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Will Coviello on the Contemporary Arts Center’s season

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Contemporary Arts Center director Neil Barclay hit the ground running when he arrived in May. A veteran executive and arts programmer at the massive Texas Performing Arts center at the University of Texas and Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center for African American Culture, he pulled together the CAC's 2013-2014 schedule of performing arts presentations in roughly two months.

  The CAC season includes music, dance, theater and multimedia presentations, as well as impressive visual arts shows. Barclay's plans also show an interest in rethinking the way the CAC's space is used.

  "I wanted to pilot a lot of ideas about how the CAC space can be used, Barclay says. "I don't want us to be constrained by size of a theater, or technical aspects. We're looking at the building freshly as a performative space – the theater, warehouse, galleries, even the cafe."

  Musical performances include concerts by Sarah Quintana (Nov. 8), Kronos Quartet (Nov. 14) and Kenny Barron (March 22).

  "Kenny Barron's concert is not going to be done with Kenny on the stage in proscenium style," Barclay says. "We're going to strike regular seating. We're going to put in tables and set it up like a supper club. There will be a food and drink menu that accompanies that performance. We can use a theater in a way that's not typical."

  In December, Pittsburgh choreographer Kyle Abraham brings his acclaimed dance theater piece Pavement (Dec. 6-8) to the CAC. It focuses on social space in changing Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

  "Pavement's aesthetic concept is that this is an abstraction of something that happens on a basketball court," Barclay says. "I ran with that idea. We're setting up the warehouse with a stage and bleachers so the audience will look at it as if they're at an outdoor basketball game. The concessions will be consistent with that — with hot dogs and pretzels. We're thinking about the whole experience of people coming to the CAC and having events be unique and special."

  In December, the CAC hosts the National Performance Network (NPN) conference and a Japanese multimedia theater group touring NPN theaters. Tokyo's Faifai company will present Anton, Neko, Kuri (Dec. 12 & 14), a show about a neighborhood seen through the eyes of a sick cat. It incorporates pop-cultural videos and sound and English subtitles.

  Visual parts presentations include Edward Burtynsky: Water (Oct. 5-Jan. 19, 2014), a collaboration with the New Orleans Museum of Art, and 30 Americans. Burtynsky's show photographs explore the lifecycles of bodies of water and addresses environmental issues from the Gulf of Mexico to the Ganges River. The show 30 Americans from the Rubell Family Collection will be presented from March through June 2014. It's a premiere collection of work by black artists in the last three decades. The show drew 100,000 visitors at Milwaukee Art Museum, and Barclay expects it to be a very successful show at the CAC.

  "I am excited to be here," he says. "I consider it a privilege to be here because so much is changing aesthetically in New Orleans now. ... And to have a community that's demanding that we chart a new course. It's a wonderful opportunity."

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