HARRISONBURG — Since the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts first opened on the James Madison University campus in 2010, there have been 2,600 performances and 400,000 people to pass through the doors.
The Forbes Center is celebrating its 10th anniversary during the upcoming 2019-2020 season, showcasing its biggest season yet as the premier performing arts center in the Shenandoah Valley, said Regan Byrne, the Forbes Center’s executive director.
“What we’re going to try to do through the year is really present a season that has a variety of work that touches all of the areas that we represent here,” Byrne said. “It’s very international. It’s got amazing dance, amazing jazz and some historical retrospectives.”
The 2019-2020 season features 220 ticketed shows and 300 total performances, including student recitals, at the Forbes Center’s five venues.
“It’s really exciting,” she said. “There’s something for everybody.”
Byrne said the season is “bigger” in terms of the scope of productions lined up, which includes large ensembles and orchestras, and award-winning, world-renowned musicians, dancers and theater troupes.
Yamato, the Japanese taiko drumming sensation, will make a stop at Forbes on Jan. 17 to perform “Jhonetsu-Passion,” along with Montenegro’s acclaimed classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić on Feb. 25. Byrne is especially looking forward to “Taj Express — The Bollywood Musical Revue,” Nov. 12-13, which infuses popular Indian film, dance and music.
“I think that’s going to knock people’s socks off,” Byrne said. “It’s a grand spectacle.”
Other performers throughout the year include the Siberian State Symphony Orchestra on Feb. 8, Che Malambo, an all-male Argentinian dance group on March 6, brass band ensemble Cory Band from Wales on Nov. 1, famous Irish musician Seamus Egan and musical guests on Oct. 4, and the American Spiritual Ensemble on Jan. 31.
MUMMENSCHANZ, a dance troupe from Switzerland, will perform “you & me” at the Forbes on March 3, Latin folk singer-songwriter Gina Chavez will take to the stage on April 25 and “Harlem 100,” a celebration of the centennial anniversary of the Harlem Renaissance, will take place on Oct. 18.
Students in the music, dance and theater departments will have a chance to showcase their talent on stage with the return of annual performances like “Holidayfest,” Dec. 7-8, “Dancescapes” Dec. 5-8, and the 39th JMU Contemporary Music Festival from Oct. 21-23. The JMU School of Theatre and Dance will perform a contemporary musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” Oct. 9-13, as well as Caryl Churchill’s “Vinegar Tom” Oct. 29-Nov. 2 and Brenden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Everybody.” Sept. 24-28. JMU Opera Theater will perform “Faust” Nov. 8-10 and “Iolanthe” April 16-17.
The Forbes Center provides students a unique opportunity to attend a class or rehearse with the visiting performers. For example, percussion students will have a chance to play with Yamato and dance students will rehearse with Che Malambo.
“Whatever we do in our season always ties back to our programming for our students so it’s really important for us to book events where we can do a masterclass with our students,” Byrne said.
And twice each season, university students will perform on stage with the touring acts.
“That’s really unique for us,” Byrne said. “I think that sets us apart from a lot of performing arts centers and what a great experience for our students.”
JMU president Jonathan Alger spoke at the Forbes Center’s season preview event on Thursday, which unveiled the 2019-2020 line up of performances to subscribers and audience members.
“Over these past 10 years, this beautiful facade has become one of the gems of the Shenandoah Valley as a place of learning, of experimenting and of art being made at the highest levels,” Alger said. “People of all walks of life come here to join together and see the world through a new and different lens.”
Byrne said the Forbes Center has changed the face of Harrisonburg for the good in exposing the community to diverse, global talent.
“I think we take that very seriously as a core value that we want to make sure that we’re doing work that speaks to our community, that stretches them a bit, that they see things they’ve never experienced and seen before, and also that our students are part of that process,” she said.
The 2019 Circle of Excellence in the Arts Award was presented during the season preview event. Co-sponsored by the Forbes Center, the Arts Council of the Valley and JMU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, the honor was awarded to two winners: the Staunton Augusta Art Center and the Shenandoah Valley Art Center in Waynesboro.