SHIFT: A summer celebration of the creative, disruptive spirit of the 1960s—and today

Rebecca Bailey

Summer 2018 at Dartmouth College’s Hopkins Center for the Arts will open with a series called SHIFT, a vibrant and varied array of live arts, June 22-30. SHIFT includes works, both free and ticketed, that freshly consider music, drama and identity, bringing together diverse art forms and harkening back to the creative disruption of the 1960s.

The week brings together student, faculty, alumni and visiting artists, diverse art forms, and different parts of the campus—and the events link powerfully to particular Dartmouth courses as well as to current issues of justice, tradition and identity. Two cornerstones are Compagnia de’ Colombari’s groundbreaking international production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice , staged in Dartmouth’s BEMA Outdoor Amphitheater; and a Hop-co-commissioned new work by Mark Morris Dance Group (a Hop favorite) that celebrates the anarchic, eclectic spirit of the Beatles’ 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. These are complemented by a two-day festival of new digital arts by Dartmouth students that includes a free concert by electronic music legend Morton Subotnick; new theater by Dartmouth alumni artists; and powerful visual and performance art by Native American artists Gina Adams. In addition, the Hop will screen three classic ‘60s films from a list curated by Mark Morris, tied to Pepperland.

“The Upper Valley is a vibrant destination year-round, but summer, with long days and incredible weather, is an especially good time to explore our creative community,” said Hop Director Mary Lou Aleskie. “At Dartmouth, we have this dynamic mix of student, faculty, alumni, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs who all take part in making ideas come to life. SHIFT showcases their creativity alongside some of the most interesting artistic work happening on the international stage. It’s a chance to both celebrate our community and connect it to the world.”

Two summer courses have substantial connections with SHIFT shows Pepperland and The Merchant of Venice. Randall Balmer, who holds the John Phillips Chair in Religion at Dartmouth, will teach a new course titled “The Sixties,” looking at politics, culture and society in the period from John Kennedy’s assassination in 1962 to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies, and English professor Patricia McKee, who holds the Edward Hyde Cox Professorship, will co-teach “History and Culture of the Jews II: The Modern Period,” which regularly draws 300 students or more and makes particular use of The Merchant of Venice. As part of SHIFT, the faculty members will give free public lectures related to their course themes. Balmer’s talk entitled “The Sixties,” takes place Thursday, June 28, 7 pm. Heschel’s and McKee’s free public talk, entitled “Merchant Today,” takes place Monday, June 25, 5 pm. Both talks are in the Top of the Hop.

Compagnia de’ Colombari’s innovative production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice takes place Tuesday-Thursday, June 26-28, 8 pm, in Dartmouth’s Bema Outdoor Amphitheater—the Hop’s first use of this space. Centering on a Jewish moneylender in Renaissance Venice, Merchant presents challenges for modern theater artists and audiences: is it a play about anti-Semitism, or is it an anti-Semitic play? Created in 2017 to be performed in Venice’s Jewish ghetto to mark the 500th anniversary of its founding, this site-specific production uses inventive staging and casting—including five diverse actors taking turns playing Shylock—to raise questions about outsiders and how we treat them. With live music composed by the Klezmatics’ Frank London. “Surprisingly effective. … this experimental director has a knack for transforming high concepts into accessible theater” (New York Times). Director Karin Coonrod is a theater maker and Yale School of Drama faculty member whose work has been witnessed across the US and around the world, including More Or Less I Am (a music-theater piece drawn from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself); and Everything That Rises Must Converge (a verbatim staging of Flannery O’Connor’s story).

MMDG’s Pepperland, Thursday-Saturday, presented June 28–30, is a “gorgeously entertaining and witty tribute” (The Guardian) to the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Morris’ dancers evoke the freedom and energy of the ‘60s in deft, nuanced choreography set to Ethan Iverson’s (Bad Plus) Beatles arrangements and original music, performed live. Related to the show, along with Balmer’s talk,  Iverson will give a free artist talk on Friday,  June 29, 7 pm, Top of the Hop; and  MMDG dancers will offer a dance master class on Saturday, June 30, 12-1:30 pm, in the Straus Dance Studio of Dartmouth’s Berry Sports Complex. In addition, the Hop will screen the classic ‘60s films A Hard Day’s Night, Sunday, June 24, 7 pm; Night of the Living Dead, Friday, June 29, 9 pm; and Blow-Up, Saturday, June 30, 5 pm. All films are in Loew Auditorium.

All other SHIFT events are free. DAX+ Digital Arts eXpo, Friday & Saturday, June 22 & 23, is a two-day showcase of digital animations, interactive installations and electronic audio-visual performances by Dartmouth students and alumni and esteemed guest artists. The event opens Friday with a 7 pm performance, by synthesizer trailblazer Morton Subotnick. He performs two original works that bookend 50 years of electronics in music: “Silver Apples of the Moon” (1967), the first electronic music composition commissioned for a recording and an influence for generations of musicians; and “Crowds and Power” (2017), a media tone poem for voice, electronic sound and live imagery. He’s joined by noted new music soprano Joan La Barbara and artist Lillevan.

Meanwhile, VoxFest 2018, an annual week of theatrical works-in-progress by Dartmouth alumni, students and faculty, takes place Saturday, June 23 through Sunday, July 1. The schedule, which will be announced through the Dartmouth Department of Theater, will include readings and semi-staged productions, and is part of the Department of Theater’s course entitled “Plays in Performance: Perception and Analysis.” This year’s festival includes a reading of the winner of the first-annual Neukom Literary Prize for best play exploring the meaning of humanity in a digitized world.

SHIFT also includes an exhibition and presentations by Gina Adams, an exciting young artist who creates textile art made from antique quilts, that quotes broken treaties between the United States and Native American tribes. The summer-term artist-in-residence for the Department of Studio Art, Adams gives an artist talk on Tuesday, June 26, 4:45 pm, in Loew Auditorium, followed by a reception in the Hop’s Jaffe-Friede Gallery to open her exhibit. On Wednesday, June 27, 6:30 pm, in the Hopkins Center Plaza, Adams gives a performance, entitled Its Honor is Hereby Pledged, in which she combines her textile work with reading from some of the many treaties the US made with Native people, then disregarded.

Pulling these events and exhibits into a single week offers a rich opportunity for people from the campus and beyond to see relationships between diverse art forms and dig into meaningful topics through the impactful perspectives offered by live arts, Aleskie said. “There’s an energy that comes from having people and events and themes overlap in this way that’s greater than the sum of the parts. That happens all the time at the Hop, but SHIFT turns it up a few levels.”


“There’s an energy that comes from having people and events and themes overlap in this way that’s greater than the sum of the parts." Mary Lou Aleskie