Stage & Dance

New Norton Center director makes next season his own

Bluegrass veterans Jamie Dailey, left, and Darrin Vincent shot to the top when they teamed up.
Bluegrass veterans Jamie Dailey, left, and Darrin Vincent shot to the top when they teamed up.

DANVILLE — In his first year as director of Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, Steven A. Hoffman has noticed what's around him in the student body.

It's the iPod generation, as New Yorker magazine music critic Alex Ross has dubbed it: young adults who load a wide variety of music, from rock to classical to hip-hop to county to jazz and traditional music, on their MP3 players and let it all mix together.

The kind of audience that appreciates such variety is reflected in the Norton Center's 2011-12 season, the first one programmed entirely by Hoffman, who came to Danville in July.

Highlighting the lineup are hip violin virtuoso Hahn-Bin, bluegrass stars Dailey & Vincent, Moulin Rouge from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, jazz star Stanley Jordan and his trio, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw singing a new work by Maria Schneider.

Hoffman points out that 20 of the 21 acts playing the center's 1,400-seat Newlin Hall and 350-seat Weisiger Theatre are Norton Center debuts. (A touring version of Fiddler on the Roof will return, and Hoffman says Upshaw has played the center before, but not with that program.)

"I may not have intentionally programmed that many debuts," Hoffman says, "but I think I was trying to make a statement.

"People were really asking for new shows because the No. 1 piece of feedback I was getting was, 'We want fresh and new programming.'

"From a college element, it can be like a Performing Arts 101 because you have a lot of different elements."

The lineup is geared toward performing arts connoisseurs.

The most notable departure from previous Norton Center seasons is the absence of blockbuster classical music talent like the New York Philharmonic or conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Gone along with them are three-figure ticket prices, which used to come with those shows. The top ticket is $75.

"We've scaled back on some of the star power so we can charge prices that will allow people to see more shows," Hoffman says. "Instead of just one, maybe you can come see two or three. If you used to go to five shows, maybe you can afford seven or eight."

The season also is structured into just two series: the Newlin Hall Series and "Club Weisiger." From those, patrons may build series in any combination of six or more shows. The benefit to people who buy more will be better prices and seat selection.

"We realize people have soccer games and trips and don't necessarily want to see everything," Hoffman says. "And people may be interested in seeing combinations we may have never thought of putting in a prepackaged series."

The "reimagined" season, as publicity materials call it, is a departure and risk.

An already positive sign, says Hoffman, is that, although the Norton Center did not release its lineup until Thursday, Dailey & Vincent posted the Danville date on its Web site a couple months ago. The center has been receiving a steady stream of calls about it.

Hoffman also is optimistic that the Weisiger Theatre programming, which used to lean on small classical ensembles, might yield some big response with artists such as Jordan, Hahn-Bin and former Mavericks frontman Raul Malo and his band.

"I didn't budget to sell out every show," he says. "But I'm thinking that when people see that they can see some of these stars in a 350-seat theater, they'll say, 'I've got to go."

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