Jewish center’s arts series is big, bright, bold

The breadth and quality of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s 2010-11 arts series is staggering.

The first month of the program — which kicks off with the San Francisco Comedy Competition Semifinals (Tuesday) — includes Shlomi Shaban (Thursday), a genre-defying Jewish and world-music pianist whose music reflects rock, jazz and classical influences; the well-known Margaret Jenkins Dance Co. (Oct. 7); Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra (Oct. 8); and The Laramie Residency (Oct. 22-23), two nights of theater that commemorate the 10th anniversary of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard.

That’s some of the finest and most provocative comedy, world music, jazz and theater that any Bay Area series has to offer.

“We love being able to present artists on the verge,” says Lenore Naxon, director of the organization’s Eugene & Elinor Friend Center for the Arts and curator of the series. “We presented the American premiere of Idan Raichel, who merges Israeli and Ethiopian musics before he became a world-music superstar. We paired him with Emanuel Gat, who now guest choreographs with the Paris ballet. Now we’re presenting Shlomi Shaban, who also wows audiences. We think he’s another Israeli performer on the brink of international success.”

The organization is currently implementing an environmental advocacy grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Dubbed “Back to the Garden,” the programming includes two showings of the PBS special “Saving the Bay” (Oct. 4 and 11), The Banana Slugs String Band from Santa Cruz (Nov. 14) — eco-educators who teach kids how to care for their environment and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Co. (Feb. 26) performing “Ekodoom — It’s Not Time, It’s Us,” an artistic commentary on environmental destruction.

The center’s other big fall initiative is “The Laramie Residency.” First, as part of the series’s Ideas component, Tony Taccone of Berkeley Rep engages Moisés Kaufman in dialogue (Oct. 21). Then, the center presents Kaufman’s two epic theater works: “The Laramie Project,” the original piece that presents the voices of the townspeople of Laramie shortly after the killing, and “The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, An Epilogue,” which revisits the townspeople and the killers a decade later.

“The JCCSF is invigorating its commitment to LGBT programming,” Naxon says. “I set out to find the best, more prestigious, highest quality gay arts offering I could find. The Tectonic Theater’s ‘Laramie Residency’ was absolutely the first choice. We’ve even involved our teen department, which has initiated programs with the gay-straight alliances in four local high schools that both discuss the issues and bring students to the performances.”

Add in Mark Cantor’s beloved “Giants of Jazz” series — and partnerships with SF Jazz, the San Francisco World Music Festival and the Other Minds Festival of New Music — and the only problem is how to fit it all into your schedule.

IF YOU GO

Shlomi Shaban

Presented by the Jewish Community Center
Where: Kanbar Hall, 3200 California St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $32 to $41
Contact: (415) 292-1233, www.jccsf.org/arts

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