Rising Stars, New World School of the Arts’ Signature Showcase
An Unforgettable Evening of Dance, Music, Theater and Visual Arts
Rising Stars, a professionally staged, energy packed, one-of-a-kind showcase, presented the extraordinary talent of high school and college students from New World School of the Arts (NWSA), Florida’s premier arts institution. Comprised of a cutting-edge visual arts exhibition and a evening of performing arts excerpts, Rising Stars has become the signature event of the school and a highly anticipated evening of the arts for the South Florida community.
Kicking off the showcase, the Rising Stars Exhibition – presented at the New World Gallery – featured a wide-range of artwork curated by NWSA dean of visual arts, Maggy Cuesta. The 61-piece exhibition welcomed close to 285 guests who, while enjoying the stimulating artwork, had the opportunity to interact with the exhibiting artists and engage in dialogue about their outstanding work. The conceptual framework for this year’s exhibition centered on active audience interaction rather than passive appreciation of the work. Through A Mirror is a Window, an ongoing interactive art project, artist Emanuel Ribas aimed to explore the concept and experience of human empathy through projective and interrupted dialogue. Meanwhile, visual artist O’Neal Bardin III expressed his perception of everyday things through Resonate. The work, to which he refers as an introduction of black noise into the gallery space, brings to mind a propelling mechanism reminiscent of the paddlewheels found in steamboats from yesteryear. A collaboration by two artists yielded I Am Here, an installation featuring two groupings of rope with pod-like endings made of Baobab Seeds, added a fun touch to the exhibition as guests took turns to swing them in the open area allocated to the work.
The celebration continued with a welcoming VIP reception at the Olympia Theater, where the second floor mezzanine became a standing-room-only fete for friends of New World School of the Arts. Several hundred NWSA supporters, elected officials, community leaders, school administrators and faculty, and art supporters gathered to praise another year of artistic achievement in anticipation for what would become another remarkable celebration of distinction.
“Break a Leg!!” not “Good Luck!”… or do we wish good luck to ward off breaking a leg? This was the message in the humorous Opening number that began with dimmed lights, complete silence, and a single young crew member sweeping across the historic Olympia Theater stage. Oblivious to the hundreds of enthusiastic spectators who were already smiling at the sight, the young man sporting squeaky sneakers and equipped with only a broom, did what most people do when faced with an empty theater – he acted out his dream of being a tap dancer and when faced with the rest of the crew and rehearsing dance troupe, unintentionally and innocently said all the wrong things.
The music of Johan Sebastian Bach introduced the first dance performance – Caught in the Courante, an upbeat, contemporary ballet for nine dancers, by NWSA faculty member and alumni Lara Murphy. The work embodied both the precision of the Bach music and the swirling movement of rivers and streams with wit and exuberance. The dance division, led by dean of dance Mary Lisa Burns also showcased Mass, a new choreography by Robert Battle –renowned artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and NWSA dance alumnus. Set to an evocative percussion score by contemporary composer John Mackie, this exhilarating choreography offered a conceptual exploration of the self’s relentless effort to survive in the consuming world of the collective. Kinda Palooza, a dynamic and captivating dance choreographed by NWSA’s Tina Santos Wahl highlighted the talent of the high school dancers as they elegantly yet vibrantly moved in their black and white jazz-evoking costumes.
Just as captivating were the excerpts presented by the theater division of NWSA. Offered during Act One by the college theater students, the poignant scene “Stella”, from Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, was a stark contrast to the cheerful, high-energy, jubilant closing musical number “Ain’t it Good”, from Children of Eden by Stephen Schwartz, performed by the high school music theater students. While Stanley Kowalski’s agonizing plead for forgiveness from his abused wife Stella drew a collective heart-racing gasp from the audience, Mama Noah’s powerful voice and charismatic personality warmly embraced the audience with jubilation as she sang of hope, joy and second chances. The popular “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”, from Evita, sung from the balcony of Casa Rosada gave way to Act Two, as Eva Peron sang to the clamoring people of Argentina, whose love and devotion would eventually change the landscape of the country. In another number from this Tony-Award winning musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber with lyrics by Tim Rice, Eva Peron, accompanied by Che, joined an overjoyed crowd of Argentinians in the much more upbeat tune “And the Money Kept Rolling In (and Out)”, filling the stage with triple-threat students from the college and high school programs of NWSA. Sprinkled between numbers were a series of monologues, presented by college and high school theater students, which helped the program move along seamlessly while adding a touch of humor, which included unexpected audience interaction and invaluable love advice from the black Cupid – Mr. Love.
The music division, headed by dean of music Daniel Andai, offered an impressive repertoire highlighting the remarkable talent of its students. Fitted in red, black and white eveningwear, the NWSA high School Choir presented the award-winning work You Are the Music by the young composer Dan Forrest. Directed by Dr. Leslie Alan Denning, the choir offered an outstanding rendition of this lush song accompanied by a single French Horn player who charmed the audience with his solo. Under the baton of Maestro Alfred Gershfeld, the NWSA Symphony Orchestra closed the first Act with a standing ovation for its interpretation of Overture to the Barber of Seville. Composed by Gioachino Rossini, this is one of the most loved and best-recognized works in the classical/opera repertoire, and the New World School of the Arts seventy-eight-member orchestra beautifully interpreted it. The popular American song St. Louis Blues, by William Christopher Handy, brought the Jazz Ensemble on stage, directed by Jim Gasior. One of the first blues songs to succeed as a pop song, St. Louis Blues came alive with the velvety-smooth voice of the young lead singer who shared the stage, through improvisation and breakout solos. NWSA Wind Ensemble director Brent Mounger presented a remarkable composition by another young composer – John Mackey. Inspired by passages from Homer’s Greek poem The Odyssey, Wine-Dark Sea, first performed in 2014 at the University of Texas, closed the music division’s presentations with a commanding brassy number that garnered extraordinary applause and high acclaim.
More than a celebration of the work and dedication put forth by the students and faculty of NWSA, the evening was also an opportunity to recognize those who offer their unwavering support and inspire with their drive and relentlessness. NWSA theater alumna Katie Finneran, renowned award-winning actor, received the coveted Alumnus Award from the hands of the dean of theater, Patrice Bailey, director of Rising Stars.
Presented by the corresponding dean each year and joined by New World School of the Arts Provost Dr. Jeffrey Hodgson, HS Principal Evonne Alvarez, and the remaining three deans of New World School of the Arts, this annual award is bestowed each year during Rising Stars to a New World School of the Arts alum who has successfully contributed to his or her art form. Katie, who is currently shooting the second season of Netflix’s critically acclaimed drama, Bloodline, co-starred on NBC’s The MIchael J. Fox Show in 2012 and was called “this season’s funniest breakout star” by The Daily Beast. That same year she starred on Broadway as Miss Hannigan in the Tony Nominated revival of Annie. For her outstanding performance in the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises she won a Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award in 2010. Finneran garnered her first Tony Award in 2002 for her role in the Broadway revival of Noises Off. She also received a Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award for that role.
New World School of the Arts proudly acknowledges Bank of America, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Miami Dade College, University of Florida, and WLRN for their invaluable support of Rising Stars.