David Rubenstein Atrium Turns 10 | Playbill

Classic Arts Features David Rubenstein Atrium Turns 10 Lincoln Center’s premier gathering spot for free art kicks off a program full of jazz, dance, and Afrofuturist funk.
Bobby Sanabria, AfrotroniX, and Kim So Ra Rob Shanahan; Daniel Grozdanov; Song Kwang Chan

It’s a year of significant anniversaries for Lincoln Center. The renowned performing arts complex is celebrating 60 years of being central to the culture and community of New York City, and so it’s fitting that the David Rubenstein Atrium—a venue originally conceived as a lively gathering place for locals and visitors alike—is having a momentous birthday of its own. The Atrium, nestled between 62nd and 63rd Streets directly across from the main Lincoln Center campus, turns ten this November.

The Atrium as we now know it was opened in 2009 as part of the redevelopment of the Lincoln Center campus. It is a public space governed by the City of New York that, according to its Declaration of Operations, must be open to the public seven days a week and must produce one free performance per week. The Atrium now solely houses free events (up to 100 per year). While the path to its current incarnation was a circuitous one, it has long been associated with the performing arts. The space originated as Colonial Music Hall in 1905, designed in the style of a Victorian music hall. Its hallowed stages first introduced Charlie Chaplin to American audiences and featured the sensational sibling dance team of Fred and Adele Astaire.

In the 1920s the Colonial was transformed into a Broadway theater, where American audiences first experienced the dance craze, the Charleston. Subsequent years saw the venue repurposed as a movie house and a television studio, as well as a space for Rebekah Harkness’s acclaimed ballet company. For a brief period in the late 1970s, the curtains came down on this performing arts mecca and it was replaced with condominiums and a public plaza.

Sexteto Rodriguez Cuban Jewish All-Stars performing opening day at the Atrium, 2009 Heather M. O’Brien

However, the arts found their way back with the conception of the Harmony Atrium, and finally the David Rubenstein Atrium, a community gathering spot that brings the multitude of voices that make up New York City (and beyond) to its stage. “When we first launched the Atrium and its free performance series, we had the mission of making the arts and Lincoln Center accessible to all,” says Atrium Director Jordana Leigh. “That has remained our mission, but how we serve that vision has changed. We truly represent the diversity and beauty of our city and have put our community at the forefront of our programmatic choices.” And so, the Atrium’s upcoming season is filled with the unparalleled diversity that has always been at the heart of its artistic programming, a fitting way to celebrate this milestone year.

Kicking off the season on September 5 is pianist-composer-producer Aaron Whitby. On the heels of launching his debut album as a frontman, Cousin From Another Planet, the London-born Brooklynite showcases his jazz roots at a funk-fueled jam session. The following week’s performance features a beautiful collage of traditional Colombian rhythms and Caribbean melodies from musician Kiko Villamizar, who performs with a psychedelically electric ensemble that fuses the sounds of traditional Afro-Caribbean drums and the Colombian gaita flute (September 12).

In a nod to the space’s dance-filled past, ballet will be featured prominently on September 16 at a lively discussion on American Ballet Theatre’s Women’s Movement—a multi-year initiative to support the creation, exploration, and staging of new works by female choreographers for ABT and their Studio Company. Later that week, multi-award-winning Korean traditional percussionist and composer Kim So Ra, known for her genre-bending performances combining Korean traditional music with creative, charismatic, and modern interpretations, visits the Atrium (September 19).

On September 20, Bobby Sanabria and his 21-piece multi-Grammy–nominated Multiverse Big Band ignites the fifth season of the Atrium’s popular ¡VAYA! 63 series, in partnership with the NYU Music and Social Change Lab. Paying tribute to the mecca of all Latin dance halls—the legendary Palladium Ballroom, where the fusion of big-band mambo with jazz reigned supreme—this versatile band will have the crowd on its feet at a not-to-be-missed Friday night dance party.

Rounding out the month will be an evening of jazz, presented in collaboration with the renowned Polish jazz festival. Jazztopad features an original commissioned work by Amir ElSaffar, an Atrium alum and classically trained trumpet player who developed his artistic language by combining jazz with the aesthetics derived from traditional music of the Middle East, Iraqi maqam. For this special engagement, ElSaffar will be joined by Polish artists: Ksawery Wójcin´ski, Wacław Zimpel, and the Lutosławski Quartet (September 26).

This is just a taste of the global voices that will be showcased at the Atrium during its decennial season. “I love that we live in an international city,” explains Leigh. “And that by featuring music and artists from different countries and backgrounds, we have deepened our ties to our community.” The fall continues with a double set that mixes the Afrofuturist funk of Chad native and now Montreal-based AfrotroniX with 47 Soul’s electric Arabic Dabke dance music (October 3). Other highlights include Afro-Cuban singer-songwriter Melvis Santa and her band’s rich palette of Latin sounds (October 10) and the return of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, bringing to life the words of ordinary people engaged in struggles for freedom and justice (October 17).

All-female Korean band The Tune combines shamanistic traditional music with a contemporary sound on November 7. Then Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Caroline Shaw joins the dynamic Attacca String Quartet, as part of Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival (November 14); Japanese composer and sound artist Aya Nishina presents Symphonia, her multi-movement music work, co-commissioned with the Cleveland Museum of Art (November 21); and Cuban jazz pianist and composer Dayramir Gonzalez blends the traditional music of Havana with the vanguard sounds of New York (November 26).

Karuna, the musical project of Hamid Drake and Adam Rudolph—two master percussionists who are revolutionizing the world-music scene—is presented in collaboration with Continuum Culture & Arts as part of a concert series featuring Brooklyn artists designed to bring live music to underserved communities (December 12). Along with more ¡VAYA! 63 Latin parties, a Winter’s Eve celebration, and other world-class performances, the Atrium will energize the winter months ahead.

There has been much remarkable art housed under the Atrium’s storied roof. “The thing I am most proud of,” says Leigh, “is that the Atrium’s audience reflects our city’s demographics.” This season’s lineup continues to represent New York’s polyphonic neighborhoods, propelling the Atrium’s mission proudly into a new decade.

Kaitlyn Zafonte is the Marketing and Communications Writer for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.


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