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The Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts Blog Schimmel Center seeks to enrich and engage our audiences by bringing world-class talent to Lower Manhattan. Our programming features internationally-acclaimed talent in the areas of music, dance, film, cabaret and lecture.

24 February 2015 ~ 0 Comments

An Interview with Jennifer Backhaus, Founder of Backhausdance

On Friday, February 27th, Backhausdance will come bouncing on to the Schimmel stage (along with hundreds of tiny red bouncing balls) for the New York premier of Elasticity of the Almost along with a remounting of their successful Incandescent. The company will stay with us through Saturday the 28th and will even contribute to our Saturday afternoon family series with a special matinee performance of Elasticity of the Almost. I recently sat down with Jennifer Backhaus, founder and Artistic Director of Backhausdance to ask some questions about her company and the pieces being presented.

Jennifer Backhaus courtesy of Backhausdance.org

MT: What is your background in the world of dance? What inspired you to form your very own dance company? 

JB:I began dancing after I gave up a competitive gymnastics career. I had always dabbled in choreography since I was a young girl and found myself with opportunities in High School and at Chapman University to study the art form further. I continued making dances after I graduated and found success  enough to encourage me to start my own company with recent graduates from Chapman University in 2003.

MT: Backhausdance is based in Orange County, California. Do you find that your location contributes anything special to your brand of dance?

JB:Orange County has universities with strong dance programs and a strong private studio population. There is support for contemporary dance forms and Backhausdance has partnered with many of these organizations to create robust outreach and training programs. 

MT: You founded Backhausdance nearly 12 years ago. How has the company changed and evolved since then? Has your mission evolved?

JB: Our mission to create excellent art and expose and educate the community about the relevance of concert dance has remained consistent… but we keep increasing the reach we have in the community. We began the company with 6 dancers and now have between 8 and 10. Our annual performances have increased and our summer intensive programs have become very successful.

MT: Artists usually dislike labeling their work but if you had to list the best three words to describe your company’s repertory, what would they be?

JB: athletic , layered and dynamic.

MT: You have said that your dances often include, “glimpses of the human experience.” Which aspects of the human experience do you expect Schimmel audiences to take away from the two pieces you will be performing?

JB: I tend to make work dealing with our relationships with other people, understanding ourselves and navigating our surroundings. These tend to be things that most people experience in life.

MT: In what ways do the two pieces, Incandescent and Elasticity of the Almost, complement each other? Are there any obvious similarities? 

JB: They seem to be good bookends to a concert, both thematically and visually contrasting. Incandescent looks at  living in dark spaces and slowly, eventually finding your way to a light while Elasticity is about brightness and bustle, living in a quick paced and shifting world of color.

MT: Your company will be joining us for our “Family Fun” series by bringing our audiences a special performance of “Elasticity of the Almost.” What makes this such an engaging piece for younger audiences?

JB: The music is ever-changing, and quick paced. The use of balls as a metaphor creates layered meaning for adults but also works as an engaging visual element for younger audiences.

A scene from “Elasticity of the Almost” courtesy of BAckhausdance.org

MT: In the past 12 years, your company has gained a lot of notice. A few years ago you were recognized by Joyce SoHo, here in New York, as one of seven emerging dance companies in North America to watch. Where would you like to see Backhausdance in the next 10 years?

JB: I would like the opportunity to have the company work with other choreographers, continue a touring schedule and increase our local performing schedule. Making more work with a variety of collaborators would be very rewarding.

MT: If there was one field outside of the dance world that you could be happy working in, what would it be?

JB: I can’t imagine doing anything else- perhaps working for another arts organization- or non profit. Supporting other artists or creating arts experiences for the public would be fantastic.

Backhausdance: Incandescent and Elasticity of the Almost; Friday and Saturday, February 27th and 28th at 7:30pm; Special Matinee “Family Fun” performance of Elasticity of the Almost on Saturday, February 28th at 2pm; Ticket Prices $49 | $39 | $29; Schimmel Center at Pace University; 3 Spruce St, New York, NY 10038; schimmel.pace.edu


03 February 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Connecting Music, Dance, Culture and Minds: The Koresh Dance Company


This weekend, Schimmel Center is excited to welcome an exciting dance company straight from Philadelphia, The Koresh Dance Company. The acclaimed ensemble is the brain child of choreographer, Roni Koresh. As a teacher and collaborator, Koresh has created a unique and highly emotional movement blend of ballet, modern and jazz. Since 1991, the company has cemented an international reputation for  highly technical and emotionally charged work. In one of his latest works, Come Togetherthe audience is taken on a musical journey with classical and contemporary composers from Israel and Turkey set alongside classic western compositions by masters such as Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and more. The piece bridges the gap between middle eastern and European musical aesthetics while grounding and driving “earthy rhythms of the old world with the ethereal, heavenly sounds of the new.”

Koresh Company member Jess Daley

Koresh Company member Jess Daley

Please enjoy the following video, showcasing the astounding choreography of Koresh. The video includes a short preview of this week’s astounding piece, Come Together.





Part of Koresh Dance Company’s mission is community outreach and education. It is all the more appropriate that Koresh Dance Company will take place in a unique “STEAM” workshop that will teach young students important computer, math and science skills through the lens of dance. On Friday, February 6, Koresh will take to the auditorium of public middle school, MS 188. Led by professors from Pace University, around 100 middle school students will discover math and science problems inspired by the dance performance. Students will also learn basic foundations of computer coding as they “code their own dance.” As Koresh’s choreography blends different music and cultures, it  will also help to bridge the gap between math and sciences and the humanities. The students who partake in the workshop will also be given the opportunity to see the full performance of Come Together for free at the Schimmel Center. The STEAM project is made possible with a grant from Time Warner Cable.

Koresh Dance Company: “Come Together”; Friday and Saturday, February 6th and 7th at 7:30pm; Tickets Prices $49 | $39 | $29; Call our box office at (212) 346-1715 or visit schimmel.pace.edu

See you at the Schimmel

Michael Scott-Torbet

Season Blogger

For more info on Time Warner Cable and the Connect a Million Minds initiative, visit http://www.connectamillionminds.com/

A STEAM project with Koresh Dance Company has been made possible with a grant from Time Warner Cable.

A STEAM project with Koresh Dance Company has been made possible with a grant from Time Warner Cable.



28 January 2015 ~ 0 Comments

A brief conversation with Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton

 This February, Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton will take the Schimmel Podium once again to bring us an exciting new series titled “Architectural Masterpieces.” This time, she will be bringing particular attention to global architectural achievements. The first three lectures will focus on the architecture of a single Western European nation, including Italy, France and England. The final lecture in the series is titled, “Extreme Architecture,” and responds, “to the global nature of recent architecture that crosses all geographic boundaries.” I recently had the opportunity to interview the esteemed lecturer and learn first hand what scholars will learn from this series.

This photo was taken by Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton in Rome.The Tempietto  was designed by Donato Bramante

This photo was taken by Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton in Rome.The Tempietto was designed by Donato Bramante

MT: You are known to Schimmel patrons for your exceptional lecture series on “Great Masters” and French and Italian art. You have included architecture in your lectures before. Why did you want to focus primarily on architecture this time around?

JB: Architecture is said to be the most representative art form of a culture—more so than painting or sculpture—on the grounds that to create a building usually requires a consensus of opinion among several people, as well as a significant commitment of money, time, effort, and land. A building must serve a purpose or several purposes—it must be functional. And it must withstand the elements. On a more personal level, architecture holds a special appeal to me; when I was an undergraduate at Cornell I seriously considered switching my major from Fine Arts to Architecture.

MT:Each of your first three lectures in the series focuses on a specific country’s architecture from antiquity and onward. How did you go about selecting which countries would be discussed?

JB: I focus on major Western European countries that are home to exceptional examples of architecture and that represent many centuries and a variety of styles. The intent was to present a country’s chronological “architectural profile”—which really is a history of that country and its culture.

MT: Do you find any of the three countries’ architecture to be your favorite?

JB: Ah, that is akin to asking a parent to choose their favorite child! I wrote my doctoral dissertation at Brown on an Italian topic, lived in France for 4 plus years, and have family in England. But, if pressed, I would pick France because it is the country of origin of Romanesque and Gothic architecture, as well as home to countless expressive gargoyles that perch on these buildings.

MT: As an avid traveler yourself, I imagine you have seen a great deal of the architecture in person. Is there a single building that, upon seeing it for the first time, exceeded your expectations of it? Why? Is there any building that you found to be underwhelming?

More photography by esteemed lecturer, Dr. Janetta Benton. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Architect: Gustave Eiffel.

More photography by esteemed lecturer, Dr. Janetta Benton. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. Architect: Gustave Eiffel.

JB: You ask excellent, very difficult, questions! Yes, I travel extensively and do as much of my own photography as possible. For a building that exceeded my expectation, I would pick Beauvais Cathedral. This High Gothic cathedral demonstrated just how high it was possible to build a vault (158 feet) using flying buttresses, pointed arches, and ribs—the technology of the time. Beauvais collapsed, was rebuilt, but never finished. After Beauvais, buildings became lower in the Rayonnant Gothic style. Underwhelming? Please do not be horrified, but it would be Stonehenge! Although I knew the dimensions and had seen the photographs, when I actually arrived at Stonehenge I expected it to be physically larger. But in no way did that diminish the fascination and mystery of Stonehenge.

MT: Your final lecture in the series focuses on “Extreme Architecture.” What qualifies as extreme architecture to you? What are your criteria for the buildings being discussed?

JB: My problem in preparing the last lecture was not that I had to search for buildings to include, but that there were too many possibilities. There were also several points that I wanted to make with the examples selected: Perhaps most important is that architecture is now more international and global than ever before. A museum in France may be designed by a Chinese architect (the Louvre pyramid by I.M. Pei) and a theater in China may be designed by a French architect (The National Grand Theater in Beijing by Paul Andreu). I also wanted to document the current interest in novelty, in creating a building that is functional but is visually distinct from anything created before—like a house shaped like a spiral sea shell. And I wanted to indicate that architecture had shifted from focus on religious buildings (churches and cathedrals) and secular dwellings for the wealthiest (palaces and castles) to museums, theaters, office buildings and skyscrapers, and an interest in recycling materials.

MT: Do you have a favorite architect of this current generation? What separates their work from the rest?

JB: Another tough question! I am going to select the Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, not for the beauty of his buildings, but for the importance of his work in creating housing for disaster victims. Using recycled cardboard construction, his buildings are quickly and inexpensively erected.

MT: Living in New York City, one can see an array of different architectural styles. We are blessed with gorgeous art deco sky scrapers like the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, Neo-Gothic cathedrals like St. Patrick’s and incredible suspension bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge. Do you have a favorite piece of New York architecture? Why is it your favorite?

Frank Lloyd Wright' Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Taken by Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Taken by Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton

JB: The Guggenheim Museum. I will not even hesitate to answer. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim offers the visitor art exhibitions within a work art. The previous division between architecture and sculpture blurs—the Guggenheim may be viewed as an enormous inhabitable sculpture. Do you find that the building complements or conflicts with the art work displayed here? The Guggenheim raises the possibility that the museum itself may be a work of art.

“Art History Alive” with Dr. Janetta Rebold Benton: “Architectural Masterpieces. Schimmel Center for the Arts; 3 Spruce St. New York, NY; February 4: Italy; February 11: France; February 18: England; February 25: Extreme Architecture; All tickets $29; All lectures take place at 12:15-1:15pm; Call (212) 346-1715, (866) 811-4111 or visit schimmel.pace.edu



12 January 2015 ~ 0 Comments

Musicians of the Highest Order: An Interview with the Legendary Béla Fleck

All of us at the Schimmel are ecstatic to be welcoming back premiere banjo legend, Béla Fleck. Mr. Fleck sold out our house two years ago with his acclaimed “Banjo Summit.” This time, he is partnering with the enterprising new chamber orchestra from Brooklyn, The Knights. I recently corresponded with the great banjo legend about his upcoming concert on Wednesday, January 28.

The one and only, Béla Fleck!

The one and only, Béla Fleck!



MT: How did this collaboration come about? Had you been aware of, The Knights’ work prior to this collaboration?


BF: I’ve had the pleasure of performing with Brooklyn Rider, which features two members of the Knights. Everything I heard about the Knights from BR made them seem like a group that I would really enjoy working with. As I was getting to know these guys, my concerto was about to be released on Dutsche Grammophon, and they were intrigued by the idea of playing it with the Knights. Any opportunity to hang with the brothers Jacobson is one to be pursued!


MT: As the undisputable master of the banjo, do you find yourself still learning about your chosen instrument? Has the collaboration with The Knights taught you anything new?


BF: We have yet to actually play any notes together, everything at this point is on the drawing board, as our rehearsal/performing dates loom closer. We will rehearse in the week leading up to the first performances in January.


MT: This is not your first collaboration. You have worked with a wide range of artists including Edgar Meyer, Zakir Hussain, Chick Corea, your wife; Abigal Washburn, as well as many others. What traits do you look for in other artists when choosing to collaborate with them?


BF: I look for people that I have something to learn from, people I can offer something to, and people who I have a good time being with. These folks satisfy all 3 requirements!


MT: Certainly, your concerto and this tour makes the case that the banjo deserves a seat at the classical music table alongside other string instruments like the violin and viola. What would you say to a person who doesn’t think the banjo’s history lends itself to orchestral music.


BF: Wrong you are! I am certain that the banjo and it’s cousins existed far before the violin family came into vogue. Remember the banjo came over from Africa in the early slave days. And It was an ancient instrument already. Now it certainly has been modified and cleaned up from the 1700′s on, but the instruments in Africa haven’t changed much. Pete Seeger maintained to me that the banjo actually migrated to Africa from the Tigris Euphrades River in what what we now call Iraq.


MT: What would you like the audience to take away from this concert?


BF: I’d love for them to say that they heard something that they never heard before, and had a blast during the process.


MT: You are known for your ability to convey many different musical styles on the banjo. Having studied in New York City, do you feel that the city’s musical landscape helped shape your eclectic repertoire?


Yes, I do. Growing up in NYC during the 60′s and 70′s meant that I was hearing a lot of music that Earl Scruggs didn’t hear in his youth. I didn’t grow up in a cabin home on the hill, and my musical personality derives a lot from it.


MT: Two years ago, your, “Banjo Summit,” sold out the Schimmel Center. Are you excited to be returning to the venue?


BF: Boy, was that was a fun show! I remember the joy and energy we had that night, and I look forward to the same high spirits but with a completely different musical offering. That’ll be our first show together, so it should be very exciting.

See you there soon!


The Knights with Special Guest Star: Béla Fleck; Wednesday Januar 28th; 7:30pm; Schimmel Center at Pace University, 3 Spruce St, New York, NY 10038; Ticket Prices $59 | $49 | $39; Call (866) 811-4111, (212) 346-1716 or visit schimmel.pace.edu



23 December 2014 ~ 0 Comments

Musicians of the Highest Order: An Interview with Colin Jacobsen, Artistic Director of “The Knights.”

All of us at the Schimmel are very excited to be welcoming Brooklyn’s most dynamic and exciting new Chamber Orchestra, The Knights. The group will be playing with special guest, Béla Fleck, the undisputed banjo master for one night only on Wednesday, January 28. I recently sat down to ask Colin Jacobsen, Artistic Director of The Knights, about this grand collaboration.

Eric Jacobsen, Co-Artistic Director of The Knights and brother of Colin Jacobsen.

Eric Jacobsen, Co-Artistic Director of The Knights and brother of Colin Jacobsen.

MT: Part of your group’s mission statement is to encourage musical discovery by honoring classical composition alongside contemporary works. Where does this idea stem from?
CJ: One of the great aspects of music is its ability to look, Janus-headed, in many different directions and at many different dimensions in the moment. When we are in the moment of performance, we are aware of the action we are doing and the sound we are making. But we are looking to the future as we spin out the sound-story and we are also reacting to what we just played a microsecond before. This allows us to be empathetic listeners as well as doers. I say this because, if you extend that thinking to the orchestral tradition, you see it constantly looking to the past in order to reinvigorate itself, so it’s only natural that we continue in that vein. Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn only really created their greatest works after they had rediscovered Handel and Bach. Debussy became fascinated with the music of Palestrina and Couperin, which helped to define his musical voice. The Knights, one and all, grew up with our instruments and the 400-ish year traditions we’ve inherited. So that’s the ground where we first encountered each other and one that is rich in cultural values that have been passed down, encoded in that music. But every generation needs to come to its own terms with the lessons of the past, and one way to become better interpreters of old music is to live and breathe new music. We strive to live the motto: play new music like it’s a familiar friend (yet full of surprises) and older music like it’s being heard for the first time. 

MT: Do you feel that the eclectic musical landscape of New York lends to the essence of your mission?
CJ: Certainly- but that eclectic landscape is not limited to New York now. With the internet and the rate of change worldwide, most people are exposed to a wide variety of sounds. The challenge is how to embrace that diversity/eclecticism while chiseling out a unique voice.

MT: One does not usually think of the banjo and chamber music in the same context; has Béla Fleck been a great musical influence of yours?
CJ: It depends on how one defines chamber music – which I would take primarily to mean an elevated level of communication between a relatively small group of musicians. I’ve had the opportunity to see Béla with the “House Band” of the Telluride Bluegrass festival (people like Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, etc. who’ve played with each other in different combinations over many years), with African musicians and with Chick Corea and Marcus Roberts. All of those interactions fit my ideal of great chamber music, which involves serious radar and active listening so that the moment becomes fraught with possibility within whatever the frame is. It just so happens that in those collaborations the frame was bluegrass and jazz, whereas with The Knights, the framework is classical. And yes, Béla’s an inspiration in the way he keeps putting himself out there, doing new projects, challenging himself, his fellow musicians, and fans to take musical and personal risks.

MT: Compared to other instruments in the string family, the banjo has a rather short history. Does this concert make the argument that the Banjo has a place in the realm of classical music?

CJ: That may depend on how you define “history of the banjo.” If you go to its African roots (as Béla did on his Throw Down Your Heart project), it goes back much further. And in the early 20th century, Kurt Weill made extensive use of the banjo in his music (is his music classical? Don’t know, don’t care- it’s great). But I believe the question of whether an instrument has a place in any kind of music, if it isn’t commonly found there, is only limited by one’s imagination and courage. Basically, in music, anything can work! (Though often it doesn’t and there are all sorts of failed experiments). In the words of fashion guru Tim Gunn, “Make it work.” Béla does.

MT: How did this collaboration come about? How does this collaboration further your mission?
CJ: I romantically like to think there’s a gravitational pull that musicians have towards other like-minded musicians. Luckily for us, Béla wanted to tour his concerto and decided that we would be good partners. As for The Knights, every time we work with someone from the outside, there’s an opportunity for growth.

MT: You have developed a reputation for bringing music to the people by way of pop-up performances and internet videos. Is making music accessible in this way important to who you are as artists?

CJ: I’d like to think that there’s an element of positive deviancy within the spirit of The Knights. Taking your instruments out and simply playing something where it’s not expected is one way of transforming a space in a joyful way. A few years ago, a Knights violinist saw Harlem Shake go viral in its initial stage. We were about to go on tour, and he said, “It’s on- we’re doing the Harlem Shake.” I had no idea what he was talking about at the time, but I knew the answer was “Yes.” We want to reach people with our music where they are, so it may only be natural that we have some bits floating around in the web as well. (Should you happen to check out our Harlem video- it bears repeated viewing and a careful look at peoples’ costumes and what they’re doing. And then please do stop by our Beethoven video as well…)

MT: What would you like the audience to take away from this concert?
CJ: The Tragicomical Nature of Life. 

MT: You are still a young group, yet you have already accomplished so much. Are you pleased with the repertoire that you have put out? Where would you like to see, “The Knights,” in the next few years?
CJ: We’re thrilled that today’s concert is the official release of our latest album, the ground beneath our feet - which is also the title of the piece co-created by several Knights that ends the program. This album looks at concerti grossi (pieces for 2 or more soloists in dialogue within the greater whole) from Bach to Stravinsky, with a piece by Reich and a collaboration with a Persian hammered dulcimer virtuoso. In general, recording is one great way to focus artistic thinking, and between this latest album, A Second of Silence (Schubert alongside Feldman, Glass and Satie), an all Beethoven album, and Shostakovich/Hendrix, you can get a greater sense of The Knights.
I think in the next few years, we’d like to keep seeking out fresh and interesting collaborators, create new work both externally and internally, continue to delve deep into the rich orchestral tradition, and find meaningful connections between that tradition, our lives and the world around us. 

MT: Is there any particular repertoire that you would like to tackle in the future? Any future collaborators you would like to work with?
CJ: We may be working with a couple of excellent choruses in the near future. And we will be touring Europe with Dawn Upshaw. It’s always great to work with the human voice! Some other vocalists who would be amazing to work with? Hmm… how about Bjork, Mark Padmore, Miah Persson, Camilla Tilling, Esperanza Spalding, Caetano Veloso, Stevie Wonder, Sufjan Stevens. Some instrumentalists: Radu Lupu, Kristian Bezoutenhuidt, Chris Thile, Edgar Meyer…
For more on this incredible concert event, check back next week for an exciting interview with the banjo master himself, Béla Fleck.

See you at the Schimmel!
Michael Scott-Torbet
2014-15 Blogger
The Knights with Special Guest Star Béla Fleck; Wednesday, January 28; 7:30p; Tickets $59/ $49/ $39; call our box office at (212) 346-1715 or visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/938584