ST. LOUIS — In the words of Kirven Douthit-Boyd, co-artistic director of dance, hip-hop and modern dance, "COCA-Center of Creative Arts’ 2021-2022 season is well-rounded with something for everyone: dance lovers, music lovers, and theatre lovers, to enjoy."
“From a dance perspective we really value the process it took to put in the planning and preparation behind performances,” Douthit-Boyd said. “Obviously, having our kids in the room with professional artists is something that we find very, very valuable for their development, especially at this point in time in their lives. We really wanted to have a mix of that.”
A choreographic lab showcase presented by COCA alum Mason Cummings, under the guidance of Douthit-Boyd and his husband, fellow co-artistic director of dance, Antonio Douthit-Boyd, kicks off the season for a two-day event, Nov. 5-6. In addition to the lab, the kids and aspiring professionals will gain four veteran professional mentors; three from New York and one from Philadelphia.
“They’ll [the kids and professionals] have those guys as sounding boards and, Antonio and I to talk to them through the process of both their creativity and their teaching,” Douthit-Boyd said. “We’re really giving these young creatives the opportunity to come back home and continue to develop those skills.”
Cummings has been working with ballet eclectica (Classical ballet and contemporary repertoire) and COCAdance (jazz, modern and contemporary repertoire) to share a production of his choreography and document the experiences of his six-week journey at COCA.
Kaleidoscope Crown by playwright Ashleigh Akilah Rucker leads the theatre department’s (COCAWrites) season debut on Nov. 13. It narrates the story of a young girl who awakes with a surprising new skill -- every new emotion causes her hair to morph into multicolor tresses. Her transformation causes the people of her small traditional village to react negatively. Rucker’s inspiration stems from the art and traditions of the African Diaspora and puts the culture front and center.
“We are gonna kick off with a really special part of our COCAWrites program, which is dedicated to developing new works,” Jennifer Wintzer, artistic director of theatre said. “We commission a professional playwright and then our students are very much involved in the development process of that new play because one of the requirements is that the playwright really must be invested in creating characters of the age of our students.”
COCA was chosen as one of eight theatres in the country through TYAUSA (Theatre for Young Audiences) / USA / ASSITEJ (a national organization for the professional field of theatre for children and families) to workshop a new play with playwrights that have been placed throughout the country. Ashleigh Akilah Rucker from LA will be working on her play Kaledioscope Crown alongside Alicia Like, an actress who performed in COCA’s premiere of Billy Elliot! The Musical, who will direct it.
Dec. 16-19, wUNDERland, offers a hip-hop twist on the childhood favorite film Alice in Wonderland.
The performance is led under the creative direction and choreography of Anthony “Redd” Williams, hip-hop crew artistic director. The production breathes new life into the age old tale with dazzling costumes, visual effects, contemporary music and cutting-edge hip-hop choreography.
“He’s got a really great creative and artistic team, wonderful local graphic designer, and huge fashion designers that are working with him,” Douthit-Boyd said. “It's gonna be awesome music, great dance, a really creative telling of the story of Alice in Wonderland. Really excited about that in December.”
Christmas Carol, the holiday classic, isn’t included in the season’s lineup; however, COCA will partner with The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis for its annual Christmas Carol production. Hana Sharif, artistic director of The Rep will direct the production; Douthit-Boyd will choreograph it and Jennifer Wintzer will act as the youth company director for it.
The Rep has an on stage residency with COCA for two shows. The St. Louis Black Repertory Company also has a partnership with COCA. Through both efforts, the companies are able to share the stage with the community and have an educational exchange between students.
COCAWrites continues the season with a production of the musical The Butterfly Room, the story of a General Motors factory worker interested in going off to college and relocating from their factory town. Another offering, The Wolves, is a coming of age story about a high school girls soccer team conversing on subjects that affect teen girls; and next summer, the lineup includes Matilda, a musical about a young bookworm who relies on her love of reading to help escape her abusive parents.
The three student companies, COCA hip-hop crew (contemporary hip-hop repertoire), COCAdance, and ballet eclectica, will come together May 12-15 to present TRIumphant, a collaboration which includes eighteen pieces.
Students are presented with the opportunity to work with different artists from around the country. These residencies will culminate in a final show, which will provide the students with the chance to show what they’ve learned to their family and friends in the spring.
“We really look forward to that concert not only for all of the good things that are happening, but it's the opportunity for the kids to show their versatility,” Douthit-Boyd said. “They go from ballet, modern to jazz to other styles. It's a testament to their talent.”
COCA’s vocal company and COCA’s improv troupe will also hold performances as well. This will be Jennifer Wintzer’s first official year of acting as the theatre’s artistic director. Not many in person performances took place last year, so she was unable to rightfully assume authority.
“This is my year to really put my artistic stamp on our offerings,” Wintzer said. “We've really seen a great turnout with our students, the professional artists and the community who are interested in our programming.”
Visit COCA’s website for more information about its upcoming season: https://www.cocastl.org/.