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Exceptional entertainment at your doorstep

Whether you’re into theater, chamber music, opera, ballet, modern dance or art, you should know that you don’t have to leave University City to feed your muse. UNC Charlotte’s Robinson Hall offers more than a hundred performances and exhibits each year, and all at affordable rates with none of Uptown’s parking hassles or charges.

Amber Carpenter, 22, is a junior at the university, earning her degree in harp performance and a minor in voice. She could have attended a number of colleges, but the Charlotte native chose to study close to home after meeting with UNCC’s faculty and learning that they would allow her to hone her own educational path and even help form the school’s evolving arts departments.

Other schools, she says, “have their plan for how they’ll send [students] through the system. At those schools I would have felt restricted.” At UNCC, she says, they told her that she could explore her multiple interests – music and teaching – while offering her an opportunity to perform on the school’s stages in coordination with many of her peers and teachers.

The dean of the College of Arts + Architecture, Ken Lambla, wouldn’t have it any other way. He sees his job as pushing his faculty and their students to create “intellectually meaningful and artistically significant work.” He wants everyone, including the greater community, to broaden their definition of art and expand their skills. “We want to change the world,” he says, but he’s satisfied with beginning that quest within UCity.

The departments of dance, music and theater are encouraged to collaborate, to “be present, be respectful, be responsible, be smart and be amazing,” according to their cultural statement. They’re also expected to push their creative and social limits – and they are.

“This isn’t just a performance hall,” says Lambla. “This is an incubation site. We have an obligation to teach the students that their work has meaning and that it touches the core of what this community is about and what it struggles with.”

To that end, in addition to the usual student recitals and faculty expositions, numerous performances are offered each year, and many of them are intended not only to excite the senses but also to encourage audience members to rethink norms, explore diversity and encourage interaction between those who might not communicate otherwise. In other words, expect risky performances and new art.

For example, in the recent past, UNCC performers have taken Shakespeare digital by attaching motion detecting sensors to their bodies that respond to their movements and, in response, project digital images on a big screen, effectually communicating with their body movements. In the near future, they’ll be exploring gender roles and sexual oppression in the 1970s British play, “Cloud 9,” though the audience should expect a few new twists to the once-controversial tale.

And, in the spring of 2012, the university’s music students will host “Violins of Hope,” in which 18 violins, some once played in Nazi concentration camps and later restored by Israeli master violinmaker Amnon Weinstein, will be exhibited and played together for the first time in North America, thanks in large part to the persistence of David Russell, the university’s Anne R. Belk Distinguished Professor of Music.

In preparation for this nationally significant event, the university is planning performances, exhibitions, film screenings and educational programs “that explore the history of music and the arts in the face of oppression,” according to a press release.

Lambla calls the project “remarkable,” and credits it with “allowing UNC Charlotte to bring to this hemisphere instruments that offer rare insight into how music offers inspiration to the human spirit and substance to our relationships with others.”

And, he wants the community to be included in the experience. With community engagement in mind, the university offers a variety of summer camps for children, a piano sale each autumn and open auditions each August and January for local thespians who want to perform. The staff also works to keep ticket prices low, usually $5 to $15 – less for students and senior citizens. You can even catch a show for free; in September some performances will be offered at no charge as part of the Arts and Science Council’s annual “Cultural Free for All.”

Also in September, as students return to their academic schedules, the faculty will put on a “Faculty and Friends” concert series and participate in the N.C. Dance Festival (which is part of the program). By the end of the month, student performances will begin and will include one-act plays casted, directed and performed by students.

By October, attendees will be able to go to student ensemble concerts and the student-cast “Cloud 9,” and in November they’ll put on “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a well-known and well-loved musical. Also in November, guest actors from The London Stage will perform Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

The community is always invited to attend events at Robinson Hall. The university has even built a new sidewalk with the hope of encouraging people to walk and bike to performances.

This encouragement has a purpose. “The ability of UNC Charlotte to fully engage the community depends on the arts,” says Lambla.

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