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Mondavi Center tweaks amenities and offerings as season unfolds

UC Davis student Danielle Schmid, a first-year psychobiology major, listens to classical music in the lobby of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on Monday afternoon while she studies for fall-quarter final exams. In addition to the music, the lobby offers free coffee and plenty of outlets for computers and other devices as Mondavi staffers aim to make the center more of a campus gathering place. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | December 11, 2012 | Leave Comment

The Mondavi Center’s 10th anniversary events — which began in March with a gala celebrating the American premiere of the edgy French ballet “Blanche Neige,” and peaked this fall with several sold-out concerts by big names — are receding into memory.

And now a series of smaller changes are under way, as the Mondavi Center at UC Davis seeks to become a popular hangout zone, in addition to the region’s premier performing arts venue.

Some of these changes are aimed at the student crowd. In preparation for fall-quarter final exams, an open house took place the past two Mondays in the Yocha Dehe Lobby of the center.

“We were open for people to come and study,” said Maizy Enck, one of Mondavi’s Aggie arts interns, and a fourth-year student majoring in art history. “There were tables and seating, plenty of outlets for computers and other devices. And there was free coffee and classical music — two things you don’t find at the library.”

The Fusion Fresh Cafe food truck was in the Corin Courtyard for those who needed some sustenance with their studies.

“The goal is student outreach,” Enck explained. “There are still a number of students who haven’t come to the events at the Mondavi Center, and we’re trying to make sure students know how accessible it is. We’re hoping to do another open-lobby study session toward the end of winter quarter and spring quarter.”

In late September, the Mondavi Center installed eight metal tables with umbrellas for shade in the Earl and Coralie Corin Courtyard, adjacent to the box office.

“And the Fusion Fresh Cafe food truck is there from breakfast through lunch,” said Don Roth, the Mondavi Center’s executive director. “There is also free wireless, and a view of the greenery at the Vanderhoef Quad, with its fountain. We really want it to be a gathering place, a place where people hang out, and folks feel welcome, regardless of whether something is going on inside the Mondavi Center.”

The food truck is already attracting law school students as they shuttle past the courtyard on their way to nearby King Hall.

“This neighborhood is becoming the “front’ of UC Davis, in the way that Bob Segar and Larry Vanderhoef envisioned several years ago,” Roth said, referring to UCD’s campus planner and chancellor emeritus. “The only missing piece is the Shrem Museum of Art,” which will be built on the south side of the Vanderhoef Quad at some point in the next few years, once an architect is selected and final design plans are firmed up.

The food truck also will be open for selected evening performances, with outdoor music in the courtyard preceding a big event in Jackson Hall. This concept was piloted with courtyard concerts on Oct. 26, before comedian Eddie Izzard’s show, and Nov. 4, before blues great B.B. King performed.

The courtyard concerts will resume on March 19, prior to Jazz from Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis; April 12, prior to the Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain; May 18, before a talk by public radio star Ira Glass of “This American Life”; and May 19, prior to a family concert by pianist Lara Downes.

Roth is also considering some tweaks to the Mondavi Center’s programming.

“We’re talking about bringing in a recent rock opera for a performance or two during the 2013-14 season,” he said. “It would build on the kinds of things that we and Another Planet Entertainment have already brought into the building.”

Another Planet Entertainment has rented the Mondavi Center to present several rock music acts.

Roth is also thinking about hosting “a kind of classical music marathon, an all-day event that would be held on a Saturday,” possibly featuring three consecutive shows by a pianist doing all of the piano sonatas by a major composer.

And buoyed by the success of the gala presentation of “Blanche Neige” by Ballet Preljocaj in March, which saw the Mondavi Center partner with the adjacent Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, another gala is being contemplated.

“We have been scouring the country and the world for an event that would allow us to do a gala again, probably in the 2013-14 season,” Roth said. “We are hopeful that we can do a similar event built around something of an equal artistic scale, probably either a big Shakespearean work, or another big dance piece.”

Attendance at Mondavi Center events has generally been good this fall. Quite a few Jackson Hall events have sold out, including Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, pianist Lang Lang, Izzard, King, humorist David Sedaris, blues singer Bonnie Raitt, the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Rising Stars of Opera.

Several events in the Vanderhoef Studio Theatre also have been sellouts, including one of the concerts by jazz bassist Christian McBride, the Sunday matinee performances by the Alexander String Quartet and a recital by teenage violinist Stephen Waarts. He is a past winner of the Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition who is studying at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia.

Performances that came within about 100 seats of selling out in Jackson Hall this fall include the San Francisco Symphony, the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, violinist Joshua Bell and Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández.

University ensembles performing in Jackson Hall also have drawn well — the UCD Symphony Orchestra attracted an audience of nearly 1,500 for the Nov. 18 concert featuring Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and the Beethoven Triple Concerto.

“We’ve had the first 10 years” as the university’s highly visible performing arts venue, Roth noted. “It’s a decade in which the program has clearly evolved, and we now have elements that weren’t there in the beginning. At the same time, you wouldn’t say that the place has changed radically. But we’ve found strengths, and developed them.”

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055.

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