Community leaders, generous patrons, and university officials gathered at the Coral Casino on Tuesday, June 13, for UCSB Arts & Lectures’ annual season reveal event. Celesta Billeci and her indefatigable team of cultural curators have come up with another extraordinary slate of programming that confronts the challenges of our historical moment with a dynamic cross-cultural response. New faces and formats will join some familiar artists and speakers in what promises to be a year of unprecedented vision and amplitude for Santa Barbara’s leading presenter of live cultural events.
Arts & Lectures (A&L) likes to start things off with a rush, and 2017-18 will be no exception. In the first 10 days of programming alone, audiences will get a chance to see six spectacular performances: Lila Downs (Sept. 27), Lang Lang (Oct. 1), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Oct. 3), and Bill Murray (Oct. 6), all at the Granada Theatre, as well as Cory Henry and the Funk Apostles on October 4 at UCSB’s Campbell Hall and Samantha Bee on October 5 at the Arlington Theatre. Each of these shows represents the opening of an individual series within the larger scope of A&L’s offerings. For example, An Evening with Samantha Bee is part of the Talking Heads series, which will also include Ira Glass, Trevor Noah, and Mike Birbiglia. Bill Murray and Lang Lang belong to the Marquee lineup, joining the Israel Philharmonic (Nov. 1), mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato (Apr. 15, 2018), and six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald (May 15, 2018) on that list.
The Lectures side of A&L will introduce a new format by bringing in renowned author and go-to moderator Pico Iyer to present a new series called Speaking with Pico. Iyer’s hosting kicks off on October 11 in Campbell Hall with novelist Zadie Smith. Theater fans have a lot to look forward to, as well. Saturday and Sunday, April 7 and 8, 2018, will see the West Coast debut of Michèle Anne de Mey and Jaco van Dormael’s Charleroi Danses’ piece Kiss & Cry. This innovative theater company from Brussels uses miniature sets and dancing fingers along with music and film to tell an emotionally charged story of love and loss. Later than month, the four actors who make up the New York–based theater company known as Bedlam will arrive for another two-night stand, this one offering two separate programs, with George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan on Thursday, April 19, 2018, and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet on Friday, April 20, 2018.
You know you must be doing something very right when Arts & Lectures invites you back immediately after making your Santa Barbara debut, and that’s unquestionably the case with jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander, who brings his trio to Campbell Hall on April 29, 2018. Alexander anchors a healthy dose of jazz that included Squirrel Nut Zippers (Mar. 1, 2018), Cory Henry (Oct. 4), and Arturo O’Farrill (May 17, 2018).
What’s got me most excited personally? All of it. That said, there are some areas of unusual strength. For example, dance programming, long a special favorite of A&L director Billeci, will reach what looks to be a peak moment next year, with seven shows including everything from Balinese gamelan to French hip-hop. The names of major companies such as Pilobolus and Mark Morris Dance Group stud this list, and check out what Morris has got in store — an evening-length piece, Pepperland, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Finally, three special events that seem likely to provide the kind of spiritual uplift that all of us crave these days are: Bill Murray, who teams up with a chamber trio for an evening of classic American poetry and song (!) at the Granada on Friday, October 6; former United States vice president Joe Biden at the Arlington on Saturday afternoon, October 21; and perennial holiday favorites Pink Martini, who will pour us all a cup of their special cheer at the Arlington on Saturday, December 2. To see the complete 2017-18 UCSB Arts & Lectures season, visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.