PEAK at Kravis Center

Published on December 22nd, 2021

NOBUNTU

A local home of what culture aficionados call the lively arts, the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach first opened its doors in 1992 with stages named for donors and a seasonal calendar aimed at well-heeled snowbirds and year-rounders. Touring musicals, classical concerts and stars of popular song are still among the center’s biggest draws. But over time — and as much out of necessity as curiosity — the Kravis and its local counterparts (the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and the Arsht Center in Miami) have looked for ways to stretch out.

The launch in 2012 of a Kravis series called PEAK signaled a willingness to take chances with programming in search of new audiences. Short for “Provocative Entertainment at Kravis,” the inaugural PEAK series presented dance troupes, hip-hoppers and edgy ethnic comedienne, Margaret Cho, as a kind of counterpart to the familiar pops concerts, Broadway hits and Streisand interpreters.

Nine Kravis seasons later, PEAK has fifteen events on tap compared to eight in the original 2012-2013 campaign. The series opens on Dec. 10 at the main 2,195-seat Dreyfoos Hall with a variation on a holiday favorite: “The Hip-Hop Nutcracker,” a streetwise mashup of the Tchaikovsky ballet with breakdancers, DJs and rapping, plus an opening set by hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow.

It continues into 2022 at Dreyfoos and at 305-seat Rinker Playhouse with a mix of modern dance, theater, song recitals, music from across the globe and a documentary film festival. It wraps on May 14 with “Fela! The Concert,” a show-stopping distillation of the Tony-winning Broadway musical about Nigerian bandleader and Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti.

KAKI KING by Sham Hinchey/Marzia Messina

Kravis spokeswoman Linda Birdsey tells PureHoney that PEAK began as an effort to engage with a portion of the Kravis audience that wanted more contemporary and provocative fare — “something where it’s artistic, it’s innovative and it’s diverse,” Birdsey says.

It was also a bid to grow that audience from the outside, she says.

Birdsey doesn’t say this, but it’s no secret that the upscale live-events sector skews older, whiter and richer than the communities it serves, and is more traditional in its tastes. Deep pockets and a big endowment might slow the effects of an aging subscriber base and a changing culture. But people still have to buy tickets and, like a lot of performing arts centers, the Kravis arguably needs to diversify attendance to stay relevant and survive.

But don’t take a local arts ‘zine’s word for it; just ask the longtime Kravis donors who are underwriting PEAK.

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Two PEAK series performers of note coming in early 2022 are Nobuntu, an all-female a cappella quintet from Zimbabwe (February 2, 3 at Rinker) and New York guitarist and composer Kaki King (February 27 at Rinker).

Formed in 2011, the women of Nobuntu represent a singing style called “imbube” that South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo introduced to worldwide audiences beginning in the 1960s. The songs can be conversational, folkloric, jazzy, breezy or exalted and even mysterious. Where the chords and melodies of “Cula” convey an air of reverence, there’s also a dash of outright glee. The multi-phonic “Uthixo” is ethereal, and almost hypnotic in its ability to compel humming along. Nobuntu work in unison, harmony and a variety of other voicings, sometimes with discreet backing from instruments and percussion, their collaborative powers honed over three albums and years of international touring. They sing in three of their home country’s languages, and in English that is employed to beautiful effect on “Amazing Grace.”

She started out as a young guitar prodigy with staggering technique, but Atlanta-raised, Brooklyn-based Kaki King has evolved into much more than the sum of the comparisons she draws to virtuosos such as Michael Hedges and Stanley Jordan. King is a visionary composer making albums and scoring films, and occasionally turning up on screen herself, guitar in hand. The live show in support of her latest album, “Modern Yesterdays,” is a dreamscape of projection-mapped visuals and guitar-based sound painting.

The PEAK series runs December 10-May 14 at the Kravis Center in downtown West Palm Beach. Tickets and information at kravis.org ~ Sean Piccoli

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