Kasser’s Decade of Dazzling Audiences

Photo from a performance of Unfinished Business

Dancers James Muller and Elly Bround perform in Richard Alston’s “Unfinished Business” at the Alexander Kasser Theater. Photo by Nikolay Krusser.

On the night of October 7, 2004, dance legend Mikhail Baryshnikov became the first artist to step onto the Alexander Kasser Theater stage, ushering in a new era in performing arts at Montclair State University, already known for its excellent arts programming.

As a part of the theater’s inaugural evening, Baryshnikov performed a theatrical role in The Forbidden Christmas or The Doctor and the Patient, created for him by the great Georgian director, Rezo Gabriadze. The theater was dazzling; the performance was dazzling. And the Kasser has been dazzling audiences ever since.

In the last 10 years, the Kasser, has been the home to an impressive variety of artists who have performed in the intimate space, exposing both the University community and the larger northern New Jersey community to dance, theater and music from around the world. Since opening, the Alexander Kasser Theater has hosted 170 productions with 450 performances by contemporary artists not only from North America but also from Asia, Europe, South America and Australia. In addition, it has seen 350 performances by Montclair State students.

Artists are drawn to the energy at the Kasser, choosing to debut important new works here. The theater has hosted 34 world premieres, 35 American premieres and 26 performances created especially for the space. In fact, at one point, New York Times dance critic Charles Isherwood, in a piece about the American premiere of The Investigation by Peter Weiss, wrote, “Would it be too much to ask that Montclair State University move to Manhattan?...[in doing so] the quotient of innovative international theater would double overnight.”

Baryshnikov is not the only luminary who has found a creative home at the Kasser. The world-renowned and Tony Award-winning choreographer Bill T. Jones created three full-length dance works at the Kasser: Blind Date, A Quarreling Pair and Story/Time. MacArthur and Bessie Award-winner Susan Marshall developed her most recent work, Adamantine, in the theater. Performance-artist Laurie Anderson collaborated with San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet on “Landfall,” a multimedia piece about the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy.

Two dance performances at the Kasser – Richard Alston’s Unfinished Business and Liz Gerring’s glacier – were named in New York Times critic Alastair Macauley’s Top 10 performances for 2013. Times critics have frequently praised the Kasser’s Peak Performances – calling the series “reliably invigorating” and crediting Montclair State for providing space for important and provocative productions.

As the Kasser celebrates 10 years of creation without compromise, the anniversary season of Peak Performances is living up to its reputation, opening with maverick avant-garde director Richard Schechner’s Imagining O, followed by trailblazing choreographer Liz Lerman’s Healing Wars. The rest of the season promises to dazzle as well with performances by the Shanghai Quartet, renowned composer Scott Johnson, performance pioneer Robert Whitman and return appearances of the Richard Alston Dance Company and the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, among others.