Arts & culture, Campus & community, Events at Berkeley, Performing arts

‘Something for everyone’: Cal Performances announces its expansive 2023-24 season

From a rock opera on queer history and a dramatic retelling of a famous debate to piano concertos and modern dance, there will “be something for everyone,” says the executive and artistic director

Several dancers in a mid-air formation
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will return to Berkeley on April 2-7 for the company’s annual residency. (Photo by Dario Calmese)

There will be more than a few surprises this season at Cal Performances, which announced today its 2023-24 schedule of performances by some of the greatest artists in the world.

From a rock opera on queer history and a dramatic retelling of a famous debate to piano concertos and modern dance, there will “be something for everyone,” said executive and artistic director Jeremy Geffen.

On Oct. 1, the season will open with a classical recital by pianist Tom Borrow, who, at 23, has won every national piano competition in his native Israel and was recently named a BBC New Generation Artist. Borrow is one of the season’s several debut artists, which will also include mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska; French ensemble Quatuor Ébène; the Isidore String Quartet; and Tel-Aviv-based Batsheva Dance, whom Geffen called “one of the most important modern dance companies in the world.”

portrait of jeremy geffen

Jeremy Geffen is the executive and artistic director of Cal Performances. (Photo by Kristen Loken)

“We want every artist we present to turn into a long-term relationship for our audiences, one that’s worthwhile keeping in their lives,” said Geffen.

The new season will also feature the series Illuminations: Individual and Community, which will explore the relationship between individual and community through performances, public programs and academic encounters. The series will kick off on Nov. 17 with a performance of American Railroad by Silkroad Ensemble. Led by multi-instrumentalist Rhiannon Giddens, the show will highlight the many underrecognized communities that worked to build the Transcontinental Railroad.

Illuminations addresses some of the most pressing issues of our time,” said Geffen of the series, which launched in 2020 and explores a different theme every season. “It raises questions that we might address consciously or that are always humming in the back of our minds, and it feels like this relationship between individual and community is on the forefront.”

And the performing arts, he said, are an interesting test case: Artists perform on stage as individuals in often prescribed ways — there’s always a grand plan — but they bring their own unique physicality to the performance, ultimately creating a stronger, more holistic artistic presentation.

“We can use that as a metaphor about the way that we operate as a society — certainly on a micro level, on a campus level, and writ large as a country and as the world,” Geffen said. “So, it’s a chance to explore personal dynamics, how we describe ourselves and how sometimes the identities that we give ourselves or that we feel we are a part of can even sit in conflict in ourselves. These are all perspectives that we wanted to explore within the Illuminations: Individual and Community theme.”

Six other performances will complete the series: Hair and Other Stories by Urban Bush Women, a Brooklyn-based dance troupe; the Bay Area premiere of iconic choreographer Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring by a group of dancers from 14 African countries; Baldwin and Buckley at Cambridge by theatrical troupe Elevator Repair Service; Ki moun ou ye? (Who are you?) by Nathalie Joachim, a flutist, vocalist and composer; and Femenine, a work by the late composer Julius Eastman, performed by the music ensemble Wild Up.

a person in drag poses

On Feb. 24-25, MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist Taylor Mac and his creative partner Matt Ray will bring to Zellerbach Hall a brand new project, Bark of Millions, a four-hour rock opera that explores the spectrum of queerness through 54 original songs. (Photo by Willa Folmar)

Illuminations: Individual and Community will also include a brand new project, Bark of Millions, by MacArthur Fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist Taylor Mac and his creative partner Matt Ray. The four-hour rock opera explores the spectrum of queerness through 54 original songs — one song for every year since the Stonewall Uprising of 1969.

“The piece actually doesn’t currently exist in its final form,” said Geffen. “It’s going to be workshopped this summer. There will be a concert performance premiering in Sydney in the fall, and then it will be staged right before it comes to us. So, even the images that you see in our brochure, those are rehearsal images. It really is going to be an extravaganza.” (Mac is featured on the cover of Cal Performances’ 2023-24 season brochure.)

In addition to the Illuminations series and debut artists, there are several favorites returning to Cal Performances whom audiences know well: The Joffrey Ballet, which has a new multiyear residency with Cal Performances, will bring to the stage an evening-length ballet Anna Karenina; The Mark Morris Dance Group, who first performed for Cal Performances 35 years ago, will perform the world premiere of a new work; and, continuing their 55-year relationship with Cal Performances, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will be back for a weeklong residency, including a gala celebration.

For students interested in the performing arts, Cal Performances will again have the program, Golden Bear Circle, which offers UC Berkeley students the best seats in the house for some of its highest-profile performances for $10.

“We love it,” Geffen said. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about the program from everyone — the artists, the students, the subscribers. It’s part of our role as the greatest public university in the world — it’s about access and opportunity, and that is one of our missions.”

“Cal Performances wants to be a gatherer,” he continued. “The impetus for creating Illuminations was to allow the public to understand what’s going on behind closed doors on the university campus, research and thought that might not otherwise reach them. We want to be a convener of conversation across campus. We want to create community.”

And, Geffen said, sitting in a performance space, taking in a work of art with other audience members, is a special experience that brings people together.

“You have this shared experience together that is ephemeral,” he said. “It will forever bond you and that’s a really beautiful super power that the performing arts can provide.”

Subscription packages for Cal Performances’ 2023-24 season go on sale to the public on Friday, April 21 at 12 p.m. Single tickets go on sale on Tuesday, Aug. 8. Packages and tickets are available online at, by phone at (510) 642-9988 or at the Zellerbach ticket office. UC Berkeley students receive 50% off all events and, in August, can purchase Flex Passes, good for $15 tickets to any four, six or eight performances. Faculty and staff receive $5 off of most events.

Learn more about Cal Performances’ 2023-24 season.

Watch a preview of the 2023-24 Cal Performances season.