A Teaser for the Shed, Hoping to Entice New Yorkers

Posted April 29, 2018 5:42 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — The Shed, the new cross-disciplinary arts center planned for the Far West Side of Manhattan, is still a hard-hat construction site, with an opening date of next spring. But starting Tuesday, its creators will serve up two free weeks of arts events as an amuse-bouche, hoping to entice New Yorkers with an early look at the type of ambitious programming the Shed will eventually offer.

All the works in the festival, called “A Prelude to the Shed,” will merge seamlessly into one another throughout each day — a fusion of dance, visual art and music, with a hint of theater. Performed in an outdoor pavilion, they are meant to break down barriers between disciplines, underscoring the importance of collaboration.

“The Shed is interested in the advancement of art forms, whereas other institutions are about preserving the treasures of the past,” said Alex Poots, its artistic director and founding chief executive.

In an elevated warehouselike structure at West 31st Street and 10th Avenue, a block from the Shed’s construction site, Poots was sitting on an object that was not quite a chair, but one of several leather seats with wheels, which, when assembled in formation, would form walls to enclose the warehouse.

The 200,000-square-foot Shed has been in the works for more than half a decade — with the city as an enormous benefactor, along with Michael Bloomberg, who made the project a priority while he was still mayor. (The Shed refers to the nonprofit cultural organization, as well as to its six-story home.)

Among the highlights of the “Prelude” fest: Choreographer William Forsythe will reimagine the pas de deux from his groundbreaking 1987 ballet “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” this time set to the song “212” by rapper Azealia Banks. (Banks will also perform separately.)

Artist Tino Sehgal, who collaborated with architect Kunlé Adeyemi to design the space, will present an experiential piece that is making its North American debut.

In an interview, Sehgal would not go into the particulars of his piece, wanting to avoid spoilers, but a glimpse of a rehearsal revealed several dancers, a cappella singing, beatboxing and the coordinated meticulous movement of the rolling chairs. There is also to be a concert from Atlanta-based R&B artist Abra, who will take the stage for the first time since last fall. Just because it is entertainment or in the pop umbrella, Sehgal said, doesn’t mean it isn’t art, if it is making a relevant statement about the world.

“Such a kind of statement can happen in any media,” Sehgal said. “It can happen in a song. It can happen in a sculpture. It can happen in a dance. And we can search for those utterances, and we can show them on an equal pairing.

In the backdrop of the Shed’s impending burst onto a crowded cultural scene is the desire, or perhaps need, to attract the next generation of art connoisseurs. That means commissioning or reinterpreting art, not rehashing it. A recent open call for artists focused on young practitioners based in New York rather than Europe, and made clear that it was open to “all art forms” — performing, visual, literary, comedy, fashion, design, science and new-media work. (It promised $7,000 to $15,000 to support the creation of new pieces.)

“Why do we have to create this thing that many societies have done where they have an upper class and a lower class or a high art and a low art, something that’s more valued?” Poots said. “Why can there not be great exponents in all disciplines?”

As Poots spoke, Forsythe had just finished rehearsing and explained that in renovating one of his classic works — originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet, commissioned by its director Rudolf Nureyev — there was no “unwritten imperative that insists that it only appear in these contexts.” By giving it a contemporary spin — say, with Banks’ music — it’s a chance for ballet to reach fans of hip-hop.

“They know this music; they’re experts,” Forsythe said. “They could sing it backward in the bathtub upside down, and they will then probably not have imagined that particular kind of choreography to this music.” This goes both ways: Fans of classical ballet will be exposed to the work of up-and-comers like Abra.

Why not be a part of something different?” Abra said in a telephone interview. “I’ve done tons of festivals, tons of my own headlining shows. It’s time to do something cool that’s not always being done.”

Other contributions to the event will include FlexNYC, a dance program from choreographer Reggie Gray (who goes by Regg Roc), as well as several panels about the cross-section of art and social connectivity and ritualized gatherings. A spokeswoman for the Shed said that half of the event’s online reservations had been claimed, with a capacity of 12,000 tickets over two weeks. The free advance tickets are available through ticketcentral.com, and they are also held each day for walk-up customers.

Next to the Hudson Yards development, the Shed has raised most of the money needed for the $455 million costs associated with the construction of its innovative building, a design collaboration between Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group. It still has about $100 million left to raise to support program costs for its first three years.

But officials have already announced an intent to hit the ground running. The opening season will feature a collaboration between Steve McQueen, director of “12 Years a Slave,” and music producer Quincy Jones, as well as a performance by opera singer Renée Fleming and actor Ben Whishaw of a dramatic monologue written by poet Anne Carson.

“There’ll be moments where we really encourage audiences to open their minds and extend their consciousness in a way and to really push hard,” Poots said. “They either will or they won’t. But I think the arts is about expanding your mind.”