Announcing Center Stage Season 7 Ensembles from Ethiopia, Philippines, and South Africa

Aug 05, 2022

Announcing Center Stage Season 7 Ensembles from Ethiopia, Philippines, and South Africa

Kelsey Colcord Spitalny

Program Coordinator, Center Stage

On Tour and In Residence July – December 2023

Center Stage connects the U.S. with performing artists who are reframing our world in this globally transformative time.

Locally rooted and globally linked, performing artists around the world are calling out and responding to the possibilities and disparities of our time. Some examine complex histories and ancestral legacies to illuminate urgent environmental and cultural stresses. Others are challenging societal norms to publicly claim their identities and uplift voices that are often excluded. All speak to their communities’ pains, dreams, and joys, and are creating inclusive paths of connection.

For its seventh edition, Center Stage, the cultural exchange program initiated by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA), will host music and dance artists from Ethiopia, the Philippines, and South Africa in the U.S. from July-December 2023 to promote global ties and engage with people around the country on stage, off stage, and online.

Five groups will make independent month-long performance tours to communities from coast to coast. Two groups will participate in a new Artists in Residence program designed to deepen creative practice and build peer relationships and professional networks.

Through in-person engagements and virtual interactions, these ensembles will meet with communities across the U.S. via performances, workshops, talk back sessions, artist-to-artist jams, shared meals, and other activities to bolster mutual understanding. Lisa Booth Management, Inc. (LBMI), which has served as Center Stage’s general manager since the program’s inception in 2012, will craft and organize the community residencies that make up each tour. Engagements are being scheduled now.

“Art plays a vital role in connecting a world that can feel rife with divisions,” explains Adrienne Petrillo, Senior Program Director of Center Stage at NEFA. “Center Stage Season 7 centers artists with insights into how we can respond, renew our sense of community, and build a shared and more equitable future.”

Meet the Seven Ensembles of Center Stage Season 7

ENSEMBLES ON TOUR Independent month-long tours with multi-day performance residencies across the U.S.

BCUC – Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (Soweto, South Africa)
Rebellious, spiritual, and exhilarating, BCUC’s live shows are transcendent rites of explosive sound. Following in the pulses of their ancestors, they awaken crowds to the power of a shared, fairer future with punk, funk, and rhyme. Their dancefloor Afro-futurism heals and commands in propulsive jams that rebalance bodies and souls.  

Ethiocolor (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
Led by the charismatic Melaku Belay, who has made his Fendika Cultural Center a global gathering place, these performers draw deeply from the bardic well of Ethiopia’s diverse heritage. Their revelatory practice is an ecstatic symbiosis of dance and music, of tradition and modernity.

Garage Dance Ensemble (O’Kiep, South Africa) U.S. Debut 
Scandals Wrapped in Prayer (Krummelpap, Afval en Sunlightseepbaddens) activates stories from a remote, economically precarious, and environmentally damaged land through movement, music, and riveting spoken word. With raw power and dark humor, this devised work of grace stuns as it tells a universal story of young people struggling to confront the violence and rage of a wounded community.

Helobung (Lake Sebu, Philippines)
Preserving Tboli culture and providing a livelihood for their community in the biodiverse lands of the southern Philippines, Helobung (“endless joy”) is a wellspring and tradition bearer. With presentations and gatherings, five dancers and musicians aim to connect with Filipino-Americans and Indigenous artists forging a similar cooperative path.

Nomfusi (Johannesburg, South Africa) U.S. Debut 
With a voice rich in emotional vulnerability, and nimble power, Nomfusi conquers every stage and every heart. She tackles complex and culturally urgent topics, from domestic violence to female desire, in originals that shimmer with maskandi guitar flourishes and soaring melodies, while hinting at everything from house to ‘70s jazz to funk.

ARTISTS IN RESIDENCE Two-week intensives deepen creative practice and expand professional connections

Ethio Classic Quartet (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia)
The first and only female-led classical quartet in Ethiopia, two violinists, a flutist, and cellist are determined artists and mentors. In addition to western repertory, they commission compositions and arrangements informed by Ethiopian musical traditions and modes.

Tanghalang Pilipino (Pasay City, Philippines)
A resident company of the Philippines’ National Theater, Tanghalang Pilipino is committed to promoting and expanding Filipino art and culture through original, devised works that engage current issues that matter to their country. Two ensemble members who are artists, educators, and administrators and represent the next generation of the company’s leadership will travel to the U.S.

Transcending Borders

Center Stage offers opportunities to arts presenters and artists intent on strengthening understanding and interpersonal connections between Americans and creative arts makers from countries and cultures which are not often enough directly represented in the U.S.

U.S. Embassies in Addis Ababa, Manila, and Pretoria will support and extend these vital conversations and connections. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "Cultural exchanges are a powerful way for people to connect across borders and for countries to build respect for each other."

About Center Stage

Center Stage is among the most successful programs to bring contemporary international performing artists into direct contact with people across a wide range of U.S. communities, and to share these experiences globally.

As hosted by colleges and universities, festivals, music clubs, cultural centers, and artist-run organizations, Center Stage artists engage with audiences on stage, off stage, and online, sharing their work in the U.S. and with friends and fans at home to build mutual understanding through shared cultures and values.

Since 2012, Center Stage has hosted more than 225 artists in 34 ensembles from eleven nations. Hundreds of communities in 37 U.S. states and Washington, DC have hosted engagements. Eleven journalists from participating countries have traveled to report on these tours. Six ensembles from Argentina, Armenia, and Taiwan will join the program on tour from September 2022 through June 2023. In addition to the Center Stage cohort from Ethiopia, Philippines, and South Africa announced here, Center Stage Season 8 is now being planned for 2024.

Center Stage’s significant impacts, and the relationships it fosters, serves professional artists, journalists and other cultural leaders, participating embassies and their in-country constituents, and American audiences, students, professionals, and community members.

“People in my town don’t routinely have access to excellent artistic experiences. We can undo cultural assumptions with professionalism. And it’s especially important for young people to have access to a range of cultural expressions – to expand their toolkit not only about art but about the world.” - Melissa Richmond, Executive Director, West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts, NH

“The benefit in working with Center Stage is their unique ability to tour amazing international ensembles from underrepresented cultures. Without Center Stage support, we would not be unable to present these artists due to the logistical and financial hurdles that are in place to tour the U.S.” – Carlos Tortolero, City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

Center Stage is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs with funding provided by the U.S. Government. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc. Keep up with Center Stage and find additional information at, on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Presenters, community organizations, and venues interested in partnering with Center Stage can find more information at and Contact Deirdre Valente & Lisa Booth at Lisa Booth Management, Inc. Tel +1-212-921-2114