvisation and spoken word as Saaka’s contribution to a nuanced dialogue about racism in American society. Featuring a while female dancer and a black male dancer, the work will explore, question and challenge the superficial and often stereotypical roles that separate and connect black and white people in our society. More about Iddi Saaka.
Thomas/Ortiz Dance, New Canaan, Together, Dance. This series of dance duets and solos will highlight the joys and difficulties within relationships and the loneliness of solitude while living in an isolated environment. The work will explore the challenges of social isolation and deal with such themes as cultural tolerance, self-care, and embracing the beauty in our differences. The choreography will be set to the music of jazz saxophonist Christian Scott. Thomas/Ortiz Dance website.
Emily Breeze and Marialena DiFabbio, Guilford, Beach Town/She’s Back, Drama. This play, featuring four actors and a musician, will map Greek mythology onto the surface of a suburban Shoreline town to explore the social dynamics when a woman returns home “different.” Using the story of Helen of Troy’s return to Sparta after the Trojan War as a parallel, the writers—queer women—will look at journeys big and small, and explore the line between homecoming and invasion. Emily Breeze website. Marialena DiFabbio website.
Julie Fitzpatrick, Guilford, All the World’s a Stage: A Guilford Love Story, Spoken Word. Based on interviews with people from many walks of life in the Guilford community, this performance piece will blend documentary theater with the wisdom of Shakespeare. It will feature five women performers from diverse backgrounds and will address the theme of love in its many forms, particularly its ability to lift up and unite people. Fitzpatrick performed her one-woman play 77 U-Turn during the 2019 festival. Julie Fitzpatrick website.
“We feel lucky to have had a strong pool of applicants from very talented artists at a terribly uncertain time for performers,” festival vice chairman and head of programming Peter Hawes said. “We’re pleased that so many chose to address today’s front-burner social and cultural issues. The arts offer a unique and powerful way for people to see, feel, reflect on, process, talk about and even heal many aspects of life. We look forward to seeing what our award recipients contribute to the community’s thinking and constructive dialogue about these issues, and we’re happy to be able to support their creativity.”
The recipients were chosen by festival programmers and independent judges from a field of applicants from throughout Connecticut, based on artistic merit, originality, innovation, and cultural or social relevance. Artists are required to use the grant to create or complete new, original work and premiere it at the next festival. GPAF created the Artists’ Awards in 2018 to support the creativity of professional Connecticut artists and to provide a vehicle for the premiere of new work at the festival. GPAF gave out two awards in 2018 and increased the number to six this year, in part to provide some relief to performers who have struggled for income during the coronavirus pandemic.